Accountability of Mission and Ongoing Assessment
To assess its primary mission, Catholic Distance University is committed to continuing evaluation of how well the institutional outcomes are being met by students participating in CDU courses and programs in view of the ongoing changes in technology that affect an online campus as well as the varying needs of CDU’s multi-generational population. Assessment takes place on an ongoing basis through such instruments as course and faculty evaluations, targeted assignment rubrics, program exit surveys, and a juried review of select assignments performed by the Faculty Governance Subcommittee for MA-level comprehensive exams, portfolios, and theses in order to discuss options for refining programs that best serve the needs of the New Evangelization.
The CDU Outcomes Assessment Committee meets three times a year to gather academic and satisfaction data for the Faculty Governance Council on all program outcomes based on specific assignments, surveys, course grades, retention and graduation rates, GPA and program duration, as well as alumni participation in degree-related ministries. This committee develops rubrics that correspond to degree outcomes for the program and juried assessments and suggests criteria to be used in student and program assessment and other surveys that gather assessment from alumni and faculty. Using these data, the Faculty Governance Council addresses the course and program revisions that need to be made. Annually, the CDU Board undergoes its own assessment of committees and functions.
Institutional Outcomes as the Basis of Program Assessment
Catholic Distance University Institutional Outcomes are valued traits cultivated within the CDU learning community that serve as desired outcomes across all degree and non-degree programs:
Lifelong Formation — We value lifelong formation for service and leadership in the Church and Society. To this end CDU is committed to a comprehensive curriculum that enriches every academic level by promoting the integral growth of its students and providing an awareness of the richness of Gospel principles and the living Tradition of the Church. Lifelong formation instills a capacity for promoting an understanding of the lay vocation and equips Church leaders to give witness to the faith in the world (cf. Ex corde ecclesiae, 20).
Faith Development — We encounter the living word of God in a manner that is profound and life- changing, and that deepens faith working through love, preparing them for active participation in the life of the Church” (ECE, 41). To this end Catholic Distance University offers theological and religious education programs and courses that promote the integration of knowledge across the theological disciplines based on the dialogue between faith and reason and leading to the unity of all truth (cf. Ex corde ecclesiae, 17).
Theological Understanding for Life and Ministry — We pursue the study of the various theological disciplines so as to become truly competent in the specific sectors in which they will devote themselves to the service of society and of the Church, and, at the same time, be prepared to give the witness of their faith to the world. (cf. Ex corde ecclesiae #20) To this end, Catholic Distance University teaches Catholic theology in a manner faithful to Scripture, Tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium that provides an intellectual encounter with changeless truths and strengthens the critical understanding of Gospel principles which enrich the meaning of human life and ministry and shed light on questions in contemporary culture. (cf. Ex corde ecclesiae, 20)
Communication for Community — We articulate Church teaching and doctrine with clarity and insight that foster an experience of the communion of the Church and a spirit of missionary evangelization for the transformation of the culture (cf. Ex corde ecclesiae, 48). To this end Catholic Distance University promotes the formation of authentic human community animated by the spirit of Christ, a common dedication to the truth and vision of the human person, offering theological education in a faith-context that forms men and women capable of rational and critical judgment (cf. Ex corde ecclesiae, 21, 49). Technology, specifically distance education, is the means by which the University community is developed and sustained.
Collaboration for the Common Good — We demonstrate intellectual and collaborative skills that foster leadership for the common good and which equip students to integrate faith with life and actively participate in the pastoral ministry of the Church. To this end Catholic Distance University’s programs and courses foster a fruitful dialogue between the Gospel and culture that is open to Revelation and transcendence (cf. Ex corde ecclesiae, 43).
Statement of Educational Effectiveness/Program Outcomes
The mission of Catholic Distance University — to use distance education to communicate the mind and heart of the Church in a digital world — cannot be seen merely in terms of academic programs. All aspects of the university, including the online student life center, the community of board, staff, faculty, and students, and the entire online campus, work together to allow each person to “encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth” (cf. Spe salvi 4). Transformed through their encounter with the truth, students are equipped to dialogue with believers and nonbelievers and to be leaven and leaders in Church and non-Church ministries.
Institutional outcomes are regularly assessed using multiple strategies that include both direct and indirect measures of student learning. The assessment program ensures that CDU’s degree programs produce their intended outcomes and are educationally effective. While CDU itself does not actively place students in ministry, a high percentage of alumni are currently serving in ministry roles.
The 2021 graduation rates are based on cohorts of students who enrolled in the programs below and completed them within 150% of the program duration time. CDU’s graduation rates were 75% for the BA program and 71% for the MA in Theology program.
Graduating MA in Theology students in the current (2021) reporting cohort achieved an average GPA of 3.78 in an average time of 4.2 years. Among 2019-2021 MA alumni, 81% reported working in Church-related ministries upon graduation. For the 2020–2021 terms, student achievement in each MA program outcome confirms that students successfully met and often exceeded the expectations for each outcome. The retention rate for the 2020-2021 academic year is 89.2% for the MA (Theology) degree program and 100% for the MA in Theology and Educational Ministry degree program.
Graduating students in BA in Theology completion program in the current (2021) reporting cohort fulfilled program requirements with an average GPA of 3.71 and an average time of 3.9 years. Most students who enroll in the program either are seeking a Church-related ministry or desire to study the Faith more deeply so that in the future they can participate in volunteer ministries in their parishes. Among 2019–2021 alumni, 71% of undergraduate alumni reported working or volunteering in Church-related ministry positions upon completion of their program. For the 2020–2021 academic terms, student achievement in each BA program outcome confirms that students met the expectations for each outcome. The retention rate for the 2020–2021 academic year is 92.3% for the BA in Theology degree completion program.
There were insufficient data to report on a current (2021) cohort of students in the Associate of Arts program. In 2020, those who received the AA with a concentration in Catholic Studies were awarded the degree with an average GPA of 3.76 after an average of 3.8 years. For the 2019–2021 terms, student achievement of each AA program outcome confirms that students successfully met the expectations for each outcome. The retention rate for the 2020-2021 academic year is 92.5% for the AA in Liberal Arts degree program.
End of program surveys in 2021 show 100% stating that they achieved their learning goals, were satisfied with their studies at CDU, felt equipped to teach the Faith, and would recommend CDU to others. This data confirms the value of CDU services and educational offerings.
As of June 2021, the number of program students has increased 13.6% since Fall 2020. Beyond the numbers, outcomes must ultimately be measured in the way that alumni use their gifts and talents in service to the Church — whether that be formally or informally. Perhaps the most significant effectiveness statement is that CDU has been an accredited distance education institution for more than 38 years, being the first to offer online Catholic education in the United States, and is committed to this service of Catholic theology, catechetics, and evangelization for years to come. (Revised 10-12-21)