Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Norma T. Mertz

Committee Members

J. Patrick Biddix, E. Grady Bogue, Robert Cunningham


Reports from national organizations and student affairs organizations have strongly suggested student affairs professionals engage in ongoing, comprehensive assessment of how their programs affect student learning (ACPA, 1996; ACPA & NASPA, 1997; Keeling, 2004). In terms of assessment and how it should be conducted, scholars have provided clear guidelines for the conduct of such assessment. However, to date, only one study has looked at assessment practices in student affairs programs; and that study was of three large public institutions whose student affairs programs were determined to have exemplary practices (Green, Jones, & Aloi, 2008). To date, no studies have focused on small private colleges, which make up a large segment of collegiate institutions. The purpose of this study was to examine how student affairs professionals at small private colleges assess and evaluate their programs in relation to the Principles of Good Practice for Student Affairs (ACPA & NASPA, 1997), and to identify the challenges they face for creating and sustaining assessment efforts.

Data were collected from 168 small private college chief student affairs officers using a researcher developed survey instrument. The data were analyzed using chi-square analysis, Cramer’s V, and descriptive statistics.

Findings indicated respondents were most likely to assess resource use to achieve institutional goals and missions, but least likely to measure active engagement or student learning. Respondents used assessment data frequently for accreditation, strategic planning, and mission achievement, yet infrequently for external accountability, personnel evaluation or resource acquisition. Respondents had a high degree of familiarity with the Principles of Good Practice for Student Affairs (ACPA & NASPA, 1997), yet a low level of expertise in assessment, with 6 in 10 rating their expertise as moderate to very poor. Respondents faced challenges that limited their ability to engage assessment, most notably, a lack of knowledge, skills, or training to perform assessment consonant with the recommendations in the literature.

The findings of this study raise questions about the prioritization of assessment by small private institutions and the need for instruction and preparation in order for student affairs professionals to perform assessment.

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