Davis Foundation Grant Brings Learning Outcomes to Light

What do grit, citizenship, and ethical courage have in common? They are all part of Marlboro’s nine educational ideals, formulated in 2014 to identify the college’s goals and priorities for its students. These ideals inform many aspects of the college, but until recently they have not provided specific and measurable learning outcomes against which Marlboro students can be evaluated. That is about to change, thanks to a generous two-year, $130,000 grant from the Davis Educational Foundation, established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc.

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) 2015 accreditation report for Marlboro noted the college’s lack of aggregate data on student learning and called for this issue to be addressed before its re-accreditation in 2025. The challenge, of course, is that Marlboro has always been a place that values the individual and encourages each student to chart their own course. Indeed, the opportunity to pursue a Plan of Concentration in lieu of a traditional major is what often attracts many students to Marlboro. However, accrediting agencies such as NEASC increasingly want to see evidence that colleges are tracking student learning at a population level, not just at the level of individual students.

“We saw this as not just a challenge, but also an opportunity,” said Richard Glezjer, dean of faculty, who was left to wrestle with the question of how to move forward with assessment. “The college was at a crossroad; low enrollment was prompting a fresh look at curricular design and the need for a more user-friendly path through the Plan of Concentration. The faculty worked hard to make this evolution with an eye toward assessment.”

The faculty approved a new approach called The Progression, with clearer steps for freshman and sophomores as well as an electronic portfolio of work that students would build as they moved through their four years. The Progression established new milestones and tangible artifacts of learning that could provide a much-needed springboard for measuring student learning. The question became how to move from individualized learning outcomes to reportable data.

With the support from the Davis Educational Foundation, Marlboro has hired an educational consultant with a national reputation and a demonstrated track record of success working with institutions of higher education. Linda Suskie has 40 years of experience in higher education administration, and is author of Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide. Over the course of the two-year grant, Linda will be visiting campus several times and collaborating with faculty to develop learning assessment practices.

“Linda has the sensitivity and experience to understand the value of Marlboro’s unique approach to individualized learning, and knows how to bring learning outcomes to light for the purpose of accreditation,” said Richard. “The activities supported by this grant will lift Marlboro’s academic model to a new level, one that will clearly demonstrate the profound learning experience that we know happens here.”