Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Over the past three decades, student affairs assessment, as an organized functional area, has matured and established itself as an essential and expected component within higher education in the United States (Elkins, 2015; Ewell, 2002; Henning & Roberts, 2016). While professionals know that data use is part of the process of assessment (Banta & Blaich, 2010), there has not been sufficient evidence of what use of assessment looks like both in higher education and specifically student affairs, or how best practice strategies encourage assessment data use (Kinzie, Hutchings, Jankowski, 2015). There is a dearth of empirical evidence related to use of assessment results in higher education and even less within the specific organizational context of student affairs (Coburn & Turner, 2012; Peterson & Augustine, 2000; Peterson & Einarson, 2001). Jonson, et al. (2015) and Kirkhart (2000) contend assessment data use has been narrowly defined and is often limited to direct program improvement, often ignoring other forms of data use.

The main purpose of the current study is to describe the practice of assessment data use in student affairs. Through a single exploratory case study research design, this study explored the practice of assessment data use in higher education by specifically focusing on a single university’s division of student affairs with an established culture of assessment and an assessment process that has been in place for the past fifteen years. This dissertation centers on staff members’ perception and experience with how assessment data are used within a student affairs organization at a large four-year, non-profit private university in the Midwest. This study explored assessment use via interviews with student affairs staff members at various levels of the organization, as well as document analyses of assessment reports to discover how the concept of data use or influence has been applied. This study applied a conceptual framework of use including the practice of data use (Coburn & Turner, 2012) process mechanisms of use (Henry & Mark, 2003), and integrated theory and model of data influence (Jonson, et al., 2015; Kirkhart, 2000) to examine the broader conceptualization of assessment data use. This study specifically examined how staff directly charged with leading assessment efforts, both divisionally and at the department level, have made meaning of and applied the spectrum of assessment data use. This study also explored how the culture, structure, and processes embedded within the organization affect how student affairs staff move from data collection to forms of application and assessment data use with the intention of informing or improving practice.

This study contributes to the field of student affairs by providing contextual evidence of the various forms of assessment data use, as well as by providing insight into the factors that affect use through various organizational structures and processes. The findings from this study illuminate the need for practitioners to not only broaden their paradigm of assessment data use, but also mitigate the limitations that might affect the practice of data use in student affairs.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.