Assessment of Academic Probation

2015-03-14_OhNoLogo22-mark3As our office continues to develop, we’re starting to implement smaller assessment pieces to pair with larger programs. Two years ago, we created an assessment of our academic advising; probably a good place for an advising office to start. Since then, we’ve initiated assessments for our Peer Advising program (student staff who support our office) and our Peer Mentor program (a mentorship program we offer the students we serve).

This week, we discussed the addition of a new assessment for our probation program. We’ve established a structured process for our students not performing well academically but do not yet have a means of evaluating this effort. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on this assessment; as disconnected and undeveloped as they may be.

This is a difficult group to assess. For one thing, we put a lot of work into developing relationships with our students. I don’t want to jeopardize that relationship with an end of term You failed your classes. Here, take this survey and become a row on a spreadsheet survey. These students need to feel like their advisor knows them. That’s an assumption, but I’d like to hear form those who disagree. I can’t help but feel that collecting data from them directly treats them like mail on a conveyor belt.

Beyond that, we make a lot of assumptions on what’s “good” or “right” for this group. For example, that they’re attending tutoring or meeting with a counselor. It’s quite possible for a student to completely follow the plan we lay out in September, and find themselves struggling again. If we decide Steve should be using a planner, and he uses the planner dutifully all semester and struggles, does this mean our process is working? Most can agree that a successful GPA is an important outcome, but if we look solely at GPA, we might miss a lot of relevant progress a student is making. Would then a lighter/easier class schedule skew the assessment — making it look like a student was making more progress than they really did?

What are we assessing here? Clearly, GPA is important; but can’t a student make progress personally without doing well academically? In such case, should our assessment conclude that our process is not succeeding?

Just who are we assessing here? How much impact can we make on a student? Though we’re charged with supporting the student, we’re not the ones taking the exams. Should our assessment measure a student’s progress or how well they adhere to our support program? If the former, it seems we’re measuring a group’s natural talents — that is, a good group might skew the data to make it look like our process is working. If the latter, we’re assuming that we know what’s right for the student and perhaps ignoring what’s really important. Yes, that was vague on purpose.

The question to statement ratio in this post is a bit out of control, I apologize for that. I’ll keep thinking and perhaps put together a post with some practical thoughts rather than the broad ones I pose above.

Keep on keeping on and if you have any thoughts, please reply.

The Kennesaw State Advisor Incident

exterior_image2015-03-14_OhNoLogo22-mark3Every once in a while I come across a story that buzzes so close to my job or my values that I feel compelled to talk about it. A few weeks ago articles blaming over-sized administration for tuition increases got me thinking about where that rise might come from. This week, it’s an article about academic advising.

Last week, Kennesaw State student, Kevin Bruce, paid a visit to his advising office and was asked to leave — well, he was actually threatened with campus security. Rather than recap the story, I’ll pause for a minute to give you a chance to read it for yourself here or here. If you want to just skip to the video, see below.

Once this student posts the video, it takes off a little; makes its way onto the Huffington Post and other sites. The twitter-verse bounces it around. This is where I start to lose track of what’s going on. Reading through his twitter feed, the #ItsBiggerThanKSU hashtag gets some steam. Is race a factor here? Given the racism systemic to our nation, race often plays a factor at some level. But it seems to me the point he’s trying to make is that many students at Kennesaw are not graduating in 4 years and he’s implying that student affairs offices are core part of a student’s ability to make that achievement.

I’m with you Kevin, advising is important. And we need more (and apparently better) of it.

If you dig a little — and I mean just a little — you’ll come across very mean words directed at both Abby Dawson and at KSU. Are they are fault here? To some extent, sure. But let’s not forget a few core values of higher education (get ready, I’m going to speak for an entire industry here): learning and development. If every doofus-moment led to fired employees, we’d end up in a world filled with doofuses and nobody actually working. If her supervisor and the human resources department are not in the process of a performance improvement plan with Ms. Dawson, now’s probably a good time to make that happen. If incidents like this continue to happen, it might be time to look into termination of employment.

For anyone who’s not an advisor, the end of the term is when we are bombarded with student questions. This makes sense; courses fill and students need help finding resolved schedules which move them toward graduation. Some students are persistent with their questions. Often, students will reach out their advisor without consulting online documents at all. I hope that this was just a bad day for her. I hope that in the vast majority of her conversations with students, she’s pleasant. I hope. Regardless of whether the criticisms are justified, you can bet she’s had an awful week. Social media leaves little time for due process.

Fellow higher ed professionals, and everyone else, this is a reality of our lives now. In a moment’s notice, someone might be recording us at work. Is this inconvenient? Yes. Let’s try to remember that everyone we’re interacting with is also a person (and that our students are paying thousands to attend our institutions). Even though when we’re having a bad day, we want to ensure everyone around us is also having a bad day, and even though we sometimes try to pretend our busy times are “learning opportunities” for our students, it’s worth taking a second, minding our tone, and saying: “Hey man. I am so sorry, I can’t help you right now. Can you e-mail this to me and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can?”