- How can you be a better steward of resources?
- Are you improving quality of services/programs where necessary?
- Are you providing the support needed for students to be retained and successful?
- What student trends or issues are emerging to which you need to adjust?
- How can you articulate what you do to outside parties?
- What are students learning?
Regardless of the office or area you belong at your institution, I am going to assume you are concerned with, would like to know the answer to, or are responsible for answering at least three of those questions. This assumption comes from my experience working with various offices from 60+ institutions. If these questions apply to you or your work, then you have assessment work to do. Don’t like that conclusion? Take it up with Upcraft and Schuh (2001), as they provide ample documentation and description of how those questions (and more) can be answered with a comprehensive assessment plan. Moreover, if you work hard assembling arguments those questions don’t apply to you, perhaps you are in the wrong line of work.
While it may not be articulated in your job description or you may not shoulder the entire assessment burden for your area, we’ll continue operating on the assumption assessment applies to you. With that in mind, the most important step you can take at this point is owning that reality and recognizing the responsibility. Academic Affairs/curricular assessment work should be owned and led by faculty. Consequently, Student Affairs/co-curricular assessment work should be owned and led by staff per area. The subject matter experts for a given office, service, or program are the best people to evaluate and act on data for their area. Assessment staff bring experience working with areas across the university, but their role is to support, guide, and enable resources and structure for quality assessment work to occur, not to do all the work or make all the decisions.
Allow me to state this another way. Assessment is not “Joe’s project” or “Joe’s priority” – it should be your project and your priority. We already agreed assessment applies to you and your work, so you can’t use that excuse. Moreover, do you really want someone else interpreting what data says about your programs and making decisions about your office while you just provide peripheral input? I’d hope not! I’d hope you care enough about your area and feel empowered enough to want to be in the decision-maker seat with colleagues and assessment people as your co-pilots.
Once you own assessment, life can become a lot easier for you. Here are a variety of pieces that can fall in place:
* Assessment planning becomes more intentional. Knowing this needs balanced among your other responsibilities, you will be more intentional planning timelines and resources for assessment since it must fit with other initiatives. When it’s not your project, it is easy to allow it to fall to the wayside or allow it to get lost in the shuffle among your other efforts.
* It’ll be easier to onboard colleagues and staff. When you have the responsibility for a project, you care about it. You’ll make a much better pitch to others in that case, as opposed to trying to recruit people for a project you don’t even feel involved in.
* You will take advantage of assessment resources/colleagues. Just because you recognize the responsibility does not mean you magically inherit assessment knowledge or skills. However, being accountable to conduct assessment projects, you will be more likely to seek out and engage with assessment resources and colleagues in order to complete your work.
* You can be(come) a data-driven decision maker. A critical part to the assessment process is using data for continuous quality improvement. Actively participating and owning the process means you will have ample evidence and data to consider when sharing information about your area or making decisions on programs and services.
Assessment may not carry positive connotations for you currently and that’s alright. Look to do the work. Once you do, I would hope the ability of seeing data that answers questions you have or provides evidence of the great work you are doing gives you a sense of satisfaction (and meets reporting needs). More than that, I would hope it empowers you to continue doing this work. I wouldn’t be surprised if you develop a genuine curiosity and excitement to review results and draw conclusions. If nothing else, you will make assessment colleagues happy and proud to work with you, forming even stronger bonds doing quality, collaborative assessment work.
This post is part of our #SAassess series on the importance of assessment in student affairs as a state of mind. A variety of knowledgeable and relatable perspectives will be portrayed throughout the month of November. We hope you will gain inspiring insights and take time to reflect on how you make meaning of your data collection and assessment practices. For more information, check out the intro post by Kim Irland. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!