Are we, as a University what we claim to be? Are our efforts bringing the results we want?
The primary way to find out is through the complex world of assessment. It’s an office not everyone one campus knows about – but it is one of the most important in determining the answers to these questions.
Josie Welsh was recently named the new Director of Institutional Effectiveness (I.E.) at Missouri Southern, an office tasked with ascertaining those answers.
Welsh, a Pennsylvania native, holds a Ph.D. in Experimental Social Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University. Over the years she has home-schooled her children, worked as a teacher and, after that, as an administrator. She most recently was a member of the faculty and Director of Assessment at Arkansas State University.
Welsh says before assessment begins, she needs to know what questions are being asked:
“First, we have to articulate what people want to know and why,” she says. “It is our job to determine what data we need and then to answer those questions.”
Welsh says the MSSU Institutional Effectiveness (IE) office at MSSU works in the trenches, collecting information from the Banner system, surveys and other sources.
Much of the information collected is mandated by the Federal and state government.
Official data is reported to IPEDS, the Integrated Postsecondary Education System, as well as the National Student Clearinghouse. IPEDS gathers information from every college, university, and technical and vocational institution that participates in the federal student financial aid programs.
She says the non-profit Clearinghouse is designed to facilitate compliance with FERPA, the Higher Education Act and other applicable laws. It allows a university to compare its assessment data with that from other institutions of higher learning.
“Our first goal is to be sure that accurate data are being kept,” Welsh says. “Data such as size, selectivity, and number of residential students determine the Carnegie classification for the University.”
Welsh says on an internal basis, requests for information fall into several categories.
“MSSU, as a university, is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. In a similar way schools or departments are often accountable to other accreditation bodies. When they come up for re-accreditation, usually, every few years, we provide them with the data they need.”
Welsh also says when individual programs come up for review on campus, they often turn to the IE office for facts and figures.
The IE office also can provide facts and figures when a department contemplates hiring of new faculty or when offices need information on student-teacher ratio or faculty load.
What is the best part of her job?
“Without a doubt, I would say it would be working one-on-one with faculty to develop assessment that is useful and meaningful — as opposed to figures that are needed for compliance.
“Some of the data we compile can help faculty provide continuous quality improvement in the classroom. We provide support for student learning assessments but always with the understanding that authentic assessment is faculty-driven and faculty-owned.”
What is the most challenging part of her position?
She responds with a smile.
“It’s the same thing. The best part really is also the toughest part,” she replies. “I know the primary job of faculty members is not assessment. They come here primarily to teach and do research. The joy of the job is when I convince faculty that student learning assessment is something that can truly make a positive impact on teaching.”
Welsh, a new arrival to the Joplin area, is the mother of four college-age daughters. You may see her jogging or swimming – two of her off-the-clock passions.
“I also enjoy doing yardwork,” she laughs. “I really enjoy it.”
What are her impressions of MSSU and the Joplin area?
“You have everything you need here – restaurants, shopping, activities. I didn’t realize what was here. It has all the attractions of a larger city but without the traffic!”