The Journal of Higher Education 73.4 (2002) 552-554
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Assessment Practice in Student Affairs:
An Applications Manual
Assessment Practice in Student Affairs: An Applications Manual, by John H. Schuh, M. Lee Upcraft, and Associates. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000. 544 pp. paper $35.00
Student affairs practitioners have long awaited a "how-to" manual specifically designed to assist student affairs staff in the implementation of assessment processes. The authors' previous book, Assessment in Student Affairs, was very helpful in arguing and presenting convincing theory for assessment; however, the specific techniques, practices, and methodologies were absent. This new volume provides practical tools to develop, plan, conduct, and interpret assessment at all levels.
The book contains 33 chapters organized into five sections: Part 1: "Principles and Purposes"; Part 2: "Methods"; Part 3: "Basic Approaches"; Part 4: "Programs and Service Areas"; Part 5: "Assessment Issues." In the first chapter the authors successfully provide a useful and practical definition of assessment: "Assessment is any effort to gather, analyze and interpret evidence which describes institutional, divisional or agency effectiveness" (p. 3). This definition is one that will assist practitioners in improving services and program effectiveness.
Chapter 2 describes eleven basic steps that clarify the purpose, type, scope, setting, or methodology of an assessment effort, beginning with a first step labeled, "Define the Problem" (p. 18). Fortunately, the authors' definition argues for program improvement and effectiveness; however, it is unfortunate that they portray the early steps of the assessment process of gathering, analyzing, and interpreting data strictly within the context of solving a particular problem.
As a student affairs practitioner for more than twenty years, I would argue that assessment is indeed focused on program effectiveness. However, student affairs staff should first and foremost view assessment as a journey toward improvement, not as a discrete problem-solving event. The expenditure of resources toward assessment will increasingly and incrementally lead toward self-review and an integration of assessment as a routine part of providing programs and services to students. The purpose of assessment studies should not be singularly defined as solving problems; instead, assessment for the sake of ongoing improvement will dramatically alter the definition and long-term efforts toward this end.
"Strategies for Implementing an Assessment Program," Chapter 3, captures this latter perspective. I would argue that although assessment might initially be designed because of a problem, it should not solely be a reactive response. The assessment process should be the result of a proactive desire to improve programs and services.
Part 2 includes six chapters that will be particularly useful to practitioners regarding qualitative and quantitative assessment methods. In these chapters the authors capture well the usefulness, strengths, and weaknesses of qualitative methodologies. Although not exhaustive, readers will greatly benefit from a careful study of the methods described here. The authors also make clear that they do not favor the most traditional quantitative methods of gathering data [End Page 552] through mail surveys. They specifically state their view that this approach is "not necessarily the best way to gather quantitative data" (p. 75). However, given their perspective, the advice on how best to maximize mail-out surveys is honest and helpful.
In Chapter 8 it also becomes clear that the authors understand and portray the exciting and promising aspects of utilizing web-based data collection. This singular chapter should be read by all practitioners. It is a much-needed introduction to electronic assessment. Access to computers and the comfort of entering students with Internet access argues for this methodology to be given serious consideration. Readers are encouraged to review and explore the particularly useful appendix that offers access to interactive examples of Web-based data collection (pp. 118-125).
The authors suggest that "perhaps the most critical question asked of student affairs focuses on the impact of student services, programs and facilities" (p. 153). They address this concern in Part 3, "Basic Approaches," which contains nine chapters that describe various assessment studies, including needs assessment, satisfaction, learning outcomes, environments, cost effectiveness, accreditation, dropouts, and alumni and group educational programs...