Learning of students and assessment in their affairs helps in improving the quality of education. The functions of student affairs’ assessment significantly contribute to student learning. Professionals of student affairs have a huge responsibility of assessing the learning of students in their experiences although their capacity is always underutilized and disregarded. A broader assessment of an institution is an effort that is associated with the role that student affairs play in assessing the individual students. This paper focuses on one of the nine critical issues and problems facing student affairs as identified by Margaret Barr and Arthur Sandeen. Professionals in student affairs assess student learning, and they link the mission of student affairs to the entire mission of the college, its strategic plan, and purpose. The professionals achieve their objective by partnering with school faculty as well as other administrators. They also share their proficiency on development and learning of the students. The accomplishment of such goals requires consistent leadership in the assessment of student affairs and adequate resources that can be committed to the process of evaluation. Furthermore, the assessment needs to be incorporated into the work portfolio of every staff involved in student affairs. This essay aims to highlight the significant contributions of student affairs on assessment efforts of student learning outcomes in the entire campus. It further ascertains factors which may hinder professionals in student affairs from realizing such level of contributions. The paper outlines the challenges faced by student affairs while assessing student learning and suggests various ways of turning the challenges into different opportunities to improve higher levels of achieving student learning outcomes.
2.0 Participation of Student Affairs in Assessment
Pascarella & Terenzini (2005) carried out a study on college impact assessment and unequivocally came up with three significant findings. They found out that the effect of learning institution on preferred consequences is collective and the outcome of several involvements within and out of the classroom is over a considerable period of time. Secondly, effective and rational development is intricately entangled, affecting others in several ways. Lastly, specific activities undertaken out of class potentially supplement the learning of students within the context of applied competence. For instance, students get the opportunity of practicing their skills when they write for the university newspaper, play in the concert orchestra and work on or off the college (Schuh & Gansemer-Topf, 2010). Consequently, students develop their understanding of time management, decision making, and teamwork, some of the values that employers look at when recruiting graduate interns. Therefore, professionals in student affairs and faculty members who spend a lot of time with students need to work together to document what students experience during their time on campus or college.
Professionals in student affairs are required to contribute toward programs which are linked to campus assessment. Emphasis must be placed on the significance of assessing the efficiency of scheduled services and programs (Hirt & Robbins, 2009). Apart from determining the quality of its contributions, the field of student affairs also determines what scholars learn by taking part in varied experiences outside the classroom. Certain units of student undertakings commit the time allocated to staff members for evaluation of student learning. National organizations dealing with affairs of students in America sponsor conferences yearly for purposes of evaluation. Practitioners who are involved in student orientation, academic advising and unions of campuses establish specialty organizations with the objective of devoting their meeting sessions to assessment.
Student affairs practitioners are not encouraged to directly engage or take part in assessment efforts within the campus despite their conveyed interest in the assessment of development and learning of students. Similarly, not all the staff members of student affairs are ready to plan and effectively carry out meaningful assessments of experiences of students out of class (Ewell, 2009). Participation in student affairs in complete and universal approaches of amassing and interpreting proof of college’s impact on preferred outcomes can be strengthened through the performance of the institution and assessment of learning. The professionals of student affairs have made substantial progress and integrated the assessment of learning of students into their program. Activities carried out in the early assessment initially concentrated on the participation of the students and their satisfaction (Seagraves & Dean, 2010). The focus of the activities has since advanced into initiatives of assessing what students learn from out of the class experience as well as services and programs run by student affairs. It is unfortunate that activities revolving around the assessment of student affairs are not fully incorporated with other activities of campus assessment. Academic affairs are still mandated to carry out most of the activities covering the learning outcomes of the students.
3.0 The Role of Student Affairs in Students’ Learning Assessment: Contributions and Challenges
Discussions touching on student learning in several institutions majorly focus on activities of students within the class and ignore what the students learn outside the classroom. Therefore, student affairs need to thoroughly assess the contributions they make towards the learning outcomes of the students’ experience out of class (Magolda, 2005). Professionals in student affairs must participate in the discussions that focus on the efforts of designing and implementing campus-wide initiatives of student learning assessment and personal progress. The outcomes can then be used in the improvement of the value of the scholar’s experience.
3.1 Linking Student Learning Assessment to the Purpose and Mission of the Institution
Institutions that value student learning often showcase their effort in their mission statement. It is important to note that institutions differ in their purpose, goals and mission statement. While some institutions put a lot of emphasis on student education in liberal arts, others concentrate in preparation of the students for particular professions (Schuh, Biddix, Dean & Kinzie, 2016). Besides, some of the institutions are established with a distinct purpose to be a single-sex institution or have a particular focus on curriculum activities. For example, schools of engineering, law or fine arts.
Hirt & Robbins (2009) asserts that programs of student affairs must be established with the aim of supporting and complementing the mission and purpose of the institution. It is vital for professionals in affairs of students to come up with experiences, programs, and services which denote learning experiences of students valued by the institution. Furthermore, the programs must be empirically verified to ensure that they are valuable to the experience of the learners at their colleges or campuses. Student affairs professionals sometimes engage in activities which are not in line with the goals and mission of the institution. The division needs to address the contribution that the experiences and programs make toward the goals or missions of the institution as well as evidence that can be collected to validate this aspect.
The University of Georgia is a good example of institutions that openly expresses the relationship that exists between the department which deals with affairs of students and the institution’s mission statement (Schuh & Gansemer-Topf, 2010). The University enhances the student’s learning environment with the aim of supporting the mission of the entire institution. The institution’s mission is to ensure that high levels of student’s success are promoted and support services in academic are appropriately provided. The University of Georgia has shown that proper assessment is very important and it has to be framed by an efficient and reasonable link between the institution and student affairs’ mission. Such alignment of missions helps in shaping a viable evaluation platform which will offer an improved atmosphere for the learning of the students.
3.2 Understanding the Environment in Broad Terms
The focus of student affairs professionals is to internally meet the student needs as they attend their learning institution. The practitioners should not underestimate or even ignore the impact of outside pressures on the behavior of students and practices or policies embraced by the institution. Universities and colleges are highly anticipated to give proof of the learning outcomes of their students. Ewell (2009) observed that institutions of higher learning are continuously required to divulge more information about students’ academic results and they positively respond in kind. External stakeholders gain when they understand the significance of promoting the learning of the students in keeping with the purpose and mission of the college or university both within and outside the class. Student affairs professionals are knowledgeable and deeply understand student learning. Seagraves & Dean (2010) maintain that the practitioners must spearhead documentation of how their services support assessment initiatives in academics and wider institution.
3.3 Linking Accountability Issues with Constant Improvement
Ewell (2009) holds that an assessment has binary goals namely continuous improvement and accountability. However, the two goals are continuously in tension calling for increased consideration on assessment. Practitioners in student affairs are in a good position of easing the tension and bridging the parallel goals. Offices of student affairs work with different subpopulations within college or campus to provide a more comprehensive picture, although research officers within the institution normally provide data on the rates of graduation and overall persistence of student. In their analysis, Braxton & Hirschy (2005) found that members of staff who work with groups which are traditionally underrepresented like women, adult learners and students of color play a great role in accountability and continuous improvement. They can aid in examining and interpreting information concerning rates of graduation and retention of the underrepresented group. Programs that enhance the education and accomplishment of these learners can be designed and implemented by professionals in student affairs.
3.4 Developing and Maintaining Collaborative Partnerships
Different units in campus need to collaborate in all activities of learning assessment for students in the entire campus. According to Magolda (2005), collaboration between various campus units can be difficult to develop and sustain due to differences in structures of reward, values, and patterns of socialization between student affairs and academic units. Kinzie, Manning & Schuh, (2012) notes that academic units focus on disciplined learning in class while departments of student affairs focus on the learning experience of the students out of class. Members of the faculty tend to concentrate on measuring learning of students which takes place within their areas of specialization in academics or in the curriculum’s overall component of education.
On the other hand, staff members of student affairs tend to concentrate on the measurement of the student’s personal development and the learning linked to their participation in the services and programs of student affairs. It is therefore vital to identify available prospects where student affairs and faculty can work in harmony to evaluate student’s process of learning. As a result, a proper understanding of the overall learning involvement helps in enhancing improvement and accountability. Student learning results from exposure of students to various experiences within and outside the class over a long time and not the product of isolated experience. Pascarella & Terenzini (2005) indicate that the contribution of students in secondary and social activities is significant to what is learned in campus and college. Therefore, activities associated with assessment should be established to ascertain how both internal and external classroom experience impacts student learning.
Kuh & Banta (2000) suggest that assessment of outcomes is one sector where the affairs of students and academic activities equally support the learner’s experience. Staff members in student affairs are professionals in the learning and development of students. They also understand the values, characteristics and outside of class experiences. While the focus of the faculty is on the learners within their academic-related divisions, professionals in the affairs of students deal with a wide range of learners. The role of the faculty is to evaluate learning within a given discipline in academics, whereas student affairs are tasked with the assessment of learning resulting from participation in organization or club (Jankowski & Makela, 2010). When outcomes from different assessments are compiled and synthesized, the student, the institution and the public can broadly get useful information concerning the entire learning experience of the students.
3.5 Sharing Knowledge and Expertise
Assessment of the entire campus shows that professionals’ expertise in student affairs is usually underutilized. Several professionals in student affairs have sufficient knowledge concerning development and learning of students throughout their life on campus and the required range of experiences (Sandeen & Barr, 2014). The professionals grow into campus practitioners who are conversant with interests, values, and characteristics of students through their role as assessors and regular collaboration with students. Practitioners in student affairs who are deployed to work in disability, counseling and judicial offices have the ability to observe behavioral patterns of students and easily note any change in their behaviors. Practitioners in the affairs of the students are in a good position of helping institutions of learning to deeply understand the learning experience of students by interpreting local data within the context of national surveys’ findings.
Professionals, unfortunately, lack the means of communicating the results to the entire community within the university although they may take part in the activities of assessment (Jankowski & Makela, 2010). The experts must look for mechanisms through which they can enhance the learning of the students by adequately communicating their knowledge and outcomes of their initiatives. Members of a faculty and administrators of some campuses encourage the participation of members of the unit that deals with affairs of the student. Their role is to help in the interpretation of assessment outcomes with the objective of transforming practices and policies of the institution. The function of student affairs in the process of self-study requires further clarification because accredited bodies in different specialties invite institutions to have outcomes of student learning documented logically. The learning institutions are further required to document the plans of the institution to enrich the education of the students.
3.6 Providing and Valuing Strong Leadership
Strong leadership is crucial at different levels of learning, and it is required in successful efforts of assessment. Midlevel and entry professionals cannot carry out successful assessments if senior institutional leaders disregard their value. Seagraves & Dean (2010) carried out a research and found out that involvement of senior leaders in activities of assessment on their institutions of learning is just as crucial as the support they offer to such programs. Staff cannot efficiently collaborate and interact with people from different faculties if campus administrators and leaders of student affairs fail to develop healthy and good working affiliations. Strong leadership is a significant requirement from senior leaders who are out to collaborate and have an extensive view of the student learning experience. It is through top-level leadership that the assessment process can be allocated enough resources and staff members adequately trained. The senior leaders can also include assessment expectations into performance appraisal and job description. A frustrating assessment is that which is carried out, and there is no tangible outcome resulting from the assessment. Kuh & Ikenberry (2009) believe that leaders who show the value derived from assessment also emphasize the data used for assessment and make valid decisions following the available data.
3.7 Committing adequate Resources to Student Learning Assessment
Efforts of student assessment require enough resources the same way other successful initiatives on campus get the necessary allocation. The resources may include training, personnel, proper funding and adequate time. Swing & Coogan (2010) stresses on the significance of allocating enough financial resources and personnel time to studies that involve assessment. Good assessment studies may need additional effort from staff members or re-distribution of financial resources to enhance the acquisition of technical support, hire qualified consultants or purchase the required instruments. Assessment should be viewed as a future investment and not perceived as embezzlement of financial resources or misuse of personnel. Efforts of student learning assessment are hindered by lack of proper training of the professionals in affairs of students (Seagraves & Dean, 2010). In many cases, several staff members from the division of student affairs and faculty are trained in different research areas. Upcraft & Schuh (2002) encourage the concerned parties to provide enough tools and train the professionals on how to successfully carry out the assessment process. Required skills can be developed through various programs prepared for graduates.
Professionals who specialize in the affairs of students have made tremendous advancement in integrating the outcomes of assessment into various areas of practice according to their professions. Practitioners greatly contribute their distinct and well-versed expertise to the programs which are established to assess the entire institutions. However, it is sad to note that several campuses and colleges have failed to utilize or value the contributions and potentials of student learning assessment for various reasons. Practitioners in affairs of students and faculty members need to collaborate to fully understand and document how and what students learn both within and out of class. Different learning institutions have confidence that the professionals in student affairs are equipped, enthusiastic and set to consistently embrace various challenges faced in the assessment process.
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