Annie M. Cole

Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, Ed.D.



First Advisor

Nicole Ralston

Third Advisor

Rebecca Smith

LC Subjects

Education, Higher; Universities and colleges--Graduate work; Graduate students--Training of; Student affairs administrators--Training of; Educational evaluation


This mixed methods explanatory sequential design study explored how classroom experiences in a student affairs assessment, evaluation, and research (AER) course impacted student competency development in AER. Three research questions were addressed: Does graduate students’ perceived AER competency change from pre- to post-course? Are changes in graduate students’ perceived AER competency from pre- to post-course impacted by other variables? How do classroom experiences in a student affairs AER class impact graduate students’ perceived development of competency across the three components of AER (assessment, evaluation, and research)?

Participants were graduate students enrolled in a master’s level student affairs AER course during the fall 2020 semester (n = 43). Data were collected across three phases through pre- and post-course surveys, written reflections, and semi-structured interviews. Before the course started (phase one), students completed a pre-course survey to measure perceived AER competency across three factors (research skills, research values, and research behaviors) using the National Survey of Student Affairs Professionals (NSSAP; Sriram, 2014). At mid-semester (phase two), students completed written reflections about their course experience. At the endpoint of the semester (phase three), students completed a post-course survey on perceived AER competency and written reflections on their course experience. A purposeful sample of participants completed semi-structured interviews (n = 11). Perceived competency data were analyzed using statistical analyses, while written reflections and interview data were analyzed for themes using Saldaña’s (2015) two cycle coding method.

Results from statistical analyses of pre- and post-course survey data showed significant increases in students’ mean perceived research skills and research behaviors. Students’ mean perceived pre-course research skills were significantly higher for those who had taken one or more AER courses previously; perceived post-course research behaviors were significantly lower for those who had taken zero AER courses previously. Perceived research skills, values, and behaviors did not differ significantly by work experience in higher education. Results of qualitative analyses suggest that student learning in the AER classroom is impacted in four main ways: through course components, engaging in research practices, talking and thinking through processes, and support. The results of this study have implications for AER course instructors and for AER course syllabus, curriculum, and program development.


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