Date of Award

12-2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Gary Miron

Second Advisor

Dr. Ramona Meraz Lewis

Third Advisor

Dr. D. Eric Archer

Abstract

Many student affairs departments struggle to contribute to an institution’s evidence base of student learning. In part, this results from student affairs personnel not having adequate training in how to assess learning outside the classroom. This is a particular challenge for small community colleges, in which individual units (e.g., admissions or financial aid) may have only one or two employees. Failure to assess co-curricular learning poses challenges to institutions in meeting accreditation standards, placing them at risk for increased scrutiny and loss of state funding under a performance-based system. The purpose of this mixed methods study was to use a case study evaluation approach to understand the influence of a SMART philosophy-based assessment training on student affairs professionals’ knowledge, attitude, and ability to demonstrate productivity related to the assessment of student learning in a small community college in southwest Michigan.

Semi-structured interviews, participant rating forms, and document review provided the data for this evaluation case study. Results were triangulated from multiple sources using mixed methods. Findings suggest the assessment training and support program, “Intentional Change: Making Meaningful Contributions to Student Learning Outcomes in Student Affairs,” had a positive influence on participants’ knowledge, attitude, and ability to demonstrate productivity as related to the assessment of student learning in student affairs. Five major themes developed during the course of the study: (1) awareness of student learning in student affairs, (2) responsibility for assessment of student learning, (3) confidence in the ability to assess student learning in a meaningful way, (4) value, both internal and external to the department, and (5) ownership of the practice of student learning assessment. Pre- and post-workshop participant ratings and a review of the department’s annual student learning outcomes plan provided further evidence of the training program’s positive influence.

As the data evolved, the five themes transformed into a hierarchical structure in which each subsequent theme built upon the one before it. Additionally, each of the first three themes aligned with the constructs of knowledge, attitude, and ability to demonstrate productivity, providing insight into how development occurred over the course of the training program. A conceptual staircase model was developed to demonstrate relationships between and across these various components. These findings can assist leaders in student affairs, particularly in community colleges, in developing and delivering a highly effective training program that strengthens and promotes a genuine culture of assessment. Pragmatic recommendations are shared based on participant feedback and insight from an inside researcher perspective.

This study contributes to the field of evaluation, measurement, and research (EMR) by demonstrating an alternative approach for institutional researchers charged with demonstrating the effectiveness of co-curricular programs and services in teaching students and providing an additional example of how effectively quantitative and qualitative inquiry can be integrated with intentionality to strengthen the validity of findings.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

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