The Top 6 Assessment Takeaways From #HigherEdLive

Tackling assessment is crucial to student affairs success.

Institutions of higher education are continually under a magnifying glass where value needs to be demonstrated for co-curricular activities. Assessment helps us understand underlying problems of engagement and retention with college students while devising strategies to solve them.

Professionals can identify what’s not working and improve practices and resources to provide students with a better college experience.

HigherEdLive streamed a live Google Hangout called Student Affairs Assessment where Tony Doody spoke with Dr. Gavin Henning and Dr. Darby Roberts who provided insight from a student affairs assessment leader lens on how we can all raise the bar in terms of assessment education.

We infused Tony, Darby, and Gavin’s top advice with our own suggestions to create top of the line assessment takeaways. Share with colleagues and enjoy!

1. Explore Motivation Behind Assessment

Forbes published an article last year called The Science Behind Motivation which highlights why we often create resistance around tasks we must accomplish.

Author Sujan Patel explains that when we’re forced to do something we have the mindset of “I have to” we almost immediately feel friction towards the task at hand.

Instead, think of the benefits of completing the task. How will you feel accomplished? How does finishing the task impact others on your team? Your personal reputation? ?

That leads us to…

Intrinsic Motivation

There are some student affairs professionals who enjoy performing assessment more than others – and that’s okay! It’s one thing to feel motivated; we also need to dive deep and find the willpower to complete the task at hand.


Motivation allows us to want to complete the task and willpower gives us the ability to execute the task completely.

According to Patel, willpower is a finite resource. Meaning, you only get a certain amount of willpower on a given day and once it’s gone, it’s gone. You may find yourself unmotivated (i.e. at the end of the day) trying to make decisions or completing projects on little willpower.

We all need to find at least one reason that provides us inspiration to complete assessment in our roles. Write it down once you’ve found it ? .

Extrinsic Motivation

We’re all busier than ever before and when we start completing assessment, we can start to feel the pressure. Accreditation bodies ‘tell us what to do’ but we have the ability to personalize the assessment experience.

We need to be able to answer:

Are we doing the right things?

How well are we doing what we do?

How are students learning through co-curricular involvement? What are they getting out of it?

How do you know you’re doing your best job?

We feel pressure from the government, particularly at state institutions with legislature dictating how money is spent along with pressures from Obama stating that we need to be enrolling more students and students need to be better prepared for their future.

Employers are asking, “are we getting the best graduates from your institution?” and the demand of trying to impress parents and alumni with producing the best programs, services, and practices to retain students and increase graduation rates.

“Do you have enough resources to do everything you want to do? The answer is usually no.” -Darby Roberts

Darby makes a good point. Assessment helps us dictate where to put the right resources at the right time for the right group of students ✅  . We cannot assess everything all at once, it’s impossible.

2. Challenge Excuses

We’ve heard most of the excuses for not being able to complete assessment.

“I don’t know how to do it.”

“I never went to a master’s program and learned assessment.”

“I already work 50+ hours a week and don’t have time for it.”

“It’s another project takes away from my time with students.”

Effective assessment is integrated into the work you’re already doing. There are plenty of resources (see our resource list below?? ) that will provide you with a starting point.

Assessment is about reflection. It’s about understanding what’s working with students and what’s not working.


Assessment gives us the foundation and motivational push to bring in new ideas and ensure we’re providing the best services for students.

3. Form an Assessment Tribe

Start small with senior leadership.

Accomplishing assessment tasks across a division or department are no easy feat. In order to accurately measure student learning, assessment must be integrated into work of all student affairs staff.

Darby explains how creating small wins will help onboard people to an assessment process faster. Accomplishing small goals brings you together as a team and makes tasks feel doable. Creating simple process at first helps lay a strong foundation, then breaking down larger tasks into manageable deadlines.

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Get people excited from all over – top leadership to folks who work as new professionals or directly with students. Assessment shouldn’t feel like another burden of work or a dreaded to-do list item.

Remind employees that they won’t be punished for results they weren’t expecting.

“Don’t punish people or use it as a personnel evaluation. Results aren’t about person. Negative results doesn’t mean someone’s job is in jeopardy.” – Darby Roberts

4. Look Beyond Surveys

Tony shared information from a 2005 survey that indicated only 16% of Senior Student Affairs Officers (SSAOs) were proficient or above average in the area of research and assessment.

Our own Lindsay Murdock reminded us via the Twitter backchannel of #higheredlive that, yes, survey fatigue among students is too real. Take a serious look at all of the surveys your institution distributes to students. How can you cut down?

When you have the opportunity to collect information through a survey, keep it short when you’re looking to capture student’s attention.

“You get 5 questions. Focus on what you’re collecting and who you’re collecting it from.” -Darby Roberts

Gavin further explains that it’s great to collect information and learn how to use platforms like SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics, and Google Forms, but we need to take a step back. The data may already exist at your institution. How can we gather institutional data that already exists and partner with other departments to gain insight to campus trends?

An experiment Gavin recently utilized was a quasi-matching system where he tested out processes in two residence halls to understand which worked better. The biggest takeaways we took from this: assessment isn’t black and white- and we need to take risks! We need to test, experiment and extract the key takeaways to create new hypotheses. If we’re more thoughtful of how we triangulate student data, we have more evidence to form accurate conclusions about the student experience.

5. Stop Creating Annual Reports

Supervisors, managers, and professionals hear about it in meetings early on in the year: the monumental end of the year (EOY) or annual report. We often miss the real reason reports were created. Creating an impact on student life isn’t about how many programs we’ve planned or students who have attended an event. You work so hard to put together a 15-30+ page document and who reads it? Where does it go? Does your team make decisions off of the data reported? Who do you share the information with?


Start sharing KPIs (key performance indicators) on a weekly or monthly basis from data collected on programs or student learning outcomes. Set aside time during team meetings to review data collected from the past month and use it to make informed decisions. This helps create ongoing communication about feedback and how to keep the conversation centered around student success.

6. Share Results with Students

It takes courage to share information with students about how we need to improve our practices. Sharing pertinent data with students further creates a culture of transparency and trust.

Darby explains that when this type of approach is embedded into the organizational culture, it rubs off on the students she works with. She sees students wanting to understand how to make policies and programs better for other students. Darby utilizes advisory boards made up of students and sends them pilot questions to identify if what we’re sending them actually makes sense.

Teaching students about assessment processes provides them with skills after graduation to assess and use feedback in their future career.

Your Thoughts!

You can find the original conversation and additional HigherEdLive resources here. We’re excited for a second assessment discussion to be published via HigherEdLive!

Thanks for reading and tweet @CheckImHere with your thoughts! ?

Student Affairs Assessment Literature

Coordinating Divisional Student Affairs Assessment: A Practical Guide

Student Affairs Assessment: Theory to Practice

Tracking is Trending: A Survival Guide to Assessment in Student Affairs

Stories They Can Feel: Using Data to Make a Real Difference

Improving Campus Events with Effective Assessment

Professional Association Resources

NASPA Assessment & Persistence Conference

NASPA Assessment, Evaluation & Research

ACPA Commission for Assessment & Evaluation

Explore additional support through the Twitter hashtag #SAassess and the Student Affairs Assessment Leaders group to network with professionals who started from scratch and have found new approaches to assessment.


Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham is the former Community Engagement Manager at Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

Check I'm Here is now Presence. Learn more about this change in our blog post here.