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October 6, 2015

By John von Knorring

The premise of this book is that the senior student affairs officer (SSAO) must be the primary leader and spokesperson in developing a culture of assessment in his or her division.  To implement a comprehensive assessment program, the SSAO must set the tone and provide the leadership for a team approach in which every staff member participates.  Each chapter focuses on one of the ten tenets. Each begins with an SSAO’s testimony or perspective about the tenet addressed in the chapter. Here are some:

Rosie Bingham, University of Memphis, on “Tenet One: Understand the “Why” of Assessment”

At the University of Memphis we developed the motto, “Students learning through engagement and involvement.” We also created a position entitled director of student learning and assessment. Early on, we provided training to staff and took small steps as we began to make assessment a part of the very fabric of life and work in student affairs.  We began to see real results in some departments. Some of those results netted bigger financial investments from the University into the work we are doing in the division. Ten years later, I believe that we must continue to answer the “How do I know?” questions. I believe that the case for assessment is increasing throughout the academy. I believe that student affairs divisions that fail to collect meaningful evidence of contributions may be facing extinction. I believe in the “why” of assessment.

Barbara Henley, University of Illinois at Chicago, on “Tenet Two: Commit to Student Learning as a Primary Focus”—

SSAOs are likely to encounter problems.  In my attempts to implement the tenet of student learning as the core of assessment, many challenges were faced.  One early discovery was that I was asking members of our division to focus on student learning and assessment, and not all of them had backgrounds in education or exposure to graduate level higher education or student affairs preparation programs.  The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) did not have graduate programs in these areas to which I could turn for assistance or refer my Student Affairs colleagues.  While some of my colleagues simply were not prepared to conduct assessment, others struggled with modes and instruments of assessment.

I began by identifying ourselves as “student affairs educators.”  My accompanying message was that the students we serve must learn from their interactions with us and our programs and services.  I announced on multiple occasions and in multiple venues the importance of student affairs as a learning organization or a learning laboratory for students and that assessment data were needed to demonstrate our significance and improve our programs accordingly.  I hired a student affairs and assessment educator to help deliver the message, to provide the tools through our staff and professional development programs, and to advance our student learning and assessment agenda.  I charged every department with having at least one learning objective with an assessment component.  Collectively, the strategies are working.

The UIC student affairs mission is derived from the institutional mission.  It does not and cannot stand alone.  It is heresy for us to work outside the institutional mission, and if we did, it would result in confusion for our students and raise questions about our work.  We must work in collaboration with our academic affairs colleagues and others to promote and assess student learning and assessment throughout the academy.

Christine A. Bouchard, University at Albany, on “Tenet Ten: Disseminate Data to Leverage Buy-in and Promote Utility to the Campus Community”—

Seven years ago, when the University at Albany’s student affairs division (known as Student Success at the time, it is now referred to as Student Affairs) launched its first serious venture into the world of assessment, we did not completely comprehend all it would take to establish a truly effective assessment plan.  We happily embarked on a thoughtful collection of data across the many departments within Student Affairs, but soon found ourselves buried in facts without enough time built into our process to make sense of it all and with no clear approach on how to best utilize material we had gathered.  We were data rich but information poor.

This tenet espouses the importance of collecting data that have real utility and of moving beyond data collection to interpreting and sharing the data – both within and across the units of the division.  The premise guiding this chapter is that we collect information that champions our desired story, and we tell that story in diverse ways to our various and varied audiences.  The goal is to translate data into information that creates a picture of our students, articulates the information to key constituents, and allows us to better demonstrate not only what we do well, but also where we can do better.  We had numerous starts and stops in our assessment journey at University at Albany, but we know now that how we tell the story is a vital consideration in our assessment processes.

A recurring theme in Leading Assessment for Student Success is to hire a divisional director or coordinator of assessment to manage the day-to-day processes and provide forums and frameworks within which all staff can actively participate. For a more detailed exploration of this recommendation, we encourage you to read ACPA/NASPA’s joint publication Coordinating Student Affairs Divisional Assessment, a guide for the staff member you appoint in this coordinator role.

About the Editors:

Rosie Phillips Bingham is the Vice President for Student Affairs and a professor in Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Research at the University of Memphis.

Daniel Bureau is the Director for Student Affairs Learning and Assessment at the University of Memphis and has worked within student affairs for 18 years.

Amber Garrison Duncan is the Evaluation and Strategy Officer at Lumina Foundation focusing on managing evaluations and applying evaluation findings to inform Lumina’s strategies to reach Goal 2025.

Leading Assessment for Student Success: Ten Tenets That Change Culture and Practice in Student Affairs, Edited by Rosie Phillips Bingham, Daniel Bureau and Amber Garrison Duncan, October 2015, 168 pp., 6″ x 9″, Paper, 978 1 62036 222 8, $29.95 

Click here to view a sample chapter


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