For years, student affairs professionals have recognized and asserted the value students receive from their participation in programs and activities that take place outside the classroom. These experiences help students acquire valuable leadership skills while assisting them in learning how to develop, implement and evaluate an array of programs and activities. These same skills transfer well to the world of work, and are also quite useful when students and alums provide service in the civic arena.
Until recently, the formal evaluation of out-of-classroom learning experiences essentially centered on assessing the qualitative aspects associated with the time, place and manner in which programs were delivered. Data collected through these formal processes typically involved the assessment of program outcomes and were used by campus student development professionals to justify the value and need for traditional out-of-classroom experiences being offered at colleges and universities throughout the nation. While this assessment approach attempted to measure the quality associated with various program components, it did not address the larger unmet concern of measuring the level of student learning that took place as a result of the experiences.
A shift in the landscape began to emerge in the early 1990s when national accrediting agencies initiated efforts to compel higher education institutions to place a greater degree of emphasis on “creating a culture of evidence.” In other words, institutions were now being asked to provide data as evidence in support of claims of excellence in campus programming endeavors.
The acknowledgement of this shift establishes an interesting paradox for student development professionals, especially when considering the fact that a student’s college experience is essentially undergirded by practices that emphasize the assessment of learning outcomes. In fact, learning outcomes are regularly assessed in the classroom by faculty. Employing valid learning outcomes assessment practices for out-of-classroom learning experiences then is an obvious and reasonable course of action for student affairs professionals to embrace.
The good news is that the assessment of learning outcomes has emerged as a priority on the national agenda for the American College Personnel Association as well as for the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. The two prestigious organizations held a joint national meeting in Orlando in March of this year which attracted more than 10,000 attendees. The conference agenda included more than 20 workshops and presentations on the assessment of programs offered outside the classroom that contribute to student learning and success.
Recently, the California State University Council of Vice Presidents for Student Affairs voted unanimously to host a systemwide workshop on this subject to promote the development and implementation of learning outcomes assessment practices throughout the California State University system. The Student Services Division at CSULB will host a planning seminar on learning outcomes assessment practices for campus student development professionals in the fall semester.
The adoption of better assessment practices will enable CSULB to improve out-of-classroom programming with a goal of enhancing student success. The improved assessment of student learning outcomes in out-of-classroom learning environments is just another example of how the Student Services Division at CSULB is making a difference in the lives of our students.