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A Case for Prioritizing Assessment

Region IV-W
August 5, 2020 Kimberly Kruchen University of Colorado at Boulder

Like many institutions across the country, we have reinvented our student experience due to COVID-19. This moment has provided us with an amazing opportunity to engage in deep thinking and reflection of the opportunities we are providing to students attending colleges and universities across the country. We have had to contend with questions such as: which experiences are most critical to our students development, do certain programs/services set a solid foundation from which student can build their overall experience, and how do we ensure students have access to critical opportunities? With all of these questions, and many more, it is necessary that assessment and evaluation remain at the forefront of our work. Students and families are counting on institutions to support their growth and development no matter the modality, or the variations we are experiencing as a result of the pandemic. 

This is a case for prioritizing four areas of Assessment and Evaluation for the coming year given the current COVID-19 situation. The following blog post outlines the priority and gives suggestions for assessment methods to collect the information needed. 

  • The first priority is ensuring the quality of experiences/programs/services this year. All of our institutions are getting questions from families, parents, and students wondering how we are going to make sure they are getting the value of their tuition dollars and that their experience this coming fall will be comparable to previous years. In order to fulfill this commitment, we need to first understand what students consider a valuable experience. We used focus groups, information from senior surveys, or conduct analysis to understand key influencers on important factors such as sense of belonging, mattering, connection, etc. Each of our programs and experiences is guided by outcomes; use previous data collected about these outcomes to determine variation in modalities. 
  • The second priority is to gather data supporting students’ access to programs/services/opportunities. Students report difficulty in accessing many opportunities for engagement at the end of the spring semester due to the pandemic. We need to focus on documenting their access to programs/services and how well we are communicating these opportunities to them. We have created a centralized approach to collecting engagement opportunities in Student Affairs; this includes gathering information about their experience during and after all opportunities. Students have reported their biggest obstacle being a lack of motivation to engage in remote learning experiences. We have an opportunity to understand their motivation on a deeper level and use student development theory to craft a meaningful experience. 
  • The third priority is understanding our long-term impact on the student experience. This semester is going to be different. We have an obligation to our students to help build a strong foundation they can rely on for the rest of their collegiate experience. This coming semester is going to test our students’ readiness to comply with policies such as mask orders. Many of our students will be expected to intervene if their peers are not supporting safety measures, or following other protective behaviors that keep campuses safe - we can help teach them about effective and reasonable conflict management skills that they will use well into the future. Assessment practices will be valuable to understand how students will learn these skills, and pair their learning with action. We can also use a variety of assessment strategies to determine the culture shift that will take place on our campus as a result of COVID, and track the competencies students are developing during this time. Focusing on the long-term impact of experiences will help fulfill our mission. 
  • The fourth priority is using information we have collected to forecast future trends, challenges, and impacts to the student experience. For example, we need data to understand how our students interpret policies, what messages resonate with students, what situations will be most challenging for them during the coming year, and what resources/ services will be most critical to their success. We need to use forecasting data to determine the value of each experience at any given college or university for the continuing and incoming students. Forecasting trends will help us understand campus shifts and help us to learn about effective strategies. 

The pandemic has required massive shifts, if not complete changes, in how we support and create environments for student success at higher education institutions. It should be the priority of all campuses to gather data and conduct analysis to ensure we are providing students with access, quality, establishing a strong foundation for our students, and working to inform the future of higher education. 

The Assessment, Research, and Evaluation Knowledge Community has a variety of resources to support each of these priorities. Please feel free to reach out to me, kruchen@colorado.edu, if you would like to talk about assessment strategy, methods, analysis techniques, or reporting suggestions. 

 

Kimberly A. Kruchen 

NASPA Region IV-W Assessment, Evaluation, and Research Knowledge Community Representative 

Manager, Office of Assessment & Planning 

University of Colorado Boulder