Annual Reports: More Than Just Numbers
By: Alan Acosta
Student conduct departments are traditionally asked to give information to contribute to annual reports, often focusing on the quantitative aspects of their operation, such as the number of cases and types of violations adjudicated. This blog essay will discuss how to craft a successful, interesting annual report that does not just focus on the numerical aspects of the student conduct department, but on how to use all information to tell a holistic story of the department's work.
Every year, when I receive the guidelines for the upcoming annual report, I think to myself, “already?” Like many student conduct professionals, the annual report has a way of sneaking up on me and taking me by surprise. It is not that I am not aware that at some point the department will need to do it, but it seems like every year, time flies and before I know it, the seasons have changed and the guidelines for the yearly departmental recap are passed out.
Do not get me wrong: it is not that I dislike doing the annual report. Actually, I tend to differ from some of my student conduct colleagues from around the country when I talk to them about the annual report. For some of my fellow student conduct professionals, the annual report can be a source of anxiety, frustration, or unwelcome distraction from the equally important work that happens every day.
Like others, my approach to the annual report is a little different. While there are always lots of work-related responsibilities to complete on a daily basis, the annual report is a fantastic opportunity to tell the story of your department over the course of the previous year. When I approach the annual report, I like to view it as the story of the department that everyone wants to know, they just do not know it yet.
Many institutions and divisions of student affairs produce annual reports to educate internal and external stakeholders about the work they have accomplished in the previous year. This often results in valuable information being shared with a wide variety of individuals with a vested interest in the institution and the division. Student conduct departments are generally asked to give information to contribute to divisional annual reports, and the information student conduct professionals present has an opportunity to enhance the overall narrative of the division and support the branding of the institution.
Traditionally, lots of student conduct professions focus on the quantitative aspects of their operation, such as the number of cases and types of violations adjudicated. Creating an annual report almost exclusively of data points and figures is an easy trap for student conduct professionals to fall into because numbers can tell a big story in a succinct way, which is often what many divisions need when trying to share various departmental stories within a short time. And there is value and significance that quantitative information can give, as they can identify trends of violations, student behaviors, and organizational issues that the student conduct department has been managing; all this information does enhance and spotlight the work the student conduct office completes on an annual basis.
I encourage my fellow student conduct professionals not to forget the qualitative parts of their stories, which provide a more holistic view of the work that has been done over the previous year. While it might initially seem difficult to translate student or departmental stories into a digestible annual report format, conduct professionals can find a few qualitative elements that can concisely convey critical information to constituents. Additionally, student conduct professionals can work with their division's leader to see if publishing a longer, more robust annual report is feasible.
What kinds of qualitative information is useful for an annual report? I encourage student conduct professionals to use a few ideas from the Florida State University annual report guidelines as a roadmap to incorporating qualitative information into an annual report. First, student conduct departments should state their mission, vision, and values. This will help identify the educational nature of the conduct department as well as the foundational elements that comprise the daily work of the conduct office. Additionally, the student conduct department can share a few important stories of accomplishments, highlights, challenges, or exceptional practices, programs, or initiatives the department has undertaken. This helps readers understand what have been some of the most significant achievements of the department and emphasizes the journey the conduct department has taken over the last year.
Another great opportunity the annual report presents is an opportunity to promote the excellent successes of the student conduct staff. Annual reports are a wonderful, easy way to share any publications, presentations, awards, degree or certification completions, or positional leadership experiences the student conduct professionals in the department have attained or completed in the previous year. And most staff members appreciate getting a “shout out” in a widely-distributed document like the annual report, however, checking-in with staff to ensure they are comfortable with public praise is a good practice.
The annual report is also an ideal source of information to share any demonstration of student learning. Whether it is from an impactful essay, an assessment instrument of a workshop, or some other educational activity, sharing how and what students learned as a result of going through the student conduct process can demonstrate the worth of the department to the institution's academic mission and reframe the work of the conduct department from appearing punitive to being educational. Student conduct professionals are best served by asking students for permission in sharing personal reflections, and if that is not possible, keeping any quotes anonymous to protect student privacy.
Additionally, student conduct professionals do not work in a vacuum; they rely on essential partnerships throughout the institution and in the community to effectively adjudicate student conduct cases. Describing and underscoring the significant partnerships the department has cultivated, developed, maintained, or enhanced can illuminate how collaborative the student conduct professionals are at an institution.
Finally, words are not the only way to tell a story. Student conduct professionals should think about any photos or videos the department has taken or made in the previous year. Incorporating impactful photos or videos (via embedded links) have the potential to more effectively illustrate the impact the department had on student learning, leadership development, and professional development.
Once the annual report has been completed, it should be widely distributed, as a student conduct department should want to share this information to as many stakeholders as it can. Conduct professionals can think about publishing it on the departmental website, sharing with student conduct board members, or sharing an executive summary at a division meeting. This ensures the student conduct story does not get buried in a desk drawer or a computer file.
By integrating numerous aspects of qualitative information into the annual report, a student conduct office can move past the numbers to the heart of the story, which is that student conduct serves the academic mission of the institution and grows, develops, and educates students at profound moments in their lives.