ERIC Identifier: ED404601 Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Rogers, Russell R. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Reform in Student Affairs: A Synopsis. ERIC Digest.
In recent years, student development has become a buzz word within the
student affairs profession. Student development theories have been touted on
college campuses; student affairs staff have claimed the development of students
as their unique expertise; and the journal of one of the profession's major
associations has changed its name to the Journal of Student Development. In
short, the concept of student development has become the guiding paradigm of the
student affairs profession--one that seems to have been embraced by its members
Unfortunately, however, this embracing of student development largely has
occurred without the critique or debate considered essential within the "sifting
and winnowing" of the academic enterprise. in 1994, Bloland, Stamatakos and
Rogers provided the first comprehensive critique of the student development
model, a monograph entitled, Reform in Student Affairs: A Critique of Student
Development. This digest is intended to provide an abstract of those authors'
major arguments and conclusions and thereby to stimulate continued discussion
and debate regarding the issue. To this end, the student development model will
be examined in relation to its adequacy in the following major areas: as a
philosophy, a theoretical base, a research base, a body of literature, and a
guide for practice. The digest will then conclude with a suggested paradigm that
is more congruent with the mission of higher education.
A CRITIQUE OF THE STUDENT DEVELOPMENT MODEL
the adequacy of student development as a guide for the student affairs
profession, the concept of student development, as delineated in "Student
Development Services in Post-Secondary Education" (COSPA, 1975), was compared
with the earlier Student Personnel Point of View (ACE, 1949) and also with the
four components of a professional philosophy: basic principles, values, roles
and functions, and identity. The earlier work of Stamatakos and Rogers (1984)
formed the basis for this comparison. Results indicated that as a guiding
philosophy for student affairs, student development is both deficient and
inadequate. Specifically, student development, as described in the COSPA
document (1975), disregards the mission, goals, and roles of higher education as
well as the relationship of higher education to society as a whole. in addition,
student development touts an inherent value system that not only views the
development of students as an end in itself, but one that is seemingly
accomplishable apart from the college curriculum. Other limitations of student
development as a philosophy include its failure to acknowledge the field's rich
heritage, and also its disregard for the learnings that are deemed essential to
successful student affairs practice (e.g., an understanding of learning theory
and the philosophy of higher education).
In relation to the adequacy of student development as a theoretical basis for
student affairs, student development theory was examined relative to six
criteria for effective theory: logical coherence, generalizability, testability,
significance, contribution to understanding, and simplicity (Gergen, 1969). Once
again, in relation to all six criteria, student development was found to be
inadequate. Of particular concern was the fact that student affairs has no
single student development theory or meta-theory, but rather a number of
individual theoretical perspectives addressing development in particular areas.
Thus, theories tend to be selected on a campus-by-campus or
professional-by-professional basis giving rise to the accusation that choices
among theories are arbitrary rather than based on sound theoretical principles.
The adequacy of the research base for student development was examined in
relation to three specific areas: the effectiveness of theory-based
interventions, the types of research designs employed, and the nature and
quality of the research conducted. This analysis expanded on the earlier work of
Thrasher and Bloland (1989) and identified a number of methodological
limitations including differential treatment of sample populations, selection
bias, insufficient time in treatment, and inadequate use of control groups. in
addition, few, if any, qualitative studies, comprehensive literature reviews, or
meta-analyses were found. Perhaps more problematic, however, is that little work
has been done to validate currently accepted theories or to generate new
theories that are applicable to today's diverse student populations. An
appraisal of the literature on student development also revealed a number of
concerns. First, given the proclaimed commitment of the field to the student
development model, the number of articles with a specific student development
focus is small in comparison to the total number of published articles. Further,
the literature is primarily anecdotal in nature, promotes theories that are
complex and unsubstantiated, and incorporates little in terms of educational
philosophy or learning theory In short, the literature contains very little
material that is useful to typical student affairs practitioners.
Lastly, the ideal relationship between theory and practice was examined and
then evaluated against the student development model and its theory-base. Once
again, a number of problems were identified. First, although the student
development model was expected to provide the profession with a basis upon which
to claim expertise regarding students, little supportive evidence was found. The
application of theory to practice seems to be limited by several factors: an
overabundance of theories; the diversity in educational backgrounds of
practitioners as well as their pragmatic, even anti-theory, bias; the
prescriptive use of descriptive theories; and the tendency toward bandwagon
claims regarding the benefits of theory.
A REAPPRAISAL OF THE ROLE OF STUDENT AFFAIRS
inadequacy of the prevailing student development model relative to philosophy,
theory, research-base, literature-base and practical application, the student
affairs profession would do well to reevaluate its current and future direction.
Bloland, et al. (1994) contend that what is needed is a refocusing on the
central mission of higher education. In this context, student affairs
professionals would take their cues from the educational mission unique to their
employing institution and seek to make a contribution to that mission as an
educational force in the co-curriculum and, also where feasible, within academic
Such a redirection of the student affairs profession would have profound
implications for the field as a whole as well as for its conferences,
professional preparation programs, and the ongoing professional development of
its practitioners. While specific recommendations in each of these areas is
beyond the scope of this digest, Bloland et al. (1994) recommend that individual
practitioners, campus student affairs organizations, and national professional
associations explore the following recommendations as they consider the future
mission of student affairs in higher education:
1. Cease identifying primarily with the student development model as the
philosophical underpinning of the field;
2. Return to the principles so clearly expressed in the Student Personnel
Point of View (ACE, 1949) that place academic and intellectual development as
student affairs' central mission;
3. Re-emphasize the primacy of learning as the core value of higher education
and employ both learning and student development theories in planning programs
to enhance the learning process;
4. Identify with the educational mission of the host institution. Apart from
this mission, student affairs has no function other than the provision of
support services for students; and,
5. Seek out ways to participate more fully in the academic life of the host
institution, identifying the distinct contribution that student affairs makes in
maximizing the institution's educational purpose.
It is time for the student affairs profession to
reconsider the student development model it has espoused for the past twenty
years. As a guiding paradigm for the profession, the model is found to be
lacking. It is inadequate as a philosophy, a theoretical framework, a body of
literature and also as a basis for practice. As an alternative, the field would
do well to return to its historical and philosophical roots and build and
innovate from there. Barring such a return, however, it is hoped that this
digest and the larger work it represents will stimulate the debate and analysis
necessary to address the limitations of the current student development model
and open the way to revitalize the field as it faces the challenges and
opportunities at hand.
American Council on Education (ACE). (1949). "The student personnel point of view. (rev. ed.). "American Council on Education
Studies (Series VI, Vol. XIII, No.13). Washington, DC: Author.
Bloland, PA., Stamatakos, L.C., & Rogers, R.R. (1994). "Reform in student
affairs: A critique of student development." Greensboro, NC: ERIC Counseling and
Student Services Clearinghouse.
Council of Student Personnel Associations in Higher Education (COSPA).
(1975). "Student development services in post-secondary education." Journal of
College Student Personnel, 16,524-528.
Gergen, K. (1969). "The psychology of behavior exchange." Reading, MA:
Stamatakos, L.C. & Rogers, R.R. (1984). "Student affairs: A profession in
search of a philosophy." Journal of College Student Personnel, 25,400-411.
Thrasher, F., & Bloland, PA. (1989). "Student development studies: A
review of published empirical research, 1973-1987." Journal of Counseling and
Development, 67, 547-554.
Russell R. Rogers, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor and Director of the M.A.
Program in Integrated Professional Studies, DePaul University (Chicago, IL) and
serves as a human resource development specialist with InterAct Associates, Inc.
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