Thesis (Ph.D., Curriculum & Instruction)--University of Idaho, June 2014 | The purpose of this research was to conduct a qualitative, exploratory study on the use of assessment data by higher education Chief Academic Officers (CAOs) in strategic planning, resource allocation, and policy decision making. Following several national studies on assessment in higher education, this research examined how assessment data is used, what types of data are used, and what influences the utility of assessment data, in relation to the three topics mentioned. Previous research has found that assessment, as a verb, is valued among higher education leaders; yet the influence of assessment data in relation to strategic planning, policy, and resource allocation decisions is low.
A review of the literature finds that higher education is experiencing increased demands for accountability, and that historically, assessment has been used to meet those demands. Furthermore, a significant force behind the assessment and accountability movement is accreditation. The complexities of higher education organizational structures and management theories indicate that while multiple forces contribute to an extensive array available data for assessment purposes, the use of that data in decision making is limited. This is supported by several major studies including the NCPI (1997), the Wabash (2006), and the NILOA (2009) projects. All of these studies have found a disconnect between assessment data and educational decision making.
As the CAO is the recognized executive head in higher education policy, planning, and resource allocation matters, that position was identified as a participant for interviews. Three CAOs were recruited to participate in interviews using a five-part protocol developed for this study. Theoretically framed in constructivist grounded theory, and using exploratory thematic analysis, the interview data was analyzed by protocol groupings and by core concepts related to the research questions. 18 dimensions were identified, and ultimately three themes emerged; the Comparative/Competitive, Production Oriented, and Reactionary themes. Key findings and recommendations for future research include the need to; (a) redefine and clarify what constitutes assessment data, (b) develop a new model of assessment data utilization, and (c) replicate this study with other types of higher education administrators.