Each criterion study concludes with a listing of the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth that surfaced during the self-study process. In looking across the criteria and across the institution, however, an overarching view became possible. Here is a summary look at what we discovered about ourselves and our institution through this three-year journey of self-study and how we have responded:
Cross references have been provided to discussions that support the statements made in this closing section of the self-study. The code represents the Criterion, Core Component, and numbered evidence statement. Use the bookmarks or Table of Contents to locate the appropriate section.
What Did We Learn?
The self-study began revealing areas of need from the very first read-through of the criteria by the self-study committee. And directions for action kept on appearing even during the final review and discussion stage. As a result, the process of self-study has led and is leading to change for Sauk:
Actions We Took
As the study uncovered areas of concern, the steering committee balanced what could be repaired during the process with what should be revealed and subjected to scrutiny by a peer review team. Several situations were easily fixed:
- Human research policy. The Criterion 4 committee became immediately aware that no formal policy was in place to guide ethical research practices, especially when human subjects are involved (4D.1). The policy and procedures were researched and drafted by a group of faculty and administrators, proposed to administration, and approved by the Board on June 21, 2010.
- Assessment brochure. The Criterion 3 committee realized that an assessment brochure, which was a key piece in communicating the importance of assessment to students, had not been updated after changes were made to the system (3A.6). This was corrected by the Assessment Core Team in time for updated copies to be provided for the summer 2010 orientation courses. In addition, the Orientation (PSY 100) outline was revised to specify the assessment-related outcomes that relate to the brochure (3A.5).
- Staffing. Several criterion committees expressed concerns about staffing levels as they looked over the planning documentation from the last five years. However, several of the open positions have been filled and others are underway. For example, an additional Instructional Technology Designer has been hired (3D.2); and plans are being finalized to add a position to handle all of the high school relations and recruitment activities in FY12 (5C.1).
- Procedural issues: The study uncovered some procedural oversights:
- The student complaint procedures were revised and efforts to inform students were renewed when after reviewing Federal Compliance requirements (1E.7).
- The self-study revealed that the annual reports of the Assessment Committee were not being filed digitally. A place for these records was made in FAST (3A.6).
- The affirmative action procedure in Human Resources was amended to ensure that status as a federal contractor is verified before beginning work on the annual plan (1E.2). The self-study had revealed some confusion about whether creating a plan was an institutional or legal requirement.
- A job description for Area Facilitator, which was created with the 2003 Assessment Plan, was moved into the official job description system and posted in FAST (3A.1).
Actions We Are Taking
The self-study revealed areas of concern that warranted and received immediate attention, but which require time to bring to completion. Certain improvements have begun and will still be underway at the time of the Reaffirmation visit:
- Handbooks. Although communication of most systems has improved tenfold from the days of paper documents, the self-study uncovered that the employee handbook system remained in the “silo” tradition of printing and storing paper copies in isolated offices. Several of the self-study committees either reported being unable to find handbooks or came up with a print copy of an outdated one. Appended to this report are draft copies of new digital handbooks for administration, professional/technical and support staff, adjunct faculty, and full-time faculty classifications. As the self-study report is completed, these are in various stages of review by the college community.
- Program review. Sauk continues examining ways to strengthen the processes that contribute to planning. At its June 21, 2011, meeting, the President’s Cabinet discussed the need to make improvements to the program review process (2C.2). The Program Review Committee will be asked to revise the process to make it more beneficial to departments and the institution, strengthen planning and budgeting, and place emphasis on performance-based measures.
- Academic integrity. In response to a spring faculty meeting that examined ethics assessment data and the resulting Operational Plans, a faculty taskforce was formed to address concerns related to communicating expectations for academic integrity which had also been addressed in the self-study (4D.1). The committee had its first meeting in May 2011 to consider suggestions made by the academic areas and will reconvene in fall 2011.
- Public service. Because the college values community service, but only faculty routinely report their activities on their self-evaluations, the self-study committee recommended that the evaluation forms for administrators and staff should also include this question. This suggestion has been discussed in several President’s Cabinet meetings and is likely to be incorporated in the next revision of the evaluations.
- Academic freedoms. The self-study committee expressed concern that although the Code of Conduct is made clear to students, no similar effort has been made to communicate the rights to academic freedoms granted by Board policy (4A.1). As a result, the Dean of Student Services is leading a project to summarize student rights and plans to begin an annual student notification during the fall of 2011.
- Student expectations. In conjunction with the creation of a committee to develop an academic integrity statement, the Academic Vice President has polled the faculty on its concerns for student expectations and has asked the same taskforce to develop preliminary guidelines regarding classroom policies pertaining to issues such as attendance, late assignments, make up exams, classroom behavior, and other classroom practices. The entire faculty will have the opportunity to develop and discuss the guidelines, which would be added to the faculty handbooks. (1E.3)
Areas for Future Action
The thorough examination of Sauk from multiple perspectives and by various groups revealed several institution-level concerns that warrant careful attention as the college moves forward in its efforts to achieve its vision:
- Student evaluation. One of the systems we often indicated as a concern in the self-study is the student evaluation system. We collect student input into facility issues but only faculty see the results (3D.1). We have not developed a standard student evaluation process for online courses, which is just now being addressed (3C.1). We are still using a paper evaluation tool even though we have demonstrated through several successful assessment projects that IS/IT has the in-house capacity to make the system digital (3A.2). Having demonstrated our commitment to making data-influenced decisions and the value we place on student input, we are aware of the need to update and revise this system to enable us to better hear student voices on how we may improve the institution.
- Public relations. Humility is not a virtue when stakeholders aren’t getting adequate information about the college’s value to the community. The self-study shows we could do a better job of trumpeting our successes to the district. Although our web presence has grown and we are now making use of several types of social media (5B.2), we discovered that we were neither publishing employee accomplishments in the local press (4A.5), nor are we adequately publicizing the good news of our assessment results to our stakeholders (3A.5). The college has demonstrated that it serves the community, so some campus-wide initiative to improve our public relations awareness and create better connections to our marketing efforts should improve our local communication of how we achieve our Mission.
- Assessment system. While proud of how mature our assessment system has become compared to its condition ten years ago, we recognize that the self-study revealed several areas of need and directions for continued growth. We need to improve communication of results, especially to the public, but also to the Board of Trustees and to students (3A.5). New faculty members need orientation to the system and expectations for their involvement to ensure the continued strength of faculty direction of the system (3A.1). The Core Team needs to lead the faculty in a review of the general education competencies based on the self-study findings and the most recent system revision (4B.1).
- System integration. The self-study revealed directions for our continued integration of the planning and assessment systems. Overall, we are benefitting from adding in broader perspectives, but we aren’t where we want to be in integrating and aligning all of the elements. The planning process could benefit from more routine inclusion of student and external constituent input (2D.5). The periodic institutional data collections (Noel Levitz, for example) need better connection into the broader decision-making system, especially into operational planning (5D.1). And academic assessment data needs to be more available to support areas like the Counseling Office, for example, during operational planning (3A.4). Because both our systems are designed to respond to change, these identified growth opportunities will be responded to during the coming year. Evidence that improved alignment continues to develop may be seen in the marketing plan presented to the Board of Trustees at their June 2011 meeting. For the first time, the plan is specifically aligned with the college's Strategic Directions, providing evidence that our determination to work toward our Vision is being embedded in various systems outside of planning and assessment.
- Staffing. We face considerable challenge if the local and state economic climates continue to deteriorate. Although the existence of the cash surplus provides us a vital safety net for the short term, careful consideration will have to be given as decisions are made. As faculty and staff turnover occurs, attention is needed to safeguard essential tasks and activities when jobs are combined or cut (2B.7). The IS/IT department has been especially identified as an area to receive priority (3D.2). Our increased use of adjunct faculty requires additional attention to training and support (4A.2). Much of this decision-making will happen in President’s Cabinet, but our operational planning process will play an important role in campus-wide efforts to preserve quality service and fulfill the Strategic Goals and Objectives.
- Benchmarking. The concept of benchmarking is central to continuous improvement efforts. The self-study revealed that this aspect of planning and assessment could benefit from our increased attention and professional development. The recent addition of the Key Performance Indicators to the Strategic Directions should help build more awareness of its importance throughout the various planning systems (2C.3). Although the assessment system clearly values benchmarks for CAAP testing and various other measures (3A.3), the concept has receded from the place of prominence it held in the 2003 assessment system. Professional development in this area is on our schedule for FY12 to begin the process of increasing campus community awareness of benchmarking’s importance in driving continuous improvement.
- Professional development is of vital importance in our efforts to move from Mission to Vision. Although improvements have been made since the last comprehensive evaluation, professional development emerged during the self-study as a continued area of concern for our future. The self-study recommended an increase in the identification of topics of interest and increased funding for staff and administrator development in job-related areas (2B.8). Possible funding for adjunct faculty development (4A.2) and better tracking and sharing of topics of interest to the college being covered at conferences (3B.2) are among the ideas for us to address. Increased emphasis on professional development will allow us to respond to outside mandates and to carry out the Strategic Plan, as well as to pursue continuous improvement.
As the completed self-study report is read and discussed by the college community, we expect that other concerns and ideas will surface to be discussed, based on both the findings of the report and on issues we may have overlooked.