Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Louann Bierlein Palmer

Second Advisor

Dr. Ramona Lewis

Third Advisor

Dr. Kathy Aboufadel


Higher education, accreditation, Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQUIP)


Given growing interest in accountability and outcomes, the North Central Association's Higher Learning Commission developed a new path for accreditation, the Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP). The goal is to infuse continuous improvement and quality in the culture of higher education, and to blend traditional accreditation with the philosophy and techniques of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. Yet, little is known about the key performance indicators (KPI) that colleges and universities are using to improve their quality and continuous improvement processes.

To this end, my research involved a content analysis of the Systems Portfolios submitted for accreditation by 34 purposefully selected four-year institutions accepted into AQIP. The purpose was to identify the KPI that these four-year colleges and universities use to evaluate and measure their organizational performance. After the KPI were identified, my study evaluated the similarities and differences of like institutions within Carnegie classifications. In total, 2,139 KPI were identified across the 34 institutions, and a reduction process combining similar KPI resulted in 251 individual measures placed into 24 categories.

Findings reveal that the most frequently used KPI include: a specialized student survey, such as the National Survey for Student Engagement (used by 94% of institutions), overall retention (91%), employee satisfaction (85%), and graduation rate (79%). The least frequently used KPI include adult learner measures (15%), completion rate (9%), diversity measures (9%), and tuition as compared to peers (6%). Findings also revealed similarities and differences in high frequency KPI between institutional types.

When comparing my results to the few previous research studies and against measures currently used by the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, little consistency is visible. Yet my results reveal that certain indicators do appear to be measureable across a number of institutional types, and recommendations are offered for a minimal common set of 10 internal indicators meant to aid institutions in their continuous improvement efforts, and five external indicators that demonstrate the results of such improvement efforts.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access