Practical Resources for Program Assessment in Student Development

By Shawnda Freer

    CC Image "Taylor University Wind Ensemble" courtesy of Jim Garringer on Flickr at

    “Assessment” – that dreaded word.  It implies statistics, spreadsheets, and summaries – all of which imply more work.  As student development professionals, our job descriptions and workload expectations often do not explicitly include assessment.  Furthermore, many of us working in student development prefer to spend time teaching or providing service to students instead of collecting and analyzing data.  And, sometimes, we do not feel equipped or experienced enough to conduct assessment (Upcraft & Schuh, 1996, p.4). 

    However, the demand for data in higher education continues to increase as institutions seek to improve and justify programs or services.  Most universities have internal assessment processes which require quality improvement documentation from all curricular and co-curricular areas.  Additionally, accreditation bodies require that all areas of an institution demonstrate effectiveness.  Student development is not exempt from these demands. 

    Ultimately, assessment in higher education exists to demonstrate student learning both in and out of the classroom. As practitioners, we must incorporate assessment into our expectations of our job duties and workload.  Once we make a commitment to assess, then we need to develop an assessment plan. 

    A brief review of the literature yields much information on conducting assessment in higher education, including within student affairs.  Most graduate programs offer assessment courses.  Yet, how does one apply all of that information in practice, specific to a curricular or co-curricular program?  There are three helpful and user-friendly resources for faculty and staff interested in increasing student learning and developing an assessment plan for a specific course or program:

    1. Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001)
    2. Richlin’s (2006) Blueprint for Learning
    3. A Faculty and Staff Guide to Creating Learning Outcomes (Gahagan, Dingfelder, & Pei, 2010)

    Utilizing these three guides thoroughly will provide any practitioner in higher education with the tools necessary to develop teaching goals, learning objectives, learning experiences, and evaluation plans for any course or program.  These resources are helpful to both the seasoned professional with assessment experience as well as those professionals who are less experienced with assessment. 

    A brief summary of the assessment process described by Richlin (2006) and Gahagan et al. (2010) is as follows:

    1. Identify teaching goals (TG) – What do you hope to accomplish as an instructor?

    2. Design learning objectives (LO) – What will students accomplish?

    Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to develop learning objectives to facilitate deep learning. Specific suggestions can be found in the above resources (Richlin, 2006, p. 45-47; Gahagan et al., 2010, pp. 14-18).

    3. Select learning experiences (LE) – What activities can reflect how students learn best with how you best instruct?

    4. Formulate an evaluation plan (EP) – Are the learning objectives being met?

    It is also helpful to note that teaching goals are not intended to be specific and measurable and can include affective components.  However, learning objectives must be designed out of the teaching goals, be measurable, and be reflected in the evaluation plan. Finally, the evaluation plan can include indirect or direct methods of assessment.  Gahagan et al. (2010) offer specific suggestions for course and programmatic assessment methods (p. 21-25). 

    These four steps can be applied to a course or a program.  Most courses and programs will have several teaching goals, learning objectives, learning experiences, and evaluation plans. In practice, these are always written as a set (TG, LO, LE, EP). 

    Below, one example is shown for a First Year Experience class, and one example is shown for an orientation session for new students involving a panel discussion with student leaders. 



    Students will learn about the needs in the local community.


    Students completing this course will be able to explain the needs of one local community organization and evaluate how a first year student may meet those needs.


    Students will participate in a 2-hour service project in the local community.


    Students will write a reflective paper of their participation and evaluation of the organization's needs, and receive a “C” or better on the assignment.



    Students will learn about the campus community from peer leaders.


    Students attending this program will be able to identify campus resources, traditions, and activities relevant to new students.


    Students will participate in a 1-hour program with a panel of peer leaders – Q & A style.


    Students will complete a 10-item fill-in-the-blank “Do You Know….?” questionnaire at the beginning of the session and again at the end of the session and have an increased pre- to post-test score.

    Assessment is a necessary reality in higher education in which student development needs to engage.  Courses and programs can be assessed by focusing on student learning in the curricular and co-curricular.  There are helpful resources available to assist the practitioner with the practical steps of developing teaching goals, learning objectives, learning experiences, and evaluation plans. With an intentional investment of time, a strong assessment plan will result which will facilitate student learning and provide the department, thus the institution, with valuable data. 


    Anderson, L.W., & Krathwohl, D.R. (Eds.). (2001). A Taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives.  New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

    Gahagan, J., Dingfelder, J. & Pei, K. (2010). A faculty and staff guide to creating learning outcomes.  Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina.

    Richlin, L. (2006). Blueprint for learning: Constructing college courses to facilitate, assess, and document learning.  Sterling, VA: Stylus.

    Upcraft, M. L., & Schuh, J. H. (1996). Assessment in student affairs: A guide for practitioners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


    Click Here To Login and Leave a Comment