Data. “Big Data.” Assessment. Outcomes. Measurement. You cannot skim a student affairs journal or scroll through your blog roll of #sapros without tripping over one of these words.
This is especially true in career services work. What follows was written with career services assessment in mind, but the longer I work in higher ed and collaborate with colleagues across student affairs, the more I feel this is a strategy we ALL can use!
What assessment and data collection entail and how they look differs greatly across higher ed. And in our current accountability/ROI/”Your work is important? Prove it! With numbers!” climate, assessing our work is only going to become more important. Which brings me to counting.
Raise your hand if assessment for you/your office means counting how many students, alums, or others attend your programs (mine’s raised, too, just so y’all know). Keep those hands raised if sometimes, you and your colleagues get bogged down or derailed by what these numbers mean. Yup, me too.
Tracking student attendance is an important element of program assessment, however, it is, or should be, only one element of a successful assessment strategy. When we focus on head count, it’s easy to lose sight of why we offered the program in the first place. Getting buried in analysis about who came, who didn’t come, why didn’t they come, how did we communicated about this program makes it harder to see whether goals for the program were achieved (uh oh, did we have goals for the program??) and how the program fits into the larger framework of our strategic vision.
Here’s a suggestion. Next time you’re sitting in a meeting debriefing a past program, don’t lead with how many people showed up. Showing up is not a growth indicator and butts in seats alone rarely tell you whether the program was a success.
- Review program content and execution: Were your speakers effective at conveying the topic at hand? Did they use engaging presentation materials? How did the audience seem to be responding?
- Note any interesting nuggets from your assessment of the program: When hosting a program, I always ask 4 basic questions, the first three using a Likert-scale indicator like Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree:(1) Did this program meet your expectations?
(2) Was delivery of the program content effective?
(3) Would you recommend this program to a peer?
(4) What was the most important thing you learned (open-ended)?You don’t have to create a mile-long list of survey questions to get a good sense of whether your program hit the mark. I find these questions provide interesting points for discussion in debriefing programs and benchmarks to assess again if I repeat the program.
- Pro / Con: Consider giving your colleagues one program “pro,” something that went very well or better than expected, and one thing you would do differently, based on how things went.
Then, tell them how many people came. And when you do, consider and frame the importance of that data point. Did you set a goal for total attendance? What do you think aided in reaching it or prevented you from doing so? How does the head count factor into the event’s overall effectiveness? Does it at all?
Do you find that counting rules the day in determining program effectiveness? How do you assess whether a program is effective? If you try my approach to debriefing a program, tell me how it went!
For more on this topic, stay tuned in November for the #SAassess series!
October is devoted to Career Hacks, rethinking career services. This month, professionals will post innovative ideas, exciting changes, and inventive new practices in the field.
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Cristina Lawson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Mallory Bower on Career Services and Job Search Tips