Introduction and Discussion Questions to Part I: Student Activities and Residence Life
For decades, scholars and practitioners in the field of higher education have repeatedly communicated the value and importance of student learning outcomes (Bresciani, Moore Gardner, & Hickmott, 2010; Erwin, 1991; Schuh & Upcraft, 2001), yet our experiences tell us that many student affairs professionals continue to report program outcomes (e.g., student satisfaction, headcounts) as primary evidence of success. Program outcomes, while important, are not sufficient (Getty, Young, & Whitaker-Lea, 2008; Westerberg & Roberts, 2011). To remain vital in today’s tough economic times, students affairs professionals must demonstrate intentional programming that is consistent with institutional goals for undergraduate learning and development (Green, Jones, & Aloi, 2008; Pike, Kuh, McCormick, Ethington, & Smart, 2011).
Why is student affairs so slow to respond? Many colleagues tell us they lack the practical tools for implementing a new assessment strategy. Others have expressed difficulty in translating assessment techniques across departments and units. The goal of this series is to provide road-tested and proven strategies for the assessment of student learning outcomes in functional areas of student affairs, specifically (a) student activities, (b) residence life, (c) career services, and (d) student conduct. Part One of this series will focus on student activities and residence life. Part Two of this series, scheduled to be published in the next issue of Developments, will feature career services and student conduct.
In the first article, Kim Yousey-Elsner and Stella Antic offer promising practices for assessing student learning in student activities. The authors provide a compelling rationale for developing an assessment plan and outline specific steps for completing an assessment cycle in student activities.
In the second article, Amanda Knerr and Jennifer Wright discuss the ways in which residence life can support and enhance the formal academic curriculum through intentional co-curricular learning activities. The authors demonstrate how the practical application of classroom assessment techniques can enhance residence life programming for students and improve real-time data collection by residence life staff members.
As assessment professionals and scholars, we hope that these essays will provide you with new ideas and starting points for conversation about assessment needs. We feel compelled to note; however, that these promising practices are components of comprehensive, participatory assessment plans. Backed by the professional literature, we strongly believe that building a culture of assessment in student affairs requires individuals to envision a system that transcends unit-specific boundaries.
As you read these two articles, we would encourage you to consider the following questions specific to these two functional areas of student affairs:
- How might the learning outcomes of student activities and residence life reinforce one another?
- Are there situations in which the learning outcomes of these two areas might be in conflict with one another?
- What types of evidence would support the finding that learning occurred through student participation in programs sponsored by student activities or residence life?
While beyond the scope of this series, there are a number of excellent resources that can help student affairs professionals build a comprehensive assessment plan. Chief among them include:
- Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators & American College Personnel Association, 2004)
- Frameworks for assessing learning and development outcomes (Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, 2006)
- Demonstrating student success: A practical guide to outcomes-based assessment of learning and development in student affairs (Bresciani, Gardner & Hickmott, 2010)
- Assessment Skills and Knowledge (ASK) content standards for student affairs practitioners and scholars (American College Personnel Association, 2007)
For individuals interested in learning more about assessment and the role that student affairs can play in ensuring institutional accountability, we would also recommend the following report:
- The data-driven student affairs enterprise: Strategies and best practices for instilling a culture of accountability (Education Advisory Board, 2009)
A learning-centered approach to student affairs assessment of student learning and developmental outcomes requires leadership and a vision for bridging the gap between curricular and co-curricular activities. It calls us to deliberately plan and assess programs and services so that our outcomes both resonate with academia and support the educational mission of the institution. Finally, a learning-centered approach to student affairs challenges us to redefine our roles, from administrators to educators, in order to remain relevant on our campuses and competitive in an ever-expanding world of educational options.
Bresciani, M. J., Gardner, M. M., & Hickmott, J. (2009). Demonstrating student success: A practical guide to outcomes-based assessment of learning and development in student affairs. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Education Advisory Board (2009). The data-driven student affairs enterprise: Strategies and best practices for instilling a culture of accountability. Washington, DC: The Advisory Board Company.
Erwin, T. D. (1991). Assessing student learning and development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Getty, L. J., Young, D. Y., & Whitaker-Lea, L. D. (May/June, 2008). Casting the assessment netwide: Capturing all student learning. About Campus, 10-16. DOI: 10.1002/abc.247
Green, A. S., Jones, E., & Aloi, S. (2008). An exploration of high-quality student affairs learning outcomes assessment practices. NASPA Journal, 45(1), 133-157.
Keeling, R. P. (Ed.). (2004). Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, DC: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators & American College Personnel Association.
Pike, G. R., Kuh, G. D., McCormick, A. C., Ethington, C. A., & Smart, J. C. (2011). If and When money matters: The relationships among educational expenditures, student engagement and students’ learning outcomes. Research in Higher Education, 52(1), 81-106.
Schuh, J.H. & Upcraft, M. L. (2001). Assessment practice in Student Affairs. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Strayhorn, T., Creamer, D.G., Miller, T. &, Arminio, J. (2006). Frameworks for assessing learning and development outcomes. Washington DC: Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education.
Westerberg, S., & Roberts, N. (2010-2011). Soaring or snoring: Energizing colleagues in Student affairs about learning outcomes and assessments (Parts I-III). NetResults: Critical Issues for Student Affairs Practitioners.
The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.