ERIC Identifier: ED366855
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Asher, Betty Turner
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
A President's Perspective on Student Services Delights and
Debits. ERIC/CASS Digest.
Student affairs has been praised and critiqued in the literature perhaps more
than any other functional area in higher education. From the perspective of a
current president and former chief student affairs officer, I shall add to both
sides of that running dialogue.
The strengths of student affairs clearly include diversity, contributions to
the involvement of students in the learning process, and general impact on the
personal and social well being of college and university students.
Its weaknesses lie in its struggle to be a professional discipline (Bloland,
1992) while youthful as a career field, and in its struggle to be a partner and
a full player in the campus milieu.
student affairs organization is decentralized -- staff are located throughout
the campus. Student affairs staffs are trained "in many different disciplines;" skilled in techniques ranging from assessment, mediation, program planning,
counseling, computing, problem resolution, and more; committed to flexibility
and creative approaches to getting the tasks done.
These same diverse individuals share the values necessary to respond to the
pressing challenges on the higher education agenda today as they responded in
the past: changing demographics, gender, ethnic, and social issues, personal
health issues, volunteerism and service to communities, and internationalization
of campuses. Student affairs staff with diverse backgrounds, skills, and values
provide visible and needed leadership to the campuses as we face these
challenges together. This same diversity is perceived by some as an impediment
to "professionalization". Nevertheless, it is the thread that enables the needs
of students to be met and the mission of student affairs to be realized
"Involvement in learning" (Study Group, 1984) proclaimed that student affairs
professionals nurture students' involvement in learning and ultimately
facilitate the total undergraduate experience. That long standing, critical role
of structuring experiences "outside of the classroom" so that students may
practice what is being learned "in the classroom" was given renewal, vitality,
and confirmation. The search to appreciate cultural and spiritual aspects of
their lives was also reaffirmed as educationally sound. This report reaffirmed
what Astin (1985) told us much earlier -- students learn best in the academy by
becoming involved, and what Cross (1987) stated -- students generally learn what
The role of student affairs professionals is distinctive: although we are
teachers, we are not regarded as regular members of the teaching and research
faculty; we administer organizations, but aren't regarded as administrators by
many members of the campus community (Lyons, 1990). It is heartening to note
that student affairs professionals participating in the report mentioned above
were regarded as "educators" and "teachers" (Study Group, 1984).
Student affairs staff have been the valued architects of campus life,
personal development, and involvement of students since the birth of the
profession. Lyons (1990) also reminds readers that students' learning is
affected by how they feel about themselves and their environment. Therein lies
the importance of a highly trained and diverse student affairs staff to the
learning process. They create the campus environment for students, interpret it
to students, and celebrate it with students. They will continue to function in
IN CAMPUS MILIEU?
Student affairs professionals must become purposeful in
learning and contributing new skills to participate at more central levels of
the institution. Leadership in the rapids of modern changes requires skills
unused in more stable times. As staff members recognize and accept the changing
responsibilities facing institutions, a professional priority becomes
understanding the total institution, including concerns of schools, colleges,
and departments. For example, as schools and colleges struggle with new demands
such as those placed upon them by the National Council for Accreditation of
Teacher Education, the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, the
American Bar Association, or more specialized bodies like the Council for
Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, willing and aware
student affairs staffs can assume a true role of academic support. It is not
uncommon to have professional staff unaware of the standards required by CACREP
or other related groups which reflect their own professional discipline.
Effective student affairs staff can and should be major players in the training
of counselors, advisors, and other student affairs professionals in training,
preparing for accreditation reviews, and maintaining compliance with
academically related standards. As student affairs professionals desire to have
an impact upon the lives of individual students, they must desire to have
equally far ranging and significant impacts upon the institution at large. This
notion requires knowledge about and input into decisions at the highest level of
Student affairs professionals are trained primarily as generalists. They
frequently tend, however, to function too much as specialists and miss
opportunities to make greater contributions to the institutions they serve.
Institutions are consistently under pressure to demonstrate accountability to
their many publics -- legislators, parents, alumni, and regulatory bodies. Much
institutional data rests in the hands of student affairs professionals --
registrar, admissions, housing, financial aid, and job placement. If they focus
upon serving their institutions, student affairs staffs will initiate measures
to acquire outcome data to assist institutions with public responses. These same
data have critical relevance to faculty as they deal with academic policy and
curriculum decisions. Although institutional goals may vary considerably and may
change occasionally, I have yet to find institutional goals in conflict with
goals of students.
Because of the lack of institutional awareness, the goal of student
affairs professionals to be accepted as legitimate academic leaders with
upwardly mobile tracks is often unrealized. When student affairs professionals
come to understand that a glass ceiling exists, they are disillusioned and
sometimes leave the field, taking considerable valuable knowledge and expertise
with them. Most institutional participants fail to realize that residence hall
directors are managing real estate valued at millions of dollars and financial
aid directors are managing tens of millions of dollars. I share Bloland's view
(1979) that chief student affairs officers become administrators who happen to
specialize in student affairs. I would add to Bloland's view -- they are always
educators first. Regrettably, there is not yet full recognition that those same
skills, talents, and experiences ready one for roles of executive vice
presidents or presidents in universities, especially large doctoral
institutions. I happen to be one of those who "made it" (defined by holding the
title of President), but it is not uncommon to hear peers whom I admire say that
chief student affairs officers can't make it to the presidency. I believe they
are best prepared for the roles of President or Executive Vice President. It is
repeatedly stated that individuals enter the profession for humanitarian and
social reasons, but appropriately take on personal, financial, and social
obligations requiring professional advancement and salary increases to survive.
Only higher education loses when the glass ceiling is reached and professionals
are forced to leave the academy. The attrition of student affairs staff will
slow as they become more proactive in creating and maintaining an effective
environment for the students and in making the university more aware of their
We need to acknowledge, however, that not everyone wants to progress upward
into higher administrative levels or even to become "one of them." There are
many who continue to find stimulation in teaching and other leadership roles and
make enormous contributions to the field, and to their institutions by providing
stability, continuity, a much needed historic perspective for the institution
and its culture, and mentorship to the profession as a whole.
Student affairs has a strong future in serving
students, and an even stronger one in serving its institutions. Its power
resides in the values shared within the profession, its diversity, and the
varied leadership skills that can be brought to bear upon the challenges facing
the future. To be maximally effective, student affairs staff must be creative in
defining their roles and functions, clear in defining them, and proactive in
Astin, A. (1985). "Achieving Educational
Excellence: A Critical Assessment of Priorities and Practices in Higher
Education." San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Bloland, P.A. (1979). A Personal Point of View. "NASPA Journal," 17(2),
Bloland, P.A. (1992). "The Professionalization of Student Affairs Staff." (ED
347 495). Ann Arbor, MI: ERIC/CAPS Clearinghouse, University of Michigan.
Cross, K.P. (1987). "Teaching for Learning." AAHE Bulletin, 39, 3-7.
Lyons, J.W. (1990). Examining the Validity of Basic Assumptions and Beliefs.
In M.S. Barr, M. L. Upcraft, et.al., (Eds.), "New Futures For Student Affairs."
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Study Group on Conditions of Excellence in American Higher Education (1984).
"Involvement in Learning: Realizing the Potential of American Higher Education."
Department of Education and National Institute of Education. (ED 246 833).