Bergen Community College: An Assessment Fellows Program Model
Assessment is an integral component to refining teaching, support services, and operations. It informs the choices we make and helps us make continuous improvements to our programs and processes. At Bergen Community College (Bergen), the Assessment Fellows Program provides a systematic approach for college faculty and professional staff to assume leadership in collegewide assessment as well as a unique opportunity to ensure quality of assessment plans for the institution.
After our accreditor noted that Bergen did not have a clear assessment process in place, the college began placing greater emphasis on program assessment and student learning. It hired a Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness, restructured the Center for Institutional Effectiveness (CIE), and developed an Assessment Fellows Program. These actions demonstrated the administration’s understanding of the importance of assessment and its commitment to institutionalizing it.
The original intent of the Assessment Fellows Program was to select two academic fellows and two Administrative and Educational Support (AES) fellows to (a) pursue an institutional or assessment research project, and (b) serve as in-house assessment experts who could assist departments in supporting their assessment work. However, the initial challenge and steep learning curve that the first fellows had to tackle eliminated the possibility of working on an individual project. The fellows instead focused on informing and supporting departments with assessment. Over time, the program grew and strengthened to where it is today—six fellows and an interim Dean of Assessment serving more than 120 academic programs and 40+ AES units.
The assessment fellows serve as mentors. They provide one-on-one support to designated assessment liaisons through all four phases of the assessment cycle. (A minimum of three contacts between fellows and liaisons are expected each semester.) While the fellows work most closely with the liaisons, they also communicate assessment expectations to department heads, deans, and vice presidents so that assessment is transparent and everyone is informed of the status of assessment at the college.
The fellows also maintain the college assessment handbook; publish the CIE Update newsletter; serve as members of the Learning Assessment Committee; hold orientation sessions for deans and department heads; and attend monthly fellows meetings, the fellows’ yearly summit, and national conferences. In addition, they design and sponsor workshops on specific assessment topics including Writing Student Learning Outcomes, Using Surveys for Assessment, and Closing the Loop. At the end of each two-year assessment, they participate in a meta-analysis of assessment reports in which they evaluate the quality of the assessments themselves.
Why It Works
The assessment fellows model is the result of a productive collaboration between the administration, faculty, and staff. The college, under the auspices of CIE, supports the scholarship of assessment and has committed sufficient resources and incentives to ensure ongoing professional development. Administrators, faculty, and staff are encouraged to attend conferences and workshops, allowing everyone to gain a broad perspective and establish a network of resources. Another key to its success is the solid foundation of assessment with leadership at all levels of the institution.
As a team from across the college, the fellows coordinate assessment activity, propelling assessment practices forward. The assessment process itself is organized and systematic. All departments/units use a standardized assessment framework and receive feedback from the fellows, deans, and vice presidents throughout the assessment cycle. The comprehensive meta-analysis review by the fellows at the end of the assessment cycle focuses on improvement, growth, and accountability. Last, a strong, collegial, working relationship exists between the fellows, liaisons, and departments that develops over time.
Despite the strengths of the Assessment Fellows Program, challenges remain as some departments demonstrate a greater commitment to assessment than others. Many faculty and staff are resistant to assessment because they fear it may bring unwanted attention to their programs, spotlighting shortcomings. In addition, at Bergen, there is still a lack of understanding of why and how to assess even though the fellows repeatedly emphasize that assessment is a tool that allows for programmatic self-reflection and improvement. Moreover, timing and staffing are issues. Fellows often are told that departments are too busy to assess and because liaisons may change over the assessment period, there is a constant need to review the process. While workshops are offered, attendance is often low.
Assessment is an essential component of a high-performing institution and is the standard by which an institution is judged. The Assessment Fellows Program at Bergen is an established, systematic, and collegewide program which has put us on the right track to building a culture of assessment. Fellows have the privilege to serve as mentors to faculty and staff, and overall advocates of institutional effectiveness. They keep communication open between administration and academic/AES units, and they provide an avenue for all members of the college community to contribute to continuous improvement.
Gail Fernandez is Interim Dean of Assessment, Joanna Campbell is a Dental Hygiene Program professor, and Jill Rivera is Associate Dean of Student Success and Completion at Bergen Community College, New Jersey.
Opinions expressed in Member Spotlight are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.