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Campus Environment/Student Cultures Assessment
Many elements of the college environment can affect a student's experience in that environment. Conducting a Campus Environment Assessment helps identify some of those factors, and is defined as the process that "determines and evaluates how the various elements and conditions of the college campus milieu affect student learning and growth" (Upcraft and Schuh, 1996, p. 167). Both the physical and psychological elements of the environment are considered in this form of assessment. The purpose of Campus Environment Assessment is that "it helps those responsible for the campus environment to provide the best possible circumstances where students can learn and grow" (Upcraft and Schuh, 1996, p. 167).
The assessment of student cultures and campus environments seeks to answer questions such as:
- Who are our students? Where do they come from? Why do they choose NIU? What do they want from their university experience? What does the institution expect from its students?
- How are students socialized into the culture of NIU? What subcultures exist? How are they treated?
- What is the quality of life in the residence halls? For off-campus students? For commuters?
- What is the academic environment, both inside and outside the classroom?
- What are the history and traditions of the university? (Valdosta State University, Division of Student Affairs, 2007, updated for NIU).
"Student cultures assessment offers a means to foster student learning and development in ways that support the educational purposes of the institution, and to assess the impact of campus environments on student cultures, as well as to create campus environments that promote student learning? (Love, et al., 1993, as cited by Upcraft & Schuh, 1996, p. 195).
The study of culture is complex. Given the varying "characteristics of student cultures" (Upcraft and Schuh, 1996), such as "persistent interaction; socialization processes for shared norms, values, and expectations; mechanisms for social control; [and] sustained existence across time and generations of students" (p. 192), care must be taken when embarking on an assessment of student culture. Some general guidelines for assessing student cultures include the following:
- Study student cultures from students' perspectives.
- Obtain as many and as diverse perspectives on student culture as possible.
- Be prepared to hear what students say about their experiences.
- Respect the uniqueness and integrity of the student cultures and of the students themselves.
- Be aware of your own biases, assumptions, and values before attempting to study student cultures.
- Study student cultures in context.
- Use multiple methods to study student cultures.
- Use insiders and outsiders to study student cultures.
- Be prepared to commit institutional resources to study student cultures.
- Acknowledge the fact that student cultures might not be ready or willing to be studied.
- Tolerate ambiguity.
- Be patient (pp. 195-200).
Student Cultures/Campus Environment Assessment will entail working with a cross-disciplinary team of departmental representatives. Each year, a different team will work together to implement an assessment of a specific element of student cultures/campus environments. More information will be available to departments about this strategy during the year that they have been identified to participate in such an assessment.