QEP Executive Summary

The Pfeiffer University Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), Engaging Students to Think Critically, is a composite of both engaged learning and critical thinking.

Engaged learning involves student engagement in the learning process, with their object of study, with other disciplines and in the world around them. Likewise, critical thinking involves an intellectually disciplined process of active and skillful application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation of information gathered through observation, experiences, reflection, reasoning, or communication (all of which are activities of engaged learning). The QEP is designed such that each dimension of engaged learning can serve an additional goal, that of enhancing the critical thinking skills of students. Therefore, the overall goal of the QEP is to enhance student learning in the area of critical thinking through increased engagement across the curriculum.

The selected QEP topic reflects the views of the university's four primary constituency groups (students, faculty, staff and alumni) and supports Pfeiffer's mission and strong commitment to educational excellence, service and scholarship. The institutional data on academic performance also shows that critical thinking remains an area in need of considerable improvement.

The implementation of the QEP will include an increased focus on critical thinking throughout the general education and discipline specific undergraduate curriculum. The implementation process will include five phases.

The Information phase (2011-2012) focuses on helping each of the university constituencies better understand the overall goals and nature of the QEP.

The Innovation year will begin the incremental training of a select group of ten faculty members in the pedagogy of engaged learning and critical thinking. However, within five years we will increase faculty participation such that all faculty will begin to incorporate the critical thinking student learning outcomes into their classes and become fluent in the use of individual rubrics for developing and evaluating course assignments and student learning.

The Implementation phase (2013-2015) involves an overall increase in activities and courses across the university, including spreading the focus of the QEP to include the Graduate and Adult Studies programs in Charlotte and the Research Triangle campuses. The plan includes a goal of increasing the number of courses which intentionally promote critical thinking to 80 percent by the end of year five.

In year four, the Institutionalization year, the notion of engagement and critical thinking will permeate the university's work, creating an institutionalization of the concepts.

Finally, in year five, while on-going assessment has occurred, the overall impact of the QEP will be determined.

In addition to the faculty development and changes within individual courses, the QEP encourages faculty and students to participate in ongoing forums, such as the annual Spring Academic Showcase, for sharing and reflecting on the products of their critical and creative thinking.

As a result of the QEP we will see a measureable increase in the students' critical thinking skills, including the student's ability to:

  • Effectively evaluate information;
  • Use human creativity to help solve problems;
  • Use problem-solving techniques recognized by various disciplines; and
  • Communicate the process and content of learning effectively.

These learning outcomes will be assessed using The Critical Thinking Assessment Test (CAT), the critical thinking skills portion of the ETS Proficiency Profile, selected items from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and individual rubrics specifically designed to assess student learning outcomes on individual projects and assignments.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the QEP?

The Pfeiffer University Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), Engaging Students to Think Critically, is a composite of both engaged learning and critical thinking.

The overall goal of the QEP is to enhance student learning in the area of critical thinking through increased engagement across the curriculum.

How will the QEP affect Pfeiffer?

  • Enhanced student learning
  • Increase in critical thinking skills among students
  • Increased engagement in courses
  • Innovation in pedagogical strategies
  • Collaboration between faculty and students within and outside of the classroom

What is expected of students?

  • Students will also become more self-reflective in terms of their thinking and attention to the QEP related student learning outcomes.
  • Students will play a crucial role in encouraging/demonstrating to  other students the benefits of engagement and critical thinking.
  • Students will take the lead in independent research.

What is expected of faculty?

  • Participate in training and faculty development
  • Train other faculty members
  • Learn to interpret and evaluate the CAT (Critical  Thinking Assessment Test)
  • Incorporate the rubrics into their courses to better assess which assignments include engaged learning and foster critical thinking
  • Be reflective about current pedagogy
  • Be intentional about revising current courses and/or introducing new curriculum which better supports the QEP.

What is SACS?

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges is the regional body for the accreditation of degree-granting higher education institutions in the Southern states. The Commission's mission is the enhancement of educational quality throughout the region and it strives to improve the effectiveness of institutions by ensuring that institutions meet standards established by the higher education community that address the needs of society and students. It serves as the common denominator of shared values and practices among the diverse institutions in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Latin America and other international sites approved by the Commission on Colleges that award associate, baccalaureate, master's or doctoral degrees. The Commission also accepts applications from other international institutions of higher education.

Learn more about SACS.

What are the SACS requirements for the QEP?

A general description of reaffirmation process and the role of the Quality Enhancement Plan can be found at http://www.sacscoc.org/genaccproc.asp.

Assessment Plan

The assessment of the student learning outcomes for the QEP will be accomplished by a combination of one nationally-known assessment instrument for critical thinking, several questions from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), the critical thinking subscale of the ETS Proficiency Profile and individual rubrics designed to assess both faculty-made assignments and student work samples.

National Assessment Instruments

The Critical Thinking Assessment Test (CAT) published by Tennessee Technological University was chosen as our primary external assessment instrument. According to information from Tennessee Tech, the CAT is “a unique tool designed to assess and promote the improvement of critical thinking and real-world problem solving skills.” The instrument was designed with the assistance of the National Science Foundation; that factor also influenced the decision to use this tool for assessment purposes.  

The choice of the CAT as the primary external assessment instrument for critical thinking has implications for budgets and faculty/staff resources.  The test will be scored by members of the Pfeiffer community, primarily faculty members, and this will require the assessors to receiving training in scoring the test.  This feature is an important link in the “closing the loop” process and can be seen in the following graphic.

Closing the loop in Assessment and Quality Improvement

The figure below shows how the CAT is designed to address the major elements of Bloom's Taxonomy of Cognitive Skills (1956).


ETS Proficiency Profile

Pfeiffer has for years used the Measure of Academic Proficiency and Progress (MAPP) as an instrument during senior exit testing, and although this instrument has now changed to the ETS Proficiency Profile, Pfeiffer seniors still take it.  One of the subscales of the Profile is critical thinking and in addition to the CAT, these subscale scores will continue to be monitored for changes once the QEP has been implemented.

The National Survey of Student Engagement

Pfeiffer has participated in the NSSE for many years and thus, unlike the CAT, a good bit of baseline data has been gathered.  A number of questions from the NSSE specifically address student engagement in academic life and these questions will be monitored in order to uncover any improvements in the degree of engagement of students with academics. (See Table 2 above for list of specific topics of relevance.)

Internal Measures and Rubrics

The institution's faculty and students will have access to two generalized rubrics that provide descriptors of the elements that lead to critical thinking and engagement. For faculty, a rubric has been drafted that describes what an engaging assignment includes. The elements include the criteria of level of student engagement, reflective practice, the level of cognitive ability, the level of affective ability, and the level of student-directedness. Descriptors for meeting the standard, exceeding the standard, and not meeting the standard are provided. Faculty assignments that are purported to engage students and drive critical thinking, to be included in the exploratory projects and eventual full implementation of QEP, will be reviewed by the QEP director for appropriate level of standard. For student work samples, a rubric has been drafted that provides criteria and standards for the results of student effort. Again, the descriptors provide examples of the levels of work that meet standard, exceed standard, or do not meet standard. Faculty will use this generalized rubric as is, or derivations of it in primary trait analysis scales, to share with students prior to and following the assignments. Over time, as the rubrics are used again and again, students and faculty will both naturally internalize the contents of the rubrics to help focus on engagement that leads to improved critical thinking.

The assignment rubric will be used to judge the quality of the faculty assignment while the critical thinking rubric will be used to provide feedback about individual student work. These rubrics will be made available to faculty members and they will be trained on their use by the Director of the QEP.

Summary of Assessment Plan




Direct measure

Student work graded by critical thinking rubric

Assignments graded by assignment rubric

Indirect measure


IDEA results around engagement

At the conclusion of each academic year, the collection of data points will be reviewed by the QEP director, the Office of Institutional Research, and the deans, to determine what progress has been made and to determine what faculty development in terms of assignment construction and course delivery might be appropriate. The Office of Institutional Research, which has responsibility for the administration of all external measures, will review data to ensure that response rates are appropriate for each instrument and that the method of administration provides the best response rates. The external data will be aggregated for inclusion in the annual institutional fact book and will be dis-aggregated to provide each faculty individual and each program collectively with a perspective of student progress and opinion. Collectively, faculty will review these data to determine appropriate changes to curriculum and delivery.

Selection Process Timeline


Activity or Event(s)

Oct. 2007

QEP kick-off presentation by invited speaker, Ross Griffith

Nov. 2007

Initial meeting of QEP Selection Team

Spring Term 2008

First electronic survey of students, faculty and staff designed to elicit ideas for QEP topics

Late Spring 2008

First awareness campaign designed for roll-out in the fall, with special emphasis on Homecoming activities

Jul. 2008

Members of the QEP Selection Team meet with Student Development Staff to outline plans for increasing student awareness of the QEP

Aug. 2008

Members of the QEP Selection Team meet with Residential Advisors (RA's) to outline plans for increasing student awareness of the QEP

Sept. 2008

First electronic survey to solicit ideas for the QEP topic is repeated (due to low response rate in the spring)

Sept. 2008

Focus groups with alumni held during Homecoming

Oct. 2008

Focus groups held with faculty, staff and students

Fall 2009

QEP Selection Team changes membership, although all constituencies still represented

Spring 2010

Second electronic survey of preferences for the QEP is conducted, but with only the top 3 ideas from earlier surveys and focus groups

Late spring 2010

Pfeiffer QEP chosen Engaged Learning and Critical Thinking as a result of a tie in the second survey voting

Fall 2010

Initial research done on best practices and assessment for the QEP topic

Spring 2011

QEP Implementation Team chosen with all constituency groups and both Pfeiffer campuses represented; a series of “faculty dialog” sessions held to solicit ideas for implementing the now chosen QEP

Summer 2011

Weekly meetings of the QEP Implementation Team with special emphasis on best practices, assessment and the information campaign

Aug. 2011

Full day of the annual Fall Faculty Conference devoted to the QEP, including a workshop conducted by nationally-known expert on critical thinking Dr. Aaron Thompson

Fall 2011

Presentation of QEP for Undergraduate Honors Colloquium


Falcon's Eye Newspaper Series on the QEP

Implementation Process Timeline



Activity or Event


Fall 2011

Assessment sub-committee develop rubrics for use in undergraduate pilot courses

Faculty members recruited to explore use of rubrics

Jan. 2012

Information Campaign Scavenger Hunt activities

Train Faculty exploratory group in use of rubrics

Spring 2012


Faculty Exploration

-          Meets monthly for reflection on the process and strategizing with QEP leadership

CAT leaders selected and attend training workshop

Faculty and Student Academic Showcase

-          Exploratory faculty participants present their preliminary reflections on using the draft rubrics in their classes

Faculty members/volunteers recruited for participation in 2012-2013 QEP specific Faculty Learning Community

-          Applications made available through the Office of Academic Affairs

-          Deadline for submission August 1, 2012

Hire QEP Director and appoint QEP committee


Summer 2012

QEP Director and assessment subcommittee review pilot faculty findings and incorporate changes into the rubrics and/or training schedule for 2012-2013

QEP team plans workshop and training for fall faculty conference and training

Aug. 2012

QEP presentation during Fall Faculty Conference


2012-2013 QEP specific Faculty Learning Community selected


Fall 2012

Training of new faculty members in use of rubrics


Pfeiffer CAT leaders offer training for other faculty members selected to score the test.

Provost works with Deans to suggest revisions in the faculty evaluation process to included faculty participation, service, teaching and learning activities related to the QEP (for adoption during the 2013-2014 year)

Apr. 2013

Administer first round of CAT tests

Selected faculty members convene to score test and reflect on the process

-          Establish baseline scores

-          Plan percentage increase for each year


Fall 2013 to Spring 2015

QEP Director and leadership team continue to review participation and performance across the University

Develop faculty training workshops and themes for upcoming year

Faculty participation increases incrementally


Fall 2015 to Spring 2017

QEP expanded to include Charlotte and RTP faculty and students


AY 2016-2017

Report to SACS on the progress of the QEP