The MSA is increasingly interested in the “benchmarking” of academic programs. The American Association of Higher Education (AAHE) describes “benchmarking” as comparing one’s data to a standard set by another. “Benchmarking offers a very useful and practical option for analyzing, interpreting, and using one’s assessment results for effectiveness improvement and accountability.”21
In higher education settings, a university might use benchmarking techniques to define its comparison group – its peer institutions – and to compare its own outcomes to theirs. This benchmarking could be based, for example, on retention rates, five-years graduate rates, admissions yield data, employment and graduate school placement rates, and performance on national or professional examinations. Any outcome for which there are data from peer institutions and programs theoretically can be compared in a benchmarking study. The benefit of inter-institutional comparisons is that it can flag problem areas to investigate the causes of results that differ from the normal.22
Colleges can also compare themselves to a national norm such as the data from a published test or national survey. Alternately, or in addition, an institution can set for itself the goals or benchmarks that it hopes to achieve within a specified time period.
21Benchmarking Options for the Effective Assessment of Academic Programs and Administrative and Support Offices in Higher Education. Session presented at the 1998 AAHE Assessment Conference.
22Middle State Commission on Higher Education: Student
Learning Assessment – Options and Resources, 2003.