Strong Assessment and Accountability Structures Matter

Learning from Student Affairs

Learning together and from each other matters. Building structures and spaces for that to happen is important.

The Division of Student Affairs exemplifies a sturdy arrangement of assessment information dissemination throughout each of its sub-units. There is a division-wide assessment team called SAAAC (the Student Affairs Assessment Advisory Committee) which has a representative from each unit such as the Counseling and Mental Health Center, University Unions, Rec Sports, the Dean of Students, etc. This committee meets monthly to discuss and learn about assessment. In addition to this large division wide committee, there are also smaller internal assessment teams that focus on specific areas. For example, the Housing and Food Services Department has a general assessment team with representatives from each of their five areas (Residence Life, Food Services, Diversity and Development, Facilities, and Administration). However, each of these individual areas has their own assessment team who also actively work on assessment projects. These smaller units feed up to the larger units who then share their experiences and are able to work together and provide assistance. This system works because it facilitates sustained collaboration through embedded practices.

Well defined structures of accountability and responsibility for assessment, systematic processes to ensure deadlines are met, and clear channels of information dissemination and communication can really go a long way in helping set units up to engage in assessment that is actually useful to the unit, while also meeting reporting expectations. Encouraging talk about assessment at all levels of the organization reveals exciting new ideas and advancements. A strong assessment structure can help regulate and manage the means of sharing information and ultimately succeeding. Dr. Gale Stuart, Director of Assessment for Student Affairs, has noticed that the staff have learned that assessment is work that can pay off in major, significant ways in future practice. It can be fairly simple to do and not necessarily too much extra labor. A strong assessment structure helps everyone engage in program development conversations and creates a climate that supports data-driven decision-making. Additionally, the leadership’s support of assessment, as evidenced by how well it is embedded and woven into Student Affairs’ strategic plan, attests to the fact that at all levels of the division, folks are true-believers in the usefulness of assessment.

In Student Affairs, through these strong channels of communication and structures supporting assessment, ideas are shared, inspiration is sparked, and improvement transpires. Assessment activities in this division go beyond any compliance reporting requirements. It has helped program staff and administrators learn from each other’s struggles and failures. Supporting and promoting information sharing across units has helped reveal best practices in program development and pedagogical improvements. Oftentimes, these innovations originate with the faculty and staff themselves at the individual program level where incredible things occur. The ultimate goal of assessment is program improvement and keeping sight of this objective can make assessment practices much more useful.