Office of Institutional Research and Assessment

Why Assessment?

Why Assess the Mason Core Program?

George Mason University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Every ten years, the university performs a self-study, the goal of which is to reaffirm that we meet the standards of accreditation set by SACS. Since 2001, SACS has put increasing emphasis on student learning outcomes. For the Mason Core (general education), it explicitly requires institutions to “identify college-level general education competencies and the extent to which graduates have attained them” (Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for quality enhancement, 3.5.1, p. 15).

In addition to the SACS requirements, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) also requires state institutions to assess six areas of competency: written communication, quantitative reasoning, scientific reasoning, critical thinking, oral communication, and information technology. A competency-based approach using course portfolios is the standard for all Mason Core categories as well as all SCHEV competencies.

The most important audience for this assessment activity is the Mason community. One of the hallmarks of assessment activities at Mason is the extent to which we use the data to implement improvements in the form and content of academic programs (the nationally-ranked Writing Across the Curriculum program being perhaps the most visible example). Since the Mason Core constitutes such a major and important portion of a student’s educational career, and therefore commands a large commitment of resources—financial, physical, and intellectual—we need good data to assess the effectiveness of this enormous effort. What we learn as an institution from these assessment activities may have profound benefits for the improvement of undergraduate teaching and learning.

Indirect Assessment for the Mason Core

OIA engages in a range of indirect assessments of the Mason Core. The results are used as supporting evidence for the effectiveness of the program. The instruments and results of these assessments are available on the OIA website (

  1. Graduating Senior Surveys. Graduating seniors are asked to rate Mason’s contribution to their growth or their competence in each of the Mason Core categories.
  2. Student Focus Groups. Focus groups are conducted periodically to understand students’ experiences in Mason Core courses.
  3. National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). The NSSE collects information at hundreds of four-year colleges and universities about student participation in programs and activities that institutions provide for their learning and personal development. The results provide an estimate of how undergraduates spend their time and what they gain from attending college. Mason participates in the NSSE every 3 years.