Administrative units serve the educational mission of the institution in an indirect way. It is critical that their services are provided effectively in order for the institution to obtain its strategic goals as well as operational efficiency. Administrative units are defined as the basic units of organizational hierarchy, usually with a director as the head of the unit/office. For example, the Budget Office, FSU Foundation, Facilities, etc. are considered to be individual administrative units for the IE assessment purposes.
Every Admin unit should have an active and current mission statement, which is "a broad statement of the direction and values of the [administrative support services department/office/center]. For each unit the mission statement should reflect how the unit contributes to the education, development, and experiences of students at the institution. The mission statement also should describe the services provided by the unit." (p. 14 in UCF Administrative Assessment Handbook).
A well-defined mission statement includes the following components:
- Purpose of the unit - the reason(s) why you perform your major activities or operations. Your department's focus may be helping the university recruit best-suited employees, assisting faculty with research grant applications, or maintaining university physical infrastructure.
- Unit's stakeholders - groups of individuals who participate in your programming and/or are directly or indirectly benefiting from the provided services. For example, graduate students, assistant professors seeking tenure, university staff employees, or taxpayers of the state of Florida.
- Primary Functions - your unit's most important functions, operations, services and/or offerings that support institutional financial foundation and operational efficiency. For instance, offering search committee training to faculty and staff, establishing and maintaining relationships with state government, or providing data-based decision support to university leadership.
- Connection to University's mission - alignment between your unit's mission and the mission statement of FSU. Your unit's mission may be focused on leadership education and community engagement, which supports part of FSU's mission to "instill strength, skill and character". Another example is a university unit that assists faculty to patent their inventions, which directly aligns with FSU's dedication to excellence in research and vision to "be among the nation's most entrepreneurial and innovative universities".
Below is an example of Office of Institutional Performance and Assessment mission statement, with the four components of a well-defined mission statement underlined.
We are dedicated to supporting the University community (2) in our continuous improvement efforts (1). Our goal is to facilitate systematic, comprehensive, and data-based planning and evaluation processes (3) focused on enhancing institutional quality and effectiveness (4).
POs of administrative support services units should be focused on fulfilling the main role(s) that the unit serves at FSU and on providing the most important contribution(s) that the unit can make to the university success. Most Outcomes for Admin units are chosen because of their assumed or proven positive impact on operational efficiency, administrative effectiveness, and financial stability. Chosen POs should be a result of a unit's analysis of its program's strengths and weaknesses and should reflect its commitment to improving the most important services and outcomes.
Dependent on the purpose and primary functions of the Admin unit, POs selected by an individual department/office/center typically fall into three categories:
- Outcomes focused on the efficiency, breadth and/or quality of unit's support services or monetary targets. Examples include energy usage, response times, error rates, "clean report" targets, customer satisfaction levels, fund-raising goals, amount of research grants, auxiliary income targets. For instance, FSU Facilities may have a PO to optimize the work order fulfillment time so it never exceeds one-week threshold. Human Resources may have a PO focused on increasing the breadth of professional development opportunities offered to faculty and staff.
- Outcomes focused on developing certain knowledge, skills, behaviors, values and attitudes among students, faculty and /or staff. FSU Office of Research Development may have a PO aimed at increasing faculty participation in webinars on proposal writing. FSU Office for Human Subjects Protection may choose a PO that targets adherence to ethical principles and laws by faculty, staff and students conducting research studies.
- Outcomes focused on a specific aspect of university Mission and/or Strategic Plan. FSU Sustainability Office may have a PO to strengthen university commitments to sustainability as rated by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. FSU Presidential Events unit may have a PO focused on service that benefits local families, like the United Way campaign.
In addition, POs are typically conceptualized as:
- Desired final products and results (e.g., increased endowment size, greater number of event attendees, improved reported well-being among employees, more diverse departmental faculty);
- Activities and strategies aimed at achieving a goal (e.g., increasing Seminole Boosters memberships as a way to support student athletes, increasing the number of outreach events by FSU Police as a way to decrease crime rates on university campus).
Depending on the level of control an administrative unit has over a specific outcome, either the activities/strategies or the final result may be chosen. POs may require planning for an outcome that is a product of multiple strategies. For example, increasing students graduation rates is a PO that requires successfully implemented efforts aimed at retaining students at FSU, their timely completion of gateway courses, ensuring they have financial means to attend college, etc. In addition, enhancements put into effect in a given year may yield noticeable results at a later point. For instance, it may require several years for new graduation-focused strategies to lead the sizable changes because it may take a new cohort of students 2-4 years to fully benefit from the expanded range of programmatic improvements.
It is unusual to have a PO that is pursued for only one year; the typical 'lifespan' of a PO is 3-6 years. A longer implementation period allows for more thoughtful planning, consistent multi-year assessment, and data-based, sustained enhancement efforts. Reasons for 'retiring' a PO may include: the Outcome that the unit wanted to attain has been achieved, the Outcome is no longer a priority or is no longer under the purview of the unit, the existing Outcome has been modified and replaced by its much narrower or much broader version, etc. Admin units may contact the Office of IPA to consult on sunsetting existing POs and/or selecting new POs.
Do not select POs that resemble a 'to-do' list or a plan to accomplish a task or a series of tasks, especially if they can only be completed if new funding is requested and received (e.g., hiring an employee, renovating office suit, buying new computers).
Below and in subsequent sections, all IE assessment report components (as they are requested in the IE portal) are illustrated using an example PO from the FSU Office of Research Development.
- Provide a succinct name for the PO:
PO Name: PO - Interdisciplinary Research
- Identify the improvement to be made at the administrative unit level:
Program Outcome: The level of interdisciplinary research activities among FSU researchers will increase.
Importantly, all POs should be clearly connected to the institutional goals as they are outlined in the FSU Strategic Plan. In addition, the Goals and Initiatives of the FSU Strategic Plan and Admin units' POs should be in alignment with budgetary decisions and resource allocation. Finally, all planning, assessment, and implementation activities should relate to, and advance, the University's mission. The system of relationships between these elements is illustrated in the figure below (adapted from Hoefer, 2019).
The University's mission is stated as follows:
Florida State University preserves, expands, and disseminates knowledge in the sciences, technology, arts, humanities, and professions, while embracing a philosophy of learning strongly rooted in the traditions of the liberal arts. The university is dedicated to excellence in teaching, research, creative endeavors, and service. The university strives to instill the strength, skill, and character essential for lifelong learning, personal responsibility, and sustained achievement within a community that fosters free inquiry and embraces diversity.
The 6 Goals and 17 Initiatives of the 2017-2022 FSU Strategic Plan Implementation are:
In order to sustain "a systematic and documented process of assessing institutional performance with respect to mission" (p. 56 in SACSCOC Resource Manual), Admin units are asked to align POs that they identified and (plan to) pursue with one or more Strategic Plan Initiatives. This process is known as 'institutional back mapping'; it allows for a visual representation of the link between the goals of individual university units and strategic priorities of the institution (pp. 62-66 in Nichols & Nichols, 2005). Below are several examples of different POs' alignment with the Initiatives of the FSU Strategic Plan.
Assessment methodology for a PO should be focused on accurately measuring the extent to which an administrative unit achieved the established Outcome. The unit may choose to assess a unit-level PO through measuring the efficiency of its day-to-day operations, quality of provided services, timeliness of a product, number of individuals or university departments who received support, etc. Institutional POs are typically the university-level final 'products' that unit-level activities support, such as faculty and student gains/benefits resulting from receiving the unit's services, including those of educational nature.
It is important to evaluate POs with appropriate assessment instruments, within the context of unit’s functions, and in a methodologically consistent fashion to allow for year-over-year assessment. When designing an assessment methodology, it is useful to adhere to the S.M.A.R.T. guidelines – program-level outcomes should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Oriented, and Time-bound. When feasible, IPA and/or Office of Institutional Research (IR) will provide additional data and analytic support to administrative units in need of custom reports and datasets.
- Describe how the assessment of the PO will be conducted:
Assessment Process: The level of interdisciplinary research activities among FSU faculty will be measured through the percentage of contract and grant proposals submitted by two or more academic units (departments, centers, institutes). The percentage will be calculated by dividing the number of proposals submitted by multiple units by the total number of contract and grant proposals submitted in a given fiscal year (July 1 – June 30). Only proposals processed through FSU's Sponsored Research Administration or the FSU Research Foundation will be included.
The preferred approach to ascertaining whether a PO is achieved is setting multi-year quantitative goals/benchmarks. Here, quantitative information refers to data that can be counted, measured, and expressed using numbers. Qualitative (descriptive, verbal, non-numeric) information may also be used to measure POs, but this assessment approach is not recommended due to the potential difficulty in ascertaining whether the PO has been achieved or not.
An Admin unit can choose to set a goal for a PO, a benchmark or both. For the purposes of IE assessment, a goal denotes a desired numeric change between two values. For example, a 5 percent increase can mean growing the number of students who attended an event from 20 students to 21 students. Alternatively, a 5 percentage point increase can mean growing the headcount from 70% to 75%. (There is more information available about the difference between a percent and a percentage point.)
A benchmark denotes a minimum or a maximum numeric threshold that the unit will strive to meet. For example, having at least 90% of students exhibit desired behavior after they had participated in the unit's programming. Or, not exceeding two weeks between a data request date and the request being fulfilled.
When units decide how high they should set the PO goal/benchmark, they should study relevant industry standards, performance of similar units at peer institutions, and/or review the unit's own past levels of achieving the PO. The goal/benchmark should be set at a level that is ambitious, yet achievable with some effort. Over the years, goal(s)/benchmark(s) for the same PO may be changed: if you choose to increase/decrease the goal/benchmark, record those changes and specify the timeframe (e.g., "Beginning with the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the benchmark used to measure success of this PO will be increased from 300 training attendees per year to at least 350 attendees.")
Importantly, "[w]ithin institutional effectiveness, departments [academic and nonacademic] are free to stretch themselves to the limit and to attempt innovative approaches to provide services without fear of failure. Within institutional effectiveness, departments are not held accountable for failure or success, only for having in place a process for stating outcomes, measuring accomplishments, and using the results to improve programming." (Nichols, 1995).
Within the IE Portal, admin units can include any documentation they deem relevant to the Assessment Process and/or the Goal/Benchmark (e.g., copies of survey questions, consultant's report, data tables and graphs, unit's reports).
- Specify a measurable assessment standard that defines success:
Goal/benchmark: Every fiscal year (July 1 – June 30) for the next five years, the percentage of interdisciplinary contract and grant proposals will increase by at least 2 percentage points from previous year. In 2018 fiscal year, the proportion of interdisciplinary contract and grant proposals was 28.38% (359 out of 1,265). In order to achieve the PO for 2019 fiscal year, the percentage of interdisciplinary proposals will be at least 30.38%.
During the fiscal/academic year, administrative units deliver services to students, faculty, staff, and community members as planned at the beginning of the year. At the end of each assessment cycle, units aggregate necessary information/data and report the levels at which POs were achieved. A proper results statement for each PO provides a plethora of methodological details and is largely quantitative (i.e., includes counts and percentages out of total where appropriate). Results can be compared to last year'(s') results to provide additional context. In rare cases, qualitative results statements can be appropriate.
- Present information regarding the levels at which the PO was achieved:
Results Statement: The In fiscal year 2018 (July 1, 2017 - June 30, 2018), percentage of contract and grant (C&G) proposals submitted by two or more units was 28.38%. Out of total 1,265 proposals submitted this past year, 359 were interdisciplinary. Last fiscal year, the percentage of interdisciplinary C&G proposals was 26.01% (353 out of 1,357 total). The Goal to increase the percentage by at least 2 percentage points was achieved.
The culmination of the annual IE Assessment process is the analysis of why the Outcome was achieved at the level that it was. Using facts and their expert opinion, each unit should try to determine the reason(s) why the PO was attained at the level that it was. Most reasons will include specific factors, decisions, actions, and events that negatively and/or positively influenced the results. Units need to make sure that they 'close the loop' on prior year'(s') improvement action(s) by explicitly stating whether those changes were indeed implemented as planned and whether they had the intended positive effect on the PO.
A strong analysis of results should: 1) be focused on the take-aways from internal discussions or investigations regarding the data, 2) form the link between the data and the improvement action(s), and 3) highlight areas of success in addition to areas needing enhancements. In addition, if the unit concludes that the way the PO is assessed needs to be changed, an evaluation of the assessment methodology should be provided.
In the IE Portal, the file bank associated with each PO allows unit users to upload any relevant supporting documents, such as data tables and graphs, minutes/notes from the unit's meeting(s) where results were discussed. These kinds of records provide documented evidence of assessment and improvement efforts and are required by SACSCOC, so each unit should include these files when available.
- Examine the reason(s) for the attained results:
Analysis of Results: We believe that the increase in interdisciplinary C&G proposals is largely due to the Collaborative Collisions interdisciplinary networking events that have been hosted by our Office of Research Development over the last three years. Four well-attended Collaborative Collision events were held last academic year. They resulted in over 50 proposals submitted by researchers from different academic units. Although the increase was over the planned 2 percentage points, the number of interdisciplinary proposals did not increase by much (353 in FY 2017 and 359 in FY 2018). The percentage increased because the overall number of submitted proposals decreased (1,357 in FY 2017 and 1,265 in FY 2018), which decreased the denominator in the percentage calculations.
The most intensive component of the IE assessment process is devising and implementing actions to enhance a unit's services and operations. Formulating sound improvement plans requires participation, engagement and meaningful contribution from as many members of the Admin unit as possible. Whether POs have been met or not, it is the responsibility of the department/office leadership and assessment coordinators to determine a plan of action for the next year.
When an Outcome does not meet the desired goal/benchmark, the unit should figure out why and then develop a way to better its functions and services. These plans should be well-thought-out and describe specific changes to be implemented, ranging from small-scale enhancements to significant changes in a unit's operations. Improvement actions may also include new or modified assessment approaches, switching to a new third-party product, adopting new practices, attitudes and behaviors, etc.
In cases when a PO is being consistently achieved at a high level, it is recommended to either increase the desired goal/benchmark, focus on a different aspect of the same PO, or derive a new PO that would address other important aspects of the University's mission. If these changes are not feasible, the unit should consider how they expect to maintain a high level of performance.
Most importantly, "[t]he institution should be using the data to inform changes based on evaluation of its findings. Plans to make improvements do not qualify as seeking improvement, but efforts to improve a program that may not have been entirely successful certainly do." (p. 68 in SACSCOC Resource Manual)
- Describe specific actions to improve or sustain performance:
Improvement Plan: In order to continue growing the percentage (and also number) of submitted interdisciplinary C&G proposals, we will work in two main directions. First, we will continue hosting Collaborative Collision networking events and will increase their frequency from 4 per year to 6 per year. The two additional events will be focused on topics that were requested by many FSU researchers. One event on "Big Data" will be added to the summer schedule and another event on "Children and Families" will be added to the fall schedule. Second, we want to establish a Collaborative Collision seed fund and have already submitted a budget request for it. The seed fund will provide grants of up to $20,000 for interdisciplinary research projects. The grants are intended to allow teams to position themselves to seek external funding for new research initiative by demonstrating a history of successful collaboration.