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Journal of College Student Development 45.2 (2004) 243-252

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Reflections on the Use of Undergraduate Research to Support Student Affairs Assessment

The need for cooperation between academic and student affairs personnel in promoting student learning and development has long been recognized in the professional literature and has been further affirmed in recent years (American Association for Higher Education [AAHE], American College Personnel Association [ACPA], & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators [NASPA], 1998; ACPA, 1996). Over time, there has been no shortage of attention devoted to the attitudinal and organizational conditions that can prevent cooperation across institutional divisions (Blake, 1996; Streit, 1993). However, the professional literature also offers a variety of strategies that can be used to overcome these obstacles and identifies specific programmatic or problem areas around which coordinated efforts might be undertaken (Kezar, Hirsch, & Burack, 2001; Schuh & Whitt, 1999; Streit). Nevertheless, although great strides have been made in articulating a more central role for student affairs professionals in advancing the academic mission of higher education, less attention has been devoted to ways in which faculty members might assume a more supportive role in the conduct of traditional student affairs programs.

Within the past 2 decades, concern for both quality improvement and accountability to governmental and accrediting agencies has given rise to a major outcomes assessment movement in American higher education (Banta, 1988, 2002; Palomba & Banta, 1999; Upcraft & Schuh, 1996). Banta (1988) has defined outcomes assessment as "collecting evidence of (1) student performance on specified measures of development, (2) program strengths and weaknesses, and (3) institutional effectiveness" (p. 1). Although much of the recent attention devoted to assessment has centered on the outcomes of classroom instruction (Brookhart, 1999; Brown, Bull, & Pendlebury, 1997; Cross & Steadman, 1996), recognition of the multifaceted nature of human development and the broad goals of higher education has generated interest in assessment activities pertaining to student affairs programs and services as well (Erwin & Sivo, 2001; Pascarella & Whitt, 1999; Upcraft & Schuh).

Concurrent with the growth of the assessment movement, there has been increased scrutiny of the role of faculty members in the generation and promulgation of knowledge. Although demands for scholarly productivity have remained high, [End Page 243] renewed emphasis on the importance of undergraduate education has prompted calls for a more complementary relationship between the activities of teaching and research (Boyer, 1987, 1990). Within this context, undergraduate research has emerged as an important mechanism through which the roles of teacher and scholar can become more closely integrated (Advisory Committee, 1996; Boyer Commission, 1998). Strassburger (1995) has defined undergraduate research as "students working in partnership with faculty in discipline-based inquiries" (p. 120). Such research differs from other forms of faculty scholarship in that its purpose is not simply to advance the discipline, but rather to promote learning and development within the student as well (Hakim, 2000; Malachowski, 1997). Activities of this nature, together with other forms of student-faculty interaction, have been found to relate positively to a variety of student outcomes, including intrinsic career motivation, social empowerment, environmental commitment, growth in autonomy and interpersonal skills, increased educational aspirations and attainment, and satisfaction with the college experience (Astin, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991), outcomes that are of concern to both faculty members and student affairs professionals.

The purpose of this article is to explore ways in which undergraduate research can be used to support student affairs programs and services and to ensure high standards in the assessment of attendant outcomes, while also cultivating strong working relationships between faculty members and student affairs practitioners. Four illustrative examples will be presented, with a focus on programmatic efforts in the areas of residence education and staff training. All of the projects described were conducted under the sponsorship of an institutionally based undergraduate research program at a private university in the northeast. The projects were carried out over a 3-year period, under the oversight of a...


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