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University of Phoenix Academic Leadership Publishes White Paper on Innovative General Education Assessment Processes

By Michele Mitchum

Dean Briana Houlihan, Associate Dean Jacquelyn Kelly, and Associate Dean Susan Hadley explore methods for assessing General Education learning outcomes while supporting student course selection freedom

University of Phoenix is proud to announce the release of a new white paper, “General Education Assessment Processes Supporting Student Choice.” Authored by Briana Houlihan, MBA, dean for the College of General Studies; Jacquelyn Kelly, Ph.D., associate dean; and Susan Hadley, Ph.D., associate dean, the paper provides a comprehensive approach to assessing General Education learning outcomes in a flexible and student-centric manner.

“Our commitment to fostering a student-centered learning environment is at the heart of our General Education assessment strategies,” states Houlihan, who presented findings for the College’s General Education curriculum mapping process at the 2024 American Association of Colleges and Universities Conference. “By continuously enhancing our curriculum and prioritizing student choice, we empower our students—many of whom balance their studies with work and family responsibilities—to pursue their academic and professional goals. This white paper underscores our dedication to creating meaningful and flexible educational pathways that align with our students' diverse needs.”

In traditional models, General Education programs typically follow a prescribed sequence of courses, allowing for straightforward and linear assessment of learning outcomes at iterated learning levels. However, this imposed model can limit student choice and flexibility, especially for adult learners with diverse schedules and educational needs. The new white paper addresses this challenge by presenting an innovative process that allows institutions to assess student learning and progression without rigid course sequencing.

“Balancing high academic standards with the need for flexibility is key to supporting our diverse student body,” says Hadley. “As educators, we are privileged to be a part of each student’s learning journey, and our innovative approach reflects that understanding by ensuring students can tailor their educational paths to fit their lives while still achieving high-quality learning outcomes.”

The white paper outlines the University’s approach to developing General Education Student Learning Outcomes that represent essential 21st Century Skills. It details the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy to design course assignments with increasing levels of rigor and explains how authentic assessments can be aligned to both Course and General Education Student Learning Outcomes. Furthermore, it describes a systematic process for collecting, analyzing, and interpreting assessment data to identify learning gaps and drive curricular improvements or additional student support.

“Our focus on continuous improvement and data-driven insights ensures that we can adapt and evolve our curriculum to meet the needs of our students,” shares Kelly. “By leveraging assessment data, we can provide targeted support and resources, helping students overcome challenges and succeed in their academic pursuits.”

In her role as Dean for the College of General Studies at University of Phoenix, Houlihan is a strong advocate for first-generation and underserved working learners. She has made it her mission to enhance the skills focus within General Education coursework to bring value to undergraduate students from day one of their program. She has served non-traditional online learners in higher education for over 21 years, holding positions in Student Services, Academic Affairs, and College and Campus Operations. Her diverse experience and authentic leadership style have allowed her to develop high-performing teams that put students at the center of everything they do. She holds a Master of Business Administration and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Project Management from the University of Phoenix. She resides in Phoenix, Arizona.

As an Associate Dean at University of Phoenix, Kelly has more than 15 years of experience in science and math education. Her expertise lies in translating STEM education research into practice at institutions of higher education. Kelly earned her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in Science Education from Arizona State University. Her master’s degree is in Materials Science and Engineering from Arizona State University, and her undergraduate degree is in Physics and Chemistry from California State University, San Marcos. She has been a principal investigator and co-principal investigator of multiple federal grant projects aimed at developing science education support for rural area K-12 teachers and student government science officer roles in K-12. Kelly’s previous positions include science teaching, teacher evaluator for the county education service agency, and program director for professional development programs for science and math educators.

Associate Dean at the University of Phoenix, Hadley oversees the Bachelor of Arts in English degree as well as the non-STEM general education catalog, including ‘first year student experience’ courses. Hadley has spent over 20 years in higher education serving in various dean roles, as a faculty member across degree levels, and as a consultant for dozens of colleges and universities. She has advised higher education institutions throughout the country regarding academic program structure and design, accreditation, and academic policies and procedures incorporating operational and educational best practices. Hadley earned her doctorate in psychology from Saybrook University, a Master of Arts in English from Emporia State University, a Bachelor of Arts in English from Hastings College, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Bellevue University.

The full white paper is available for download at the University of Phoenix’s Thought Leadership hub or via this direct link.

About University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix innovates to help working adults enhance their careers and develop skills in a rapidly changing world. Flexible schedules, relevant courses, and a Career Services for Life® commitment help students more effectively pursue career and personal aspirations while balancing their busy lives. For more information, visit