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Student Affairs Assessment: Theory to Practice

reviewed by Laura Dean & Jackie Y. Clark - April 20, 2018

coverTitle: Student Affairs Assessment: Theory to Practice
Author(s): Gavin W. Henning & Darby Roberts
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA
ISBN: 1620363364, Pages: 356, Year: 2016
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Driven by the need for institutional accountability and continuous improvement, assessment has become an integral part of quality assurance in higher education. Along with other measures such as accreditation, institutional research, and educational measurement, assessment is a critical part of the complex task of measuring student learning, student development, and a broad range of other individual and operational outcomes. Pressure exerted by internal and external constituencies to prove program effectiveness has pushed assessment to become a sophisticated field of study and practice. In recent years, institutions have greatly expanded their offices of institutional research and assessment to assist academic programs and faculty in designing and conducting assessments at the classroom, department, and college level. At the same time, divisions of student affairs have also expanded their focus with dedicated offices and assessment professionals to assist in gathering data on student learning and development and program effectiveness. “Student affairs” encompasses a wide range of areas that may include residence life, student activities, leadership development, service learning, disability resources, recreational sports, career services, veteran services, Greek life, counseling services, health center, multicultural student services, LGBTQIA student services, international student services, women’s centers, and student conduct. This tremendous range of services and programs calls for comprehensive but adaptable assessment design and professionals with well-developed competence and skills. Fortunately, in recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of publications dedicated to helping professionals understand and conduct quality assessments.


Student Affairs Assessment: Theory to Practice, by Gavin W. Henning and Darby Roberts, is one of a handful of new publications directed specifically at student affairs practitioners and graduate students who seek to study assessment. As the title indicates, this is a comprehensive text that includes topics not always covered in similar texts, including the history of assessment in student affairs, the importance of epistemology or “ways of knowing” when it comes to thinking about assessment, the politics of assessment, and the uses of technology in practice. While not a quick read, the content can be organized and utilized for audiences at various levels. For readers who are interested in developing professional competencies and who follow the Professional Competencies for Student Affairs Educators (ACPA & NASPA, 2015), there is a chart provided that shows the alignment of book chapters with the Assessment, Evaluation, and Research (AER) competency area. Book content can also be aligned with the ACPA Assessment Skills & Knowledge (ASK) Standards (ACPA, 2007). The ASK Standards include 13 content areas specifically designed for capacity-building and professional development in the assessment area. Beyond individual use, Henning and Roberts’ text would be ideal for course instruction as it covers theory to practice and could be taught in the order best suited for the class. Course instructors may choose to create assignments tethered to key points and discussion questions provided by the authors.


One of the noteworthy features of the text is the balanced attention paid to the larger context and to the specifics of conducting assessment. Chapters One through Three address assessment in student affairs, epistemology, and the “big picture” in the assessment process. Assessment is most useful when it is conducted in alignment with the larger context; assessment of smaller program elements may be helpful, but the results are most meaningful when they are informed by and contribute to understanding at a broader level. Beginning the book with these chapters creates a strong scaffolding around which the remaining chapters build. Chapters Four through Six then focus more specifically on content related to understanding assessment itself: the assessment cycle, common types of assessment, and the development of outcomes. Having created a strong foundation for understanding context and process, the authors use Chapters Seven through Twelve to provide strong, detailed, practical discussions of a range of methods used in conducting assessment. Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen follow logically, addressing the communication and use of results, and finally Chapters Fifteen through Nineteen return to broader issues important in the practice of assessment, including ethics, politics, a culture of assessment, and technology, as well a look to the future. Taken together, the chapters offer a comprehensive exploration of both the forest and the trees: assessment as a way of knowing, as framed by Bresciani Ludvik in the Forward, and assessment as professional practice and competency.


One of the greatest challenges for student affairs professionals can be understanding their role in and responsibility for conducting assessments. This is perfectly reasonable given the time and resource constraints on most practitioners. Not everyone who works in student affairs has had the benefit of graduate training in the field or any significant exposure to assessment in practice. Henning and Roberts recognize this and provide a thorough discussion of the student affairs practitioner as educator and the very practical ways assessment is tied to learning outcomes, continuous improvement, and the efficient use of resources. Using reasons provided by Banta and Palomba (2015), the authors discuss the importance of professionals being able to demonstrate their worth, measure success against goals and objectives, help students connect in and out of class experiences, access skills and competencies identified by the institution, and meet standards and expectations for accountability. After spending time with the text, either formally or informally, readers should be able to concisely explain their role in conducting assessments. This really sets the stage for learning to design, analyze, and share assessment data. When the majority of student affairs professionals have at least a foundational understanding of assessment practice and are engaged in conducting quality assessments, a division is well on its way to creating a culture of assessment and continuous improvement.


ACPA College Student Educators International & NASPA Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. (2015). Professional competency areas for student affairs educators. Washington, DC: Authors.

American College Personnel Association (ACPA). (2007). ASK standards: Assessment skills and knowledge content standards for student affairs practitioners and scholars. Washington, DC: Author.

Banta, T., & Palomba, C. (2015). Assessment essentials: Planning, implementing, and improving assessment in higher education (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 20, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22335, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 1:38:41 PM

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About the Author
  • Laura Dean
    University of Georgia
    E-mail Author
    LAURA DEAN is a professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services at the University of Georgia, teaching primarily in the field of college student affairs administration and student affairs leadership. Her research is primarily focused on issues of practice, especially assessment, program evaluation, and the use of professional standards. She currently serves as part of the assessment team for a multi-year grant funded project focused on changing campus climate related to issues of integrity. She is a co-author of Assessment in Student Affairs (2nd ed.) and co-editor of Using the CAS Professional Standards: Diverse Examples of Practice.
  • Jackie Clark
    E-mail Author
    JACKIE CLARK received her doctorate in college student affairs administration from the University of Georgia. Her research, including both qualitative and quantitative projects, focused on the role of the Dean of Students in small colleges and its connection to professional competencies for student affairs.
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