Electronic Theses and Dissertations



Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Joseph Jones

Committee Member

William Duffy

Committee Member

Katherine Fredlund

Committee Member

Loel Kim


This project examines first-year writing program assessment practices at small liberal arts colleges and universities in an effort to understand how these practices resemble or diverge from prevailing scholarship on writing program assessment. There is extensive literature on best practices in writing program assessment, but nearly all of it by scholars and researchers working at public comprehensive universities who assume that type of institution as their model. At the same time, scholarship on writing program assessment at small liberal arts institutions is scant, amounting to fewer than ten publications in the last twenty years, even as these schools are structurally and philosophically different enough from public comprehensive universities that prevailing best program assessment practices often do not fit their contexts and needs. Small liberal arts institutions are historically important to higher education in United States, remain numerically significant, and serve hundreds of thousands of students per year. To better understand how they engage with best practices in writing program assessment, the author distributed a survey to more than 120 institutions, ultimately receiving responses from 42. Using these responses and in-depth interviews with the directors of first-year writing programs at three other small liberal arts universities, the author tested his hypothesis that these schools are either not engaging in writing program assessment or are not doing so in ways that are consistent with best practices. The combined results ultimately reveal that (1) the responding schools are shifting, including in their approaches to first-year writing and in their assessment of those programs; (2) many assessment projects show signs of interference from upper-level administrators; and (3) these institutions are engaging in writing program assessment, but often in ways that are out of line with prevailing scholarship. The study examines the possible reasons for these themes, makes suggestions for how the directors of first-year writing programs at small institutions can gain better control of and improve their program assessment efforts and for how program assessment scholars might consider the small liberal arts experience, and closes with suggestions for further research.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest