Northern assesses students' learning gains in a systematic and authentic way, aiming for continuous improvement of our academic and co-curricular programs.

In support of Northern’s mission to provide academic opportunities that prepare students for their future, it's essential to assess the effectiveness of the courses, co-curriculuar initiatives, and degree programs offered to students.  


NSU’s accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, demands a commitment to educational achievement and improvement through ongoing assessment of student learning. Northern has met these conditions and can claim continuous accreditation since 1918.


Assessment is guided by the Campus Assessment Committee, which reflects both academic and non-academic representation. Details about committee membership and actions are available to NSU employees on myNSU.



The Office of Institutional Research & Assessment serves students’ specific testing needs and supports Northern's departments, schools, and colleges. For information on  tests for which Northern offers information or assistance, visit Testing. If you have questions, contact the Testing Center at 626-2029; stop by Room 154A in Beulah Williams Library; or email


Academic Programs

Each academic department has defined the learning goals of the degree programs delivered by their faculty. Accompanying these goals are assessment plans that describe the activities and courses that students will take to attain the desired learning, the rubrics used to measure progress, and the faculty’s schedule of collecting evidence, discussing results, and implementing needed changes. This information is available by contacting the appropriate department chair or by navigating to the NSU website devoted to the corresponding program. Faculty at Northern State University may find plans and forms on the internal myNSU site for Institutional Research & Assessment.


The assessment committee reviews all academic assessment annual reports and communicates their observations with the provost’s office.


Senior Exit Exam

Baccalaureate candidates must complete the established senior exit exam for their program. Each school and college is in charge of its own exit exam testing, coordinated by the assessment director. Some programs choose to administer the ETS Major Field Test for the related discipline.


Testing should take place in the student’s final semester to ensure that relevant material covered on the test will have already been covered in coursework. In the event of internship, student teaching, or other conflict with testing in the final semester, it may be possible to complete the exit exam in the semester prior to the final semester before graduation. Students that have more than one major requiring different exit exams should consider taking one exit exam per semester up to and including the semester in which they graduate.


Students who have applied for graduation but didn’t take the required exit exam(s) will have their application for graduation cancelled. They would then need to reapply the following semester.


Students seeking an undergraduate degree from Northern must complete specific courses devoted to six broad learning goals. Collectively, these courses form the general education program of all undergraduate degrees offered by the South Dakota state university system.

General Education

Students seeking an undergraduate degree from Northern must complete a number of specific courses devoted to six broad learning goals; these courses collectively form the general education program of all undergraduate degrees offered by the South Dakota state university system.

Learning Goal 1

Students will write effectively and responsibly and will understand and interpret the written expression of others.

As a result of taking courses meeting this goal, students will:

  • Write using standard American English, including correct punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure,
  • Write logically,
  • Write persuasively, with a variety of rhetorical strategies, and
  • Incorporate formal research and documentation into their writing, including research obtained through modern, technology-based research tools.
Learning Goal 2

Students will communicate effectively and responsibly through listening and speaking.

As a result of taking courses meeting this goal, students will:

  • Demonstrate the ability to speak thoughtfully, clearly, and effectively in a variety of contexts, and
  • Demonstrate active listening skills in a variety of contexts.
Learning Goal 3

Students will understand the organization, potential, and diversity of the human community through study of the social sciences.

As a result of taking courses meeting this goal, students will:

  • Identify and explain basic concepts, terminology, theories, and systems of inquiry of the selected social science disciplines,
  • Apply selected social science concepts and theories to contemporary or historical issues from different behavioral, cultural, institutional, temporal, or spatial contexts, and
  • Analyze the extent and impact of diversity among individuals, cultures, or societies in contemporary or historical contexts using social science methods and concepts.
Learning Goal 4

As a result of taking courses meeting this goal, students will:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the diversity of values, beliefs, practices or ideas embodied in the human experience, and
  • Demonstrate basic understanding of concepts of the selected discipline with the arts and humanities.

And at least one of the following:

  • Demonstrate ability to express creative, aesthetic, formal or stylistic elements of the disciplines.
  • Demonstrate foundational competency in reading, writing, and speaking a non-English language.
  • Identify and explain cultural contributions from the perspective of the selected disciplines within the arts and humanities.
Learning Goal 5

Students will understand and apply foundational mathematical processes and reasoning.

As a result of taking courses meeting this goal, students will:

  • Use mathematical symbols and mathematical structure to model and solve real world problems, and
  • Demonstrate appropriate communication skills related to mathematical terms and concepts.
Learning Goal 6

Students will understand the fundamental principles of the natural sciences and apply scientific methods of inquiry to investigate the natural world.

As a result of taking courses meeting this goal, students will:

  • Explain the nature of science including how scientific explanation are formulated, tested, and modified or validated,
  • Distinguish between scientific and non-scientific evidence and explanations, and use scientific evidence to construct arguments related to contemporary issues,
  • Apply basic observational, quantitative, or technological methods to gather and analyze data and generate evidence-based conclusions in a laboratory setting, and
  • Understand and apply foundational knowledge and discipline-specific concepts to address issues, solve problems, or predict natural phenomena.

Student work is collected and assessed annually by faculty members, and the analysis of the results is used to prompt improvement.


Dr. Brenda Mammenga, director

of institutional research




Spafford Hall 205C