This piece originally appeared in the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education DHE Forward Newsletter:

The heart of learning assessment is this: faculty who are experts in their fields determining the most important things students must know and be able to do in order to demonstrate mastery; assessing that mastery through a variety of “authentic” activities; and using the results of those assessments to improve teaching and learning.

Then doing it all over again.

And again.

For a community college like Northern Essex, an effective system of learning outcomes assessment has tremendous benefits:

Faculty think even more intentionally about curriculum design, creating course content, projects, exams, and practical experiences that are focused on learning outcomes—that is, not just what is being taught, but what is actually being learned.

Robust learning outcomes assessment gets faculty collaborating more across sections of courses, across courses in programs, and across programs at colleges. These communities of practice learn from each other, and in turn improve teaching and learning for students.

Some of the most important qualities faculty assess across the curriculum are the same qualities employers in nearly every field seek for the workforce: critical thinking, written and oral communication, and analytical/quantitative reasoning. By constantly improving teaching and learning for these and other “core” skills, we are responding to local workforce needs.

And then there’s the equity issue. Community colleges are “open door” institutions that serve a large proportion first-generation, low-income, minority, and otherwise underserved students. When the learning outcomes for core courses from Composition to Chemistry to Calculus are the same across institutions, transferring credits becomes easier, degrees can be completed faster and more affordably, and no matter where a student starts or finishes a degree, they can be guaranteed a high-quality education.

Effective learning outcomes assessment across institutions—community colleges, state universities, and research institutions like UMass—helps students move up the higher education ladder, thus addressing the growing concerns about income inequality.

And that’s a learning outcome we can all agree on.