Amy Biesterfeld, AER KC Representative
February 10, 2019
This time of year, I often reflect a bit on my life and think about where I am and how I got here. Being a math person, I see my career as a bit of a “random walk”. While my work has always been in higher education, my story is probably a bit different from many of you because I am not a “career” Student Affairs professional. I only began working in the area of Student Affairs (SA) about 2-3 years ago, as the Director of Assessment for Housing & Dining Services. About a lifetime ago (at least in terms of my career), I used to teach statistics to college students. Now, in an interesting series of events (or possibly fate), I apply statistics to student data that is collected outside of the classroom. I truly enjoy my assessment work in SA because it combines both of my loves – helping students and using my math skills. Of course, “helping students” can feel intangible sometimes, as I rarely interact with students directly in this position.
Regardless of whether my work (or yours) involves directly engaging with students, all of us in Student Affairs play a role in helping students successfully navigate the non-academic aspects of college life. As we know, this is as important as a student’s academic success in college. How do we show the important contributions we make to student success? I bet you know where this is going… Yes, ASSESSMENT allows us to tell our story.
Assessment is powerful. It can be used to determine which students are most at-risk in college (i.e. in not being retained to the following year or graduating). This allows specific strategies to be designed and implemented that provide additional support to these students. Then, assessment is used again to show the effectiveness of those strategies. This is illustrated beautifully in a NY Times article about a 45-minute online intervention that UT-Austin implemented for first-generation freshmen. What did the assessment results show? A significant increase in the first-year retention rate for the first-generation students that participated in this intervention.
Now, this example from UT-Austin was a large-scale, randomized, controlled experiment. Obviously, not everyone can perform assessment at this level. However, on a smaller scale, we can all use assessment in our SA offices to make continuous improvements to our programs and services. This “data-based decision making” process can be expressed as an “assessment cycle” which has four phases:
As a brief (and over-simplified) example of using assessment for continuous improvement within your unit, consider CU Conference Services (CUCS) at University of Colorado Boulder:
The assessment cycle for CUCS begins again with their revised 2018-19 assessment plan and new strategies being determined and implemented during the 2019 conference season to help achieve their new target.
I hope the two examples above help illustrate the power of assessment and using it (1) to show the effectiveness of programs/services and (2) to make data-based decisions for continuous improvement. Now… don’t you love assessment too?!
If you would like start integrating more assessment practice in your Student Affairs role, I highly recommend registering for Applying and Leading Assessment in Student Affairs, a Mass Online Open Course (MOOC) offered through Student Affairs Assessment Leaders (SAAL), Colorado State University (CSU) Online, and CSU’s Student Affairs in Higher Education MA Program. This eight-week course opened on January 21 and runs through March 18 but since it is entirely self-paced, you can still register. Complete the entire course for a certificate, or just complete the modules that are of the most interest to you. For more information, go to http://studentaffairsassessment.org/online-open-course.
Other ways that you can easily learn more about assessment and integrating it into your SA work:
At University of Colorado Boulder, assessment work is growing at an incredibly fast pace as large campus-wide initiatives are being implemented and will need to be assessed for their effectiveness. Is this occurring on your campus as well? If not, it is probably just a matter of time. Being knowledgeable and comfortable using assessment will help you as higher education continues to move in this direction!
Amy Biesterfeld, Ph.D.
NASPA IV-W AER KC Representative
Director of Strategic Planning & Assessment
Housing & Dining Services, Division of Student Affairs
University of Colorado, Boulder
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