Higher Learning Commission

Foundations of Learning Project

Southwestern Community College

Overview of the Quality Initiative

Foundations of Learning Project

Southwestern Community College has selected The Foundations of Learning Project as the quality initiative to support the accreditation process through the new Open Pathways accreditation model set forth by the Higher Learning Commission. This project includes key elements to provide and assess student learning, particularly in areas of general education, at Southwestern Community College. Departments from both the instructional and non-instructional departments are challenged to support student learning in ways that are appropriate for their responsibilities to the college. The project supports better communication of assessment processes and results among college faculty, staff and administration and supports the use of assessment results to create action plans designed to improve student learning. A clearly articulated, comprehensive, effective, inclusive and sustainable process for providing and assessing general education at Southwestern Community College is the intended outcome of the project. This project is designed to unite the campus in a common effort that benefits our students and continues a cultural shift so that all employees embrace the important roles they play in student learning and the value of assessments.

The instructional division at Southwestern Community College has organized efforts to incorporate and assess general education areas and outcome statements throughout the arts and sciences and career and technical programs. This project will be the continuation of the work by this division with the expectation that significant improvement in the overall assessment process will be completed during the Quality Initiative period. Particular areas of focus will include more comprehensive and effective reporting with a planned “cycle of improvement” that builds on assessment results.

New for Southwestern Community College will be the inclusion of the non-instructional departments of the college in supporting and assessing general education. These areas of the college have actively assessed the effectiveness of their services to students and to the college but not as they relate to student learning. As part of this project, employees in non-instructional departments will be asked to investigate how they can be involved in supporting and assessing student learning and the general education areas and outcome statements. How assessment results will be used to add value to their support of student learning and how they can play an important role in the student learning process will be emphasized.

General Education at Southwestern Community College

The general education areas and outcome statements at Southwestern Community College represent the knowledge and skills that all students who graduate from the college should achieve as a result of their college education. The statements are written so that they are appropriate for students intending to transfer to four-year programs of study after graduation and for those who complete a career and technical degree and plan on immediate employment.

General education at Southwestern Community College is defined by the following outcome areas and statements:


Students will demonstrate a proficiency in communication by

  1. writing documents that are clear, organized and appropriate for the reader.
  2. presenting an organized, clearly spoken oral message appropriate to purpose and audience.
  3. listening attentively to a verbal message and understanding its content.

Critical Thinking

Students will demonstrate critical thinking skills by

  1. analyzing information in any form for accuracy, relevancy and reliability.
  2. scrutinizing an argument to separate fact from opinion and identifying assumptions and inferences.
  3. assessing a problem and proposing reasonable solutions to it.

Cultural Awareness

Students will develop an awareness of their own culture as well as the culture of others by

  1. recognizing culturally based differences between themselves and others including language, social and political systems, and religion.
  2. relating relevant historical information to current situations.
  3. explaining the cultural importance of the fine arts.

Financial Literacy

Students will develop financial literacy by

  1. constructing a personal budget.
  2. explaining the impact of indebtedness on personal finances.
  3. discussing economic variables such as interest rates and inflation.

Interpersonal Skills

Students will demonstrate professional and interpersonal behaviors by

  1. applying appropriate work effort for the successful completion of challenging assignments.
  2. cooperating with others as a member of a team.
  3. demonstrating a willingness to act as a leader in appropriate situations.
  4. caring for personal health.
  5. recognizing and valuing the existence of different points of view.


Students will demonstrate mathematical proficiency necessary for success in their chosen field of study or occupation by

  1. obtaining correct mathematical results with or without technological assistance.
  2. identifying relevant data for solving a problem.
  3. manipulating data to solve a problem.
  4. distinguishing whether a mathematical solution is reasonable or erroneous.

Reading Comprehension

Students will demonstrate reading comprehension by

  1. accurately interpreting documents appropriate for their field of study or occupation.
  2. discussing the accuracy, reliability and appropriateness of a variety of written documents.
  3. successfully following written instructions.


Students will demonstrate an understanding of scientific knowledge necessary for success in their chosen field by

  1. applying basic scientific principles to complete a task, project or assignment.
  2. discussing how their actions will impact an area of science.

Technology Literacy

Students will demonstrate technology literacy by

  1. using technology appropriate for the field of study or occupation chosen.
  2. using information technology responsibly as a tool for creativity, research, publication, critical thinking and/or communication.
  3. discussing the impact of technology on the individual and society.

Sufficiency of the Initiative’s Scope and Significance

Relevance and Significance

In the transition to the Open Pathways accreditation model, the Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment Committee at Southwestern Community College discussed ideas about what the first quality initiative undertaken by Southwestern Community College should be. The desire was to select a project that would have a broad impact on the college, be inclusive of as many individuals on campus as possible, and have a positive impact on student success. The discussion also included whether the project should be something new to the college or the continuation of an already existing project. Since Southwestern Community College will have its next comprehensive evaluation for accreditation in 2015 – 2016, and will be among the first institutions to be reaffirmed through this new model, the committee decided that a continuation of an existing long-term project that needs additional improvement would be appropriate. The committee also decided that this project should have an impact on the entire college.

The Foundations of Learning Project was selected because it is an extension and an expansion of an ongoing project and it meets the three criteria of broad impact, potential to be highly inclusive and the expectation for a positive impact on student learning which would support student success. The Foundations of Learning Project has its roots in the last HLC visit in 2006 where it was noted that “The institution has been assessing general education outcomes in its Associate of Arts program using CAAP since 2004. It is time for the institution to revisit its goals for general education and clarify the connections between these goals and what is actually being assessed using the CAAP exam. In addition, the college needs to find ways to assess those general education goals that cannot be assessed using CAAP. The institution also needs to expand its effort to assess general education to include the general education components of its Associate of Science and vocational technical programs.” Southwestern Community College has responded to these remarks by expanding the assessment of general education areas and outcome statements to include both arts and sciences and career and technical courses and programs. This has been done by the faculty reviewing the learner outcomes for each course and identifying those that apply to the general education areas and outcome statements. As faculty assess the identified learner outcomes for their courses, they report the results as they relate to the appropriate general education area. This process has resulted in an increased use of internal, faculty designed assessments along with the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP) exam which includes five sections; reading, writing, critical thinking, math, and science. The Foundations of Learning Project supports improvements in the assessment process for the instructional division by providing needed enhancements to the structure of the process, encouraging the use of effective external and internal assessment tools to include more areas of general education, and developing a more effective reporting and communication system. All of these efforts will ensure that improvements in general education instruction are driven by the use of assessment data and results.

This project also includes non-instructional departments of the college that can have an impact on student learning in less direct ways than the instructional division. These departments will become familiar with the general education outcomes for students and will consider ways that they can support these outcomes. A non-instructional department may choose to support student learning in general rather than selecting a specific general education outcome area with the understanding that any support for student learning will also address general education. In the past, these departments have not been expected to assess their impact on general education outcomes. Therefore, this project will involve more employees with greater awareness of how they can positively impact the success of our students.

The general education learner outcomes are considered to be of high importance because they are measurable standards of achievement that

  1. outline the academic skills that all students should gain after completion of their chosen program of study.
  2. support academic and employment success by assuring students have basic skills required by their programs of study.
  3. assure that students are provided with skills that will support lifelong learning beyond their education at Southwestern.

Alignment with Mission and Strategic Priorities

Southwestern Community College adopted the Carver Model of Policy Governance in 1995 which resulted in the Board of Directors adopting a purpose statement for the college. The statement is reviewed by the Board on a periodic basis. The purpose statement was last modified in 2003 and states, “Southwestern Community College exists in order that Area XIV community members have opportunities to gain skills and knowledge sufficient for successful employment, higher education achievement, or adult and continuing education”. The college’s vision statement states, “Southwestern Community College will be the center of educational excellence for the advancement of our students and communities.” This project supports both the purpose and vision of Southwestern Community College by ensuring that students secure those important basic skills that will support their success throughout their formal education and throughout their lives. Their development as lifelong learners supports the community by providing a better educated citizenry and better skilled workforce.

Southwestern Community College underwent a rigorous strategic planning process during fiscal year 2011. The strategic planning committee scanned the environment and developed a new strategic plan to guide the work of the college staff during the next five years. During the strategic planning process, Southwestern Community College identified the following four initiatives:

  • Ensure student learning and success
  • Increase student enrollment and retention
  • Develop alternative resources to support program and student needs
  • Provide a quality learning environment that supports innovation

The Foundations of Learning Project supports the college’s purpose and vision because it addresses the fundamental educational requirements that support lifelong learning. The project also has an impact on each of the four strategic initiatives by providing the appropriate framework for delivery and assessment of general education to best serve students. Improved learning in the general education areas will support student success and retention. The process will aid in the identification of needed resources and improvements to learning environments. Overall, the Foundations of Learning Project will support decision making through a stronger link between institutional assessment and the strategic planning process.

Intended Impact

This initiative will increase awareness among the faculty, staff and administration of the student learning process particularly with respect to those basic skills that prepare students for success in their education and careers. Instructional and non-instructional departments will consider how they can support student engagement and learning to aid students in attaining these foundational skills. Through this project, these skills will be integrated and assessed more effectively throughout instructional programs and courses. For the first time, non-instructional employees will also be involved in supporting and assessing general education outcomes. Non-instructional activities will be identified and utilized for a more comprehensive process of assessing student learning in the general education areas.

It is intended that this initiative will be a unifying force across the college. Changes to curriculum and the student experience are expected to improve student success and address the basic educational needs of all students. By including all employees in the Foundations of Learning Project, meaningful change is expected in the institutional culture that supports student learning and strengthens the connection between the assessment process and strategic planning.

Clarity of the Initiative’s Purpose

Purposes and Goals

This initiative will continue the work of the instructional division in improving and assessing general education at Southwestern Community College. It will also engage areas of the college that have not been involved in providing and assessing the general education areas and outcome statements in the past. This project is needed in order to broadly impact the culture of the institution in a way that supports student learning in the important skills defined by the general education outcomes.

The purposes of the project are to:

  • establish a process that effectively uses general education assessment results to make improvements at the college.
  • engage more departments and personnel from throughout the college in the student learning process.
  • incorporate general education into student life as well as the classroom.
  • strengthen the link between assessment and strategic planning.
  • improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the general education assessment process.

The goals of the project are as follows:

  • The instructional division will research and evaluate the use of additional external examinations for general education assessments and increase the effectiveness and validity of internal examinations.
  • The instructional division will develop improved data collection and reporting mechanisms to support the assessment of general education throughout the curriculum.
  • The instructional division will advance the documentation of assessment results and how they will be utilized for improvements in general education.
  • The non-instructional departments will develop strategies to support student learning in at least one area of general education or to support student learning in general.
  • The non-instructional departments will develop and implement a process for assessing their impact on students with respect to general education or student learning in general.
  • The Assessment Sub-committee will structure communication and reporting systems within the college to support continuous improvement in student learning among all departments with key committees being the Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment Committee and the Strategic Planning Committee.
  • The Assessment Sub-committee will lead the effort to expand the general education assessment process to include more stakeholders.
  • The Assessment Sub-committee will create a high quality publication that communicates the effectiveness of general education across the college to stakeholders.

Evaluation of Progress and Accomplishments

The college will make use of existing processes and meetings to aid in monitoring the progress of the project. An Assessment Sub-committee will be established from the members of the Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment Committee. This group will provide direction and oversight for the overall, college-wide project.

The faculty within each instructional department will report their general education assessment activities to their colleagues within their disciplines and to their department chairs at regularly scheduled department and faculty meetings. When possible, a representative from the Assessment Sub-committee will be present for this part of the departmental meeting. Otherwise, the department chairs will provide updates to the Assessment Sub-committee so that lack of progress or the need for professional development and resources can be identified to assist the faculty. Assessment Co-chairs, who have been appointed by the college for several years, will work individually with faculty members who need assistance and will collect and report instructional data on an annual basis to the Assessment Sub-committee. The Assessment Day for faculty will provide an opportunity for sharing of progress with colleagues from other departments and will support progress of the instructional division as a whole.

Non-instructional departments will hold meetings as necessary to ensure that adequate training, communication and documentation is taking place to meet the requirements of the Foundations of Learning Project. When possible, a representative from the Assessment Sub-committee will be present for this part of the meeting. Appointed representatives from the non-instructional groups will report to the Assessment Sub-committee. The Assessment Day for staff will provide an opportunity for all staff to share outcomes of their assessment projects including accomplishments and opportunities for improvement as they relate to the project.

The Assessment Sub-committee will meet regularly and will invite representatives from various areas of the college to report on their progress as needed. Suggestions for improvement will be provided to departments after reviews of their reports. This committee will also establish a method by which reports can be shared between instructional and non-instructional departments. This committee will prepare an executive summary of all assessments, including those related to the project, and will present the summary to the Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment Committee for review and recommendations. The committee will also share the report with the Strategic Planning Committee for consideration during the planning process for the college. A final summary report will be published and posted to the Southwestern Community College website for viewing by the public.

The production of certain deliverables will also serve as indicators of progress for the project. Anticipated deliverables includes:

  • A document clearly describing the processes for assessing general education that will be used by the instructional and non-instructional departments of the college.
  • Enhanced electronic data collection methodology and forms.
  • An assessment map that connects instructional assessments of learner outcomes with specific general education outcome statements. Currently, most course learner outcomes are mapped to general education areas and are not specific to the outcomes statements.
  • A gap analysis to identify any general education outcome statements that are not linked to an assessment and a strategy to address this gap.
  • A summary of external exams that are considered and implemented.
  • Documented strategies from non-instructional departments for assessing general education outcome statements supported by research.
  • Examples of how assessment results are used for improvement by the instructional division and non-instructional departments of the college and for institutional strategic planning.
  • Minutes and summaries of meetings where general education and assessment are discussed and a summary of the annual assessment day activities.
  • Descriptions of professional development activities provided to employees.

Potential Challenges

It is anticipated that all college employees involved in the process will be supportive but will need time, professional development and leadership to successfully implement the changes. The inclusion of adjunct faculty and other high-turnover staffing areas and committees will require frequent communications and orientations to explain the value and significance of the common assessment. Assessment of general education outcomes has not been a part of the non-instructional assessment process therefore clear and concise explanations will need to be provided. Increasing the awareness of their role in student learning, especially when they have limited contact with students, may be necessary.

Since many departments within the college already have ongoing assessment projects and processes with proven benefits, it will be important to ensure that the Foundations of Learning Project does not supplant or interfere with these efforts. There may be costs associated with professional development, training and the purchase of assessment tools and instruments. Financial support of the project may necessitate creative solutions when funding is not available.

Evidence of Commitment to and Capacity for Accomplishing the Initiative

Internal and External Support

The Foundations of Learning Project supports improving the assessment of general education areas and learner outcomes throughout the college and making changes based on assessment results. Southwestern Community College has invested in the assessment process by providing training from an external evaluation group, sending teams to the Higher Learning Commission conference annually, appointing Assessment Co-chairs for the instructional division, and organizing a General Education Advisory Committee. The career and technical programs have advisory groups that include employers who inform faculty members of what skills are needed in the workplace. The college employs an Assessment Coordinator and provides funds for certain exams including the CAAP exam.

The Foundations of Learning Project offers an improved process that will have a future impact on stakeholders such as students, their families, employers and transfer institutions by creating a systematic and college-wide process of improvement related to those fundamental skills that are foundational to lifelong success. Internal stakeholders, that include all college employees, have been involved in assessment for many years but a recent emphasis that includes one full day specifically devoted to assessment has increased the awareness and participation of faculty and staff in the process. This assessment day is an important component of the Foundations of Learning Project because it brings together college employees and frees up time for them to focus on all aspects of assessment of the general education outcomes.

Groups and Individuals Involved in Implementation

While all employees will be engaged in the Foundations of Learning Project, the work will be done in organized groups, most of which already exist at the college. Each group will be responsible for making sure they are making adequate progress to support the project. Instructional department chairs, non-instructional representatives, and the Assessment Co-chairs will be responsible for monitoring and reporting the progress of working groups. Oversight will be provided by the Assessment Sub-committee and the Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment Committee. Those groups who have oversight of the college, the president’s cabinet and the Board of Directors, will be informed of the progress of the project and will provide direction and consideration for resources when needed to support the project.

Committed Resources

Assessment Co-chairs, an Assessment Coordinator and an Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment Committee are already organized to move this initiative forward. To provide additional oversight of the project, Southwestern will develop an Assessment Sub-committee that will meet regularly to monitor the implementation of its Foundations of Learning Project. Financial support is available for external assessment instruments and professional development activities. Technology skills that support the creation of electronic documents and reports are provided by faculty with technology training. Time commitment is evident in that the college designates an entire day during the fall term for all departments and all employees to focus and report on assessment activities. The leadership of the college is committed to providing the time, financial resources and energy necessary for the Foundations of Learning Project to be successful.

Continuing the Initiative

It is the intent of the leadership of the college that improvement through assessment becomes a unifying part of the college culture. The development of a clearly documented process that is supported with adequate communication and training will help sustain the initiative. Investments in professional development will support its sustainability among current and future employees. New faculty orientations and workshops will include training on the general education assessment initiative and will promote the value of the common assessment. The formation of standard electronic documents and reports will also help to maintain the process in an efficient manner.

Appropriateness of the Timeline for the Initiative

The Foundations of Learning Project will be an ongoing project but, for Quality Initiative reporting purposes, will span over two academic years starting with the fall of 2013 and ending in the spring of 2015.

Instructional Departments

Both years:

  1. Disciplines/departments will hold meetings to review general education outcomes, the assessment timeline and the current methods of assessment. When possible, a comparison of internal assessments will be made to external assessments to test the validity of the internal instruments.
  2. An assessment map will be generated that ties course learner outcomes to specific general education learner outcomes statements rather than just areas of general education.
  3. Research by individuals within each discipline will be conducted to identify external assessment exams that can also assess general education outcomes. These assessments can replace or augment the assessments already used within the course.
  4. Departmental reports will be made at regularly scheduled faculty meetings to promote interest and progress with the project.
  5. Interdisciplinary comparisons will be made at the annual assessment day as another way to test the validity of internal assessments.
  6. Professional development activities will be provided that support the faculty and staff in the assessment of student learning in general education areas.

Non-instructional Departments

Year One:

  1. Hold meetings to explain the Foundations of Learning Project, share the general education outcomes and discuss how the group will develop their plan to support general education or their strategy to support student learning in general.
  2. Research other departments, institutions and other resources to develop the plan or strategy.
  3. Hold training sessions on assessment.
  4. Document the departmental plan or strategy and how it will be assessed.

Year Two:

  1. Establish a completed cycle by reviewing at least one round of assessments and documenting how changes will be made for improvement.

Assessment Sub-Committee

Both Years:

  1. Compare internal assessment instruments with external instruments such as CAAP, ACT, Compass and industry tests to identify if results of internal assessments are reasonable. Advise faculty accordingly.
  2. Conduct longitudinal comparisons to see if action plans based on assessment results are implemented and assessed to support continued improvement in student learning. Advise faculty and staff of findings.
  3. Prepare annual reviews and progress reports of the process, results and implementation by all employees and share with the Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment Committee, Strategic Planning Committee, and other stakeholders.
  4. Organize a means for reporting out progress between instructional and non-instructional departments.

Year Two:

  1. Prepare templates for reporting that are consistent across the college, available in an electronic format and appropriate to generate standard reports.
  2. Document that assessment results are shared annually with the Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment Committee and Strategic Planning Committee, especially in areas showing need for improvement.
  3. Publish electronic reports for public viewing.

Institution Contact

Matt Thompson, Dean of Student Services and Institutional Advancement

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