Commission for Assessment and Evaluation

By: Daniel Newhart

Wait – there are other people that do this work in Student Affairs Assessment? Who I can ask questions of? For free?

Indeed! That place and those people are those who make up SAAL – the Student Affairs Assessment Leaders. This organization was founded in 2008 by eleven people – Erin Bentrim, Katie Busby, Becki Elkins, Ted Elling, Gavin Henning, Eulena Jonsson, Sandi Osters, Stephanie Helms Pickett, Darby Roberts, Sherry Woosley, and Carrie Zelna. From that point in time, we’ve grown to include hundreds of those coordinating assessment across divisions of Student Affairs, from a huge variety of institutions. Our goal is to provide professional development opportunities to educators that coordinate student affairs divisional assessment efforts. 

What does SAAL do? SAAL provides a resource for people who work in assessment roles to have a space where they can get connected to other people in this very important discipline. Sometimes, people who work in these roles might work in small offices (n=1, for the quantitative folks out there), or large offices where they would like to see how other people are conducting assessment in their divisions (for the qualitative folks out there). Of course, there’s also space for people like me who like to see both the qualitative and the quantitative!

We provide professional development to our members in the following ways:

Structured conversations through SAAL are provided on a variety of topics, which are now archived here. These often take place in a webinar format, and have a time for people to ask questions of the presenters as well. If they ask really good questions, they might be asked to do a webinar themselves! And there’s one coming up! Not only that, it’s a more in-depth conversation about what SAAL does!

Within the last two years, we started the Journal of Student Affairs Inquiry, as an effort to forward scholarship in the area of Student Affairs Assessment. Why with the word “inquiry”, though? Well, here’s the answer to that question! We’ve found, over time, that our work is so much more than assessment – it’s work that helps us understand higher education better, rooted in curiosity and asking good questions. Good questions require research, evaluation, and assessment to answer well in a way that moves our work forward.

We hold, each year, elections for positions on our board, similar to other organizations such as ACPA and NASPA. Getting involved on the board is not just for seasoned professionals; some folks on our board are new to their role on their respective campus.

We provide curated resources that we share with our members. These could be anything from course syllabi to job descriptions, learning outcomes to rubrics – there are a great number of resources to explore to help assessment professionals.

Also, we’re getting ready to provide, in collaboration with Colorado State University, a free, open, online course for assessment professionals. More to come here, but this course has seven learning outcomes:

1- Participants will gain an understanding of a culture of assessment.  They would be able to identify good assessment practices and how to close the loop on assessment. 

2- Participants will become aware of their own mental model(s) and demonstrate appropriate and contextually sound applications of assessment, evaluation, and research (AER) designs in a case study scenario.

3- Participants will practice evaluating and giving feedback on learning outcomes statements, assessment methods, and project design. 

4- Participants will use existing data sets and a case study of an office problem to demonstrate analysis and consulting techniques for applying data to decisions. (in development)

5- Participants will discuss strategies for creating, promoting, and maintaining a culture of assessment at their institution.

6- Participants will be able to write their own success criteria for their department/unit (mission, goals, objectives, outcomes).

7- Participants develop an assessment plan utilizing those steps.

After repeated requests from our membership for something like this, we are very excited to begin offering it soon!

We have a tremendously active and engaged listserv of our members. If this interests you, here’s where to join. Our listserv is known for being very helpful and educational in nature when it comes to issues in Student Affairs Assessment – people over and over again tell us that this is one of the primary benefits of being involved in SAAL. There’s even a searchable archive for members where you can search (just in case you would like to see if your question may have been answered)!

We also hold an annual meeting of the SAAL board and membership – this year it will be hosted at ACPA (thanks ACPA!). We have an open meeting in the afternoon for our members, and, in the past, it’s a chance to connect to other folks doing this work, as well as talk about emerging topics in the field.

Have I mentioned this is all free for people who fit the membership criteria? We’re a very welcoming group, and hope you will join us if it would help you!


Daniel Newhart currently serves as the Director of Research, Evaluation and Planning for the Division of Student Affairs at Oregon State University. He also serves as faculty in the College Student Services Administration Program at Oregon State, and is the past chair of the Student Affairs Assessment Leaders. Finally, Daniel is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Student Affairs Inquiry. Daniel loves to meet new people at conferences, so if you see him, say hello – he’s involved with both ACPA and NASPA.