Recently, I was asked to review a relatively new student affairs assessment office at a different institution using the CAS Standards (https://www.cas.edu/). I have done program reviews before, and they always remind me to think about our own processes and the future. This one was no different.
Student Life Studies has been around for more than 20 years. As one of the first “departments” (more than one person) of student affairs assessment, we learned as we went. There wasn’t a manual or an elder giving sage advice. There was not an association of student affairs assessment professionals. There were no conferences devoted to the topic. We made mistakes along the way and continue to look at our own organization for improvement. I think part of my role as an “expert” is to help other student affairs assessment offices get up to speed quicker than we did a couple of decades ago. There are so many improvements in technology, project management tools, and resources that we did not have back then! At this point, I think learning and improvement can be more rapid than it was when we started.
The department I reviewed already had staff training in place to build capacity among their staff. They have in person group training, individual consultation, and resources available online. Their division staff have gained confidence and competence from the efforts. All of their Division staff have access to Qualtrics, so it is easy for staff to send out surveys (which has its own challenges!). They are well on their way to developing a culture of assessment, especially as more staff are used to assessment.
In the last few years, data has become a hot topic. Who has it? Who wants it? How is it used? How should it be used? How is it protected? This unit is already building what has taken us a while to get in place. As systems become more technologically complex, but also potentially more integrated, the data conversation becomes even more important. It’s a way to decrease silos that have developed over the years if the right people can get together to take action. It gives us a more accurate, complete picture of the student experience.
This department has clear support from the relatively new Vice President of Student Affairs, who saw the importance of creating a multi-person office, rather than having it as a small percentage of one person’s job. Student Life Studies has leadership support as well, but I wonder if DSA staff take it for granted because we have been around for so long. The department I reviewed still has the “new” factor in its favor—staff remember what it was like when the department did not exist. Not many Texas A&M DSA staff were here before 1998.
While I am asked to review other departments based on my experience in Student Life Studies, I always learn something from other places about improvements or innovations we can make here. I hope my advice helps them move forward quickly, but I always appreciate ideas that I get from other offices even if they don’t have the same history.