UT System opts out of national assessment to cut costs

Matthew Adams

The UT System will no longer participate in a student assessment they have distributed since 2004.

Karen Adler, spokeswoman for the UT System, said the UT System decided over the summer to not continue the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which measures how much undergraduates are learning in their academics. Adler said the System made the decision to save costs for the University.

“Previously, the UT System paid for academic campuses to participate in the CLA for $92,000 annually,” Adler said. “The decision to no longer fund the CLA is a cost-savings measure and a reflection of our efforts to focus our budget on critical needs. The services previously provided by CLA will now be done in-house through the UT System Office of Strategic Initiatives.”

A report from Watchdog, a political advocacy group, found UT students scored in the 23rd percentile on the assessment. However, Linda Dickens, senior director of institutional accreditation and effectiveness at UT, said the 23rd percentile is not correct. From data between 2010 and 2014, Dickens said freshman students have not scored below the 98th percentile, and seniors have never scored below the 95th percentile.  

“To say that our students are not stacking up to other students or other institutions is not quite accurate, because we are surpassing other students,” Dickens said.

A 2012 story by the Washington Post  found UT was one of hundreds of institutions to use the Collegiate Learning Assessment to test a student’s critical thinking and communication skills. Using the Collegiate Learning Assessment data, sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa conducted a national study in 2011 that found 36 percent of students did not make any significant learning gains between their freshman and senior year.

Tom Lindsay, director of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said the percentage could be tied back to a lack of required curriculum.

“The humanities, social sciences, mathematics and natural sciences are the subject matter of what used to be a required core curriculum in the liberal arts and sciences,” Lindsay said. “In one sense, you can say these disappointing scores … is perhaps a decline of a required core curriculum in the liberal arts and sciences, [which] explains to some extent these nationwide statistics.”  
Dickens said the University provides the assessment to 200 freshmen in the fall and 200 seniors in the spring. The results are sent to the University System to review before the campuses see the results. 
Despite UT using the assessment, Dickens said the Collegiate Learning Assessment has not always been the best option to look at students’ progress.

“When our students score so high coming in, you need a test that is so nuanced that it can really capture the kinds of gains student make during their years here,” Dickens said. “I’m not sure the CLA has been able to capture those changes of our students.”