Catalyst for Change: The CIC/CLA Consortium

Catalyst for Change report cover

​From the fall of 2008 through the spring of 2011, 47 colleges and universities, organized and supported by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), administered the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) to their students. The CLA is a test of critical thinking, analytic reasoning, problem solving, and written communication developed by the Council for Aid to Education. The purpose of the CIC/CLA Consortium, underwritten by grants from the Teagle Foundation, was to embed a “culture of assessment” on participating campuses, refine the methods used to assess student learning, and identify “best practices” for the improvement of student learning and teaching that could be confidently shared with other small and mid-sized independent colleges and universities and made known to the public. Each institution was free to develop its own way of administering and using the CLA. In this last phase of the Consortium, summer meetings were held in 2007 through 2011 during which institutions compared notes, tactics, and results as well as discussed strategies to improve student learning on their campuses.

This monograph provides a summary of the experiences of Consortium members. Participating in the Consortium led to a wide variety of effects. These ranged from fairly immediate changes in program and pedagogy to indirect, but no less important, shifts in conversations among faculty members and with administrators and in the campus culture. The initiative also led to increased interest in teaching critical thinking through the presentation of ill-structured problems, particularly CLA’s “performance tasks.” With each annual iteration, institutions steadily developed better ways of administering and using the CLA and conducting other assessment exercises. Overall, participation in the Consortium had a significant, positive impact on the vast majority of the institutions. The initiative produced a steady expansion of efforts, changes, experimentation, and conversation.

One of the words most frequently used in the CIC/CLA Consortium campus reports is “catalyst.” The CLA results might not be immediately or directly connected to a change in program or pedagogy in every case, but the instrument did spark consideration of what assessment should be and do on a campus and which academic programs or pedagogies need to be revisited. These “catalytic” effects involved both programmatic and pedagogical effects as well as changes in institutional culture. Sometimes programmatic effects included the CLA influencing how assessment activities occurred on campus. The CLA served as a catalyst for rethinking assessment among Consortium colleges and involved the triangulation of CLA results with other measures. The CLA was also a catalyst for changes in academic programs and pedagogy. The administration of the CLA prompted a reexamination of programs and practices that, though not always directly tied to the CLA instrument or its results, are nonetheless a significant change in an institution’s approach to student learning. These changes varied from the revamping of a broad, perhaps institution-wide assessment program to shifts in programs and pedagogy.

The experience and success of the CIC/CLA Consortium offer lessons for other colleges and universities as well as policy officials, as they respond to demands for more assessment of, and accountability for, student learning outcomes.

​Council of Independent Colleges
By David C. Paris
November 2011

Student Outcomes