A new national report that assesses students’ critical thinking, problem-solving and writing skills shows that Northern Arizona University seniors perform above expectations when compared to more than 100 other institutions in the United States.

The Collegiate Learning Assessment Institutional Report for 2005-06, produced by the Council for Aid to Education, tested seniors in spring 2006 and freshmen in fall 2005. NAU freshmen performed at expected levels.

“This report suggests that our students come to us with ‘average’ skills and capacities but learn more than average compared to other institutions over the course of their education at NAU,” said Karen Pugliesi, vice provost for undergraduate studies.

NAU volunteered to participate in this pilot assessment project that will follow first-time, full-time freshmen through the next four years of their college careers. The 2005-06 report establishes a baseline of information for the university, according to Pugliesi.

“We’re doing this so we can better understand how effectively our general education and specialized programs promote key capacities for students to be successful in work and life,” Pugliesi said.

“This will help us see where we’re doing well and perhaps less well and where we may need to strengthen programs.”

The report also concluded that NAU’s retention rate of 70 percent is slightly below what would be expected. However, the university’s four- and six-year graduation rates are at what would be expected.

“These results affirm what we already know: that we need to work to improve first-year retention and that if we can retain our freshmen through the sophomore year we have a good prospect of being able to increase graduate rates,” Pugliesi said.

The Collegiate Learning Assessment is recommended by the U.S. Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, or Spelling Commission, as one instrument to measure student outcomes at universities.

Pugliesi noted the difficulty of measuring what people learn, however, she said the CLA provides one tool to help the university evaluate the cumulative development of its students.

The Collegiate Learning Assessment Institutional Report for 2005-06 is available online.