Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Lisa Abrams

Second Advisor

Dr. Jesse Senechal

Third Advisor

Dr. Kevin Clay

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Kathleen Gardner


Student affairs assessment is a field in higher education that emphasizes the measurement of effectiveness and student learning in student serving programs that take place outside of the classroom. Outcomes-based assessment is the basis of most assessment practices in student affairs, and focuses on the continuous improvement of out-of-classroom programs, services, and student learning. Many assessment practices stem from traditional research methods, which have been developed by people who hold mostly majority identities. These methods were not created with the rapidly changing demographics of today’s college-going students in mind. To help address the increasing diversity of college students and the prioritization of diversity, equity, and inclusion in college missions and strategic plans (Evatt-Young & Bryson, 2021), outcomes-based assessment in student affairs has evolved to integrate equity-centered practices throughout the assessment process. Equity-centered assessment prioritizes the lived experiences and intersectional identities of students and addresses power dynamics, policies, and practices ingrained in higher education that ultimately influence assessment work (Heiser, 2021).

Equity-centered assessment in student affairs is a recent advancement in the assessment field, with a growing body of knowledge, frameworks, and research. This study explored the ways in which institutional culture in higher education influences equity-centered assessment practice in student affairs. The goals of this study were to: 1) explore how equity-centered assessment is implemented in student affairs, 2) determine how student affairs assessment practitioners perceive their institutional culture, and 3) describe how institutional culture influences the implementation of equity-centered assessment practices in student affairs. A qualitative, multiple case study design was employed that consisted of two interviews with student affairs assessment practitioners, one of which led participants through the Multicultural Organization Development (MCOD) Lens Exercise, and the collection of various institutional artifacts. Qualitative analysis of the interviews along with a review of institutional artifacts provided a detailed picture of the role of institutional culture in practitioners’ experiences implementing equity-centered assessment.

The results of this study indicated that student affairs assessment practitioners are intrinsically motivated to engage in equity-centered assessment, strive to elevate the diverse voices of students and staff through their work, and consider the role of their identities as they are implementing assessment practices. The participants in this study choose to engage in equity-centered assessment despite various institutional influences and are often the only leaders of equity-centered assessment on their campuses.

Recommendations based on this study call for institutions to hire, train, and retain assessment leaders that demonstrate a commitment to advancing equity, utilize climate surveys to address institutional inequities, and implement regular reviews of mission statements, policies, and procedures through an equity lens. Future research should continue to explore the intersection of institutional culture and equity-centered assessment work in both student affairs and academic settings.


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