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National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

Occasional Paper 18 - What Are Institutions Spending on Assessment? Is It Worth the Cost?


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Cooper, T., & Terrell, T. (2013, August). What are institutions spending on assessment? Is it worth the cost? (Occasional Paper No. 18). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.


In NILOA's eighteenth occasional paper, authors Tammi Cooper and Trent Terrell examine how much institutions are spending when it comes to assessment. Their paper presents findings from a survey of assessment professionals at institutions regarding the cost of assessment and the perceived benefit that institutions receive.

Paper Abstract

Assessment activities have proliferated over the last decade at institutions of higher education. While assessment is useful for institutional improvement, this proliferation has in part been due to greater pressures from regional accreditors on institutions to meet assessment requirements. These higher expectations have led to new expenditures on college campuses.

In this paper, we discuss a research project aimed at determining how much institutions are spending annually on assessment and whether the perceived benefit is worth the cost. An online survey was administered to assessment professionals across the country to determine institutions’ spending in seven expenditure categories related to assessment.

In addition to presenting overall expenditures by category, we broadly describe the differences in spending between institutions with different enrollments, two-year and four-year institutions, and public and private institutions. Differences in spending appeared to be related to institution size rather than type or control. Smaller institutions reported spending more on assessment per student than larger universities. While the majority of survey participants responded that the cost of assessment was worth the benefit, within our sample, the correlation between overall assessment spending and perceived benefit was not found to be statistically significant. Perceived value appears to be derived more from using the data for improvements than from spending.

Biographies of the Authors

Tammi Cooper is currently the Associate Provost at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor where she oversees campus-wide assessment and serves as the university's SACS accreditation liaison. Tammi was a participant in the WASC region's Assessment Leadership Academy (ALA) and has also served as an examiner for the Malcomb Baldrige National Quality Award.




Trent Terrell is the chairperson of the psychology department at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, where he also serves as a founding member of the Institutional Quality team overseeing assessment. His research interests include cognition, eyewitness memory, and psychometrics.







For more information regarding the cost of assessment, please see our previous occasional papers:

Wellman, J. V. (2010, January). Connecting the dots between learning and resources

Swing, R. L., & Coogan, C. S. (2010, May). Valuing assessment: Cost-benefit considerations