APA has joined a national initiative to improve the quality of education on U.S. campuses by endorsing new guidelines that call for colleges and universities to step up their efforts to measure and improve student learning. APA's Board of Directors approved the document, "Committing to Quality: Guidelines for Assessment and Accountability" on Dec. 9.

The guidelines encourage colleges and universities to promote evidence-based education and strive to be more transparent about the skills students are graduating with, says APA Executive Director for Education Cynthia Belar, PhD.

"The effort is one to advance professionalism in higher education with respect to teaching and learning, and thus serve students and the public better," says Belar.

APA joins the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Council on Higher Education Accreditation and two dozen other higher education groups in endorsing the guidelines, which were established by the education advocacy group New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability.

The guidelines aren’t intended to be a sort of "No Child Left Behind goes to college," Belar adds. "An important feature is that the principles set standards without demanding standardization."

Specifically, the guidelines call for schools to:

  • Provide statements that list what students should be able to do, achieve, demonstrate or know after earning their undergraduate degrees.

  • Establish policies on how often they will assess student learning and compare their data with learning outcomes from other universities. Such measures should also examine performance differences among student subgroups, such as minority groups, first-generation college students and nontraditional-age students.

  • Use their data to fine-tune teaching, courses and academic programs and evaluate changes in programs and practices.

  • Share findings about student learning with faculty, students, parents and the institution's governing board. Those data should also be available to the public on the school's website, along with information on student retention and time-to-degree statistics.

Supporters hope the guidelines will help address a growing concern among educators, employers and consumers that students are coming through college without gaining the knowledge, skills, values or citizenship they need to succeed in the workplace, says David Paris, executive director of the New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability.

"Anybody...can use this document as a checklist to determine whether the institution is doing what will help them focus on teaching and learning and whether students are learning what needs to be learned," says Paris. "We need to reorient the profession to elevate teaching and learning, and there is a growing knowledge about what works and how to measure results."

In fact, much of that knowledge comes from educational psychology and is already spelled out in APA's own Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major and the Principles of Quality Undergraduate Education, says Paris, "Much of this reinforces what APA is already doing."

Read a copy of the guidelines at New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability.