Assessment of Student Learning

I. Overview and History

Student learning is at the heart of each of Columbia University's educational programs. Understanding how well students are learning through meaningful assessment methods is central to maintaining the quality of our educational offerings. As part of Columbia's committment to best practices in this realm, the Provost's Office has developed a library of resources and tools to support learning outcomes assessment and faculty efforts in this area. These efforts also serve to cross-polinate ideas and techniques that work best within the Columbia community, and meet state, federal, and accrediting body requirements.


II. Ongoing Process and Recent Achievements

Each program at Columbia has a clear learning outcomes plan that is crafted and controlled directly by faculty.  They are assessed regularly and used to promote deep reflection on student learning and influence curricular change.  Schools review their faculty’s program plans, ensure best practices and evaluate them for effectiveness and consistency with their mission.  Schools create summary reports for their programs, describe major results, engage in quality improvement and then intermittently submit to the Provost’s Office.  The Provost’s Office exercises central oversight over this process by reviewing overall progress, alignment with best practices and regulatory compliance.

Columbia is a rich and diverse academic setting.  In addition to the regular and systematic review described above, more in-depth analysis of evidence is conducted periodically, depending on the characteristics of individual schools and programs.  Professional schools conduct self-studies as well as a host of other analyses to evaluate program goals as part of their accreditation cycles.  In the Arts and Sciences (A&S), the Academic Review Committee (ARC) examines each department’s operations approximately every seven years, linking overall assessment, including that of learning outcomes, with planning and budgeting decisions. 

Formal University-wide procedures documenting learning outcomes assessment were begun in 2010, although teaching and learning have been routinely evaluated locally in individual faculties and departments to improve curricula.  The Provost’s Office has collected and developed materials to inform documenting existing practices as well as establishing effective methods to measure learning across the University.  A committee of faculty and administrators meets periodically throughout the year to discuss advances in the field of learning outcomes, cross pollinate ideas and develop resources.   


III. Best Practices and Resources

Resources and Associations

Columbia Resources

Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL)

Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL)

Columbia University Courseworks site dedicated to learning outcomes (password protected; please contact Sonia Gugga at for access). Contains internal development documents, learning plans, and other resources.

Program Plan Template & Instructions Columbia University Learning Oucomes Assessment Information for Developing Program Plans

Columbia University SLOA (Student Learning Outcomes Assessment) Rationale, Fall 2014


Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) Resources

Assessing Student Learning and Institutional Effectiveness from Handbook for Periodic Review Reports
Articulates the criteria Middle States uses to evaluate learning outcome assessment plans

Middle States Commission on Higher Education publications

Student Learning Assessment: Options and Resources (2nd Edition, 2007)
Defines direct versus indirect methods of assessment with examples

Understanding MSCHE Expectations for Assessment Linda Suskie, Vice President, Middle States Commission on Higher Education powerpoint presentation delivered at the November 2010 Self-Study Institute
An overview of learning outcomes assessment and accreditation


Additional Documents and Websites

Assessment Commons

Assessment Network of New York (ANNY)

Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education (AALHE)

Creating Learning Outcomes from Assessment Workbook for Academic Programs
University of Richmond Office of Institutional Effectiveness
Helpful guidelines for creating learning outcomes with examples

National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) Searchable publications list



Direct Evidence

Georgetown University: Direct and indirect evidence

MIT Methods of Measuring Learning Outcomes and Value Added

Middle States: Examples of Evidence of Student Learning



Association of American Colleges & Universities VALUE Rubrics: A set of 16 rubrics to assess undergraduate student work with respect to specific learning outcomes, such as creative or critical thinking, global learning, and problem solving. 


Columbia Programs of Note

Department of Psychology Program Goals

Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Chemical Engineering LOA

Mailman School of Public Health Syllabi/Course toolkit