Student affairs, student support, or student services is the department or division of services and support for students at institutions of higher education to enhance student growth and development in the United States and abroad. People who work in this field are known as student affairs practitioners or student affairs professionals. These student affairs practitioners work to provide services and support for students at institutions of higher education.
The size and organization of a student affairs division or department may vary based on the size, type, and location of an institution. The title of the head of student affairs also varies widely; traditionally in the United States, this position has been known as the "dean of students", as distinguished from the academic dean or the deans of individual schools with in a university. In some institutions today, student affairs departments are led by a vice president or vice chancellor who then reports directly to the president/chancellor of the institution. In other cases the head of student affairs may report to the provost or academic dean.
History of student affairs
Although institutions of higher education have had to deal with student affairs in some way for as long as they have existed, student affairs as a distinct professional field emerged first in the Anglo-American context in the late 19th century. There it developed from the originally distinct positions of "dean of women" and "dean of men". The field developed much later in continental Europe, where development first began in the 1950s but was greatly spurred when the Bologna Process in the 1990s created a surge in international students with greater needs for student support. Similarly in many other countries where student affairs is still a largely inchoate profession, such as Uruguay, professional activity in the field has emerged in relation to the needs of international students.
Student affairs did not become a unitary profession in South Africa until the end of apartheid in 1994. As in other countries of sub-Saharan Africa, South African universities have broadly followed an American model of student affairs administration. Difficulties in the implementation of student affairs principles from developed countries has been characterized as due to South Africa's status as a developing country.
Student affairs draws its origins on the Oxbridge model and the Anglo-American concept that schools stand in loco parentis, creating a greater legal obligation for the university to govern student life. However, professional student affairs administration in the United Kingdom is of relatively recent date: student affairs departments became a feature of all United Kingdom universities in 1992, having previously been widespread only in the new universities.
The profession of student affairs "grew from the campus up, not from theory down". Early higher education in the United States was based on the Oxbridge model of education; thus, most early institutions were residential and the tutors lived in the halls with the students. These men were the precursor to student affairs professionals in the United States. Typically, they served as dean of disclipline and in loco parentis (in place of the parent). These early student affairs practitioners focus was on control of the student as opposed to modern philosophy which focuses on the development of the student as a whole, but has always connected those interested in the welfare of students with students needing assistance.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as the number of land-grant institutions increased, enrollment expanded, student populations began to include women, the idea of vocationalism began to influence academics and the institution's president began to be viewed as "the chief moral front". With these changes it became apparent that additional staff members were needed to allow the president to respond to the issues of finance and faculty recruitment.
These first student affairs professionals were the dean of women, dean of men and personnel workers. Many of the early deans came from "teaching roles in the liberal arts". The first Dean of Men as LeBaron Russell Briggs at Harvard University in 1890, with the first dean of women being Adelia Johnston in 1869 at the Oberlin College as lady principal and later named Dean of Women in 1894. Alice Freeman Palmer in 1892 at the University of Chicago was the first to hold the title of Dean of Women.
The Dean of Men's position typically included discipline, but could vary depending on the institution's overall philosophy. The position description might have read, "that officer in the administration who undertakes to assist the men students [to] achieve the utmost of which they are individually capable, through personal effort on their behalf, and through mobilizing in their behalf all the forces within the University which can be made to serve this end". The one thing that remained consistent was the responsibility to deal with men and help them develop to their potential.
Deans of Women were trail blazers as women in positions of authority. Not only were women at colleges and universities a new development, but women as staff members even more new. The institutional leadership was dominated by men, but still they persevered including the founding of what is now the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in 1903.
In December 1918 Robert Rienow, the dean of men at the University of Iowa, wrote a letter to Thomas Arkle Clark, dean of men at the University of Illinois, suggesting a meeting that is now recognized as the founding of the organization now known as NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.
In 1924, May L. Cheney, who organized a teacher placement office at the University of California, Berkeley helped form the National Association of Appointment Secretaries (NAAS). That year, NAAS met for the first time and came as guests of the National Association of Deans of Women (NADW) to a convention sponsored by the Department Superintendence of the National Education Association. In 1929, forty-six NAAS members registered for the Sixth Annual Convention. NAAS became the National Association of Personnel and Placement Officers (NAPPO). The name American College Personnel Association (ACPA) was adopted in 1931. Association communication consisted of one mailed newsletter, the Personnel-O-Gram (P-O-G). In 1937, the Student Personnel Point of View statement was developed by leaders of the American Council on Education (ACE) and ACPA.
The Student Personnel Points of View, written in 1937 and 1949, further developed the area of student affairs.
In the 1960s the student development movement, the study of the student as a whole - physical, mental and emotional, was introduced.
In the 1970s the landscape of student affairs began to change when the voting age was lowered and 18-year-olds were granted adult status in the eyes of the law.
In the United States as early as 1992, student affairs began to see a change in the reporting structure (Barr, Desler, & Associates, p. 125). Chief student affairs officers began to shift to the Provost, the chief academic officer.
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Student Affairs at Community College
The work of student affairs is critical across all institutional types, but essential at a community college , an open access to institution. While the enrollments at community colleges are holding steady across the country, the students within this population require more assistance, both in and out of the classroom.
Student affairs professionals
People who work in the field of student affairs may be known as student affairs practitioners, student affairs staff, or university administrators. These practitioners work provide services and support for students at institutions of higher education.
Student affairs professionals are charged with the tasks of working in the various areas or in specific services for students. Sometimes given the goal of developing programming, advising student organizations and student leaders and conducting research to meet the needs of the whole student - physical, emotional and mental. Challenges in meeting this goal include the budget, staffing of students at colleges and universities.
Preparation for student affairs
Some student affairs practitioners and college student personnel have completed graduate work with a complementary assistantship. An assistantship can be an entry level position, but is usually a part-time paraprofessional position with compensation including tuition waiver, professional development and a stipend. These are sometimes called graduate assistant positions. The graduate program is usually two academic years of full-time study with opportunities for internship and abroad opportunities. Universities offer graduate programs sometimes called College Student Personnel, Higher Education Student Affairs, or Educational Leadership which lead to a Master of Education (M.Ed) or Master of Arts (M.A) degree, or Master of Science (M.S.) degree. Doctoral programs also exist for student affairs professionals, leading to a Ed.D. or Ph.D..
Student Affairs Personnel or College Student Personnel (CSP) graduate programs may include classes in psychology, business, law, communication, inter and intra-personal counseling, higher education, and group dynamics. These help to form a foundation for creating relationships with students, faculty, staff and parents. CSP programs tend to be found in departments of leadership, counseling, psychology and education. Traditionally these programs have an emphasis in administration, student development theory or counseling.
Developmental theories used in college student personnel programs include
- Chickering's Seven Vectors
- Astin's Theory of Involvement
- Komives, Owen, Longerbeam, Mainella and Osteen's Leadership Identity Development
- Gilligan's Theory of Moral Development
- Erikson's Developmental Theory of Gay Development
- Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
- Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development
- Erikson's Theory of Human Development
- Tinto's Model of Student Retention
The Handbook of Student Affairs Administration and professional associations, NASPA and ACPA, identify typical departments within a division of Student Affairs. Departments may overlap or combined into one office, especially at smaller institutions. Some departments can include:
- Academic services
- Admissions, enrollment, financial aid, orientation
- Alumni and advancement/development
- Campus life
- Counseling, health, and wellness
- Diversity and inclusion
- Residence life
- Sports and recreation
There are numerous professional organizations for student affairs at the national, regional, and international levels. In addition, many student affairs professionals participate in associations that are either more general (embracing higher education administrators generally) or specific to a particular sub-field such as residence life or student health. At the international level, professional organizations for student affairs include the International Association of Student Affairs and Services, which was established in 2010.
In Europe, international cooperation among student affairs professionals is facilitated by the European Council for Student Affairs (ECStA), based in Brussels. Founded in 1999, ECStA traces it origins to a series of conferences of student affairs professionals held in the 1990s. ECStA deals with a number of issues that are unique to European higher education, such as ensuring international student mobility within Europe under the Bologna Process.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the major international student affairs organization is the Asia Pacific Student Services Association (APSSA), based in Hong Kong. APSSA was established in 1988, and holds regular staff and student conferences. Countries represented among APSSA member institutions include Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and the United States.
In the United States, large organizations include National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and American College Personnel Association (ACPA). NASPA members are committed to serving college students by embracing the core values of diversity, learning, integrity, collaboration, access, service, fellowship, and the spirit of inquiry. As well, there are publications that relate to the Student Affairs field such as the Journal of College Student Development and The Chronicle of Higher Education. While large organizations exists there are smaller organizations and publications that represent various smaller departments or divisions in Student Affairs. For example in Residence life, university departments have a national organization association called the Association of College and University Housing Officers - International (ACUHO-I). ACUHO-I also publishes a peer-reviewed journal (The Journal of College and University Student Housing) twice a year and publishes a magazine (Talking Stick).
The field of student affairs has been criticized for its emphasis on formal, professional training, calling into question whether the field is theoretical or practical. Complicating this criticism is the question of the role of student development theories in student affairs practice. It is claimed that student development theories are used to "proactively identify and address student needs, design programs, develop policies, and create healthy...environments that encourage positive growth in students." Yet, student affairs practices often bear little resemblance or connection to student development theories. As Paul Bloland (1979) wrote in an article in the NASPA Journal, "We have cultivated an expertise that was not requested, is not sought out, and for which there is little recognition or demand. Many entry-level and (many) seasoned professionals know little of student development theory and practice and, in fact, do not really need such expertise to meet the role expectations of their supervisors or, in too many instances, their institutions."
Another debate has centered on the degree to which available postgraduate programs actually represent a distinct discipline. While the field bears a resemblance to psychology, counseling, and other general concentrations, debate and criticism of the field's major foundations are virtually nonexistent in theoretical discourse, calling into question the academic credibility of the field. As Bloland, Stamatakos, and Russell wrote, while student development theory "...has been widely distributed through the literature, in preparation programs, at workshops and conventions," academics and professionals in the field have, "...failed to exercise their critical faculties to raise questions about student development, to slow down the head-long pace of its engulfment of the field of student affairs, and to examine alternatives and opinions as they presented themselves."
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