Cocurricular Assessment

History and Plans for the Future

Prepared by University Assessment Panel, Spring 2023


Learning takes place both in and outside of the classroom, both as part of academic degree programs and in cocurricular activities. From its inception, the University Assessment Panel (UAP) has recognized this. A memo from the first chair of UAP, Lynne M. Waldeland, to the founding members indicated that the panel’s work would include “foster[ing] assessment activities in academic and student support units” (October 14, 1998). Further, the first Annual Report summarizing the work of the panel during 1999-2000 noted that the UAP had consolidated oversight and coordination of assessment activities within the Divisions of Academic and Student Affairs.

Cocurricular learning is an important way that NIU fulfills its mission “to empower students through educational excellence and experiential learning as we pursue knowledge, share our research and artistry, and engage communities for the benefit of the region, state, nation and world.” Like many of NIU’s degree programs and general education courses, many of NIU’s cocurricular programs provide experiential learning and/or community engagement components. As Stirling and Kerr (2015) note, there are a couple of important questions which cocurricular assessment can help answer. The first is to what extent learning outcomes are achieved (rather than inferred) during cocurricular learning? The second is what conditions are necessary to facilitate cocurricular learning?

As UAP begins to resume oversight of cocurricular assessment after a pause initiated at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it will be important to implement an assessment process that identifies cocurricular programs that foster student learning critical to supporting NIU’s mission. It will also be important to ensure that assessment of cocurricular learning provides evidence to support inferences about learning outcomes attained and information to help identify optimal conditions to support student learning in cocurricular experiences. This in turn will facilitate programs’ engagement with continuous improvement of learning.

History of Assessment of Cocurricular Learning Assessment at NIU

As noted above, the UAP has a history of reviewing assessment reports from academic and student affairs units. The reporting format (Appendix A) and reporting schedule (Appendices B and C) for support units were developed during 1999-2000. Although the five year reporting cycle began with 2001-2002, first three support units submitted pilot reports to UAP in 2000-2001 (ACCESS, Center for Black Studies, and Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center). Every five years, support programs were to report on their objectives, methods, evidence, use of results, further information needed, and timeline for collecting additional information. The unit’s objectives were to be stated as outcomes that were unique to the unit, which may include student outcomes as well as outcomes not directly related to students, depending on the unit’s mission.

Beginning in 2007-2008, student affairs units began reporting to UAP based on their own internal assessment processes, which involved annual priorities under larger goals. This practice continued through 2013-2014. Beginning in 2014-2015, Student Affairs assumed responsibility for their own assessment review process and UAP stopped reviewing those reports.

Over time, questions have been raised by UAP members and directors of support units about the purpose and focus of assessment reporting for support units. In particular, questions regarding whether every unit was required to have student learning outcomes, how to assess student learning for programs that indirectly support student learning (e.g., by supporting faculty and instructors) or that support attainment of a variety of student learning outcomes that are not their own (e.g., degree program learning outcomes, general education learning outcomes). Due in part to this lack of clarity, some support units focused solely on continuous improvement related to functions that support their unit’s mission (e.g., Accreditation, Assessment and Evaluation; Testing Services; University Office for Educator Licensure and Preparation) while others included assessment (primarily indirect) of student learning (e.g., ACCESS, Asian American Resource Center, Center for Black Studies).

The pause in assessment reporting for these units presented an opportunity to clarify the purpose and focus of assessment reporting for support units. It also presented an opportunity for UAP to identify programs providing cocurricular learning that supports the university’s mission and values (per HLC’s definition). HLC’s criterion 4B requires that institutions have “effective processes for assessment of student learning and for achievement of learning goals in academic and cocurricular offerings” and defines cocurricular learning as, “learning activities, programs and experiences that reinforce the institution’s mission and values and complement the formal curriculum.”

Current Work on Cocurricular Assessment of Student Learning

Beginning in December 2022, UAP examined and reflected on HLC’s definition of cocurricular learning. In January 2023, the conversation continued with UAP examining and discussing other universities’ operating definitions of cocurricular, considering possible sources of learning outcomes for cocurricular at NIU (e.g., mission, values, baccalaureate SLOs), discussing an initial draft of an operational definition for cocurricular learning at NIU developed by Accreditation, Assessment and Evaluation staff. In February, UAP revisited other universities’ operating definitions of cocurricular in addition to the learning outcomes they used and units/programs involved. By February, an initial operational definition for NIU was revised and agreed upon. UAP members were charged in March and April with applying this working definition to units formerly reviewed by UAP. The goal of this exercise was to determine whether the definition seemed to be a good “fit” for the purpose of identifying units/programs at NIU to be included in cocurricular assessment. The consensus was that the working definition seemed fine for its purpose but might need to be refined in discussions with units as cocurricular programs are collaboratively identified.

Beginning in August 2023, Accreditation, Assessment and Evaluation staff began meeting with the executive director of Student Affairs (including the University Assessment Panel representative from the University Libraries). This group developed a working list of units with cocurricular learning components, developed a reporting timeline, and drafted a reporting template. A five-year reporting schedule was established for cocurricular programs, with annual reports in the first four years building up to a cumulative status report in the fifth year. Programs will be supported to develop assessment plans in spring 2024, with a first annual report due in fall 2023.



Cassidy, V.R. (n.d.). Annual Report of the University Assessment Panel: 1999-2000.

Criteria for Accreditation, Number: CRRT.B.10.010. HLC Policy Book. Higher Learning Commission.

Stirling, A.E. & Kerr, G.A. (2015). Creating meaningful co-curricular experiences in higher education. Journal of Education & Social Policy, 2(6), 1-7.

Waldeland L. M., (1998, October 30). Memorandum.


Developed 1999-2000

In preparation for the next university re-accreditation by the North Central Association and for submission of the university’s Results Report to the IBHE and budget reallocations, units/departments that provide academic and student support services are asked to submit a brief status report on their assessment activities through the appropriate assistant or associate provost to the University Assessment Panel. The report should include information on each unit/department. The University Assessment Panel will review the report and, if necessary, make recommendations for additions or improvements in the unit/department’s assessment plans to insure that sufficient evidence of student outcomes is included. The unit/department may request funding for new assessment activities or identified gaps or problem areas. The unit/department may consult with the panel and revise the schedule of activities, as needed.

The status report should include:

  1. Objectives. A list of specific objectives (stated as outcomes) unique to each unit/department. Some outcomes will be student outcomes while others, depending on the unit/department mission, may not be directly related to students.
  2. Methods. An explanation of how evidence is gathered to determine if the outcomes are being met, including systematic methods for gathering quantitative and/or qualitative data as well as anecdotal information, with a clear indication of which outcome or outcomes each method addresses.
  3. Evidence. The information gathered through the unit/department’s assessment activities that shows the extent to which outcomes are being met.
  4. Use of Results. A description of how the evidence that has been gathered is used systematically to make programmatic improvements, and how the results could answer questions about how the unit/department relates to the institutional mission and how the activities, services, or events contribute to the goals of the Illinois Commitment.
  5. Further Information Needed. An analysis of results to uncover gaps in current information or problematic findings that indicate a need for further assessment.
  6. Timeline. A timeline for collecting additional information.

Resources to support new or expanded assessment activities may be requested from the University Assessment Panel, but new resources will not be allocated by the University Assessment Panel for maintenance of ongoing activities. Continuing assessment tasks should be incorporated into the unit/department’s ongoing activities. The request should include:

  1. a justification for the requested funding, making clear what the new activities will add to information about the unit/department’s outcomes
  2. a budget
  3. a timeline for completing the new activity

Submit to: Virginia Cassidy, Assistant Provost for Academic Planning and Development, Provost’s Office, Lowden 308

Developed 1999-2000

Academic support and student services unites are central to students’ success in the university and play a crucial part in the delivery of academic programs that make up the university experience. As part of the larger university plan for assessment, all academic support and student services units should engage in assessment to: demonstrate the quality of their programs and activities; identify ways to improve programs and activities; and establish a record of those activities and successful program improvements. The evidence compiled across the Division of Academic and Student Affairs will assist the university in demonstrating accountability to its internal and external audiences. *Funding to support assessment activities may be requested through the University Assessment Panel (UAP), at any time during the review cycle in consultation with the assessment coordinator; however, if funding is available priority will be given to programs imminently in need of evidence to support an internal or external accountability process, such as accreditation, and in year five of the review cycle. The assessment coordinator will be available to the unit for consultation at any time during the review cycle.

*A report of the major findings from funded initiatives must be submitted to the UAP within one year of funding.

Timeline Activities
Year 1 - Four years prior to UAP review of unit outcomes The unit will implement its assessment plan and begin and/or continue to collect longitudinal evidence to demonstrate that its objectives are being met. *If the unit received funding from the University Assessment Panel in year five, a report on the major findings from the funded initiative will be submitted to the panel.
Year 2 - Three years prior to UAP review of unit outcomes The unit will continue to gather evidence on how its objectives are being met.
Year 3 - Two years prior to UAP review of unit outcomes The unit will continue to gather evidence on how it is meeting its objectives and begin to make comparison of the findings from the evidence collected in years one, two, and three to ensure that all unit objectives are being assessed. The unit will evaluate this evidence to identify the changes needed in programs or services to improve the unit’s outcomes, and will develop a plan for program improvement.
Year 4 - One year prior to UAP review of unit outcomes The unit will continue its assessment activities and conduct a thorough review of its assessment plan using the rubric for assessment plans as a guide. The assessment plan will be refined, as needed, to ensure that it is current, provides the evidence the unit needs to demonstrate that its objectives are bing met, and reflects the unit’s plan for program improvement. The unit will begin drafting its status report to the UAP.
Year 5 - Review of unit outcomes by UAP The unit will submit its current assessment plan and a status report to UAP on its four-year cycle of assessment activities, with emphasis on program outcomes, and how the results from assessment activities have been used to meet program objectives and improve its outcomes. Panel will review the report and provide feedback. The UAP may request an interim status report during the next review cycle. Funding may be available for assessment activities.

Revised 2002

Developed 1999-2000

Date Unit
2001-2002 Advising & Information Referral Services
Campus Child Care Center
CHANCE Program
Registration & Records
Testing Services>
University Judicial Office
University Resources for Women
2002-2003 Campus Recreation Center
Center for AccessAbility Resources
Office of Admissions
Orientation & Campus Information
Students’ Legal Assistance
2003-2004 Career Planning & Placement Center
Community College Relations
University Office of Teacher Certification
University Programming & Activities
2004-2005 Student Financial Aid
University Honors Program
2005-2006 Office of Retention Programs
Scholarship Programs
Center for Black Studies
Counseling & Student Development Center
Student Housing & Dining Services
University Health Service
University Resources for Latinos
Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center

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