Living in the Margins: Examining the Experiences of Atheist Undergraduates on Campus

Living in the Margins: Examining the Experiences of Atheist Undergraduates on Campus

Krista M. Soria
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Christine C. Lepkowski
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Brad Weiner
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities


Utilizing results from a multi-institutional survey (n = 11,000+), this study explored differences in perceived campus climate and sense of belonging between atheist and religious college students. Results suggest that atheist students perceive that their beliefs regarding faith are less respected on campus; are more likely to report that they have heard fellow students express negative or stereotypical views about religions; and feel a weaker sense of belonging on campus.


Atheists—those who do not believe in the existence of deities—comprise a marginalized population on American college campuses (Goodman & Mueller, 2009; Seifert, 2007), largely because they do not identify with dominant religious faiths in the United States. Even amidst increasing religious pluralism in American society, atheists are less trusted and accepted than other marginalized groups, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender individuals; people of color; and Muslims or other religious minorities (Edgell, Gerteis, & Hartmann, 2006). On college campuses, students from a variety of religious backgrounds perceive a societal hierarchy of religious privilege where atheists fall at the bottom, Christianity is at the apex, and all other religions fall in between (Small, 2008). According to Liddell and Stedman (2011), nontheistic students, including atheists, struggle to gain both acceptance and equality on campus. Encountering stereotypes about their beliefs, many atheist students maintain silence, preferring to remain invisible rather than face being ostracized (Goodman & Mueller, 2009).

Students’ marginalization or isolation in college directly influences educational and social outcomes for students, including sense of belonging, perception of mattering, and persistence (Cuyjet 1998; Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pederson, & Allen, 1998; Rankin & Reason, 2005; Schlossberg, 1989). Yet, while the campus climate for some underrepresented student populations has received attention (e.g., diverse racial and ethnic student populations), there is little scholarship regarding campus climate for religious beliefs, and existing work regarding atheist college students is often descriptive or qualitative (Heiner, 1992; Mueller, 2012; Small, 2008). It is important to bring the experiences of marginalized student identity groups (such as atheist students) to light so that student affairs practitioners can work within their institutions to promote a sense of belonging among these marginalized and alienated groups.

One of the primary goals of this study is to present quantitative data related to the experiences of atheist students across multiple institutions. In our study, we examined whether atheist college students have different perceptions of campus climate and their sense of belonging when compared with students who identify as religious and are affiliated with a particular religion or denomination. This topic is important to the field of student affairs as religious identity is an important element of diversity on college campuses (Mueller, 2012) and student affairs practitioners actively work to ensure that all aspects of students’ identities are recognized on campuses.



The Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) survey is housed at the Center for Studies of Higher Education (CSHE) at the University of California-Berkeley. The SERU survey is a census scan of the undergraduate experience. All undergraduates enrolled at participating institutions in spring 2011, who were also enrolled at the end of the prior term, were included in this web-based questionnaire, with the majority of communication occurring by electronic mail.


The survey was administered to 213,160 undergraduate students across nine large, public universities classified by the Carnegie Foundation (2010) as having very high research activity. These institutions are located across the United States, with one in the Midwest, three on the West Coast, two in the Northeast, and three in the Southern/Southeastern part of the United States. The institutional level completion response rate for the SERU survey was 38.1% (n = 81,135). The items used in this analysis were embedded in a survey module that was randomly assigned to 20-30% of students, depending on the choice of the individual campuses. The sample was further reduced to include only students who identified as atheist or were affiliated with a major religion (n = 11,739). In the final sample, 41.1% were male (n = 4,824) and 58.9% female (n = 6,915). Additionally, 0.4% were Native American (n = 46), 6.4% were Black (n = 753), 11.4% were Hispanic (n = 1,342), 14.9% were Asian (n = 1,747), 58.3% were White (n = 6,839), 4.4% were other/race unknown (n = 518), and 4.2% were international (n = 494).


Religious and spiritual preferences. In the SERU survey, students were asked to select their religious/spiritual preference from a list of 26 options, which included one selection for atheist and 11 Christian-based denominations and faiths (Baptist, Christian Church [Disciples], Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Mormon, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, United Church of Christ/Congregational, and Other Christian); 14 options for non-Christian-based faiths (e.g. Judaism, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, etc.); no preference or not particularly spiritual; and spiritual but not associated with a major religion.

As we were primarily interested in examining the experiences of atheist students in comparison with religiously-affiliated students, we dummy-coded the atheist selection with the other denominations and faiths as the referent groups. We excluded students who selected “spiritual but not associated with a major religion,” “not particularly spiritual,” “no preference,” and “Agnostic.” Atheists constituted 10.4% of the population (n = 1,217) and the other religion-affiliated students made up 89.6% of the final sample (n = 10,522). The largest religious group represented in the sample of religion-affiliated students was Christian-affiliated denominations (81.2%, n = 8,539).

Campus climate for religious beliefs and sense of belonging. Students responded to several questions that gathered a nuanced perspective of campus climate for religion. Students were asked to rate their agreement for the following items (scaled 1 = strongly disagree to 6 = strongly agree): “Students of my religious beliefs are respected on this campus” and “Students are respected here regardless of their religious beliefs.” Students were also asked to select the frequency with which they had heard nonteaching staff or administrators, faculty, and students express negative or stereotypical views about religions (scaled 1 = never to 6 = very often). Students were also asked to rate their agreement for the following items (scaled 1 = strongly disagree to 6 = strongly agree): “I feel that I belong at this campus” and “Knowing what I know now, I would choose to re-enroll at this campus.”


We first began by testing the assumptions of normality and homogeneity of variance for the campus climate and sense of belonging items—these tests are important in determining whether data are normally distributed and can be further analyzed using specific procedures. We found the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test was significant (p < .05), suggesting non-normal distributions; however, in large samples, this test can be significant even if the data are only slightly non-normal (Field, 2009). In examining the histograms and Q-Q plots, we found evidence for slight negative skewness in the items. Additionally, we also found the assumption of homogeneity of variance was violated in each of our computations (Levene’s tests were significant [p < .05]); thus, we used nonparametric bootstrapping to analyze our data, as nonparametric bootstrapping makes no assumptions about the probability model underlying the population and uses the observed sample data as a proxy for the population distribution. Monte Carlo p-values were computed by drawing 1,000 random bootstrap replicates of the data, with replacement, using a correction suggested by Davison and Hinkley (1997). We found that less than 1% of data were missing for each of the items used in analysis, so we used listwise procedures for each individual t-test computation.


As demonstrated in Table 1, atheist student respondents were significantly more likely to report they had heard fellow students express negative or stereotypical views about religion, but significantly less likely to report they heard faculty or staff express those views. Atheists were also significantly less likely to indicate that students of their beliefs were respected on campus. Finally, atheists were significantly less likely to feel that they felt a sense of belonging on campus. Small differences often reach levels of significance in large sample sizes; therefore, we computed Cohen’s d statistics for each mean difference, which demonstrated that the relative magnitude of these differences was small for each of the items.

Table 1

Differences between Students who Identified with Religions and Students who Identified as Atheists on Items Related to Campus Climate and Sense of Belonging

Religious Students Atheist Students
n M (SD) n M (SD) t SE (95% CI) D
In this academic year, I have heard teaching faculty or instructors express negative or stereotypical views about religions 10456 1.66 (1.04) 1211 1.46 (0.85) 6.45*** 0.03 [0.14, 0.26] 0.21
In this academic year, I have heard non-teaching staff or administrators express negative or stereotypical views about religions 10460 1.50 (0.94) 1206 1.34 (0.82) 5.81*** 0.03 [0.11, 0.22] 0.18
In this academic year, I have heard students express negative or stereotypical views about religions 10464 2.77 (1.31) 1212 2.98 (1.37) -5.35*** 0.04 [-0.29, -0.14] -0.16
Students of my religion are respected on this campus 10442 4.71 (1.01) 1206 4.46 (1.22) 7.95*** 0.03 [0.19, 0.31] 0.22
Students are respected here regardless of their religious beliefs 10463 4.67 (1.08) 1214 4.60 (1.17) 2.29* 0.03 [0.01, 0.14] 0.06
I feel that I belong at this campus 10472 4.94 (1.10) 1261 4.65 (1.24) 8.62*** 0.03 [0.23, 0.36] 0.25
Knowing what I know now, I would still choose to re-enroll at this campus 10458 5.04 (1.18) 1260 4.82 (1.32) 6.10*** 0.04 [0.15, 0.29] 0.18
Note. * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001

Discussion and Recommendations for Practice

Our study suggests that students who identified as atheists experienced a less welcoming campus climate for their religious beliefs, in addition to a lower sense of belonging on campus. This is an interesting finding because the population comprises students at large, religiously-unaffiliated, research universities—ostensibly among the most welcoming to non-religious students. If atheists are significantly less likely to enjoy a sense of belonging on these campuses, then we predict the effect would be even larger on campuses with religious affiliations, higher proportions of religious students, or an increased homogeneity of religious groups. This is an area of future research.

The atheist students in our study were also more likely to indicate that they heard their fellow students—as opposed to staff or faculty—express negative or stereotypical views about religions. This presents a potential point of concern for higher education administrators and practitioners, as students’ interactions with peers are a “potent source of influence” on college students’ experiences and development (Astin, 1993, p. 398). Students’ lack of belonging and negative perceptions of campus climate can lead to attrition and can further isolate marginalized populations; consequently, atheist students’ experiences are too important to overlook further.

There are several steps that student affairs practitioners can take to provide a welcoming climate to students from diverse religious and non-religious backgrounds. First, it is important for student affairs practitioners to increase their own competency in serving students’ diverse religious identities (Small & Bowman, 2009). Student affairs practitioners can work holistically to frame religious pluralism as an asset in campus diversity. For example, when formal and informal campus conversations about meaning, ethics, morals, spirituality, and religion are held, it is important to invite atheists to the table along with groups that are traditionally invited (Barratt, 2009). Colleges and universities should comprehensively consider the needs and experiences of atheist college students within their structures including, for example, that mental health professionals are aware of the impact of religious and non-religious affiliation on students’ well-being (Small & Bowman, 2009). Student affairs practitioners can also develop programs to enhance students’ knowledge and awareness of religious pluralism. By openly acknowledging religious and non-religious identities as early as orientation and continuing to affirm these aspects of students’ identities until graduation, student affairs practitioners can work to ensure that the religious pluralism is understood and welcomed on campuses without privileging dominant belief systems.

Discussion Questions

  • How can colleges and universities work to improve atheist students’ sense of belonging on campuses?
  • What can student affairs practitioners do to help all students to feel that their religious beliefs are respected?
  • How can we acknowledge the role of religious beliefs in students’ lives and identities without privileging dominant belief systems?


Astin, A. W. (1993). What matters in college: Four critical years revisited. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Barratt, W. (2009). A seat at the table for atheists: Negotiating inclusion and religious pluralism. A personal narrative. Developments, 9(2). Retrieved from

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. (2010). The Carnegie classification of institutions of higher education. Retrieved from

Cuyjet, M. J. (1998). Recognizing and addressing marginalization among African American college students. College Student Affairs Journal, 18(1), 64-71.

Davison, A., & Hinkley, D. (1997). Bootstrap methods and their application. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Edgell, P., Gerteis, J., & Hartmann, D. (2006). Atheists as “other”: Moral boundaries and cultural membership in American society. American Sociological Review, 71, 211-234.

Field, A. P. (2009). Discovering statistics using SPSS. London, England: SAGE.

Goodman, K. M., & Mueller, J. A. (2009). Invisible, marginalized, and stigmatized: Understanding and addressing the needs of atheist students. New Directions for Student Services, 125, 55-63.

Heiner, R. (1992). Nones on the run: Evangelical heathens in the deep South. Deviant Behavior, 13, 1-20.

Hurtado, S., Milem, J. F., Clayton-Pederson, A. R., & Allen, W. R. (1998). Enhancing campus climates for racial/ethnic diversity. Review of Higher Education, 21(3), 279-302.

Liddell, E. R. A., & Stedman, C. D. (2011). Nontheistic students on campus: Understanding and accommodating atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others. Journal of College and Character, 12(3), 2-7.

Mueller, J. A. (2012). Understanding the atheist college student: A qualitative examination. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. 49(3), 249-266.

Rankin, S. R., & Reason, R. D. (2005). Differing perceptions: How students of color and white students perceive campus climate for underrepresented groups. Journal of College Student Development, 46(1), 43-61.

Schlossberg, N. K. (1989). Marginality and mattering: Key issues in building community. In D.C. Roberts (Ed.), Designing campus activities to foster a sense of community (pp. 5-15). New Directions for Student Services, No. 48. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Seifert, T. (2007). Understanding Christian privilege: Managing the tensions of spiritual plurality. About Campus, 12(2), 10-17.

Small, J. L. (2008). College student religious affiliation and spiritual identity: A qualitative study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The University of Michigan.

Small, J. L., & Bowman, N. A. (2009). Including religious minority/majority status as an element of campus diversity: A research snapshot. Developments, 9(2). Retrieved from

About the Authors

Krista M. Soria recently completed her PhD in higher education from the University of Minnesota. Krista’s research interests include college students’ leadership development, community engagement, and social class in higher education. Krista is an adjunct faculty at the University of Minnesota and the University of Alaska Anchorage and works for the University of Minnesota as an analyst in institutional research.

Please e-mail inquiries to Krista M. Soria or follow her on Twitter.

Christine Lepkowski is a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education at the University of Minnesota and a graduate assistant for the Jandris Center for Innovative Higher Education. She studies gender, women, and leadership in higher education.

Please e-mail inquiries to Christine Lepkowski.

Brad Weiner is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota. His research focuses on campus internationalization strategies, institutional advancement, philanthropy, and higher education finance. He holds a B.A. in English from The University of Kansas and a M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from Vanderbilt University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Brad Weiner or follow him on Twitter.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Staff Office.

Creating a Culture of Inclusion: Listening to the Voices of People with Disabilities

Creating a Culture of Inclusion: Listening to the Voices of People with Disabilities

Karen A. Myers
Saint Louis University

The use of Universal Design (UD) within higher education has primarily been directed towards students with disabilities. In recent years, research has proposed that UD is beneficial to a wide range of students, including, but not limited to, students with disabilities. Students not speaking English as their first language, students who are non-traditional in age, and students with varied learning styles may all benefit from the infusion of UD within higher education. In light of the far reaching potential for access and inclusion that is associated with UD, the ACPA Standing Committee on Disability (SCD) has proposed that UD become a standard framework for designing learning environments within ACPA and for individual member use. Over the course of the next several months, the SCD will be spotlighting the use of UD from various perspectives within higher education including: (a) a disability resource provider, (b) an individual with a disability, (c) a faculty member, and (d) a student affairs professional. This second article is from the perspective of a person with a disability.


The Inclusion Judge


Who should be the judge of inclusion? Who should determine if inclusion has been attempted and carried out successfully? This question has been on my mind lately. In higher education, departments of disability resources, multicultural education, LGBTA, women, men, spirituality, and community engagement (among others), strive to include all members of the campus community, continually bringing to life Schlossberg’s (1989) theory of marginality and mattering. Some recent examples of such intentional educational programs and events include campus celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, such as Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit , the 2011 Developments Spirituality article series, “Working on Our Inner Lives: Meaning-Making in Colleges and Universities,” and the current Everyone Matters, six-month global social media campaign led by Archbishop Emeritus Desmund Tutu to foster inclusiveness and reduce intolerance. These and other inclusion initiatives are admirable and will potentially increase awareness and fair-treatment and decrease intolerance and exclusion.

However, going back to my original question about the success of these programs: who will be the judge of inclusion? Will marginalized populations feel included as a result of these efforts? Have their teachers, employers, and co-workers been kinder, more understanding, accommodating, and more inclusive after attending a disability awareness session or reading a disability awareness article? How will we know? My answer is simple: ask them.

Asking people with disabilities, for example, how they feel about their treatment, their perceptions, their accommodations, their access, and the laws pertaining to their equity seems logical, however, it is common for people with disabilities to report they themselves never have been asked. In three separate studies I conducted involving students with disabilities (Myers, 2009; Myers, Jenkins, & Pousson, 2009), many reported it was the first time anyone ever asked them how they felt or what they preferred. And although there are some excellent first-person accounts of higher education professionals in recent literature, such as Job One (see chapter by Deborah McCarthy) and Making Good on the Promise and in Building Pedagogical Curb Cuts (see entries by Nancy Badger, Barbara Palombi, Christopher McDonnell Dennis, Terri Masse-Burrell, Shelly Neal and others), such first-person accounts are limited.

My Personal Story

I am honored to write an article in this series from the perspective of a person with a disability. I seem to have a lifetime of inclusion and exclusion stories, being one of over 20 people in my family with a congenital visual disability resulting in extreme light sensitivity, low visual acuity, and legal blindness. It is liberating for me to be able to write from the perspective of a woman who has been a student, a teacher, an academic administrator, and a student affairs professional—and who is legally blind. I learned from my older siblings that, as a high school student, I needed to ask my teachers for accommodations in order to see the math problem on the board or the conjugation in the Spanish textbook. In an all-female Catholic high school in the late 1960s, there were very few of us who required (or acknowledged we required) academic accommodations, or as they called it at that time, “special treatment.” As my career in higher education progressed, I realized that I needed to be my own advocate for accommodations. Without realizing it, I became an expert at self-advocacy and encouraged my fellow students and co-workers to do the same. From large-print exams and meeting agendas to oversized computer monitors and low-lit office spaces, many items allowed me to do my job efficiently, effectively, and be on a level playing field with my colleagues.

Self-Advocacy, Accommodations, and Universal Design

Truth be told, being a self-advocate for disability-related accommodations can be exhausting. Although it can be extremely rewarding and worth every second of those “educable moments” of reminding teachers to repeat aloud what they have written on a board and reminding supervisors to use a bold high-contrast font in their print materials, it does take time and effort on the part of the person with a disability. For years I thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of these accommodations became a natural part of how we (as educators) communicated, interacted, and did business?” Then, about 15 years ago, my answer arrived in the form of Universal Design (UD)—the concept of making goods, environments, and services accessible to all people “to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptable or specialized design” (Center for Universal Design, 1997, p. 1). I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Jeanne Higbee from the University of Minnesota, hearing her speak about Universal Instructional Design (UID), and reading her book, Curriculum Transformation and Disability: Implementing Universal Design in Higher Education. Since then, we have been good friends and colleagues who work together in spreading the “UID message,” moving universal design principles for architecture to curriculum to student services and beyond.

In Pedagogy and Student Services for Institutional Transformation: Implementing Universal Design in Higher Education, Higbee and Goff (2010) address UD and UID principles based on Chickering and Gamson’s (1991) best practices for undergraduate education. These adaptations include the following seven principles: a) creating respectful welcoming environments; b) determining the essential components of a course or program; c) communicating class/program expectations; d) providing constructive feedback; e) exploring the use of natural supports for learning, including technology, to enhance opportunities for all learners; f) designing teaching/instructional methods that consider diverse learning styles, abilities, ways of knowing, and previous experience and background knowledge; g) creating multiple ways for students/employees to demonstrate their knowledge; and h) promoting interaction among and between faculty and students, employers and employees. All of these principles are essential for UD of instruction and student development, and I have used each in my various positions in higher education (i.e., student, faculty, staff, and administrator). For example, as Director of New Student Programs and Director of Disability Services at four distinctly different institutions, I used these principles to promote cohesiveness among my staff and enhance their professional development. Bringing bagels to an early morning meeting, offering chocolates during a one-on-one, providing clear expectations of job responsibilities, and offering timely constructive feedback via multiple modes of communication were just a few ways UID was utilized to attain successful outcomes.

As a person with a disability, I would like to emphasize two principles in particular that, to me, are vital in my own growth and development: 1) creating respectful welcoming environments, and 2) promoting interaction among and between faculty and students/employers and employees. Personally, these go hand-in-hand and allow me to feel valued as a person. A warm welcoming environment that promotes interaction, whether it is a department or faculty office, a classroom, a campus dining facility, a Web site, a department chair/director, or a receptionist on the other end of a telephone, all will determine how I feel about the host and about myself. Does that person/environment respect and value me? Do they sincerely believe that I matter? Examples of creating respectful welcoming environments that promote interaction include: sending welcome e-mails to students, staff, and faculty, learning people’s names, greeting people when passing them in the hall or on campus, being open to meeting with people, encouraging students/faculty/staff to develop peer learning communities, being available to encourage conversation and assistance via email, phone, discussion board, chat rooms, and in person, and encouraging participation and input when developing materials, curriculum, programs, and events. A warm welcoming environment that encourages interaction will open doors for conversations about the additional UID principles, such as natural supports for learning and possible ways to demonstrate knowledge.


I usually begin my disability awareness training sessions with the question, “Have you excluded anyone today?” It is fairly easy for us to say we have included people, but when asked to stop and think if we excluded anyone through our words, our behaviors, or our environments, most of us recall barriers we unintentionally construct that prevent others from entering our world. These barriers might include: small print signage, low-contrast serif fonts on Web sites, e-mails and handouts, curbs with inaccessible walkways, classrooms and meeting rooms with stationary seating and narrow aisles, and videos with no captions. So, what does it mean to you to be included? How do you feel when you are marginalized or excluded? Asking people with disabilities to be the judge of inclusion may be the answer to our questions regarding the success of our inclusion programs, services, and communication techniques. Are our inclusion efforts a success? Is UID working? Let’s ask the people who know.


The Center for Universal Design. (1997). The principles of universal design (Version 2.0). Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University. Retrieved October 2, 2009, from

Higbee, J. L. (Ed.). (2003). Curriculum transformation and disability: Implementing Universal Design in higher education. Minneapolis, MN: Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy, General College, University of Minnesota.

Higbee, J. L., & Goff, E. (2008). Pedagogy and student services for institutional transformation: Implementing Universal Design in higher education. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy.

Higbee, J. L., & Mitchell, Alice A. (2009). Making good on the promise: Student affairs professionals with disabilities. Washington, DC: American College Personnel Association and University Press of America.

Magolda, P. & Carnaghi, J. (2004 ). Job One: Experiences of new professionals in student affairs. Washington, D.C: University Press Of America.

Myers, K. (2009). College students with visual disabilities: Preferences for effective interaction. Germany: VDM Verlag Publications. ISBN# 3639166000

Myers, K., Jenkins, J., Pousson, M. (2009). Social Norms and Disability. ACPA Developments.

Schlossberg, N. K. (1989). Marginality and mattering: Key issues in building community. In D.C. Roberts (ed.), Designing campus activities to foster a sense of community. New Directions for Student Services, 48. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

About the Author

Karen Myers is an Associate Professor of Higher Education at Saint Louis University. She is the Co-founder, former Chair, and current Directorate Member and Faculty Liaison of ACPA’s Standing Committee on Disability. Myers is also the 2005 Disability Leadership Award recipient (presented by ACPA’s Standing Committee on Disability).

Please e-mail inquiries to Karen Myers.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Special Features: ACPA celebrates the Student Personnel Point of View 75 Years of Excellence and Relevance

Special Features: ACPA celebrates the Student Personnel Point of View 75 Years of Excellence and Relevance

Heidi Levine
ACPA President 2011-2012
Cornell College
Keith Humphrey
ACPA President 2012-2013
University of Arizona

The Student Personnel Point of View (SPPV) was written to fulfill a need: to describe the initial work of the student affairs profession.  Over the past seven decades, the SPPV has proved to be an immeasurable gift to our profession.  This year is the 75th anniversary of the SPPV, and ACPA is honored to celebrate this document that, despite its efforts to describe a moment in time, has become timeless in its teachings and direction for the profession.   One need not look further than the multitude of ACPA Commissions that provide leadership to all areas of student affairs to see the lasting effects of the SPPV.   The strong functional-area emphasis of the commissions reflects the many points of the profession highlighted in the 1937 document that are still advancing professional practice in 2012.   The SPPV is the foundation of our work and inspires innovation in professional practice and scholarly research for which ACPA is known throughout the higher education field.  As leaders in the profession, we are grateful for what the SPPV has provided.

In the classroom, new graduate students, eager to learn the theories and philosophies that guide our work, begin often by reading the SPPV.  Each fall the master’s students in many “Introduction to Student Affairs” courses are amazed that the SPPV clearly outlines functions that have grown into major departments and core services for our students.  Many remark that the SPPV is the first and only organization chart for the profession; all can clearly see themselves in that organizational chart 75 years later.

Those same graduate students go on to enter the student affairs profession, looking for opportunities to continue developing their knowledge and skills as practitioners. Again, the SPPV provides a foundational map to help point toward those areas in which all student educators should be competent, such as having the skills to assist students in deepening their self-understanding, developing academic skills, engaging with the community, and navigating effectively in an increasingly small and inter-connected world. Over the past 75 years, society and higher education have grappled with a range of challenges that could not have been anticipated easily in 1937, including the explosion of access to information, heightened (and sometimes contradictory) expectations about access to programs and services, coupled with increasing demands for accountability.

While the world of higher education, arguably, has become more complex, we still seek professional development opportunities that enable us to foster growth of the whole student, even as we extend our competence in our particular areas of expertise. Robert Brown’s article in the spring 2011 Developments (Vol. 9; Issue 1) called on us to return to the charge of the SPPV, which recognized that “the full maturing of each student cannot be attained without interest in and integrated efforts toward the development of each and every facet of his [sic] personality and potentialities” (pg. 2).  And, in a time in which we struggle to imbue our students with a sense of global citizenship and elevate public discourse, the SPPV’s focus on education to serve the common good and “directly and explicitly [educate students] for international understanding and cooperation” (pg. 1) is as relevant today as when first written.

The work of ACPA is infused with the SPPV’s call to action. Our association’s structure and professional development offerings reflect the importance that the SPPV places on developing the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out our jobs as student affairs practitioners and deepening our understanding of those conditions that will help students grow cognitively, interpersonally, affectively, and morally. Among ACPA’s core values are education of the whole student, respect for human dignity, promotion of inclusive and democratic processes, and the continuous creation and dissemination of knowledge. Each of these values not only helps shape ACPA, but can be traced back to those values espoused in the SPPV which calls for:

  • “Education for a fuller realization of democracy“ (pg.1)
  • “Education for the application of creative imagination and trained intelligence to the solution of social problems“ (pg. 1)
  • Institutions that include governance structures that promote collaboration and include students’ involvement (pg. 18)
  • Use of data to inform decision-making (pg. 19)


ACPA is eager to bring the student affairs profession together in Louisville this March for the annual Convention to celebrate many of our accomplishments, including the 75th anniversary of the SPPV. We hope our colleagues will take advantage of the myriad opportunities the convention will offer to answer the charge of the SPPV. As we prepare to come together in Louisville, we invite you also to engage in your own reflections on this charge as you consider the following questions:

  • How do we balance the call most effectively to educate the whole student with the demands to provide increasingly specific services and expertise?
  • What developmental tasks, beyond those named in the SPPV, must students in the 21st century master?
  • How do the imperatives described in the SPPV reflect the experiences and needs of adult, graduate, or part-time students?

Creating A Culture of Inclusion: Shifting the Disability Frame

Creating A Culture of Inclusion: Shifting the Disability Frame

Melanie V. Thompson
Northern Illinois University

The use of Universal Design (UD) within higher education has primarily been directed towards students with disabilities. In recent years, research has proposed that UD is beneficial to a wide range of students, including but not limited to students with disabilities.  Students not speaking English as their first language, students who are non-traditional in age, and students with varied learning styles may all benefit from the infusion of UD within higher education.  In light of the far reaching potential for access and inclusion that is associated with UD, the ACPA Standing Committee on Disability (SCD) has proposed that UD become a standard framework for designing learning environments within ACPA and for individual member use.  Over the course of the next several months, the SCD will be spotlighting the use of UD from various perspectives within higher education including: (a) a disability resource provider, (b) a faculty member, (c) an individual with a disability, and (d) a student affairs professional.  The first article, from the Chairperson of the SCD will provide an overview of a UD framework and demonstrate the applicability of UD to disability resources within higher education.

Disability literature abounds with pleas to incorporate Universal Design (UD) within higher education (see Burgstahler & Cory, 2008; Higbee & Goff, 2008).  Currently, there is little reference to UD outside of disability-related research and writing.  Among disability scholars and practitioners, there is belief that the infusion of UD within higher education would improve the engagement and retention of all students, not just students with disabilities.  A handful of federally funded grant programs have set out to prove this.

By infusing UD into education, college students benefit from flexibility, adaptability, and tolerance for error in a supportive learning environment.  By changing the frame through which disability is viewed, institutions can continue to move forward including disability as a tenet of diversity.  Research asserts that as faculty and staff within institutions of higher education include components of UD in and out of the classroom, students with disabilities will have a decreased need for some types of accommodations and encounter fewer barriers. Disability Resource Centers may also benefit from increased use of UD in higher education; using UD may allow more opportunities to concentrate on barrier reduction and individualized problem solving since less time may be devoted to addressing short-term, temporary accommodations.

In light of support for the infusion of UD within higher education, the SCD has proposed to ACPA leadership that a UD framework be utilized within ACPA.  For example, UD could be used to inform the design of professional development, the web site platform and content, and membership materials.  Four SCD members have crafted this Developments series, “Expanding the Frame: Applying Universal Design in Higher Education,” to exemplify the intersections of a UD framework. Professionals in different roles within higher education have each written a part of the series. In the first of this four-part series on UD, I will provide an introduction to UD and discuss how my role as the director of a disability resource center is impacted by the use of a UD framework.  As you read through the series, I invite you to question how you could include UD in the work you do.  How could you inspire others to use UD?  Also, how does UD benefit students on a regular basis, whether those students have disabilities or not?

Universal Design Framework

Ronald L. Mace initially conceptualized UD as “the designing of all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life” (Center for Universal Design, 2010).  Well-known examples include curb cuts, closed captioning, and automatic door openers.  UD has subsequently been applied to education, which has been referred to as Universal Design of Instruction (UDI or UID) (see Burgstahler & Cory, 2008; Campbell, 2004; McGuire & Scott, 2006; Mino, 2004). Roberts, Park, Brown, and Cook (2011) would assert that there is no meaningful distinction between these two terms.  UD has also been applied to learning under the term Universal Design of Learning (UDL) (see Morra & Reynolds, 2010; National Center on Universal Design for Learning, n.d.).  Throughout the SCD UD series you will see reference to UD, UDI, UID, and UDL reflecting each author’s preference.

The Center for Universal Designlocated at North Carolina State University (see promotes the following seven principles of UD: (a) equitable use: the design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities; (b) flexibility in use: the design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities; (c) simple and intuitive use: use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level; (d) perceptible information: the design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities; (e) tolerance for error: the design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions; (f) low physical effort: the design can be used efficiently, comfortably, and with a minimum of fatigue; and (g) size and space for approach and use: appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility.  These principles are the foundation for UD, regardless of the context applied to.  To apply UD principles to instruction, Burgstahler (2008) suggests adopting the following process: (a) identify the course; (b) define the universe; (c) involve students; (d) adopt instructional strategies; (e) apply instructional strategies; (f) plan for accommodations; and (g) evaluate.

When UD principles are applied to instruction, the result is termed Universal Design of Instruction (UDI or UID), which McGuire and Scott (2006) define as “a framework for faculty to use in planning and delivering instruction and assessing of learning outcomes.  The underlying premise is a value system that embraces heterogeneity in learners and espouses high academic standards” (p. 125).  When UD principles are applied to learning, the result is termed Universal design for Learning (UDL).  The National Center on Universal Design for Learning (see promotes the following three principles of UDL: (a) multiple means of representation; (b) multiple means of expression; and (c) multiple means of engagement.

Regardless of the terminology used, the overarching premise of UD is to be proactive in design and identify multiple ways in which the end goals can be met. The forthcoming articles in this UD series will further demonstrate UD principles. For those wishing to learn more about the principles of UD, recommended readings include Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice (Burgstahler & Cory, 2008), Rethinking Disability: Principles for Professional and Social Change (DePoy & Gilson, 2004) and Making Good on the Promise: Student Affairs Professionals with Disabilities (Higbee & Mitchell, 2009).

UD and Disability Resource Centers: One Perspective

In the fall of 2010, I completed research with 58 faculty and staff in which nearly half (44%) of the respondents reported having had no prior training regarding disability, limited awareness of opportunities to consult regarding accessibility concerns, and limited knowledge regarding barriers faced by students with invisible disabilities (e.g., Autism Spectrum Disorder, traumatic brain injury, chronic medical conditions, and mental health diagnoses).  How could I expect faculty and staff to engage as advocates and allies for inclusion and barrier reduction if they were not aware of barriers, were not aware of consultation resources, and were not aware of the types of disabilities impacting a large percentage of students with disabilities?

During that same research, 35% of the respondents indicated they did not agree that disability was a component of diversity.  One major impetus supporting UD within higher education is the diversity of the student body.  Again I questioned how to identify and develop disability advocates and allies if over one-third of faculty and staff respondents disregarded disability as a tenet of diversity.

Since inclusive environments for diverse students increase retention rates (Lombardi, Gerdes, & Murray, 2011; Merisotis, 2008), I have found it imperative to identify ways faculty and staff can create inclusive environments for individuals with disabilities.  UD principles have been one way I have attempted to do so.  When sharing UD principles with others, whether during consultations, departmental meetings, or through university committee work, I often get an “a-ha” reaction in which the principles of UD are described as “common sense.” Another reaction I have received is that a UD framework may positively impact customer service.  While not an expected reaction to sharing UD, this customer service idea was an “a-ha” moment for me as well, and has positively impacted how I talk about UD within our Center, with staff, and with colleagues.

I have found select constituency groups willing to collaborate and proactively build inclusion for individuals with disabilities, particularly when invested in the outcome. This, I find, is preferable to demanding that groups conform because of legal, federal mandates. Framing UD as a customer service philosophy has resonated with some of these constituency groups.  I am not asserting individuals with disabilities are customers; however, I am saying in order to be student-centered, customer service may be viewed as essential.  If UD principles seem like good customer service principles for some, then using this analogy will remain as one of the many tools I employ to advocate for inclusion of individuals with disabilities.  I share this example more to demonstrate that engaging folks in a conversation about UD can be framed in myriad ways; I have found that finding what is salient to my “audience” goes a long way in building support for infusing UD into higher education.

The current college student population includes more non-traditional age students, veterans, and second-language learners.  Today’s students also represent a range of social, economic, and cultural backgrounds.  As an educational framework, UD is likely to help this range of students, including students with and without disabilities. UD is particularly valuable for students who have invisible disabilities and/or those who do not want to disclose their disabilities. Given the stigma often associated with disability, educators should not be surprised that many students choose not to disclose (Marshak, Van Wieren, Ferrell, Swiss, & Dugan, 2010).  Unfortunately, without disclosure, access to formal support and accommodations is typically unavailable within institutions of higher education.  By providing greater access to the widest range of students through UD, institutions and educators may reduce the need to disclose for some students.

As a disability resource provider and administrator, I have spent countless hours each semester working individually with faculty, staff, and students to resolve accommodation-based concerns.  Faculty have expressed frustration when students do not request accommodations until several weeks into the semester.  Some faculty have questioned the necessity for accommodations when students have requested them midway through their courses.  Staff have voiced frustration when students have not disclosed a disability until experiencing a barrier.  This frustration has frequently been linked to the cost of an accommodation needed to remove a barrier, which may not have been sufficiently budgeted for, if budgeted for at all, and has been linked to disappointment in the result of contributing to the exclusion of students with disabilities.  Students with disabilities have articulated frustration in having to do more than students without disabilities to experience a level playing field, in having to disclose personal information, and having to argue, advocate, and fight for legally protected rights.  Proactively applying a UD framework often can reduce all of these frustrations, simply by providing an inclusive and welcoming environment.

It was stated earlier that increased use of UD may benefit disability resource centers by allowing more opportunities for consultation on barrier reduction and individualized problem solving because less time would be devoted to addressing short-term, temporary accommodations.  Research (Lovett, 2010) has proposed that some accommodations provided on a semester or term basis could be reduced through the use of UD.  For example, some faculty have begun allowing extended time for all students to complete quizzes and exams, or have started to use assessment methods that are not constrained by a set amount of class time. Research (Ofiesh & Hughes, 2002) has suggested that students who do not need extended time do not do any better with extra time.  Conversely, research has also suggested that students who do need extended time and are not allowed it do worse than they would have done with extended time (Ofiesh & Hughes, 2002).  McGuire and Scott (2006) provided examples of how faculty can apply UDL in the classroom, including posting lecture notes online, sharing rubrics and/or models for written assignments, giving students formative feedback on writing assignments, and using varied instructional strategies (e.g., lectures, videos, guest speakers, group activities).

Next Steps

Next steps will vary depending upon individual roles within higher education and familiarity with UD principles. A good starting point is to identify the model of disability you personally embrace. Knowing how you frame disability will allow you to make informed decisions about including UD. Other next steps may include identifying advocates and allies that embrace UD; working with faculty/staff development centers to create trainings on UD; infusing UD into mission, vision, and program objectives; reviewing program requirements and physical locations for barriers; providing alternate format of materials; ensuring that online materials are accessible; and reviewing syllabi for inclusive/accessibility statements.


Burgstahler, S. (2008). Universal design of instruction: From principles to practice. In S. Burgstahler, & R. C. Cory (Eds.), Universal design in higher education: From principles to practice (pp. 23-45), Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Burgstahler, S., & Cory, R. C. (Eds.). (2008). Universal design in higher education: From principles to practice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Campbell, D. (2004). Assistive technology and universal instruction design: A postsecondary perspective. Equity and Excellence in Education, 37(2), 167-173.

Center for Universal Design. (1997). What is universal design? Retrieved from
Center for Universal Design. (2010). History of Ronald L. Mace. Retrieved from

DePoy, E., & Filson, S.F. (2004). Rethinking disability: Principles for professional and social change.  Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Higbee, J.L., & Goff, E. (Eds.). (2008). Pedagogy and student services for institutional transformation: Implementing universal design in higher education. Minneapolis, MN: Center for Research on Development Education and Urban Literacy. Retrieved from

Higbee, J.L., & Mitchell, A.A. (Eds.). (2009). Making good on the promise: Student affairs professionals with disabilities. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Lombardi, A., Gerdes, H., & Murray, C. (2011). Validating an assessment of individual actions, postsecondary supports, and social supports of college students with disabilities. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48(1), 107-126.

Lovett, B.J. (2010). Extended time testing accommodations for students with disabilities: Answers to five fundamental questions. Review of Educational Research, 80(4), 611-638.

Marshak, L., Van Wieren, T., Ferrell, D., Swiss, L., & Dugan, C. (2010). Exploring barriers to college student use of disability services. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 22(3), 151-165.

McGuire, J. M., & Scott, S. S. (2006). Universal design for instruction: Extending the universal design paradigm to college instruction. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 19(1), 124-134.

Merisotis, J. P. (2008). Where do we go from here? Reducing inequities and today’s changing demographic. The New England Journal of Higher Education, 22(5), 27-29.

Mino, J. (2004). Planning for inclusion: Using universal instructional design to create a learner-centered community college classroom. Equity and Excellence in Education, 37(2). 154-160.

Morra, T., & Reynolds, J. (2010). Universal design for learning: Application for technology enhanced learning. Inquiry, 15(1), 43-51.
National Center on Universal Design for Learning. (n.d.). [Web site]. Retrieved from

Ofiesh, N.S., & Hughes, C.A. (2002). How much time?: A review of the literature on extended test time for postsecondary students with learning disabilities. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 16(1), 2-16.

Roberts, K., Park, H-J., Brown, S., & Cook, B. (2011). Universal design for instruction in postsecondary education: A systematic review of empirically based articles. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 24(1), 5-15.


About the Author

Melanie V. Thompson, Ed.S., NCC, LPC, LMHC, is the Director of the Center for Access-Ability Resources at Northern Illinois University. She also serves as the 2011-2013 Chairperson of the ACPA Standing Committee on Disability. 

Please send inquiries to [email protected]

The opinions expressed by Developments author(s) are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members, Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Going Beyond Legal Obligations: Be Guided by Fairness and Justice

Going Beyond Legal Obligations: Be Guided by Fairness and Justice

Robert M. Hendrickson
Pennsylvania State University

When Dixon v. Alabama (1961) was decided, I was a junior in high school, and at the time, I had no idea of the revolutionary nature of this case.  What I learned as I began to study legal issues in higher education was that this decision was a watershed case that brought the courts through the college gates and established a new constitutional relationship between students and colleges and universities.  This new constitutional relationship resulted in the courts exploring the applicability of certain constitutional rights to college students.  These rights, commonly discussed in higher education judicial circles today, included due process, privacy, equal protection under the law, gun control, and freedom of speech, press, and religion. These areas, and many others, have been the topic of discussion in APCA Developmentswhere legal issues have been explored and implications for practice were presented for student affairs practitioners.

This is my last contribution to Developments, and this fact has resulted in some reflection on how far we have come in protecting student’s rights while creating a safe, healthy, and diverse educational environment that promotes student development and growth.  It has resulted in a personal retrospective of my own experience as an administrator responsible for enforcing institutional policy while protecting student’s rights, all the time trying to utilize professional and ethical standards.  It is not just a question of what is legal, in many cases, but what is fundamentally fair and just.  Our standard ought not to be whether we are operating within what the law requires but, rather, how do we conduct a fundamentally fair and just process where the rights of both the accused and the accuser are protected.  Applying that higher standard of being fundamentally fair and just is tested directly in Title IX cases of sexual assault.

Particularly difficult are those cases that involve alcohol and acquaintance rape. These cases usually involve alcohol consumption and questions of whether the sexual involvement was consensual.  These cases are complicated further by the fact that they may involve criminal activity (i.e., rape), but often we elect, as an institution, not to report a potential crime to police.  Though there may be good rationale for not reporting this criminal activity, whether this is educationally and developmentally sound practice remains unclear.  Are we actually enabling irresponsible behaviors because students know they will be protected by the institution and not be held responsible by the outside world for their actions?  The 18-year-old adult not enrolled in college would face criminal prosecution for similar behavior.  Are we being fair and just to all students by protecting a handful from criminal prosecution?  An actual case may help to understand how these issues play out in sexual assault cases.

Last fall, as I was beginning to think about this final column in ACPA Developments, I saw an article in the September 6, 2011 issue of  Inside Higher Education (IHE) entitled, “New Scrutiny for Sex Assault Cases”.  I thought this would be the perfect topic on which to write because it addressed issues that require administrators to go beyond basic legal requirements to provide a fundamental fair and just process for all parties.  Little did I know at the time how prophetic this choice was and how sexual assault would affect me professionally, as well as the University to which I have given 28 years of my life.  As the reports of child abuse unfolded at Penn State, my reaction was a variety of emotions and a tendency to hide from this topic.  Sexual assault involving campus constituencies, regardless of whether it’s abuse of students or children, raises similar issues.   In time, however, I was able to move beyond the sorrow and anger I was feeling and realized that understanding the legal and ethical requirements in sexual assault cases will help to understand policy and practice that can be applied equally to cases of child abuse.  What follows is not a discussion of the situation at Penn State, where legal process and investigations will determine guilt, dysfunction and remedies to be applied in the future.  However, the resolution of sexual assault cases in recent years can provide student affairs administrators with some guidelines to a fundamentally fair and just process in resolving these cases.

In Doe v. University of the South 687 F. Supp. 744 (E.D. Tenn. 2009), after an encounter on August 30, 2008, between the plaintiff Doe (a male student) and a female student, the female student filed a complaint with the University alleging rape.  The University’s Title IX sexual assault policy and procedures requires that a student be notified within five class days after a complaint has been filed.  The Dean appoints an investigator who interviews students and witnesses involved  and, where possible, obtains written statements.  The accused and accuser are each asked to provide written accounts of the incident and each is provided with a consultant, one character witness, and a 24-hour notice of the hearing date and time.   On September 17, John Doe was asked by the Dean’s office to attend a meeting with the Dean of Students on the morning of September 18.  That morning, he was informed of the charges, given statements of witnesses, informed of the hearing scheduled for September 19, 2008, and told to bring a character witness to the hearing.  Doe was quizzed on his written statement by the appointed investigator before the hearing.  Doe did not hear the hearing investigator’s oral testimony and was allowed in the hearing only during his own and his character witness’ testimony.  He was informed later that day that he was found guilty and given two options: suspension for one semester with the assault remaining on his record or suspension for two semesters with no record of the assault and the option to reapply for admission.  He was informed of the right to appeal but was told the Vice Chancellor might increase the punishment and the complainant might file criminal charges.  He accepted the two-semester suspension but appealed the decision. The Vice Chancellor upheld the original decision.  Doe never reapplied for admission but sued in federal court.

As IHE reported, the case was tried before a jury in Federal Court and found that the institution was negligent in the application of its sexual assault policies.  John Doe was awarded damages of lost tuition.  Further complicating this case was the fact, revealed during the trial, that the female had medical issues requiring medications to control mood, narcolepsy, and these had been combined with consumption of alcohol at levels higher than she had experienced before.  The hearing committee ignored any information about her medical condition and alcohol consumption. The statement she gave to the committee was erroneous because she claimed that she had no alcohol for four hours prior to seeing Doe.  The hearing committee had acknowledged that Doe thought the sex was consensual and that the committee lacked information about alcohol consumption and her incapacitated condition.  In these cases sometimes, institutions will not consider certain facts in order to protect the victim.  Other institutions seem to go out of their way to protect the accused.  The difficulty in a “he said – she said” case is finding that balance between both the rights of the alleged victim and the accused.  Although I could not find the specific counts of negligence by the University found at trial, there are a number of process issues that appear to have been ignored as the institution seemed to have rushed to get this situation behind them.  In this case, it appears not handing the case over to the authorities may have actually been detrimental to the accused student.

In April of 2011, the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights issued a letter providing guidelines for institutions to follow in enforcing Title IX regulations involving sexual harassment and sexual violence. The statistic on sexual violence are that “1 in 5 women are victims of completed or attempted sexual assault in college” while 6.1% of males are victims of similar sexual violence (p. 2).  The letter set out specific guidelines that institutions should follow in assessing their policies and procedures surrounding sexual harassment and assault.  The letter describes a grievance procedure that institutions should implement to handle these cases and provides that institutions are allowed to use disciplinary procedures in place of a grievance procedure for cases of sexual violence (p.8).  The letter argues that the standard to prove guilt used in Title IX grievances be “the preponderance of evidence” (i.e., it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred) (p. 11).  OCR objects to the “clear and convincing” language (i.e., it is highly probable or reasonably certain that sexual harassment or violence occurred) (p. 11).  I would argue that the “preponderance” standard should be applied where sexual harassment is at issue.  However, I would recommend that in cases of sexual violence that the institution’s disciplinary procedures be followed judiciously and the “clear and convincing” standard be applied as proof of guilt.   Using this standard will achieve balance of a fundamentally fair and just process that protects the rights of both the victim and the accused.

Sexual assaults involve violations of laws and are considered criminal acts.  I realize there is a desire to protect victims when acquaintance rape involves students on college campuses.  The result is that, many times, there is a tendency to handle these cases within the institution because either the victim requests confidentiality or the institution bases its decision on the concepts of in loco parentis.As a result no criminal charges are filed.   Are we enablers when we insulate students from responsibility for their actions?  Many of these cases involve excessive alcohol consumption. Are we enabling excessive alcohol consumption by insulating college students from criminal prosecution for sexual assault?  Is the college or university an enclave where the community is a protected environment for experimentation? Is the extension of this rationale what resulted in Penn State’s failure to report alleged sexual abuse to civil authorities?  The jury is still out on that question, but perhaps we need to rethink policies were we are handling criminal activity internally instead of reporting it to appropriate authorities. This may be legal but is it fundamentally fair, just and educationally sound?  Making distinctions between what is legal and what is fundamentally fair and just may be helpful in leading to educationally sound policy and practice.

A Flexible Student Development Program for Today’s Incredibly Busy Student

Everyone has a Roger on their Campus…

Roger, a student who commutes, is typical of many college students today. Busy doesn’t begin to describe him; he takes classes, works two jobs that consume 25-30 hours a week, occasionally volunteers in the community, and like most young adults, tries to have a social life when possible.

Roger is a pre-medical student intent on getting accepted into medical school. Because of this goal, he decided to take on leadership roles to enhance his medical school applications. Roger is the president of the pre-medical student organization. He discovered that he would like to learn more about developing his leadership skills and is interested in being a member of the university’s leadership development program. In addition he would like to join one of the community service student organizations because he has heard from several faculty and staff members how much professional schools (and employers) value leadership and community engagement experiences. Unfortunately, his academics, commuting, and work obligations simply do not allow him enough time to engage in many of the sustained leadership development experiences offered on campus.

Off campus, Roger volunteers for a number of short-term projects in his community. Recently, Roger spent his summer as a camp counselor/leader for a diverse group of inner-city children, and he currently shadows a doctor at a local hospital and volunteers there in preparation for his future as a physician. Even though these are not the “traditional” student engagement and leadership experiences provided on campus, shouldn’t they count for something?

Through service learning, internships, study abroad programs and many other opportunities, colleges and universities are encouraging student learning beyond the confines of the traditional classroom. The Superior Edge program at Northern Michigan University (NMU) utilizes this expanding concept of engagement and goes a step further in acknowledging that students can accomplish learning objectives both within and outside of sponsored university programs and initiatives. Superior Edge is built upon the premise that a student’s knowledge of leadership, civic engagement and responsibility, diversity, and career preparation can be acquired through a variety of experiences that are not confined to sponsored programs. Through Superior Edge, students like Roger can gain credit for many different experiences of their choosing that move them towards defined learning outcomes and then have their work validated through a Student Enrichment Transcript.

This article will describe highlights of the Superior Edge program, how it was developed at NMU, how it is making a difference for student participants, and issues to consider for anyone interested in establishing a similar program on their campus.

Superior Edge Will Count It!

In its simplest form, Superior Edge at NMU is a program that addresses what it takes to be a well-rounded individual in today’s society. The program allows its participants to put together an online portfolio of curricular and co-curricular experiences connected to learning outcomes. This portfolio is comprised of four areas (called Edges) which include: Citizenship, Diversity, Leadership, and Real World. Each edge requires 100 hours of commitment, is rooted in three or four outcomes, and requires participants to provide adequate reflection for each experience. Students are responsible for tracking their hours. Every student at NMU can join regardless of class standing, major, or GPA. Students can progress at their own pace and hours can be completed at any time during their enrollment and at any location. Students are given the freedom to complete one, two, three, or all four edges.

Developing Superior Edge at NMU

Like many schools, NMU already had a comprehensive leadership program that was successful but limited to a defined number of students. So staff began pondering how to make leadership and other developmental activities accessible to large numbers of students. This discussion was occurring at a time when a new president came on board and there was considerable faculty and student affairs staff interest in providing meaningful out-of-the-classroom and classroom-connected experiences for NMU students. A 25-member task force was created by the president and comprised of faculty, staff, and students. Over the course of the year, the committee met weekly and developed a program with defined learning outcomes in which any student enrolled in the University could participate. The role and importance of the Superior Edge task force was crucial. The many different perspectives resulted in a product that was far better than any one person could have conceived individually.

Widespread support from faculty for Superior Edge was realized due to the heavy faculty involvement from a broad spectrum of departments. Students provided excellent feedback about what was realistic for them to accomplish while still having the program remain meaningful. In addition to providing input for programmatic design, staff on the task force helped indentify the resources needed to implement Superior Edge. By continuing to keep students, faculty, and staff involved with the growth and development of Superior Edge, over 2,000 students are currently enrolled.

The goals of Superior Edge are to facilitate a well-rounded co-curricular experience for student participants, to set participating students apart from non-participants; to institutionalize a program that connects students, faculty, staff, and the community; and lastly, to offer a program that allows flexibility for today’s students who have very busy schedules.

Over 20 % of the NMU student body is involved with Superior Edge. The program receives support from numerous academic departments, is connected to various community organizations and businesses, and receives full backing from the administration. Superior Edge has become institutionalized at NMU through broad campus support and diverse involvement from a network of on- and off-campus support groups.

In short, Superior Edge works because the benefits can be perceived from all parties involved. Students’ progress is assessed against outcomes laid out at the program’s inception. Upon completion of an edge, staff members review individual reflection papers using a rubric that measures student learning. Many students appreciate the impact they have been able to make on their own personal development, on campus, and in the surrounding community. Finally, Superior Edge works with a busy schedule in a variety of settings at the level a student like Roger can choose.

The Competitive Edge

In the end, Superior Edge provides its graduates an advantage when pursuing further studies or entering the workforce. Graduate schools and employers recognize that they will be interviewing a candidate with well-rounded experiences. They will be meeting someone with leadership experience, who takes initiative, understands the role ethics plays in decision making, appreciates multiculturalism, and who is motivated to make a difference. Participants’ edge-packed resumes set them apart from other college graduates.

Superior Edge is proving to be a transformative experience for participating students as they discover that a meaningful life is built on a foundation of hard work, service, and the courage to take chances. The hours of involvement, volunteering, and commitment represent a priceless investment in confidence, self-esteem, and the future. While these experiences have always been available to a select group of “heavily involved” students, Superior Edge facilitates involvement to the broad mass of students, many of whom could not participate in structured co-curricular programs because of their schedules and life circumstances. It is meaningful to note that many participating students begin Superior Edge with a goal of completing a particular Edge but often expand into other “Edges” as well.

NMU recognizes every student who completes an Edge with a Student Enrichment Transcript. This transcript is maintained by the Registrar’s Office and accompanies the student’s academic transcript. The Student Enrichment Transcript differs from a traditional co-curricular transcript in that it is connected to specific learning outcomes.

College students everywhere are participating in many exciting and beneficial activities. Most of them are not fully aware of how they are learning and growing and what they are accomplishing. An effective way for students to appreciate the impact of their involvement is to have them reflect on their experiences in a structured way. In Superior Edge, students reflect on every activity logged and also discuss what and how they met one or more of the identified outcomes. Students reflect again when they complete an Edge by writing a reflection paper. Busy students are provided the opportunity to think about their experiences, and therefore, are better able to effectively communicate what they have gained from their participation.

Think Differently

If your campus is interested in developing a program like Superior Edge, consider the possibility of establishing learning outcomes that allow students to set their own path across varied experiences. Students have the freedom to take advantage of the many opportunities available in every aspect of their lives on and off campus that can, when connected to learning outcomes, help them develop an “Edge.” These can include summer jobs, internships, community involvement, and much more, including traditional co-curricular involvements. Being able to fit a program to what students are doing versus fitting students involvement to a specific program not only celebrates the diversity of student interests, but also allows for better overall student preparedness upon graduation.

Please send inquires and feedback to Rachel Harris at [email protected]. More information about the Superior Edge program is available at E-mails can also be sent to [email protected].

An Update on Learning Outcomes Focusing on the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS)

In 2009, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) celebrated 30 years of inter-associational collaboration in the development of standards of practice for quality programs and services leading to intentional student outcomes. CAS advances the self-assessment process for assessing student outcomes and using that assessment for program improvement. Directors from 36 member associations have developed and regularly revises 40 functional area standards using a consensus model of decision-making (See

In the 1990s, higher education called for the assessment of curriculum, co-curricular programs, and services largely for accountability and comparability. At the same time, accreditation associations uniformly began requiring institutions to designate student outcomes in order to assess their accomplishments on those self-designated outcomes.

But what outcomes should college seek to develop in students? What did educators expect? What did students, their families, employers, and the public need and expect?

The identification and articulation of desirable student outcomes expanded at the turn of the century. Since the first standards were released in the mid 1980s, CAS has advanced specific learning and developmental outcomes. The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) advanced the conversation with the student-centered focus in Greater Expectations (National Panel, 2002). Concurrently in 2003, the fifth edition of the CAS book of standards added a more clear focus on outcomes by specifying achievement indicators for the 16 learning and developmental outcomes that all functions should address. Shortly thereafter, Learning Reconsidered (NASPA/ACPA, 2004) and Learning Reconsidered2 (Keeling, 2006) advanced a taxonomy of seven outcomes. Subsequently, CAS convened a panel of faculty and student affairs experts to weave these Learning Reconsidered outcomes with the CAS set of 16 outcomes into the new set resulting in six broad categories that CAS calls learning and developmental outcome domains (CAS, 2009). Campuses are encouraged to use these 2009 outcomes as the latest best thinking in student affairs.

Each CAS domain contains related dimensions and each dimension links to specific examples. Those using a functional area standard must designate which outcome domains and dimensions their programs are designed to develop. Theprogram section of each CAS General Standard (2009) indicates:

The formal education of students, consisting of the curriculum and the co-curriculum, must promote student learning and development outcomes that are purposeful and holistic and prepare students for satisfying and productive lifestyles, work, and civic participation. The student learning and development outcome domains and their related dimensions are:

• knowledge acquisition, integration, construction, and application [Dimensions: understanding knowledge from a range of disciplines; connecting knowledge to other knowledge, ideas, and experiences; constructing knowledge; and relating knowledge to daily life]

• cognitive complexity [Dimensions: critical thinking; reflective thinking; effective reasoning; and creativity]

• intrapersonal development [Dimensions: realistic self-appraisal, self-understanding, and self-respect; identity development; commitment to ethics and integrity; and spiritual awareness ]

• interpersonal competence [Dimensions: meaningful relationships; interdependence; collaboration; and effective leadership]

• humanitarianism and civic engagement [Dimensions: understanding and appreciation of cultural and human differences; social responsibility; global perspective; and sense of civic responsibility]

• practical competence [Dimensions: pursuing goals; communicating effectively; technical competence; managing personal affairs; managing career development; demonstrating professionalism; maintaining health and wellness; and living a purposeful and satisfying life]. (p. 31)

These outcomes and specific examples can also be found in the 2009 book of standards (pp. 25-28) and at CAS advocates that the mission and purpose of each functional area transparently identify those outcomes it seeks to develop in students who engage in their programs or services. Data from self-assessment on those outcomes must then be used in program improvement and then the assessment cycle continues. Campuses are encouraged to map their environment and ensure that all outcomes are addressed.

National Alignment Update

Slightly before the Spelling’s Commission released their recommendations on accessibility, affordability, quality instruction, and accountability (Commission on the Future of Higher Education, 2006), the “big six” presidential higher education associations (e.g., ACE, AAC&U, CIC) released a letter of commitment indicating that higher education supported assessment of student learning outcomes among other assertions. Several exciting projects have subsequently followed. The growing national conversation seeks to balance assessment for accountability and assessment for improvement. A few of the resources to explore include:

AAC&U: The Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative advances four broad goals [knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world, intellectual and practical skills, personal and social responsibility, and integrative learning] and seven principles of excellence to meet those goals advocating the use of high impact practices largely identified through NSSE research ( The latest AAC&U project, Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE) includes a set of rubrics to use as indicators of student attainment publically available at

Voluntary System of Accountability: In a move toward transparency, the VSA was established by Association of Public Land-grant Universities (APLU) and AAC&U as a site for campuses to publically post their outcome assessments in a college profile. All participating campuses must also agree to assess a core of outcomes (e.g. critical thinking) using the CAAP, MAPP, or CLA for comparability (See

National Institute for Learning Outcome and Assessment: Supported by the Lumina and other foundations, NILOA was launched in 2009 and is co-directed by George Kuh and Stan Ikenberry as a quality clearinghouse for assessment resources and model practices encouraging outcome transparency. Bookmark this site for the latest information on outcomes, high impact practices, and key resources (See

The New Leadership Alliance for Learning Outcomes and Accountability: The Alliance was formed by key associations and members of the Board of Directors of the Alliance include representatives from the American Council on Education (ACE), Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), Association of Public Land-grant Universities (APLU), Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), Higher Learning Commission, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), and the Teagle Foundation. This group convened an invitation symposium in November to seek alignment among outcomes and assessment practices. I was very pleased to represent CAS at this symposium. Greg Roberts was also in attendance representing ACPA. I was pleased to address the assembly and make the point that students learn and develop across the whole college environment and that the whole environment should be assessed for their contributions to student outcomes. It is indeed very good that student affairs is in this national conversation (

New CAS Standards

The 7th edition of the CAS book was released August of 2009 and contains newly developed standards for Adult Learner Programs, Auxiliary Services, Dining Services, Graduate and Professional Student Programs, and Undergraduate Research Programs. CAS committees are currently developing new standards for Campus Security, Parent and Family Programs, Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence, and Veterans Programs and Services anticipated in 2010 and 2011. The recent CAS Symposium on learning outcomes and assessment featured Carol Geary Schneider, AAC&U President, among the keynote speakers.

We are indeed fortunate that leaders in our field came together 30 years ago seeing the need for standards of practice and advancing self-assessment. You do not have to re-invent any wheels, you can use the wisdom of CAS to advance the work of your programs and services. You can order the 7th edition or a CD with all standards and self-assessment guides from . CAS will also have a booth at the ACPA annual convention and our executive director, former ACPA president and former CAS president, Phyllis Mable looks forward to assisting you.


Commission on the Future of Higher Education (2006). A test of leadership: Charting the future of U.S. higher education. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. (2009). CAS professional standards for higher education (7th ed.). Washington, DC: Author

Keeling, R. (Ed.). (2006). Learning reconsidered 2: Implementing a campus-wide focus on the student experience. American College Personnel Association, Association of College and University Housing Officers-International, Association of College Unions-International, National Academic Advising Association, National Association for Campus Activities, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association.

NASPA/ACPA (2004). Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, DC: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and the American College Personnel Association

National Panel (2002). Greater expectations: A new vision for learning as a nation goes to college. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. PDF available at

Please send inquiries and feedback to Susan Komives at [email protected].

– See more at:

Student Academic Freedom: Politicizing the Classroom

Robert M. Hendrickson
Professor of Education and Associate Dean
The Pennsylvania State University

As the 2004 Presidential campaign developed, concerns began to emerge regarding student academic freedom in the classroom. Conservatives alleged that the higher education professoriate continues to be predominately liberal and this liberal bias taints their teaching. They maintain that students feel intimidated to express their political beliefs either in the classroom or on campus for fear they will be punished through the grading system. This focus on liberal bias has propelled student academic freedom into the political agenda of many activists, and has led to new organizations and some state legislatures attempts to rectify the problem. While I am not aware of any litigation being brought surrounding this issue, as the 2006 congressional election campaign heats up there certainly is potential for campus controversy (and possible litigation) over faculty classroom behavior. Even though this issue stems from the academic side of the institution, student affairs administrators need to understand the implications of this issue as they often must deal with student complaints and other forms of activism (e.g., protests, walk-outs, and websites).

The fundamental principle of academic freedom is that the community of scholars must be free to employ scholarly standards, without prior restraint or fear of repercussion, to make decisions about the quality of scholarship and teaching. “The ideal of academic freedom includes the assumption that [people] working on the fringes of established knowledge will often dissent from the truths of the majority, will appear unreasonable, eccentric, or disloyal, or will be unable to explain to others their motives for pursuing a particular line of effort” (Caplow & McGee, 1958, p. 222). Faculty members and students, although they are not directly included under the tenets of academic freedom as set forth by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), should be free from political, ideological, or religious constraints in the pursuit of truth in their academic studies.

Academic freedom as defined in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, holds three basic tenets of academic freedom are:

  1. “Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of results subject to adequate performance of their academic duties, …”;
  2. “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should not introduce into their teaching controversial subject matter which has no relationship to their subject.”;
  3. “College and university teachers are citizens, members of the learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.”

The third tenet also states that faculty members need to be accurate in their statements and identify their faculty title when they are speaking in their field of expertise. When speaking as a citizen on matters outside their field they should not use their faculty title, as that would imply that they are speaking as an expert rather than just as a citizen. The second tenet assumes that teaching will follow the “principle of neutrality” where a diversity of perspectives are present, so the student can make a judgment on the issue and there is no attempt by the faculty member to indoctrinate students. The current classroom controversy has developed debate about the neutrality and non-indoctrination principles. Some conservative activists and legislators have claimed that professors with a liberal bias dominate the college and university faculty (based on some recent surveys, it is true that a majority of faculty claim to be liberal/democrats), and that bias is clearly reflected in the classes they teach and the performance grades they award. The following are a few examples of how the controversy is manifested:

Under the directive of David Horowitz and the David Horowitz Freedom Center, several state legislatures have considered an academic bill of rights. The American Association of University Professors on March 4, 2003, posted an article on their website discussing the movement in Colorado calling for an Academic Bill of Rights entitled: Academic Bill of Rights. Advocates for an Academic Bill of Rights recommended that in order to maintain the AAUP principle of neutrality, higher education institutions need to develop faculty hiring policies “with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives”. Since diversity is interpreted by the advocates as an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, or conservatives and liberals, the ultimate effect of such a statement would be to politicize faculty appointments in the academy. The AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, after careful analysis, found that one of the fundamental concepts of academic freedom is violated when decisions on who to appoint, and the quality of scholarship and teaching, are not based on professional standards within the discipline assessed by the community of scholars. They concluded that the Academic Bill of Rights “impose administrative and legislative oversight on the professional judgment of faculty, to deprive professors of the authority necessary for teaching,” and prohibit decisions necessary to advance knowledge (p. 3).

On March 2, 2004 the AAUP issued another article concerning advertisements appearing in campus newspapers about an organization, ” Students for Academic Freedom.”. The advertisement solicits students to report professors who try to sway the class to adopt the political stand of the faculty member. The AAUP has a history of discouraging faculty from bringing controversial matters with no relationship to the particular topic area of the course to the classroom. If a problem like this were to arise, the expectation is that the performance reviews would address this problem. However, Students for Academic Freedom attempts to prevent political controversy in the classroom where such political statements are not germane to the topic of the course. More specifically, they are attempting to keep faculty comments about the war in Iraq and George W. Bush out of classrooms where course content has nothing to do with “this war or this presidency.”  The AAUP statement contends that “[c]ontrary to defending academic freedom, the project is inimical to it and, indeed, to the very idea of a liberal education”.

In 2005 the Pennsylvania legislature passed a resolution to establish a committee of legislators to investigate the political bias of professors, as it is manifested in the classroom at public colleges and universities in the state. The committee traveled around the state holding hearings on various campuses to determine the extent of indoctrination of students by faculty in the courses they taught. At the final hearing in June 2006, Dr. Peter Garland stated that, in the past five years, only 14 complaints have been filed from the 107,000 students at 14 state universities belonging to the State System of Higher Education. (Chronicle of Higher Education, Today’s News 6/1/2006). Dr. Blannie Bowen reported that only 13 complaints have emerged over the past 5 years from the 80,000 students of the multi-campus Pennsylvania State University. He noted that the University Faculty Senate has clarified the policy called “Resolution of Student Classroom Problems” to provide students with a process to adjudicate complaints surrounding violations of academic freedom and grading. (Chronicle, Today’s News 6/1/2006). The legislative committee concluded there was minimal classroom controversy and, on the rare occasions that a complaint had been filed, that institution had adequate policies to resolve those concerns.

As the election campaign of 2006 gets into full swing, it would be wise to review the institution’s policies on student classroom controversy (see AAUP Policy on Students Rights and Freedoms) making sure that faculty are able to adequately defend themselves against false accusations, and students are adequately protected from retaliation. If such policies are nonexistent, or inadequate, the academic governance organization of the institution should be encouraged to develop or refine the policy. With a better understanding of the issues surrounding academic freedom rights of students and faculty, student affairs administrators can assist the faculty in the development of policies that provide students with a venue to resolve complaints. Student affairs administrators need to:

  • Be familiar with the institution’s policies on student classroom controversies; and
  • Know the resources for a student to initiate a formal complaint.

Ultimately, the responsibility for developing and maintaining student classroom policies lies with the faculty, with the goal of preventing the politicizing of the institution and its academic programs.


  • Caplow, T., & McGee, R. (1958). The academic marketplace. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press.

New Publications from the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) in Higher Eduation

New Publications from the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) in Higher Eduation

CAS has announced it will suspend all sales of it old publications effective May 1, 2006, and will start taking orders for its new publications to be released on August 1, 2006.  In the interim, if colleagues want to purchase publications, they should realize the 2003 Book of Standards will be replaced with a new 5th edition.

The Book of Standards to be released in August will introduce five new functional areas of standards and guidelines for:  College Honor Societies, Education Abroad Programs, Service-Learning Programs, Internship Programs, and College Health Promotions.  The Book will continue to carry the 30 functional areas already published, while 9 of those 30 functional area standards and guidelines have been revised and unanimously approved by the CAS Board of Directors.

In addition to the Book of Standards, CAS will also publish a Book of Frameworks for Assessing Learning and Development Outcomes (FALDOs.)  The FALDOs give definition to the 16 student learning domains, review relevant research, and provide the practitioner with examples of research questions and concomitant research instruments for conducting assessment activities.  The Book of FALDOs will be available August 1.

Version 3.0 of the CD that contains all the Self-Assessment Guides (SAGs) and functional area standards and guidelines will also be released on August 1.

Mailings to student affairs and institutional research officers at most every college or university will be made by CAS in May and again in August notifying them of the changes while providing the opportunity to order the new publications.

For more information contact: Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, Phyllis Mable, CAS Executive Director, (202) 862-1400

ACPA Award Winners

ACPA Award Winners

These Association awards were announced at the Leadership Reception and Awards Ceremony during the Indianapolis Convention.

Annuit Coeptis Award-Senior Professional: Jan L. Arminio, Shippensburg University; Linda M. Clement, University of Maryland; Tracy L. Davis, Western Illinois University.

Annuit Coeptis Award-Emerging Professional: Elisa S. AbesMiami UniversityRashida Hiba GovanCommunity College of Baltimore CountyShaun R. Harper, Pennsylvania State UniversityAshley Mouberry SiemanUniversity of North Carolina Chapel HillJ. Malcolm SmithOhio University.

Emerging Scholars: Elisa Abes, Miami University-OhioBrian BridgesGeorge Washington University.

Senior Scholars:  William M. McDonaldPresbyterian CollegeRichard P. Keeling, Keeling & Associates, Inc.

Senior Scholar Diplomate:  Robert B. Young, Ohio University – Athens.

Senior Student Affairs Officers Practitioner Program:  Peter BaigentStony Brook University, State University of New York; Karen WhitneyIndiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

Voice of Inclusion Medallion: Individual Award: Michael SpirosMissouri Western State UniversityNancy J. EvansIowa State University.

Voice of Inclusion Medallion-Exemplary Program: White Privilege Conference; Shaha: The Storytellers, University of Massachusetts – Amherst.

ACPA Excellence in Practice Award: James C. HurstUniversity of Wyoming.

Esther Lloyd-Jones Professional Service Award: Dennis C. RobertsMiami University.

Contribution to Knowledge Award: Susan R. KomivesUniversity of Maryland.

Contribution to Higher Education Award: Marvalene HughesDillard University.

ACPA Lifetime Achievement Award: George D. KuhIndiana University, Bloomington.

ACPA Presidential Citation Award: Robert F. RodgersThe Ohio State University.

Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership

Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership

Susan R. Komives
University of Maryland
John Dugan
University of Maryland

The importance of college student leadership development, attention to civic engagement, and the pervasive role of assessing college outcomes have recently converged. After decades of college leadership development activities being largely focused on positional leaders, the last 20 years of leadership efforts have led to leadership majors, minors, certificate programs, a range of co-curricular experiences, rope courses, service-learning, and numerous other opportunity points for many college students to learn about leadership and focus on their own leadership development (Zimmerman-Oster & Burkhardt, 1999). Enhancing students’ leadership efficacy is increasingly a widely embraced college outcome (NASPA/ACPA, 2004), indeed, several institutions are identifying leadership as their Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) in their regional re-accreditation.

Partially funded by a grant from the ACPA Educational Leadership Foundation and the NASPA Foundation, the National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs (NCLP) and a University of Maryland research team are conducting a national multi-institutional study of leadership to assess college students’ leadership outcomes and the environmental experiences that contribute to leadership development. Colleges often use specific models of leadership development, but general measures of leadership studies have made it difficult to truly test specific models (Posner, 2004). This study uses the social change model of leadership (SCM), one of the most widely used co-curricular leadership theoretical frames (HERI, 1996).  Developed by an ensemble of leadership educators with an Eisenhower grant led by Co-PIs Alexander and Helen Astin, the SCM identifies seven values clustered into three groups (i.e., individual, group, and community) along with the transcendent value of change. The set of individual values includes consciousness of self, congruence, and commitment; the set of group values includes common purpose, collaboration, and controversy with civility; and the community set of values includes citizenship. Tyree (1998) operationalized the SCM in her award-winning dissertation and developed the Socially Responsible Leadership Scale (SRLS). A revised scale from this dissertation will be utilized in this study (Appel-Silbaugh, 2005).

The research design is based on Astin’s (1991) college impact model of inputs-environment-outcomes (IEO). By controlling for pre-college experiences, attitudes, and student characteristics, researchers can determine the contribution of various college experiences on leadership outcomes.  College experiences to be examined include the nature of organization involvement, leadership roles, experience with mentoring, study abroad, on campus or off campus work, service learning, and exposure to diversity. In addition, the study will assess each participating institution enabling researchers to develop a taxonomy of leadership programs and determine what combination of program elements may enhance the students’ leadership development outcomes. Subsamples in the study will receive additional items on the nature of campus work, experiences in activism, the student government experience, cognitive development, and factors that operationalize the leadership identity development model (Komives, Owen, Longerbeam, Mainella, & Osteen, 2005). Participating campuses may also be including a comparison sample and individual campus questions.

An invitation for participating campuses was posted on the NCLP and ACPA Commission for Student Involvement listservs in the Summer of 2005. After completing an informational survey, 55 campuses were invited to join the study. Campuses include a range of institutional types including Historically Black Colleges and Universities, women’s colleges, religious colleges, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and community colleges. Over 180,000 undergraduates will be invited to participate in this web-based survey between mid-January and mid-March 2006. ACPA and NASPA 2006 Convention programs will present the details of the survey design and methodology. For more information on the study, visit the NCLP web site at:

Findings from the study will contribute to a normative database for continued use of the SRLS and establish base line data for leadership outcomes in diverse institutions. Identification of campus experiences that contribute to leadership development will aid leadership educators to design intentional interventions that more accurately influence leadership outcomes.


  • Appel-Silbaugh, C. (2005). The Revision of Socially Responsible Leadership Scale (SRLS-R). Unpublished report. College Park, MD: National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs.
  • Astin, A. W. (1991). Assessment for excellence: the philosophy and practice of assessment and evaluation in higher education. New York: Macmillan.
  • Higher Education Research Institute. (1996). A social change model of leadership development: Guidebook version III. College Park, MD: National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs.
  • Komives, S. R., Owen, J. E., Longerbeam, S, Mainella, F. C., & Osteen, L. (2005). Developing a leadership identity: A grounded theory. Journal of College Student Development, 46, 593-611.
  • National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and American College Personnel Association. (2004). Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, DC.
  • Posner, B. Z. (2004). A leadership development instrument for students: Updated. Journal of College Student Development, 45, 443 – 456.
  • Tyree, T. M. (1998). Designing an instrument to measure the socially responsible leadership using the social change model of leadership development. Dissertation Abstracts International, 59 (06), 1945. (AAT 9836493)
  • Zimmerman-Oster, K., & Burkhardt, J. C. (1999). Leadership in the making: Impact and insights from leadership development programs in U.S. colleges and universities. Battle Creek, MI: W. K. Kellogg Foundation.