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Standard 4. Creating an Organization Committed to Quality Assurance, Institutional Learning, and Improvement

The institution engages in sustained, evidence-based, and participatory self-reflection about how effectively it is accomplishing its purposes and achieving its educational objectives. The institution considers the changing environment of higher education in envisioning its future. These activities inform both institutional planning and systematic evaluations of educational effectiveness. The results of institutional inquiry, research, and data collection are used to establish priorities, to plan, and to improve quality and effectiveness.


4.1  The institution employs a deliberate set of quality-assurance processes in both academic and non-academic areas, including new curriculum and program approval processes, periodic program review, assessment of student learning, and other forms of ongoing evaluation. These processes include: collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data; tracking learning results over time; using comparative data from external sources; and improving structures, services, processes, curricula, pedagogy, and learning results.

The Faculty Senate has the responsibility for approving and reviewing all undergraduate degree programs through the Committee for the Review of Undergraduate Majors. New degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level are reviewed and approved by the Senate as a whole. Annual reports for these committees are linked below. As part of the ongoing review process, departments and programs are asked to complete self-studies that include curriculum assessment, feedback from current and former students, national rankings when available, research grant volume and so forth. As an example, the guidelines for self-study published by the School of Humanities and Sciences are linked here. The Senate also has the authority to review and renew general education requirements and the programs associated with this. In 2008, the Introduction to the Humanities program underwent review. In 2010, a committee appointed by the Provost and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education was appointed to review all of the requirements in undergraduate education (SUES Report). Some of our schools have periodic reviews for their own accreditation (e.g., Law, Business, Medicine, Education and Engineering). The data collected for their reviews are used by senior leadership to assess student success and make necessary improvements.

Our IR&DS group collects and analyzes a large volume of data. Some of it is publicly available; some provided to senior leadership (deans, president and provost) for decision making. The statistics book and yearly population reports are such sources of information. The IR&DS Mission Statement can be viewed here.

Committee on Graduate Studies Annual Report 2011-12
Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy Annual Report 2011-2012
Committee for the Review of Undergraduate Majors Annual Report 2011-2012


4.2  The institution has institutional research capacity consistent with its purposes and characteristics. Data are disseminated internally and externally in a timely manner, and analyzed, interpreted, and incorporated in institutional review, planning, and decision-making. Periodic reviews are conducted to ensure the effectiveness of the institutional research function and the suitability and usefulness of the data generated.

We have 10 staff in the central University office dedicated to research and analysis: Institutional Research and Decision Support. There are also institutional research staff in the Office of Admission and Financial Aid and in the Office of Development/Stanford Alumni Association. In addition to these staff in central units, many schools also have staff dedicated to institutional research on their units–in all we have as many as 15 positions dedicated to institutional research.

Our University-wide efforts include annual distribution of statistics about the university;  department profiles; participation in data collection efforts through consortia (COFHE, AAUDE) and distribution of these data to a more limited group of administrators; participation in national surveys such as the report of the National Research Council reviewing graduate programs and finally the course evaluation process that is used in the faculty promotion and salary setting processes.


4.3  Leadership at all levels, including faculty, staff, and administration, is committed to improvement based on the results of inquiry, evidence, and evaluation. Assessment of teaching, learning, and the campus environment—in support of academic and co-curricular objectives—is undertaken, used for improvement, and incorporated into institutional planning processes.

The Center for Teaching and Learning was established to improve teaching quality across this campus. This work was referenced in CFR 3.3. Staff from the Center work with faculty as well as graduate student teaching assistants. We have a special requirement for TA Training and Orientation and extensive resources available for Teaching Assistants and Graduate Students here. The Stanford Language Center also focuses on teaching evaluation and effectiveness, reviewing lecturers and graduate student teaching assistants who deliver the language instruction program. The most recent Stanford Language Center Annual Report to the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy is available here.

As described previously (CFRs 2.8, 2.9), the evaluation of faculty for appointment, reappointment and promotion includes extensive evaluation of their teaching both through course evaluations and direct student evaluations of teaching and advising.

Finally as described in 4.1 (above) we establish ad hoc groups to review areas of interest to the leadership of the University. As an example, for the past two years, we have had a Task Force studying Student Mental Health and Campus Climate. 


4.4  The institution, with significant faculty involvement, engages in ongoing inquiry into the processes of teaching and learning, and the conditions and practices that ensure that the standards of performance established by the institution are being achieved. The faculty and other educators take responsibility for evaluating the effectiveness of teaching and learning processes and uses the results for improvement of student learning and success. The findings from such inquiries are applied to the design and improvement of curricula, pedagogy, and assessment methodology.

At Stanford, as at many research universities, assessment of teaching and learning processes has focused on matters of content, curriculum, and student satisfaction. Visiting committees, periodic reviews of programs and majors, student teaching evaluation systems for both faculty and TAs, and faculty annual reports have closely monitored the quality of teaching and the content of the curriculum.

In addition, the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education has an ongoing project that evaluates large introductory courses and provides faculty with development teaching grants. The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) provides workshops and individual consultations for faculty. In 2001, the Program in Writing and Rhetoric began a five-year assessment of student writing, which has included an examination of over 15,000 pieces of student work. The Stanford Language Center conducts proficiency testing of students at the end of their introductory foreign language courses, both to monitor the quality of foreign language teaching and to provide students with an objective measure of their foreign language mastery. The School of Engineering’s Undergraduate Council focuses on undergraduate curriculum and teaching. Among the many issues it has concentrated on in recent years, have been an examination of the introductory fundamentals courses based upon extensive review of undergraduate transcript data and a school wide review of courses on the topic of energy.

With a grant from Stanford's new Hoagland Award Fund for Innovations in Undergraduate Teaching, the School of Earth Sciences is undertaking an ambitious, multi-department redesign of its introductory courses that concentrates on curriculum and on a serious consideration of pedagogy informed by the substantial body of research from NSF and other sources on effective science teaching. Similarly, a committee of Physics Department faculty, graduate students, and CTL staff is currently reviewing introductory lab/lecture courses and comparing current curricular and pedagogical approaches to recommendations based on a review of educational research literature. An analysis of AP scores, department placement exam scores, and grade performance data led the Chemistry Department to change its introductory course placement recommendations.


4.5  Appropriate stakeholders, including alumni, employers, practitioners, students, and others designated by the institution, are regularly involved in the assessment and alignment of educational programs.

We regularly conduct surveys of our graduating students, alumni, employers and community service organizations in which we place students. An IR&DS survey research calendar can be found here. These results help us to assess our programs, both curricular and extracurricular and make changes as necessary.

In addition most of our schools have external advisory boards whose role is to provide feedback to the dean on effectiveness.


4.6  The institution periodically engages its multiple constituencies, including the governing board, faculty, staff, and others, in institutional reflection and planning processes that are based on the examination of data and evidence. These processes assess the institution’s strategic position, articulate priorities, examine the alignment of its purposes, core functions, and resources, and define the future direction of the institution.

In addition to the annual processes described elsewhere (CFR 3.4), such as the annual budget process, and the Faculty Senate process for program reviews (see CFR 2.1), there are several ad hoc processes that Stanford uses to examine issues that come up or that require review every few years. The Faculty Senate has the authority to appoint a Planning and Policy Board of the Senate to examine issues of interest to the faculty. Their last report focused on University growth. In the last few years, we have also seen the Task Force on University Needs that defined priorities for our capital campaign, the Commission on Graduate Education, that resulted in some new programs for graduate education and the creation of an office to house a Vice Provost for Graduate Education. In 2007 the President appointed a task force to examine whether Stanford should expand its undergraduate class, and as described earlier a task force was appointed to review undergraduate education at Stanford (SUES).


4.7  Within the context of its mission and structural and financial realities, the institution considers changes that are currently taking place and are anticipated to take place within the institution and higher education environment as part of its planning, new program development, and resource allocation.

The planning processes that have a direct impact on students are the University budget process described previously (CFR 3.4), the faculty search process and the self-studies and reviews by the Faculty Senate of undergraduate majors and interdisciplinary programs. (See CFRs 2.1 and 4.4.)