National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment |

National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

Institute Occasional Paper 10: Learning Outcomes Assessment in Community Colleges


Nunley, C., Bers, T., & Manning, T. (2011, July). Learning outcomes assessment in community colleges. (Occasional Paper No. 10). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.


As community colleges becoming increasingly important in educating students across the country, more emphasis is being placed on community colleges to provide the public with information on learning outcomes of its students. In this tenth NILOA Occasional Paper, Charlene Nunley, Trudy Bers and Terri Manning describe the complex environment of community colleges as it relates to student learning outcomes assessment. Results from previous surveys of community college instituitional researchers and chief academic officers are analyzed in addition to short vignettes of examples of good practices at various community colleges. Through prior experience either working with institutions or within their own institution, suggestions are offered from the authors in an effort to make student learning outcomes assessment more effective and transparent. The foreword for this paper is written by Walter G. Bumphus, Ph.D., President and CEO, American Association of Community Colleges.

Paper Abstract

The open access mission of community colleges demands working with individuals with widely varying academic skill levels and diverse educational backgrounds.  As a result, learning outcomes assessment in community colleges presents an array of opportunities and challenges distinctive to these institutions and the students that they serve. This paper analyzes the findings from two recent surveys, one of institutional researchers and one of chief academic officers from community colleges, to better understand the state of student learning outcomes assessment in this increasingly important sector.  In the context of these findings, the authors discuss the multiple demands for accountability and transparency that characterize the environment within which community colleges operate.  They describe assessment approaches used by community colleges and review how institutions can and do use the results. They also provide some examples of good practices in assessment, and suggest some guidelines and cautions for community colleges that are seeking to advance the assessment agenda. The authors encourage community colleges to honestly and openly assess student learning and to use information obtained through the assessment process to improve retention, progression and academic success of students on community college campuses.

Biographies of the Authors

Dr. Charlene R. Nunley is currently Professor and Program Director of University of Maryland University College’s Doctor of Management in Community College Policy and Administration.  Dr. Nunley accepted this position after retiring from the presidency of Montgomery College in Maryland in 2007.  Her views on the role of community colleges have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, Community College Times, Community College Journal, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.  In the Fall of 2005, Dr. Nunley was named to the U.S. Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education (The Spellings Commission).  Dr. Nunley was the only community college representative on the panel.  Dr. Nunley earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from The Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in Education Policy from George Washington University. 

Trudy Bers is the Executive Director of Research, Curriculum and Planning at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Illinois.  She is a Data Facilitator for Achieving the Dream; a consultant-evaluator for the Higher Learning Commission; and teaches a course on institutional effectiveness and assessment for the University of Maryland University College doctor of management in community college leadership program.  She has edited or co-edited four issues of New Directions for Community Colleges, co-authored two AIR online professional development courses, and written Effective Reporting for the Association for Institutional Research.  Bers earned her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Illinois-Urbana, and holds an M.B.A. from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, an A.M. in Public Law and Government from Columbia University, and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Illinois-Urbana.    


Terri M. Manning, Ed.D. is the Associate Vice President for Institutional Research and Director of the Center for Applied Research at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC).   Prior to coming to CPCC, she was fulltime faculty at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Oklahoma State University and part-time at Tulsa Community College.  She is a program evaluator and a data coach for  seven Achieving the Dream colleges.  She has done institutional effectiveness consulting with multiple colleges and universities and serves on visiting teams for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.  She sponsors an Annual Institute on Best Practices in Institutional Effectiveness.



Mentioned in July 15, 2011, electronic AI (Academic Impressions) Higher Ed Impact: Weekly News & Key Takeaways Newsletter.

This occasional paper was mentioned in a July 13, 2011, quick take of Inside Higher Education titled, "Community Colleges and Learning Outcomes."

This occasional paper was mentioned in a July 13, 2011, article of The Chronicle of Higher Education titled, "Learning Assessment at Community Colleges Is Growing but Fragile, Report Says."


"If community colleges are going to fulfill their core mission, essential and ongoing assessments must be done to structure an environment of student success and

Walter Bumphus

Walter G. Bumphus, Ph.D.
President and CEO
American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)