Assessing Catholic Identity: A Study of Mission Statements of Catholic Colleges and Universities

By Estanek, Sandra M.; James, Michael J. et al. | Catholic Education, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Assessing Catholic Identity: A Study of Mission Statements of Catholic Colleges and Universities


Estanek, Sandra M., James, Michael J., Norton, Daniel A., Catholic Education


Since the publication of Ex Corde Ecclesiae (John Paul II, 1990), Catholic colleges and universities have become more deliberate and intentional regarding their institutional and Catholic identity. This article continues the conversation about Catholic identity as it relates to student outcomes, and proposes some preliminary strategies for assessment.

INTRODUCTION

ASSESSMENT, OUTCOMES, AND HIGHER EDUCATION

Assessment has become a highly sophisticated, expensive, and controversial reality of higher education governance, practice, and culture. However, Love and Estanek (2004) observed that administrators and members of the faculty commonly approach assessment efforts with skepticism and perceive it as something that is imposed from outside academia with limited relevance to the central tasks of teaching and scholarship. Love and Estanek further argued that assessment should be accepted as an essential tool in the process of ongoing personal and organizational learning.

Unfortunately assessment is too often associated with commercially successful and market-driven national rankings. The view of assessment as an academic practice reveals a substantive and valuable role that deserves critical attention by the academic community. Erwin (1991) defined assessment as the "systematic basis for making inferences about the learning and development of students" (p. 14). Astin (1993) defined assessment as "the gathering of information concerning the functioning of students, staff, and institutions of higher education" for the purpose of "improv[ing] the functioning of the institution and its people" (p. 2). Functioning is a term understood in this context "to facilitate student learning and development, to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and to contribute to the community, and society" (p. 2). Upcraft and Schuh (1996) defined assessment as "any effort to gather, analyze, and interpret evidence, which describes institutional, divisional, or agency effectiveness" (p. 18). Love and Estanek (2004) defined assessment as, "on-going efforts to gather, analyze, and interpret evidence which describes individual, programmatic, or institutional effectiveness, and using that evidence to improve practice" (p. 85). Each of these definitions offers an emphasis on distinct aspects of a complex enterprise. However, they hold in common the notion that higher education institutions can and should systematically collect information to demonstrate to what degree and in what demonstrable ways they are doing what they say they are doing. Love and Estanek encouraged higher education professionals to develop an assessment mindset in order to inform both individual professional practice and an effective institutional culture.

THE ASSESSMENT MOVEMENT: A BRIEF HISTORY

The assessment movement was spearheaded in the late 1980s by the United States Department of Education and regional higher education accrediting associations. Komives and Schoper (2006) argued that the emergence of accreditation agencies was a result of elements of a convergence of educational reform movements in higher education that were responding to the National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983) report, A Nation at Risk, and the Carnegie Commission report, College (Boyer, 1987). Since the late 1980s, higher education accrediting agencies have required their member institutions to be specific about educational goals and outcomes and to collect a variety of data in support of an analysis of how those goals are being met.

The assessment lens initially had a focus on institutional capacity for effectiveness in carrying out its educational mission; that is, the institution's "resources, structures, and processes" (Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions [C-RAC], 2003, p. 1). According to C-RAC, a confederation of seven regional higher education accrediting associations, capacity criteria include "fiscal solvency, faculty credentials, curricular coherence, and governance structures" (p.

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