Outcomes Assessment in Higher Education: Challenges and Future Research in the Context of Voluntary System of Accountability


  • Ou Lydia Liu, Associate Research Scientist, Foundational and Validity Research Center, Educational Testing Service, 666 Rosedale Road, MS 16-R, Princeton, NJ 08541; lliu@ets.org.


Higher education institutions are becoming increasingly accountable to stakeholders at many levels as the federal government, accrediting organizations, and the public place a stronger emphasis on student learning outcomes. Evidence of student learning that is comparable across institutions is of urgent demand. Various accountability initiatives such as the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) mark a milestone in the evaluation of instructional effectiveness of higher education using standardized outcomes assessment. Although the current accountability initiatives hold great potential in evaluating institutional effectiveness, some design and methodological issues need to be addressed before outcomes assessment can be best utilized. In this paper, I (a) review the need for outcomes assessment in higher education, (b) discuss the VSA initiative, (c) summarize the most prominent challenges facing outcomes assessment for accountability purposes, and (d) discuss future directions of research in advancing accountability assessment in higher education.