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Lessons Learned from FIPSE Projects II - September 1993

Winthrop College

South Carolina Higher Education Assessment (SCHEA) Network


The South Carolina Higher Education Assessment (SCHEA) Network, a 47-member statewide consortium of South Carolina colleges and universities, was established in response to state and accreditor assessment mandates. Its primary purpose was to develop collaborative relationships among a group of colleges and universities largely unprepared for the challenges of assessment. Network organizers assumed that properly coordinated consortial arrangements and centrally provided technical assistance would enable members to initiate quality assessment programs faster and less expensively than they could achieve on their own.

Innovative Features

At the outset, there were few promising signs for an effective assessment consortium, given the limited resources committed in South Carolina to assessment, the fierce rivalries among sister institutions, and an unwelcoming attitude on the part of most higher educators towards state assessment mandates.

When Winthrop University emerged as leader of the consortium, some felt that it had few obvious qualifications to mount such an ambitious project. A relatively small institution, formerly a state women's college tucked up in the corner of the state, it had no distinctive mission or constituency. Yet several Winthrop administrators and certain members of Winthrop's Psychology Department foresaw the need to coordinate assessment assistance to member institutions statewide. They formed the Network Coordinating Center at Winthrop to provide organizational, informational, and technical assistance and mutual support services, and to collect and produce assessment resource materials.


The primary learning targets and beneficiaries of the SCHEA Network were the faculty and administrators of member institutions. Yearly evaluations were conducted of the Network's objectives, assessment activities of members, staff performance, conferences, workshops, presentations, consumer demands inside and outside of the Network, dissemination, and changes in SCHEA member participation. Several external evaluators were employed to examine the program's organization, management, and effectiveness.

Five external evaluators, all prominent nationally in assessment, judged the SCHEA Network project and its activities very highly. They pointed to the consortium's statewide influence in assessment policy as evidenced by the Network's symbiotic relationship with the Commission on Higher Education, its effectiveness in promoting inter-higher education institutions in South Carolina. They dubbed it "the best state assessment consortium in the country, and one that other states should emulate."

A three-year evaluation data summary based on ratings from Network members and program records showed marked increases in Network membership and inter-campus collaborations; increased conference attendance; favorable attendee evaluation; consistently positive Advisory Board assessments of SCHEA, its activities, objectives, services and staff; and skyrocketing gains over the three years in requests to the Network for technical assistance, bibliographies, and publications.

Project Impact

Originally, the project aimed to attract a core group of consortial participants from at least 12 institutions, who would generate momentum for participation across the whole state. In fact, in the three-year grant period, the SCHEA Network pulled together 42 institutions, including all 33 public colleges and universities in the state, seven private institutions, and two state agencies. Beyond this organizational framework, Winthrop developed an exportable and practical primer, A Beginner's Guide to Higher Education Assessment, to help orient newcomers to the major issues, models, options, and obstacles to assessment.

Today, hundreds of requests for assistance and materials from all 50 states and 6 foreign countries far exceed the Network's ability to respond, especially for on-campus workshops and needs assessments. Network staff have annotated and printed over 700 assessment references, 120 instruments and methods, and eight assessment newsletters (The eXchange). These materials constitute a lending library of assessment resource materials for SCHEA members. Winthrop's full-day Beginner's Guide Workshop has become a staple fixture of AAHE's National Assessment Conference.

Major Insights and Lessons Learned

Virtually every program associated with the SCHEA Network has reported positive impact on program quality.Admittedly, these programs refer to clear and substantial process benefits of assessment rather than student outcome data that may be forthcoming later.

With a consortium, time and cost estimates seem to expand exponentially and are extremely hard to manage.The Network found that the nature of assessment made everything take longer than planned, whether it was designing, piloting, implementing, analyzing, evaluating or disseminating.

Network staff found that most higher educators would benefit from assessment, whether they know it or not.Once misperceptions and myths about assessment were removed, SCHEA participants became more supportive and willing to put in long hours, believing that their effort would one day benefit their students.Even long-standing patterns of rivalry and mistrust among SCHEA institutions did not stand in the way of productive collaboration.The key strategy was to lure central campus leaders with the repeated theme that assessment would enhance the quality of programs.

However, even the best programs can expect a hard core minority to oppose assessment, whether out of suspicion, fear, or bias.Winthrop's lesson from its own experience is similar to that of others, i.e., opposition is to be expected with any major reform and it should not dissuade or impede assessment efforts.The Network credited the generous help of other FIPSE project directors in assessment who provided useful and innovative ideas that improved the efficiency and quality of the Network.

Project staff recommended that FIPSE fund: (1) more evaluations of assessment methods, especially of their validity; (2) more assessment consortia; and (3) more projects that consolidate and analyze the conflicts and redundancies among rapidly proliferating assessment-related laws, regulations, and guidelines.

Project Continuation

SCHEA Network activities have received sufficient support from the Commission on Higher Education, Winthrop University and membership fees to continue, despite the worst fiscal crisis in the state's history.Substantial interest in adopting the Network's South Carolina consortial model in North Carolina, under the sponsorship of the North Carolina Association of Colleges and Universities, has taken the form of exchanges of information, planning meetings and on-campus visits.

During the project's second and third year, academic area assessment networks of multicampus interest groups were formed, to share assessment experiences and innovative strategies, and to plan collaborative activities.Begun with fewer than a dozen members in 1990, there are now 14 mini-networks with over 200 members. This is one of the most promising legacies of the SCHEA Network for years to come.

Additionally, SCHEA has begun establishing liaisons with assessment mandators and other groups influential in the assessment policy and implementation process.Through these liaisons they hope to perform a beneficial consultative and advisory role. Last year a joint South Carolina Commission on Higher Education Staff/SCHEA Task Force developed recommendations for ways to implement the federal "Student Right to Know" and state "Higher Education Accountability" acts in South Carolina. These recommendations have been adopted.In spring, 1992 SCHEA established an information-sharing relationship with the staff of the state and national Educational Goals Panels, and several SCHEA members have been nominated to serve on advisory councils to those groups.SCHEA nominations have been solicited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools regional accrediting agency to help strengthen their institutional effectiveness and assessment evaluator pool.In addition, SCHEA became a formal affiliate of South Carolina's most influential non-governmental higher education group, the South Carolina Council of Presidents.

Since the SCHEA Network primarily represents the "troops in the trenches" in higher education assessment, these new liaisons may well afford earlier more effective practitioner input to the policy development process, which will then encourage higher quality, assessment programs throughout the state.

Available Information

The SCHEA Network has produced over 30 written products, reports and other resource materials, including organizational documents (e.g., membership lists, committee charges, conference programs, evaluation forms, etc.), project reports, and assessment-related publications.The Network will share these materials on a copy cost or maintenance fee basis.

The following are available:

  • SCHEA Network Publications List

  • A Beginner's Guide to Higher Education Assessment (Available in a workshop version and a condensed version.)

  • The SCHEA Annotated Bibliography of Higher Assessment Literature

  • The SCHEA Annotated Bibliography of Student Personnel Development Assessment

  • A Selected Bibliography of Learning Research Literature

  • A Critical Review of Student Assessment Options

  • The SCHEA eXchange Newsletter, Issues 1-8

  • The SCHEA Network Lending Library of Assessment Resource Materials

  • Assessing Assessment: An In-Depth Study of the Higher Education Assessment Movement in 1990 (ACE-supported)

  • Sample Assessment Plans for Students' Personal Development

  • Final Report to FIPSE for the SCHEA Project

Please direct your requests to:

Reid Johnson
Office of Assessment
210 Tillman Hall
Winthrop University
Rock Hill, SC 29733

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Last Modified: 02/22/2006