The Assessment’s Gap

By Austin Connell
May 2018 graduate
College of Education
Human Development and Family Studies     

picture of Austin Connell One of the main components of my internship with Dr. Ellis this semester was to go to each department within Student Services and assess the impact it is having on students. Is that department helping with retention at the university? Is that department aiding students in their quest for their degree? Is that department making a difference? And most importantly, where are the gaps that we need to fill?

As a student who has worked in Residential Life for 4 years, created and held multiple internships at 2 different universities, and devoted my entire college career to aiding students in any way possible, I thought I had a fair representation of what it meant to be in the Student Affairs profession. Wow, was I wrong. Every department within Student Services is so vastly different, yet connected through a common goal, “to help every member of our learning community succeed”.[1]

One thing that became clear throughout this internship is that we can do all of the assessments we want, but if we never look for gaps then we won’t improve our impact. Assessments can be our best friend, but also our worst enemy. People can look at assessments and see the things they are doing right and then go, “Oh, we are doing so well, we do not need to change.” Wrong. This is what makes assessments our worst enemy. While they highlight what we are doing well, they also reveal what we are not doing so well, and these deficiencies are hidden underneath the positives. We need to stop looking at just the positives and also look at what we are not doing so well– a.k.a. the gaps.

People would be delusional to think that they do not have gaps in their departments or their systems. Those gaps exist and it is our job to find them; that way we can create a department, a service, and a division that better provides for our students. While meeting with our departments, I was able to see where we have gaps and where we can improve.

One department I intended to focus on early in the semester was the Disability Resource Center. I couldn’t help but wonder if students were dissuaded to use the service because of the negative connotation with the name. Unfortunately, by the time I met with Mary Anne it was later in the semester than I had hoped, and I did not have enough time to conduct a survey to test my hypothesis. However, I did speak with a variety of students about this issue and found the results to be incongruent with what I expected. While many students confirmed the name has a negative connotation, the main reason they do not go to the DRC is that there is not enough information about the services available.

The example of the DRC is just one instance of how student feedback could be used in the future. In this scenario, an assessment would be helpful to better assess if there is a gap with reaching students because of the name, knowledge of services, or both. When we find gaps in our departments we can then make meaningful changes to names and services and give every student an opportunity to succeed in their learning community.

One of the patterns in gaps I noticed across a majority of my meetings was that we, as a division, need to be more intentional about communicating available services. As with the DRC, a lot of students did not know all the services that department provides. Another example is the Center for Student Engagement where there is a gap reaching African American male students who did not vote. Gaps, such as these, help to show that when we fail to communicate with students it limits their access to opportunities – in this case an opportunity to be heard. By noticing this gap, we could better collaborate across departments to figure out how to reach marginalized students and increase their access to resources.

More of my observations on how the assessment of gaps in service could improve our impact:

  • Through assessment we have seen our new fitness center has increased activity, but our students want more nutrition based events. Let’s offer some nutrition classes that focus on proper diet and eating healthy. Start out small and assess if the outcomes further improve involvement.
  • Our Office of Student Conduct has reduced repeat offenders, but wonders if students feel comfortable sharing everything when there is a lack of privacy due to cubicles with half walls and doors that do not close – how are conversations supposed to be kept secure and what is the impact? Even though they are meeting their outcomes, perhaps they could achieve more if student privacy was an obvious concern.
  • Our student orientations will be organized around new themes, but with fewer overnight orientations will we get students connected well enough to our campus so that they persist? A recommendation would be to do half overnight and half single day, then assess if student’s had the same experience.
  • Our Counseling Services see 7-8% of our student body, but the use of group therapies has increased in order to see everyone. We need to assess group therapies for impact to see if they are the method of service to use in the future.
  • Our Student Union is putting on events that are better attended, yet running out of space to hold meetings and events. Perhaps better communication about reserving meeting space far in advance is needed, especially with small and marginalized student groups.
  • The Center: Every Student, Every Story has undergone a name change that has increased student involvement, but is in need of more space and a bigger, more diverse staff to better aid all of our students on this campus. Maybe a secondary location or small group meetings held across campus could better support students.

Our gaps are not our weakness; our gaps are our tools. They have the potential to lead us to success; they have the potential to help us to better serve students who currently use our services. If we do not routinely conduct assessments and we do not look for gaps, we ultimately fail not only ourselves, but our students and the community in which we serve.

Students come to us to learn more, do more, and become more. So let’s continue to do so – starting with acknowledgment of the gaps.

 

[1] Ellis, S. (n.d.). Message from the vice-president. Retrieved from https://www.unr.edu/student-services