“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” ~ Thomas Edison
Farmers and educators have more in common than one may think upon first reflection. They are both humble professions, unsung heroes, and have the biggest impact on civilization. A farmer is responsible for ensuring high quality yield of food or animals for mass consumption. An educator, or more broadly an institution, is responsible for providing students with high quality curricula and services while producing graduates who are ready to contribute in a changing global marketplace.
The shift from enrollment-focused metrics to completion metrics continues as tax payers want institutions to be accountable for the financial resources students to achieve their educational goals. They want to see tangible evidence of their return on investment. Institutions can demonstrate value through effective outcomes assessment plans.
Outcomes assessment is not unique to institutions. In order for farmers to be successful they must perform continuous evaluations on themselves, their crops and animals, their production, and their bottom line. Similarly, institutions must consistently monitor outcomes, regularly review and update their curricula, and evaluate their sustainability to meet the growing demands of all stakeholders.
Outcomes assessment is one of the main areas in which institutions struggle. By the time an institutions experiences challenges, it’s generally gained attention at the national level and is not presented in a positive light. So how do we reclaim the position of leaders in outcomes assessment and make it a part of every institutional process? The answer: by using a farmer’s perspective and approach.
- Got Dirt? – Farmers need good soil just like institutions need to have a solid foundation. An institution can have the best student services, the most responsive admissions department, and the brightest faculty, but if it does not have quality curricula which guides students in attaining the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to be successful, then the institution has bad soil. Similar to a farmer who has to rotate his crops to ensure nutrients are restored again, institutions need to consistently review their curricula to verify they are providing the “nutrients” students need to be successful.
- Got Water? – Farmers are constantly watching the weather. They are forced to make critical decisions based on past, present, and future weather conditions. The same can be said for institutions. Institutions need to be acutely aware of their target population and the external factors which are occurring not only within regulations, but also within the job market. Educational programs are designed to provide students the education needed to be productive and contributing members of society. In order to remain competitive, institutions need to look to the past and present in order to make predictions on the needs of the future. For both professions, this can be high-stakes gambling. Farmers and institutions are required to make decisions based on circumstances out of their control. Institutions need to be able to adapt. This is made easier for those institutions that have implemented an effective outcomes assessment plan. The plan provides the guidance necessary to eliminate some of the guesswork and make informed decisions.
- Got Tools? – Advancement in technology has provided farmers with tools and equipment to work more effectively and efficiently. With the increase in technology was an increase in population; however, without these improvements farmers would not be able to meet the growing public demand. Institutions experience the same pressure to innovate using technology—doing more with less. While technology has brought improved instructional delivery, faculty interactions, and accessibility, it has also brought an increased demand for accountability. New tools and additional equipment are welcomed by both professions, but the struggle now is over their most effective use. Institutions need to be able to evaluate their student population and services in relation to the tools and technology it uses to deliver its curricula. The use of technology in education needs to be meaningful.
Ultimately, to be successful in either profession it takes full commitment and hard work. The recipe for success is 1) a quality foundation, 2) ability to adjust to external factors, and 3) consistent evaluation of processes and procedures. Most institutions that fail, do so because they lose their focus and purpose, but mostly because they stopped critically reviewing their programs and services thinking they are “good enough”. Just like the farmer needs to be consistently vigilant in protecting his crops against threats, an institution must be just as vigilant to ensure its continued growth and sustainability. An institution’s graduates are its biggest advertisement. A graduate’s success is equivalent to the prize bull winning a blue ribbon at the state fair.
“I do not believe you can do today’s job with yesterday’s methods and be in business tomorrow.” ~ Nelson Jackson