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Needs Assessment TIG Week: Evaluating Student Success in Higher Education: A Plea for Needs Assessment by Jessica Osborne

Hello! Welcome to the Needs Assessment (NA) TIG Week on AEA365.  As the AEA proposal process for the 2024 AEA conference in Portland is underway, the NA TIG invites you to submit a proposal, volunteer to be a proposal reviewer, or simply join our TIG in your AEA profile.  Reach out to our TIG Chair Lisle Hites for more info.

Jessica Osborne

Hello! I am Jessica Osborne, Principal Evaluation Associate at the University of Mississippi Center for Research Evaluation. My role involves providing evaluation services for the higher education field, with projects located across the US, and my background includes not only evaluation but also experience working as a professor, administrator, and student success practitioner within numerous higher education contexts including community colleges, adult education, and R-1 institutions. I love working in evaluation and higher education and am passionately committed to helping students succeed by providing high-quality evaluation that improves student programs, and consequently student outcomes. One commonality I have seen across projects, positions, and institutions: we do not have a solid understanding of our students – who they are, what they need, what motivates them, why they struggle, why they succeed.

That is not to say there have not been many attempts made to gain this understanding. Research abounds from, from Tinto and Bean to Duckworth and Dweck. These researchers have provided critical knowledge in understanding students broadly, but where we miss the mark is understanding students specifically, at the micro-level, and having an efficient and scalable method to do so.

To that end, I propose (beg) that evaluators in the field to consider including needs assessment methods into any and all projects associated with students in the field of higher education.


We live in a complex, constantly changing world that creates complex, constantly changing students. And we spend copious amounts of time and money in helping them succeed. Needs assessments provide efficiency and effectiveness in ensuring we get programming right the first time, by understanding what students need, how they want it, and how to keep them motivated to succeed. Further, many standard approaches to evaluation often miss critical marginalized voices, and needs assessments provide an opportunity for all voices to be heard. 


Altschuld’s work on asset-capacity building needs assessment provides an excellent approach suited to today’s context of place-based, asset-based ideologies. Methods provided are efficient, flexible, and produce use-focused findings. Further, this model is well suited for current higher education contexts focused anti-deficit and strengths-based frameworks and could be implemented in institutions of higher education to gain a better understanding of student needs in relationship to institutional assets and capacities. With relatively minimal time and personnel, institutions can adopt simple needs assessment methods, such as two-way focus groups, five-minute interviews, and pulse surveys, to gain a better understanding of their students and how to meet their needs. Armed with this information, institutions can make better choices and create programs more likely to help students succeed. I have used these methods in multiple projects and studies, and in each case data provided direct, measurable, actionable information to improve student outcomes.

Get Involved

Want to talk more about needs assessment (because I always do!)? Feel free to e-mail me at josborne@olemiss.edu. Want to be more involved? Check out the Needs Assessment TIG.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting University-Based Centers (UBC) TIG week. All posts this week are contributed by members of the UBC Topical Interest Group. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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