Assessment ROI: Improving Retention with Embedded Exams

January 7, 2015 Kristen Hicks

In the midst of all the talk regarding student loans and the need for greater ROI (return on investment) in higher education, there’s been an increased focus on the issue of retention, especially since the numbers are so troubling. Too many students are failing to graduate from college, and even more are failing to do so within the recommended time frame.

That’s bad for students, and it’s arguably just as bad for the schools they’re (not) attending. Any school that loses too many students between freshman year and graduation gains a reputation that may steer future students away, affect accreditation status, and lead to a loss in rankings.

The Financial Value of Retention

No school can afford not to care about student retention. Beyond the many consequences of a high dropout rate described above, retention is important to a college’s bottom line. Ultimately, college dropouts mean lost profits. Every student that drops out means the loss of tuition. That can add up quickly; therefore, student retention directly relates to an institution’s ability to survive financially.

The Difference Exam Assessment Makes

A problem as widespread as falling retention rates can seem so big, but the situation is far from hopeless. For example, the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York significantly raised its student retention rates with the use of exam assessment. The school’s efforts resulted in $2.2 million in savings.

Steps to Improve Graduation Rates

Saying that exam assessment made the difference doesn’t really tell you what you need to know, so here’s how that term breaks down into more specific steps.

Step One: Have Clear Goals

Touro College started by defining its goals. It wanted the ability to empower students to do better through stronger and more specific feedback, and it wanted a way to better evaluate the success of its program. The school examined some possible assessment tools to help with this and found the best match for its needs was a platform that utilized embedded assessment to capture valuable data to inform both students and the program of their performance.

Step Two: Map Goals to the Larger Curriculum

Touro College developed a dynamic curriculum that had clear learning objectives for students and mapped its exams and assignments to those objectives in order to track each student’s progress toward achieving them.

Step Three: Empower Students with Better Feedback

By this point, most of the work will have been done by the administration and faculty, but here’s where one of the most important factors comes into play: student empowerment. The established learning objectives are clearly communicated to students so they know what their goals should be.

By mapping all of their exams to those objectives, faculty members end up with clear data on how students are doing on each objective and can provide specific feedback to students. Touro College’s commitment to exam assessment actually measured learning outcomes every day, so the school was able to provide students with real-time feedback.

Step Four: Empower Faculty with Better Feedback

In addition to turning that data into powerful feedback for students to improve their study habits, the faculty members at Touro College can use it to improve their courses continually throughout the year. Furthermore, professors can regularly evaluate what instruction the students need most and tweak the coursework accordingly.

Step Five: Keep an Eye Out for Indications of Student Difficulties

The assessment data serves another important purpose at Touro. The school is able to use it as an early warning system for students whose grades start to fall off. Many dropouts are due to family problems or other outside stresses that students can work past if they get a little extra help and attention. The challenge is recognizing when those extra remediation efforts are needed. Assessment data can help.

This whitepaper about using a data-driven feedback system examines these steps in more detail.

While Touro’s results are impressive, each school will likely be best served with a different approach based on its particular goals and needs. We can help you figure out what’s right for your institution – as you can see from Touro’s example, the benefits are well worth it.


Previous Article
iPads in Higher Education: Maintaining Exam Security in a BYOD Culture
iPads in Higher Education: Maintaining Exam Security in a BYOD Culture

IPads and other tablets have been embraced in higher education since they were introduced into the market a...

Next Article
3 Steps to Prepare for a Better Spring Semester
3 Steps to Prepare for a Better Spring Semester

Good planning is a cornerstone of faculty success - here are three steps to prepare yourself and program fo...