The Assessment Cycle

The assessment cycle provides a guiding framework for assessment practice in students affairs. Student affairs professionals should refer to this page as they begin planning assessment projects.


Assessment is any effort to gather, analyze, and interpret evidence which describes institutional, departmental, divisional, or agency effectiveness.

Assessment vs. Research:

In the 1960s and 1970s it was fashionable to use the term "student affairs research" to refer to assessment and evaluation efforts. However, the term proved to be confusing, particularly to faculty, who had a much narrower definition of research.

Although they share many processes in common, they differ in at least two major respects:


  • Guides good practice
  • Has implications for a single institution


  • Guides theory and conceptual foundations
  • Has broader implications for student affairs and higher education


Evaluation is any effort to use assessment evidence to improve institutional, departmental, divisional, or agency effectiveness.While assessment describes effectiveness, evaluation is how assessment results are used to improve effectiveness, however that may be defined.

Student Learning Outcomes:

Learning outcomes are statements indicating what a participant (e.g. students) will know, think, or be able to do as a result of an event, activity, program etc. More specifically, learning outcomes are the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and habits of mind that students take with them from a learning experience (Suskie, 2009). They need to be specific and measurable.

Effective Learning Outcomes

  • Are student-centered
  • Focus on learning resulting from an activity rather than the activity itself
  • Reflect the institution's mission and the values it represents
  • Align at the course/program, academic program/department, divisional, and institutional levels        

The ABCs of a Learning Outcome

  • Audience (Who) - Who does the outcome pertain to?
  • Behavior* (What) - What do you expect the audience to know/be able to do?
  • Condition (How) - Under what conditions or circumstances will the learning occur?
  • Degree (How much) - How much will be accomplished? How well will the behavior need to be performed, and to what level or degree?

*Consider using Bloom's Taxonomy, which outlines learning objectives for students. The further up you go, the more complex the learning (see graphic below). Bloom's-Taxonomy

The Cycle: Step-by-Step

  1. Establish or revise divisional, departmental, or program goals and learning outcomes
  2. Facilitate experiences
  3. Determine assessment method(s)
  4. Identify, develop, and administer measure(s)
  5. Review assessment results
  6. Use assessment results - close the loop!

Remember, assessment is iterative, not episodic. Assessment Cycle Printer friendly Assessment Cycle Resource adpated from Student Voice, 2011.

Types of Assessment

  • Learning Outcomes Assessment: measuring the impact our services, programs and facilities have on students' learning, development, and student success.
  • Tracking:monitoring who uses our programs, services and facilities (e.g. raw numbers, frequency, age, class standing, gender, race, residence, etc).
  • Needs Assessment: identifying needs of our students (e.g. student perceived, research supported).
  • Satisfaction Assessment: measuring the level of student satisfaction with our programs, services, and facilities.
  • Student Cultures and Campus Environments Assessment: assessing the collective perception of campus and student experience (e.g. campus climate, academic environment, residential quality of life).
  • Comparable Institution Assessment (Benchmarking): identifying how the quality of our programs, services and facilities compare with peer institutions' best practices.
  • National Standards Assessment: using nationally accepted standards to assess our programs and services (e.g. national assessment inventory– EBI, CAS standard self-assessment, departmental review by consulting group).
  • Cost Effectiveness Assessment: determining whether the programs, services and facilities we offer to students are worth the cost.

Adapted from Upcraft, M. L., & Schuh, J. H. (1996). Assessment in student affairs: A guide for practitioners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.