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What do college students know, and what are they able to do? How well do colleges and universities educate their students and contribute to the greater public good? These questions have become more pressing in today's information-based economy and complex democracy. Unlike the K-12 system, little is known about what students know and learn as a result of postsecondary education. As state leaders look to postsecondary education to help them develop an educated citizenry and workforce, measuring student learning is taking on greater significance.

One short-term solution to the problem of how to measure student learning is to use existing tests, such as professional licensure or graduate school examinations, to determine the effectiveness of postsecondary education. A long-term solution involves creating a national postsecondary assessment, similar to the National Assessment of Educational Progress used in the K-12 system, to measure college-level learning in the areas of problem solving, critical thinking and communications skills.1 These two solutions raise serious practical and political issues and bracket a wide range of possibilities. Several efforts are under way to find an acceptable and responsible middle ground.

States are beginning to address the issue of student learning in a variety of ways. One example of a state that is taking steps to measure student learning is Kentucky where, with the aid of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, policymakers are trying to determine the "educational capital" — the knowledge and skills — of the state's citizens. Other projects of note include the National Forum on College-Level Learning and the Collegiate Learning Assessment, both of which attempt to measure the quality of undergraduate education in the United States by assessing its impact on student learning.

For more information about student learning, please consult the National Information Center for Higher Education Policymaking and Analysis and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.


1 Peter Ewell, :Grading Student Learning: You Have To Start Somewhere: in Measuring Up 2002: The State-By-State Report Card for Higher Education (San Jose: National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2002).

 

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