Data in Higher Education Series | Episode 15 - Part I

Giving Data Definition, Part I – Perspective on Co-Curricular Engagement

Published February 07, 2020

Understanding and assessing student involvement data comes from both quality and quantity of co-curriculars on campus. But there isn’t one standard definition of involvement that works for every campus. Hear Kelli Rainey, Ph.D. and Moira Phippen discuss ways you can better understand what involvement means for you through the unique perspective of cultural resource centers at member campus Kennesaw State.

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Show notes:

Why does it matter to measure co-curricular student engagement?

Different students benefit from different kinds of engagement, so different strategies are needed to enhance the overall quality of their education and help them be successful at the institution and beyond. Even institutional research and accreditation work can always come back to understanding how to improve student success and engagement and often that involves using data to measure co-curricular engagement and advance that mission.

From our conversation with Jessica Duvall, Assistant Director of Cultural and Community Centers at Kennesaw State University

How are you assessing co-curricular student engagement?

We are a diversity, equity and inclusion office comprised of four student-facing resource centers: a women’s center, LGBTQ+ center, international student center and a cultural awareness center exploring experiences of students of color. These centers used to be separate, but we recently reorganized to be a complete unit. We ask questions like, “How do we define and experience interaction in our departments?” and “How often are students engaging and do different levels of engagement correlate to student success and our goals as a department?” We track average interactions of the students and try to find trends among different populations or program types.

Is your reorganization helping with defining and assessing engagement?

Absolutely. Prior to our reorganization, we operated in silos. When it came to do our end of year assessment process, we struggled with the ability to talk about our collective efforts. Now we look at how we work collaboratively and as we’re becoming more and more of a data-driven field, we want to understand how our efforts affect the retention, progression and graduation of the students we serve and the broader campus community.

How do your student engagement assessment practices look today?

It starts with teamwork. We had to discover the unique set of experiences that our department contributes to the campus community. Our mission purpose is to discover the common aspects programs and services should be offering—no matter the population group—and how to do that in unique ways.

We also developed a set of three pillars for our department:

  1. All centers should develop a strong sense of belonging for our students
  2. Redefine cultural competency and help our university to better deal with diversity
  3. Expand academic enrichment opportunities and support systems

We mapped our pillars back to CAS (Council for the Advancement of Standards) and pulled the best parts to create a rubric so when somebody proposes a new program, we can measure it. This helps us get a consistency across all programs so we can look at the data and understand the cumulative effect of student experiences across campus.

Are there any challenges you’ve encountered assessing co-curricular engagement?

It’s all about trying to understand: how does my work here connect to the work over there? And how are we serving the same student from both spaces but understanding their unique experiences. Everything we do has ripple effects for that student, so it can be tough to sum up the hundreds of opportunities into our three pillars and goals.

Do students from traditionally marginalized backgrounds engage differently than other students?

We wouldn’t have these types of centers and services on campuses across the country if students didn’t experience campus life in different ways. Our goal is to put support mechanisms in place to help students be their best selves and accomplish the goals they came to school to accomplish. In terms of engagement, one of the bigger anecdotes I hear from students is that it’s not so much they don’t need the services but a fear of accessing the services. They’d wonder if they’d be accepted in this space. What our centers often do is explore that through academic enrichment to support them with engaging in those services.

What are some recommendations for quick wins in assessing co-curricular student engagement?

The best advice I can give is to figure out how to tackle the whole strategy at first. If you can think structurally and strategically about the purpose of why and how you’re collecting data before diving in, it’ll save you lots of time down the road. You can always recode data, but you can’t recode data that you didn’t collect.

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