Billie Streufert, NACADA Assessment Institute Scholarship Recipient
Both NACADA (2017) and the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (2015) call for advisors to grow professionally. As I considered possible areas for my own growth last year, I identified assessment as a gap in my current practice. The “Concept of Academic Advising” cultivated a shared belief among advisors on my campus that we advance the educational mission of institutions through its advising curriculum, pedagogy, and student learning outcomes (NACADA, 2006). My colleagues and I wanted to better realize this vision in our practices, programs, and policies. For this reason, we registered for the NACADA Assessment Institute.
Others may have the same needs or interests. When NACADA surveyed members, only 57.8% reported that they formally assess student learning outcomes (Powers, Carlstrom, & Hughey, 2014). I encourage anyone who falls outside this slight majority or wishes to refine their existing assessment practices to attend the Assessment Institute. Held annually, it is an opportunity for participants to invest in their students, their profession, and themselves, which I describe in more detail below.
Improve student learning. By participating in the Assessment Institute, attendees become purpose driven. Assessment fosters a shared consensus and culture within the campus community about the purpose of advising. Working together, attendees are able to measure and modify their advising programs to drive strategic improvements in students’ vocational and intellectual identities. While multiple stakeholders benefit from assessment, the impact on students’ learning and development remains the most important reason to attend the Assessment Institute.
Increase confidence, collaboration, and connections. My colleague and I arrived without a formal assessment plan for our institution. Faculty at the Assessment Institute introduced us to and guided us through the assessment cycle. Although complex, they managed the process for us in multiple plenaries and work sessions. The latter created space for us to think critically about what students do, know, value, and appreciate as the result of advising (Adams & Zarges, 2019). This may have been the institute’s deepest benefit. Time for such collaboration is typically scarce given the pace and pressing priorities of our campus environment.
As the result of our time together, my colleague and I left with a plan to mobilize an assessment team on our campus, as well as a tentative vision, mission, and student learning outcomes for others to consider. We also formulated a tentative plan to gather and share the data, which we later used to generate momentum on our campus.
In addition to collaborating with colleagues during the institute, participants also hear from their peers at other universities and colleges. Through this exchange, we gleaned other exemplary practices and often discovered that we were not alone in the challenges we encountered. This normalized our experience and cultivated friendships that continue today.
Advance diversity, inclusion, and the values of advising. In addition to meaningful exchanges with others, the institute also broadened my understanding of the way bias can exist in data analysis.
Without data, advisors may base decisions on implicit biases, prejudice, or assumptions, which could harm students (Upcraft & Shuh as cited by Adams & Zarges, 2019). For example, institutional leaders may suggest using ACT or SAT scores to determine which students are underprepared for academic programs and need alternative advising at the point of entry. Advisors who have taught students effective success strategies (e.g., self-regulation, management of any perceived stereotype threat, meeting with mentors, use of campus resources, etc.) and worked with faculty to engage in course redesign, however, can share assessment outcomes that demonstrate instead that these students can succeed academically. They simply had low ACT or SAT scores because their high school was under-resourced and they encountered environmental barriers. Without this assessment, they might not have access to these academic programs. In this instance, assessment was an ethical imperative for advisors.
Strengthen institutional advocacy. By attending NACADA’s Assessment Institute, advisors better understand ways to demonstrate direct connections to the priorities and mission of the academy. If their institution encounters economic hardships, the data demonstrates the university’s return of investment in advising. Advisors are also accountable to external entities, such as board of regents or accreditation agencies, who also value data-driven enhancements to advising.
Advance the profession. Advising is an educational endeavor, not a service (Steele & White, 2019). Assessment validates the importance of advising. To be a profession, advising needs a unique knowledge base (Shaffer, Zalewski, & Leveille, 2010). When advisors engage in the systematic inquiry of assessment, we can publish or present advising outcomes. This brings credibility to our field and permits us to learn from each other.
Improve morale. Although many entered advising because we wanted to help others, we often do not see the difference we make in the lives of students. While assessment is different than evaluation because it does not measure the individual performance of advisors (Adams & Zages, 2019), it demonstrates the aggregate and often positive impact advisors have on their students. When I returned to campus and implemented pre/post assessment plans, I observed an increase in staff’s energy levels because we observed incremental increases in student learning in our assessment.
Similarly, my and my colleague’s morale was also preserved when we learned more about the pace of assessment at the institute. Dan Chandler and Elizabeth Higgins (2019) recommended we select only two outcomes per year to focus on as an institution. It was affirming to hear we did not need to improve everything immediately. Assessment is a continuous process, and I am certain we will never perfect our advising curriculum or pedagogy. Fortunately, I can return to the Assessment Institute for additional resources. When I do, I hope to see you there.
Executive Director, Student Success Center
Adams, T., & Zarges, K. (2019, February). Assessment: Creating a culture of success. Session presented at the Advising Institute of The Global Community for Academic Advising (NACADA), Albuquerque, NM.
Chandler, D., & Higgins, E. (2019, February). Assessment—Part of your daily life. Session presented at the Advising Institute of The Global Community for Academic Advising (NACADA), Albuquerque, NM.
Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS). (2015). Academic advising programs. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/CAS-Advising-Standards.aspx
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2006). Concept of academic advising. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/Concept.aspx
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA core values of academic advising. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx
Powers, K. L., Carlstrom, A. H., & Hughey, K. F., (2014). Academic advising assessment practices: Results of a national study. NACADA Journal, 34(1), 64–77. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-13-003
Shaffer, L. S., Zalewski, J. M., & Leveille, J. (2010). The professionalization of academic advising: Where are we in 2010? NACADA Journal, 30(1), 66–77. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-30.1.66
Steele, G., & White, E. R. (2019). Leadership in higher education: Insight from academic advisors. The Mentor: Innovative Scholarship On Academic Advising, 21, 1–10. Retrieved from https://journals.psu.edu/mentor/article/view/61110
Cite this article using APA style as: Streufert, B. (2019, September). Advance the profession and student learning: Attend the assessment institute. Academic Advising Today, 42(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]