The uses of presidential assessment in private, selective, liberal arts colleges
This study seeks to answer a set of questions dealing with the use of presidential assessment in private, selective, liberal arts institutions. On a basic level, do these colleges use any form of presidential assessment? If so, how do they approach the process, including such factors as: frequency, criteria, format, participants, public or private? If not, what are the inhibitors? Do trustees and presidents differ in their perspectives on the assessment process--i.e., its value and optimal frequency? Due to the increased demand for accountability in higher education, are trustees placing a stronger emphasis on the presidential assessment process than they have in the past? What are the expected (and actual) outcomes of the process--for the president, trustees, and the institution? Does presidential assessment become more or less important in times of crisis? How has the role of these presidents changed in recent years, and how has that affected the criteria used to assess their performance? How can presidential assessment be improved?
A literature review determined that there has been tremendous growth in the use of formal presidential assessment over the past 20 years. Authors differ greatly in their suggested approach to the process, but most agree that there is potential value in presidential assessment. The literature also indicates that little or no research has been conducted regarding the outcomes of presidential assessment.
This study analyzes anticipated and actual outcomes of presidential assessment, as well as answering other questions, as outlined above. Forty sample institutions were chosen randomly from the pool of 81 Carnegie-classified BA I colleges, with presidents who have served for five or more years. Presidents and chairs of boards of trustees from each of the 40 sample schools were asked to answer a 25 question survey. Finally, follow-up telephone interviews were conducted with 20 of the 27 respondents who agreed to be interviewed.
Findings include the following: (1) The use of assessment for presidents is widespread at these selective liberal arts schools. Nearly 80 percent of the presidents and 70 percent of the trustee chairs report that they have a process for regularly assessing the president's performance. Most others plan to initiate the process within the next year or two, or after the departure of their current president. (2) The top reasons for performing assessment, cited by presidents and chairs are, respectively, "fulfillment of the board's responsibility for the well-being of the institution," and "to review and improve the governance of the institution." (3) Presidents and chairs report the following benefits of assessment: it provides a forum for maintaining a communication link between the trustees and their chief executive; it provides crucial feedback and support to the president, while clarifying and synchronizing the goals and focus of the president and the board; it can serve to improve the president's and the institution's performance.
It is concluded that presidential assessment may very well be a valuable catalyst for positive change at these campuses. It is possible, however, that the performing of the process by trustees is simply pro forma. The reality is probably somewhere between those two extremes. In order to succeed with assessment, the participants need to make it a real priority, and to think carefully about how the process can serve to encourage positive change.
0514: School administration