Linda Suskie

 A Common Sense Appr​oach to Assessment in Higher Education


What does your website say about your institution?

Posted on May 27, 2016 at 12:40 AM

Part of my preparation for working with or visiting any college is visiting its website. I’m looking for basic “get acquainted” info to help me understand the college and therefore do a better job helping it. The information I’m looking for often includes things like the following:

  • How big is the institution? This helps me because large institutions may need different assessment or accreditation support structures than small ones.
  • What are its mission, vision, and strategic goals? This helps me because assessment and accreditation work should focus on institutional achievement of its mission, vision, and strategic goals.
  • Who “owns” the institution? Is it public, private non-profit, or private for-profit? Who founded it, and how long ago? This gives me insight into possible unstated values of the institution. For example, an institution founded by a religious denomination may still abide by some of the denomination’s tenets, even if it is now independent. A public institution is typically under pressure to be all things to all people and may therefore be stretched too thin.
  • Who accredits the institution? Helpful for obvious reasons!
  • What kinds of programs does it offer? This helps me because professional/career programs often need different assessment approaches or support than liberal arts programs.
  • How are the institution’s academic programs organized? Sometimes there are several schools within a college or several colleges within a university.
  • How many programs does it offer? An institution offering 250 programs needs a different assessment structure than one offering 25.
  • What is its gen ed curriculum, and what are its gen ed learning outcomes? This can be helpful because I often work with colleges on identifying and assessing gen ed learning outcomes.


(Ironically, I never look for any assessment information on the college’s website. I know it’s not there. Yes, there may be a home page for the assessment office, usually full of guidelines on how to fill out report templates, and perhaps with links to some assessment reports. But I haven’t yet found a college website that tells me and others clearly, “What are the most important things we want students to learn here, and how well are they learning it?” So I don’t bother looking anymore.)


Yes, I could ask my contacts at the institution for all this information (and if I can’t find it on the website, I do), but poking around the website gives me additional insight:

  • Does the institution have a clear sense of its identity and priorities? I worry about colleges with incredibly cluttered home pages, full of announcements about recent and upcoming events, maybe some research, registration reminders, and links to intranet portals. It’s the throw-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-and-see-what-works approach, and I worry if that’s the approach they take to everything else they do.
  • Most colleges publish their mission, but a remarkable number don’t publish their strategic plan. This gives me the impression that they don’t want public stakeholders (community members, businesses, government policymakers) to get on board and support their plans.
  • Some university websites list their programs by school or college—in order to find the Visual Communications program, you have to first somehow discern if it’s offered in the College of Business, the College of Art, or the College of Liberal Arts. Most prospective students are interested in particular programs and don’t care which college they’re housed in, so this raises a concern that the institution may be more faculty-centered than student-centered.
  • Sometimes the colleges/schools and the programs within them are just plain odd. I remember one institution that had a visual communication program in the business college and a graphic design program in the art college—and of course they offered completely separate curricula and didn’t talk to each other! These oddities often suggest silos and turf wars.
  • Sometimes a college offers, say, 150 programs for 2500 students. This is a college that’s stretching its resources too far—probably some of those programs are too small to be effective.
  • I sometimes need Indiana Jones to track down gen ed requirements. Here’s one (sadly typical) example: from the home page, I clicked on Academics, then Academic Catalogs, then 2015-2016 Undergraduate Catalog, then Colleges and Schools, then College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, then (finally) General Education Requirements. The only conclusion I can draw is that colleges and universities are embarrassed of their gen ed requirements, which doesn’t say much about the real value we place on the liberal arts.


Now, I know I’m not a typical visitor to your college’s website, but I’m sure I’m not the only stakeholder interested in these kinds of information…and perhaps drawing these kinds of conclusions about your college. At a minimum, your accreditation reviewers will probably visit your website looking for things very similar to what I look for.


For more ideas on common flaws in college websites, visit

Categories: Institutional effectiveness