Collaborating with Neighborhoods


Collaborating with Neighborhoods

Tracey Walterbusch
Ezra Baker

Ohio State University


In this article, we highlight why collaboration was integral to the improvement of Ohio State’s annual Community Commitment event and how it aided two departments to meet their goals. First, we provide overviews of the Community Commitment event, the two key collaborators, and the theoretical framework that guided this work. Then we reflect on the effectiveness of the event including assessment, provide key information about the collaboration, and discuss implications for the future.


Pay it Forward is a student cohort comprised of approximately 20 students. The goal of the program is to expose students to avenues of civic engagement through co-curricular service experiences (Pay it Forward, 2016). One of Pay It Forward’s flagship programs is Community Commitment, a single-day of service during the first week of classes in which over 1,000 students serve at more than 50 nonprofit organizations in the greater Columbus, Ohio area. Community Commitment is one of the largest single day service events on a college campus (Community Commitment, 2016).

Community Ambassadors are students who work in the off-campus area at Ohio State. The program was originally developed in January 2003 (OCSS Community Ambassadors, 2016). The goal of the program is to foster community in the off-campus neighborhoods at Ohio State. The university defines “off-campus” as the housing areas immediately adjacent to the university, where many students live within walking distance to campus. This off-campus area is 2.83 square miles, with 43,996 residents, 1,227 businesses, human service agencies, and institutions, and is comprised of apartments and houses where students, renters, and permanent residents live (The City of Columbus, 2016; University District Organization, 2016). Ohio State is home to a large, diverse population of students who represent many different backgrounds and perspectives. In order to effectively serve the needs of the community, the Community Ambassador program utilizes the Social Change Model of Leadership Development (Astin & Astin, 1996) because of the model’s emphasis on working as a group toward a societal common good.

Theoretical Background

The Community Ambassador program relies upon the Social Change Model of Leadership Development in all collaboration and program development. The goal of the Social Change Model is to integrate previously established leadership models to create a framework for social change in individuals or the community (Astin & Astin, 1996). The model outlines student’s self-knowledge and leadership competence and examines leadership from three different perspectives: individual, group, and community (Astin & Astin, 1996). Individual development is defined as self-awareness and establishment of personal values; group development is defined with an emphasis on collaboration; and societal development focuses on the common good (Astin & Astin, 1996). Individual values include consciousness of self, congruence and commitment; group values include collaboration, common purpose and controversy with civility; and societal values focus on citizenship. The group values of collaboration and common purpose were of particular importance for the Community Commitment event. These values are also collectively referred to as the “7 C’s.”

On- and Off-campus Partners

In order to increase the reach of the Community Ambassador program, the Program Manager of Student Life’s Off-Campus and Commuter Student Engagement (OCCSE) department sought to work with colleagues across campus. One of these partners was the Program Coordinator of Service and Outreach within Ohio State’s Student Activities Department. During the summer of 2014, the OCCSE Program Manager and the Program Coordinator of Service and Outreach met to discuss avenues for potential collaboration. Since the goal of the Community Ambassadors is to reach students living off-campus and the goal of Community Commitment is to create service opportunities, each department saw an opportunity to work together.

The Program Coordinator for Service and Outreach shared that one of the most difficult parts of Community Commitment is accommodating a large number of Ohio State volunteers while not overwhelming community partners. Providing a one-day service event can be difficult because organizations may not have enough service opportunities to complete in just one day. Additionally, it can be difficult to provide a meaningful opportunity for reflection with each service opportunity.

Since community service within the off-campus area is in line with the Community Ambassadors’ mission, the two departments discussed adding an off-campus clean-up to Community Commitment. The goals of the clean-up included the following: to provide a service opportunity to all students who attend community commitment; to clean up the off-campus area; and to educate future student residents about the importance of maintaining a clean neighborhood. Additionally, the event allowed an opportunity for the Community Ambassadors to develop as a group and reflect on the problems of the off-campus area. The collaboration was most effective because it was mutually beneficial to both the Community Ambassador and Pay it Forward programs.

The two departments also invited community partners, campus partners, and students to discuss the prospective addition to Community Commitment. This one meeting provided an opportunity for all members of the community and neighborhood to provide feedback, insight, and offer services for the event. Many collaborators attended the meeting, including: Keep Columbus Beautiful, a community improvement plan and national affiliate of Keep America Beautiful; the University District Organization, a non-profit organization sponsored by Ohio State and the city to bring organizations together; Neighborhood Services and Collaboration, an Ohio State Student Life Department that worked with landlords in the off-campus community; and the Community Ambassadors themselves.

In this meeting, the Program Manager and Program Coordinator asked the partnering organizations and departments to share concerns about this day of service. One of these concerns was that the students were only serving their community for one day. During this meeting, the Program Manager and Program Coordinator emphasized the importance of empowering students to continue serving their communities after the Community Commitment event. A key part of the Social Change Model is citizenship, which demands that students are actively engaged in their community.

Making the Event Happen

In addition to the normal preparation for Community Commitment, the Program Coordinator of Service and Outreach worked with community partners, Community Ambassadors, and Pay it Forward Cohort members to develop the logistical framework for the event. Community Ambassadors worked to map out routes in the off-campus area and collaborated with partners such as Keep Columbus Beautiful to get materials for the off-campus clean-up including trash bags, gloves, and litter grabbers. During the Community Ambassador training, the Program Coordinator and members of the Pay It Forward Cohort provided training for the Community Ambassadors on the logistics of the event, key outcomes, and directions for running a guided reflection.  

On the day of the event, student volunteers attended pre-service training on the importance of keeping the off-campus community clean. The session provided student volunteers with logistical information and risk management information about the event. In addition, in this training students were provided space for pre-service reflection and learned about opportunities to continue their service involvement in the future. One of the Community Ambassadors spoke about his own experience as a resident in the off-campus community and the importance of taking care of one’s neighborhood. The Community Ambassadors each went to assigned streets with a group of three to five student volunteers.

The Community Ambassadors were encouraged to share their stories and their passion for the off-campus neighborhoods with their group during the clean-up. In this way, the event allowed each Community Ambassador to implement every domain of the Social Change Model: they used their own individual leadership, came together as a group, and provided service to the greater society.

Assessment and Reflection

After the clean-up, the Community Ambassadors led the students back to the Ohio Union. Over lunch, the students and Community Ambassadors reflected on their experiences in the off-campus neighborhoods. This allowed the students to discuss the common purpose by encouraging them to collectively evaluate the service project they completed and discuss working as a group to make change in society (Astin & Astin, 1996). As mentioned earlier, common purpose is one of the seven C’s defined within the Social Change Model (Astin & Astin, 1996). When the volunteers left, the Community Ambassadors met for the end of their training, which included a reflection for the Community Ambassadors. One volunteer commented, “it wasn’t until I was walking to campus this morning did I realize how much trash there was on the street.” The Community Ambassadors shared that they were more likely to pick up their own trash and recycling.

Generally, the volunteers for Community Commitment are first-year undergraduate students. Most of these students have not even walked to the off-campus area. At Ohio State, students generally move off campus after their second year living in the residence halls. Therefore, one of the outcomes of the events was increased awareness of the community in the off-campus area and the importance of caring for the neighborhood. Of the 21 students who attended the off- campus clean-up, 15 said they were more likely to pick up after themselves when they lived in the off-campus area.

Recommendations for Collaborations

The University District Organization and Keep Columbus Beautiful were specifically interested in this project and encouraged future collaboration on other off-campus clean-ups. This collaboration between university and city departments was integral to the success of this event. Collaboration can be tricky to navigate, and so the authors would like to provide some insight for future partnerships.

The Program Manager met with leaders across campus and created a collaborative framework that asked departments to reflect on the missions of both their own departments and their potential partnering office. After common goals of each office were identified, they then evaluated which programs in each department needed improvement. Many times departments felt that they must create a new event in order to collaborate with a different department. However, sometimes the best collaborations are adaptations and improvements to preexisting programs.

Second, it was important to invite all of the community partners to the table. Although it sometimes seemed overwhelming to have all members of the community join the meeting, it was important that they all had opportunities to give input and provide feedback. For example, one community partner recommended inviting permanent residents from the neighborhood to attend the Community Commitment event. Since it was the first year of the event, we chose to delay the invitation of neighborhood residents. However, we would recommend that it is always important to invite potential short-term and long-term partners to the planning stages of events and programs to get everyone on the same page.

Finally, a key part of this collaboration was the integration of student leaders. The Community Ambassadors and Pay it Forward student cohort members were given a chance to train one another and lead the development of this event. By integrating not just the professional staff but also the student leaders, the event ran more smoothly, provided professional development for the students, and led to future collaborations. Therefore, it was a benefit for all members involved; the event was more efficient and effective and the students received valuable leadership experience.

The event provided student leaders with an opportunity to engage with the Social Change Model of Leadership Development (Astin & Astin, 1996) at every stage. Student leaders reflected on their personal connection to the off-campus neighborhoods, rallied their small groups around a common purpose and helped society by cleaning up the neighborhoods inhabited by many of their peers. The Community Commitment collaboration has now continued for two years and the current staff in each department expect to continue the collaboration, which has grown to include a similar project on the Martin Luther King Day of Service which delivers winter wellness packages to residents of the off-campus area.

Discussion Questions

  1. With what office or neighborhood partners could your office create a partnership?  
  2. How do you start a conversation with an off campus partner?
  3. How could increased student involvement in programing aid in your success?

Astin, H. S., & Astin. A. (1996). Social change model of leadership development. College Park, MD: The National Clearinghouse of Leadership Programs.

Community Commitment (2016). The Ohio State University. Retrieved from Programs/community_commitment

OCCSS Community Ambassadors (2016). The Ohio State University. Retrieved from

Pay it Forward (2016). The Ohio State University. Retrieved from

The City of Columbus. (2016). Keep Columbus Beautiful. Retrieved September 7, 2016, from

University District Organization. (2016). Discover: University District. Retrieved September 7, 2016, from

About the Authors

Tracey Walterbusch is currently a Ph.D. student in the College of Education and Human Ecology with a concentration in Higher Education and Student Affairs at Ohio State University. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Economics from Ohio State University and her master’s degree in Counseling and Personnel Services from the University of Louisville. She has experience working at four higher education institutions within a variety of departments such as student activities, residence life, off campus and commuter services, and career counseling. During the time of this event, Tracey oversaw Off-Campus and Commuter Student Engagement, a department serving 80% of the student population including both commuters and off campus students.

Ezra Baker earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics and French from The Ohio State University in 2016. As an undergraduate student, Ezra also worked for three years for Off-Campus and Commuter Student Services (OCCSS, formerly Off-Campus and Commuter Student Engagement). He served in multiple roles in OCCSS including as a Community Ambassador and a Student Supervisor of the Community Ambassadors. As a Student Supervisor, Ezra played a critical role in planning and overseeing Community Commitment and other related service events. 

Please e-mail inquiries to Tracey Walterbusch or Ezra Baker.


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.

How Social Identities Affect Students with Autism for Transition to College


How Social Identities Affect Students with Autism for Transition to College

Edlyn Vallejo Peña
Jodie Kocur
California Lutheran University

In 2009, the United States Government Accountability Office reported that students with disabilities now comprise one in 10 college students. A more recent survey of four-year colleges and universities reported that nearly 15% of enrolled first-year students reported a disability (HERI, 2011). The enrollment of college students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in particular is projected to increase with growing diagnostic rates and more robust educational supports in the K-12 system. ASD is a developmental disability that can cause college students to experience challenges in communication, socialization, sensory processing, and restrictive and repetitive behaviors (Peña & Kocur, 2013). Today, 30% of students with ASD who complete high school attend college (Roux, Shattuck, Rast, Rava, & Anderson, 2015), rightfully making their way into postsecondary institutions. In 2008-2009, approximately 78% of four-year public institutions enrolled students with ASD (Raue & Lewis, 2011), though that percentage is presumed to be higher today. Additionally, because many students do not disclose their disability once in college, these findings likely under-report the presence of students with ASD (Newman, Wagner, Cameto, & Knokey, 2009).

While access to college is improving for students with ASD, they are less likely to transition to college, compared to students without disabilities and even students with other kinds of disabilities (Roux et al., 2015). Further, the data disaggregated by other demographic factors suggest inequitable educational opportunities among students with ASD across different social identities, such as race/ethnicity and educational background. White students with ASD enter college at greater rates than their racial and ethnic minority peers; 41% of White students with ASD attend college compared to 23% of Black and 29% of Latino students with ASD. Furthermore, over 75% of students with ASD who enrolled in college had at least one parent with a college education. Students with ASD whose parents went to college were three times more likely to transition to college. This is likely because students with ASD must rely more heavily on parent knowledge, support and guidance to prepare for, transition into, and succeed in college than their peers without disabilities (Peña & Kocur, 2013).

Scholars are just beginning to understand the ways in which demographics and social identities shape the experiences of college and college-bound students with disabilities that produce cumulative disadvantages (Peña, Stapleton, & Schaffer, 2016). In one of the few research studies that reports first-hand experiences of college students with ASD, MacLeod, Lewis, and Robertson (2013) report in their findings that, “it is likely that some or all [participants] came from relatively privileged backgrounds. In gaining entry to higher education, they are a minority within the autistic community” (p. 46). What is not yet understood is how the identities of families of students with ASD enable the students to prepare for and transition into college. Because students with ASD typically require greater parental support during these life events (Peña & Kocur, 2013), we qualitatively examined the experiences of 29 parents and caregivers of students with ASD who prepared for and/or transitioned into college life. The research question that guided this particular analysis is: What role do family social identities play in supporting students with ASD to prepare for and transition into college?  


We engaged in a secondary analysis of interview transcripts from a larger study exploring the experiences of parents of college-bound and college students with ASD. The methodological approach of the larger study involved a case study to concentrate on an in-depth analysis of an entity or bounded system (Patton, 2014). Case studies are useful in studying temporal processes to trace experiences, events, and changes over time. This approach allowed us to capture and analyze rich stories and experiences of an unknown phenomenon—the ways in which families as critical support systems play a role in supporting students with ASD to prepare for and transition into college. We employed purposeful sampling (Merriam & Tisdell, 2014) by identifying 29 parents in California whose students with ASD were either engaged in transition planning (while a high school junior or senior) or attending a 2- or 4-year post-secondary institution. To recruit participants, we emailed college disability support offices, clinicians who work with ASD clients, autism support group listservs, and posted on social networking sites.

Parent participants completed a demographic questionnaire and interview, lasting approximately one hour. The semi-structured nature of the interviews allowed us both the structure and flexibility to follow the parents’ lead when their recollections were rich and relevant. All 29 interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. In our data analysis of the interview transcripts, we first conducted a within-case content analysis of individual participant transcripts in which we engaged in coding of text. We identified significant statements and core meanings about the role social identities played in supporting the postsecondary transition and development of each student with ASD. We then engaged in a cross-case analysis, enabling us to review and revise the codes across participants, grouping them into over-arching themes that answered the research question.


This section begins with a description of demographic information and privileged identities of the families who participated in the study. We then present themes that represent the experiences which contributed to supporting the transition of students with ASD to attend college.

Privileged Identities

Important demographic trends emerged in terms of race, parental education, and household income of participants. Of the 29 participants, 24 participants identified as White. Three participants identified as Latina/o and two as multiracial. As far as parental education, only one student with ASD, of the 29 represented in the study, lived in a household in which neither parent had ever enrolled in postsecondary education. Two participants indicated that at least one parent in the household had experienced some college or postsecondary education. The overwhelming majority of parents had either graduated from a four-year college (n=11) or earned a graduate degree (n=15).

The majority of the parents in this study came from middle to high-income households. Of the 28 participants who answered the question about household income, 23 indicated that the household income was over $90,000 per year. This is at least $30,000 more than the median income for families in the state of California (where the study was conducted), and about $26,000 more than the median income for families in the United States at the time of the study (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). Noting the household income of the participants is important because it signals access to critical therapies and supports that insurance companies and school districts may not cover or offer. At least 22 of the 29 parents reported spending hundreds to thousands of dollars annually on one or more of the following: speech therapy, social skills sessions, an attorney or advocate, tutoring, occupational therapy, an educational aide or tutor, college preparation program, and a psychiatrist or psychologist. One parent noted, “he went through the Fast Forward [reading] program, which totally is the best $3000 worth I spent.” This level of collective wealth, educational status, and racial privilege among participants likely provided advantageous opportunities for transition into college; this is supported by the existing literature on cultural capital, social capital, and student success (Bourdieu, 1986), as explored in the sections that follow.

High Parental Aspirations

Given that nearly all of the students with ASD lived in a household that had at least one parent with some college education, the majority of students grew up with parents who communicated high aspirations for their children to attend college. When asked about the time in which parents began thinking about college as a possibility for their child’s future, 18 of the 29 parents responded with “always,” “it was never a question,” or “it was never not considered.” In contrast, only five participants considered college a possibility when their child was in high school and the rest thought about it somewhere in between “always” and high school. Even when low expectations were communicated by high schools during the transition process, parents presumed competence in their students and developed high levels of aspirations for their educational futures. One parent said that transition planning “was discussed in IEP meetings, but [the school] really didn’t have or provide direction,” echoing the experiences of other students with ASD who experienced low expectations from teachers and administrators. In spite of such structural barriers to transitioning into postsecondary education, parents advocate and coach their students through the transition (Peña & Kocur, 2013), as confirmed in this study.

Exercising Cultural Capital

Parents exercised cultural capital to assist their students with ASD to navigate transitioning into higher education. Cultural capital is known as accumulated cultural knowledge that brings about social mobility, status, and power (Bourdieu, 1986). Individuals who come from privileged identities and experiences tend to accumulate cultural capital to navigate complicated processes, structures, and systems like the transition into and persistence in higher education. The overwhelming majority of the parents in the study employed cultural knowledge and tools to guide students with ASD in three ways. They used their cultural capital to research postsecondary options, navigate policies for transition and admission, and advocate for access to resources to support their college success and retention. One proactive parent explained:

You’ve got to get online. You’ve got to look at books. I think you have to connect with a
professional who has the clinical experience to be able to evaluate if your kid can make it
academically. And then I think it’s a matter of going [to the campus] and researching.

Another parent explained that she “had always talked about [college] because I went to college.” She demanded transition planning from her son’s high school and took her son to her college campus to familiarize him with college life. Other parents guided students in selecting academic majors and degrees—from a “math major and a screenwriting minor” to an associate degree in veterinary technology—in order to maximize their future career opportunities and mobility.

Employing Social Capital

Social capital involves the development of networks and relationships to others in order to gain access to important resources for social mobility (Bourdieu, 1986). Social networks tend to benefit people in privileged positions by enabling them to maintain their power through acquiring critical resources and opportunities. Parents in the study generated and tapped into extensive social networks within and outside of the schools and colleges in which the students attended. Parents generated social capital through relationships with educational advocates, psychologists, and educators to access opportunities, information, and resources to prepare students with ASD for access and transition into postsecondary education. Parents then advocated fiercely to make sure students received appropriate supports as they transitioned into college. This involved generating relationships with key institutional agents at the students’ colleges—from disability coordinators to academic advisors. While parents encouraged the students to develop these relationships, the parents themselves often stepped in. One parent told her son to “just go to [the disability services] office,” but she worried that her son was not yet equipped to exercise his self-advocacy skills. The next day, the parent took it upon herself to email the disability services coordinator to request assistance for her son. By tapping into this institutional agent, the student gained access to accommodations through the disability services office that were critical to college persistence.


The findings of this study document the ways in which parents of privileged social identities—mostly White, college educated, and upper-middle class—mobilized to navigate and support their children with ASD through the transition process. By cultivating and employing high aspirations, cultural capital, and social capital, parents were advantageously equipped with knowledge, social networks, and the ability to tap into resources necessary for preparing students with ASD for college.

The results of the study suggest a number of implications for preparing, recruiting, and enrolling college students with ASD. The activities and practices in which families of privileged backgrounds engaged to mobilize their children’s access and transition into college can be instructive to other families who desire similar outcomes for their children. First, parents should develop high aspirations for their children to achieve a higher education. While students with disabilities typically experience additional educational challenges compared to students without disabilities, they have great potential to access postsecondary settings when high expectations and appropriate supports are in place (Cawthon, Garberoglio, Caemmerer, Bond, & Wendel, 2015). Second, families can make efforts to develop cultural and social capital to access resources important to transitioning to college. Toward this end, families can cultivate relationships with individuals who have college knowledge, visit and read about institutions of higher education, and participate in programs or services that provide access to transition resources.

Prior research has identified inequitable access to postsecondary education across race/ethnicity and parental education backgrounds for students with ASD (Roux et al., 2015). High schools and colleges must reconsider the ways in which they reach out to students with ASD and their parents, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, to prepare them for the transition to college. Educators must involve parents and their students with ASD from marginalized backgrounds to develop college aspirations, advocacy skills, and social networks that will enable students to access and succeed in postsecondary environments. Federally-funded TRiO programs, for example, support first-generation, low-income students, and, in certain programs, students with disabilities specifically. High schools and postsecondary institutions can work with structured programs like these to reach historically underrepresented students with ASD earlier in the education pipeline. The findings of this study add another layer to our understanding of working with the broad backgrounds of students with ASD and provide contextual information about the experiences that lead to increased access and transition for these students.


Two obvious limitations to our findings center on the study’s sample of participants. First, the participants lacked diversity in terms of race/ethnicity, educational background, and family income status. Thus, the participants are not necessarily representative of families in the United States who successfully support their children with ASD to transition to college, though these kinds of national statistics are not yet available. Second, we did not interview college students with ASD themselves. Without their voices, an incomplete body of knowledge about college opportunity, access, and choice is constructed. Adding the voices of students with ASD to future research will enrich our conceptions about transition experiences to college. In addition, future studies should consider studying experiences of students with ASD from an intersectionality framework. Intersectionality provides an appropriate lens from which to examine the ways multiple social identities—race/ethnicity, first-generation status, socioeconomic status—intersect along a continuum of (dis)advantage and (dis)empowerment for people with disabilities of all backgrounds (Peña, Stapleton, & Shaffer, 2016). Lastly, future studies should also include an exploration of institutional practices and cultures in supporting students with ASD to transition to college. Identifying patterns of systemic behaviors and policies will uncover enabling and disabling structures for the growing number of students with ASD entering our colleges and universities.

Discussion Questions

  1. Describe ways in which postsecondary institutions, particularly programs focused on outreach and recruitment of students, can reach out to historically underserved students with ASD and other disabilities.
  2. In what ways can institutions of higher education work with the K-12 system to develop college aspirations, advocacy skills, and social networks among students with ASD to enable them to access and succeed in postsecondary environments?


Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. G. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory research for the sociology of education (pp. 241-258). New York, NY: Greenwood Press.

Cawthon, S. W., Garberoglio, C. L., Caemmerer, J. M., Bond, M., & Wendel, E. (2015). Effect of parent involvement and parent expectations on postsecondary outcomes for individuals who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing. Exceptionality, 23(2), 73-99.

Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) (2011). College students with “hidden” disabilities: The freshman survey fall 2010. Retrieved from

MacLeod, A., Lewis, A. & Robertson, C. (2013). “Why should I be like bloody Rain Man?!” Navigating the autistic identity. British Journal of Special Education, 40(1), 41-49.

Merriam, S. B., & Tisdell, E. J. (2014). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Newman, L., Wagner, M., Cameto, R., & Knokey, A. M. (2009). The post-high school outcomes of youth with disabilities up to 4 years after high school. A report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS-2), Prepared for the U.S. Department of Education (NCSER2009-3017). Retrieved from

Patton, M. Q. (2014). Qualitative research & evaluation methods integrating theory and practice (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Peña, E. V., &  Kocur, J. (2013). Parenting experiences in supporting the transition of students with autism spectrum disorders into community college. Journal of Applied Research in Community Colleges, 20(2), 5-12.

Peña, E. V., Stapleton, L. D., Schaffer, L. M. (2016). Diverse and critical perspectives on disability identity. In E. S. Abes (Ed.), Critical Perspectives on Student Development Theory (pp. 85-96). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Raue, K., & Lewis, L. (2011). Students with disabilities at degree-granting postsecondary institutions.(NCES 2011-018). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Roux, A. M., Shattuck, P. T., Rast, J. E., Rava, J. A., and Anderson, K. A. (2015). National autism Indicators report: Transition into young adulthood. Philadelphia, PA: Drexel University.

U.S. Census Bureau (2013). Median income in the past 12 months (in 2013 inflation-adjusted dollars) by veteran status by sex for the civilian population 18 years and over with income. Retrieved from

About the Authors

Edlyn Peña is an associate professor and director of Doctoral Studies in Higher Education Leadership at California Lutheran University.  She is an award-winning researcher who studies social justice issues for students with disabilities, particularly autism, in the preschool through higher education pipeline. As the Co-Director of the Autism and Communication Center and member of the federal Intergency Autism Coordinating Committee, Peña is best known for her service to the autism community at the state and national level.

Jodie Kocur is an associate professor in the psychology department at California Lutheran University.  Dr. Kocur’s research interests include the transition to postsecondary education for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and the developmental origins of the experience and expression of anger in intimate relationships.  

Please e-mail inquiries to Edlyn Peña.


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.

Mattering, Healing, and Sharing in the Process:  Working through the Trauma of Losing Black Lives (Part II)


Mattering, Healing, and Sharing in the Process:  Working through the Trauma of Losing Black Lives (Part II)

Mahauganee D. Shaw
Shamika N.  Karikari
Miami University of Ohio

In the last edition of Developments, the first part of this two-part article appeared, sharing our personal experiences working through visceral reactions to news of Black lives lost at the hands of police officers.  We focused in on the deaths of Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, MO and Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati, OH. These particular deaths are connected to our respective hometowns and thus provoked deep emotional responses from us. Oddly, it was the experience of feeling the impacts of these deaths on a deeper level that connected us to one another on the journey toward healing. In this second installment, we focus in on the lessons learned from our experiences of journeying from feelings of hurt, sadness, unease, and anger toward engaging in connection, processing, and healing. We encourage readers to read the first part of this article, but also believe that you can gain useful insight from beginning here, with part two.

The Importance of Reflection and Processing

Both of our stories shared in part one highlight the need to reflect on current events and process the impact of those events on one’s life. The importance of taking time to individually and collectively reflect cannot be overlooked. Reflection should not be only seen as an exercise that sounds helpful but one that also provides an opportunity to be honest with yourself, sort out your thoughts and feelings, process with others, and allow some of the “stuff” to be put down (even if only briefly). Taking time to pause and sit with one’s feelings can be difficult. It is much easier to stay busy and active. However, if we do not take the proper time to stop and deal with our feelings in a productive and healing way, those emotions will eventually come tumbling out in a less healthy and more unproductive manner. Acknowledging emotions does not have to be a drawn out process taking several hours. Below are some strategies to consider as productive approaches to personal reflection and processing with peers:

  • Google document: Mika keeps a google document that is an ongoing journal of her thoughts and feelings. Some entries are just a few sentences, while others are pages long. This allows her to jot down thoughts when she has them but not feel the pressure to spend lots of time writing and expressing feelings if she is physically, mentally or emotionally exhausted.  

  • Take 5: Whether you close your office door or leave your office, take five minutes to yourself. Mika may shut her office door for five minutes to breathe and sit in silence, while Mahauganee will shut her office door to either listen to inspirational music or have a small dance party. We both will sometimes leave to walk outside to get fresh air, reflect, and refresh. Those 5 minutes allow us to come back and give in the ways needed.

  • Find your people: Each of us has a few people we trust and can always go to. Reach out to them.  Allow folks to walk with you and process together. It can be helpful for both parties. Additionally, consider reaching out to new folks who might be feeling similarly and could be helpful. It could feel risky initially, but we have found strength and community results from vulnerability.  

For each person, what will work best and what is needed will be different; however, finding out what that is and then acting on it is imperative for well-being. Taking an active role in personal healing may inspire others to do the same.  

Interactions with Colleagues

Time does not have to be a barrier to processing what is happening around us. Rather than creating new spaces, use existing environments to process and promote healing. Meetings are an easy place for that to occur. Instead of adding extra meetings to your schedule, professionals can utilize recurring meetings to promote healing. Below are some examples of what this could look like:

  • Beginning meetings by asking “How are you really doing?”: This might be the only time someone has asked a colleague or student that question and really took the time to listen. You could have people first write their thoughts down and then open it up for anyone who want to share. You could follow it up by asking “How do you need or want support?” or “How are you taking care of yourself?”

  • Weekly Student and/or Staff Meetings: Spend the first 15-30 minutes discussing what is happening on campus and in the world. We might not always know what events are impacting the people around us, but providing a space where people can speak up and share is helpful. Sharing can be freeing, and it allows us to validate the experiences and emotions of our colleagues, thus demonstrating care and concern.

  • 1:1 meetings: Consider using some of your 1:1 meeting time to check in on one another. For this technique to be fully productive, trust must be built; however, if the supervisor continues to ask and show care, trust can be cultivated. As well, the supervisee should feel empowered to request time during those 1:1 meetings to be used to process.  

  • Lunch: Whether one eats lunch with colleagues or alone, this time can be used to be in community.  Consider inviting a colleague to walk around campus together or eat together rather than alone.  

  • Sharing your feelings authentically: Our colleagues and students are always taking cues from us.  Although this is not without risk, when we are vulnerable, we invite those around us to do the same.  That might look like being the first to share how you are doing or reaching out to a colleague to let them know you are struggling (like Mika’s original email reaching out to Mahauganee). When we share authentically, we are healing ourselves and perhaps inviting those around us to do the same.  

Whatever the case, using a time you have already to take care of yourself is important for your healing.  Connecting with colleagues is easier than sometimes imagined, and we have found that most people are willing to connect if we just ask. Mika discovered this when she was struggling with her feelings regarding DuBose being killed:

It was so close to home that I could not shake my feelings.  I reached out to one of my colleagues who did just what I needed; listened. She listened to what I had to say, validated my feelings, and affirmed me for reaching out. It was just what I needed. I did not need to be told how to feel or what to do; instead, I needed to be heard. Reaching out to a colleague can be helpful.  

Working with Graduate Students

Within Student Affairs, many of our colleagues are graduate students. As campus professionals we may be assigned as supervisors, instructors, or advisors to graduate students who are enrolled in higher education/student affairs professional preparation programs. Working with these students is arguably the most important part of our positions, as we help students to prepare for full-time employment in the field. One of the largest mistakes we can make is to not provide space and opportunity for graduate students to process events happening in the world outside of our campus.  Although this article is focused specifically on incidents surrounding the loss of Black lives and the criminal justice system, there are other incidents that also warrant processing. Some examples from the recent past include: White supremacist rallies in Charlottesville and other cities, student activism at the University of Missouri and other campuses, the ongoing Flint water crisis, active shooter incidents at multiple institutions and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the flurry of targeted executive orders in the Trump administration’s first 100 days, terrorist attacks in various countries, and the Boston Marathon bombing.  

There does not need to be a constant focus on current events in one’s interactions with graduate students, but there should be acknowledgement of impactful events in our relationships with students.  The suggestions in the previous section can be adapted to supervisory relationships with graduate students. In the same way that space can be provided at the beginning of a class meeting or a 1:1 supervisory meeting, similar space can be provided in advising sessions with students. Whether one meets individually with advisees or hold group advising sessions, there should always be time to check on students’ well-being. This check-in may lead to processing current events. If one is uncomfortable with processing, an alternative is to direct the conversation toward understanding how an event may impact a student’s ability to focus on their work. This understanding is helpful in better directing the student toward other people or resources that may be more helpful than discussing their feelings with their advisor.  

While advising and supervisory meetings may provide one-on-one space to discuss current events, the classroom provides a group processing space. Given that courses usually begin with a plan for how time will be spent throughout the semester, it is easy to approach course structures as rigid and unchanging.  However, minor adjustments to weekly course meetings can provide the space needed to process impactful events. Because graduate-level courses usually have longer meeting times, there are more options in terms of how to adjust in-class time to incorporate current events:

  • Intersperse current events into discussion of pre-planned course topics: For example, the incidents surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown, Jr. and Sam DuBose can be used as pedagogical material in course meetings that focus on several different topics: counseling, institutional governance, leadership, diversity, race, equity, emergency management, campus environments, or ethics. Many courses in student affairs professional preparation programs incorporate such topics. Using a current event to digest a pre-planned topic can advance students toward learning outcomes by helping to make deeper connections to the material.  

  • Include time at the beginning of a course meeting to acknowledge current events: Depending on how much time can be set aside for the conversation, this time may also be used as space for processing people’s thoughts and experiences around those events.

  • Devote a complete class session to the topic: Sometimes, there are events that are so impactful that there may be a need or desire to redirect an entire course session to focus on the event.

An event on our campus in 2015 provides an example of how to incorporate current events. There was a tragic student death that occurred in the local community (Aughagen, 2015); the available details around the death left many with questions regarding campus safety, domestic violence, and emergency counseling services. Upon learning of the student’s death, on a Sunday afternoon, Mahauganee decided to act on that information:

I immediately reached out via email to my graduate student advisees who I was able to identify as living in the area of town where the deceased student also lived. My message noted that I was aware of the incident, wanted to check on their safety, and wanted to know if they were in need of additional support. In my class that week, at the request of students, I provided time at the beginning of class to process the incident and the resulting details that had emerged since the initial reports. I began with a general processing question and allowed the conversation to develop from there. We left that conversation with action items and plans to check-in with various campus offices and administrators to compile a list of the resources in place to assist people within the campus community. Finally, I alerted the other faculty in my program to the conversation in my course. Some chose to provide similar space in their courses, but notifying the students ahead of time that the conversation would occur at the beginning of class. I did have an advisee who excused themself from the conversation in a course; instead, this student spent time in my office processing their thoughts and rejoined their class for the remainder of the course meeting.

What you decide to do in providing space for students to process will likely vary based on your own comfort level with the topics at hand. However, acknowledging that students may be impacted by recent events is essential.

Why Does this Matter?

We are living and working in a time where tragic incidents are commonplace. Self-reflection, care, and healing are important and necessary actions for those of us in helping professions. We cannot fulfill our responsibilities as student affairs educators if we are not working to be healthy and whole. This article is a result of our shared journey toward mattering and healing. This journey has led us to embrace and apply three familiar lessons: trauma is real, healing is necessary, and individual stories matter.

Trauma is Real

News events carry the power to traumatize. We see this time and again. When residents of New Orleans, Louisiana were forced to evacuate their homes and city for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, several recalled the 1965 evacuation from Hurricane Betsy and the resultant destruction. When nine Black parishioners lost their lives inside of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015, people who regularly gather in houses of worship were alarmed for their own safety, and many who were following the media trail of Black lives unnecessarily lost in 2014, 2015, and 2016 were left weary and burdened with sadness. In this same manner, the July 2015 events surrounding the death of Sam DuBose awakened memories for Cincinnati residents, like Mika, of the disarray and trauma that followed a similar incident in 2001.  

The reactions described in the preceding paragraph, as well as our personal narratives described in part one, are reflective of people who have experienced trauma. In particular, Mahauganee’s experience of drawing inward may trigger mental health concerns for some readers and Mika’s style of recalling (e.g., “I remember…I remember…I remember….”) her reactions to small incidents following Sam DuBose’s death is reminiscent of how people often retell traumatic experiences. Even the exercise of writing this article together had the risk of resulting in a re-traumatization based on racialized experiences (Lowe, Okubo, & Reilly, 2012). While Mahauganee was able to recognize her emotional downward spiral in retelling her experience, she did not recognize it when it originally began. On the other hand, Mika recognized her ability to spiral and reached out for support. It is important for each of us to have the ability to recognize when we are in a traumatic experience, and to identify methods or strategies to heal from that experience. The first step is acknowledging that trauma is real. The information we consume on a consistent basis, whether through the news, social media, or our acquaintances, has the power to traumatize us. Being aware of the power that information consumption holds empowers us to more diligently monitor where, when, and how we consume.

Healing is Necessary

Healing is a process; we hope this is evident in our stories. We cannot ignore the importance of taking the time to heal. Healing is important to do individually and collectively. As individuals, we have found healing to be a necessary and hard process. It does not happen overnight and requires intentionality. For us, individual healing has looked like journaling, meditation, prayer, taking moments to go outside, and being alone, to name a few. Each of these actions has provided us the space and means to go through the healing process.

Healing can also occur collectively. In attempting to heal, we have sought others to come alongside us and relied on community. One of the most powerful ways this has occurred for us was through the Mobilizing Anger Collective (MAC), a group whose members strive to create space and community in which to process instances of injustice, organize actions that make literal and symbolic statements about their shared commitment to social justice, and to galvanize their collective power. Three faculty members (Mahauganee being one of them) organized this group. The first time MAC came together was in December 2014. The faculty members provided a space where the campus community (staff, students and faculty) could come together and start to heal (Quaye, Shaw, & Hill, in press). The two-hour event was filled with honest dialogue, authentic feelings, and vulnerable reflections on how people were really doing. The space was powerful; the energy and sense of community left people wanting more opportunities to connect. MAC continued to meet after this first event and continues to provide a space for people to heal collectively.  

Your Story Matters

We began this journey of writing as a way to help ourselves process our experiences working through racialized incidents that triggered in each of us a flurry of emotions. The journey only began, however, because Mika sent an email when she was at the height of emotional turmoil, seeking someone with whom her experience would resonate. We have shared our stories as authentically and vulnerably as possible, hoping that they will help someone else to gain the courage to share their own.  

Whether one plans to heal individually or collectively, taking the time and space to heal is essential and powerful. When others see us engaging topics that are happening around us, they can feel empowered to do the same. We are all human. In this series of articles, we have allowed our humanity to show, and we invite you to reciprocate.  

Discussion Questions

We want this manuscript to be the impetus for conversation.  Below, are reflection questions that may assist readers in moving forward with beginning conversations with others.

  1. How can you recognize when the information you are consuming is likely to lead to trauma, and what strategies do/could you employ to assist in your healing?
  2. What ways has your institution assisted you or others in the healing process, and what are some ways your institution or your colleagues can do better?
  3. How can you advocate, within your current sphere of influence, for space and time for healing?

As you reflect on these questions, and other topics raised in this article, we invite you to engage in conversation with us in the twitter-sphere. If you are willing, please share your thoughts, responses, and comments with us using the hashtag #BLMhealing. Our personal healing processes were aided by sharing it with one another. We hope the opportunity for a larger conversation can help you to reflect, share, heal, connect, and ultimately claim that your experience matters.


Lowe, S. M., Okubo, Y., & Reilly, M. F. (2012). A qualitative inquiry into racism, trauma, and coping: Implications for supporting victims of racism. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 43(3), 190-198.

Quaye, S. J., Shaw, M. D., & Hill, D. C. (in press). Blending scholar and activist identities: Establishing the need for scholar activism. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. Advance online publication:

About the Authors

Mahauganee D. Shaw is an independent scholar whose research focuses on moments of crisis and tragedy that impact campus communities, how institutions respond to such incidents, and the process of recovery and healing that follows.

Shamika N. Karikari is a doctoral student in the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Miami University of Ohio. Shamika’s developing research agenda is focused on the experiences of Black women in student affairs leadership roles.

Please e-mail inquiries to Mahauganee D. Shaw or Shamika N. Karikari.


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.

Student Affairs Practices in the Arabian Gulf: the Good, the Bad and the Foreign

Student Affairs Practices in the Arabian Gulf: the Good, the Bad and the Foreign

Tadd Kruse
Abdulwahab Al-Khaldi
American University of Kuwait

Evan Witt
University of Auckland – City Campus


American higher education has quickly become one of our country’s greatest imports/exports with the Institute for International Education (IIE) estimating that international students in the United States generate over $20 billion annually (Chow & Bhandari, 2011). While this is a staggering number, this does not take into consideration colleges and universities around the world that use the American model of education or United States institutions that operate international branch campuses. We represent these types of institutions.

So why should we as administrators and practitioners be concerned with this? Our students, whether they are international students studying in the United States or students studying at a university internationally, represent a diversity of nations, cultures, values, and beliefs that do not necessarily align with the values and ideals of United States higher education. United States higher education is founded on democracy, individuality, and academic freedom. Yet, across the world, students study at institutions in countries that are autocratic, value collectivism, and limit freedom of speech.

As the model of American education is distributed around the world, student affairs has seen unparalleled growth in supporting the missions of these academic institutions. As we see the continued expansion of United States education into the global market we ask the question, “how can we adapt the student affairs model to fit a global context?”

To answer that question we will provide accounts from our work as practitioners and administrators in the Arabian Gulf region. These accounts cover new ideas being introduced, the challenges in implementation, the great work being done to support students, as well as new perspectives for working in the international context.  This contributes to the conversation of how to improve the work others and we are doing outside of the United States.  In the end we will make suggestions to encourage our fellow professionals as we all strive to support the success and development of our students regardless of the borders that define our realities.

Our Context

In the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, well over one hundred postsecondary institutions exist and vary greatly in models, size, purpose, and governance. This article’s context is related to institutions in the GCC and we use examples from our institutions to highlight issues.  

Education City in Doha, Qatar is an initiative of the Qatar Foundation dating back to the 1990s.  It is an effort to bring a collection of international branch campus institutions to Qatar and has recently added the newly emerging research institution, Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU).  Education City serves approximately 2,500 total enrolled students from 9 different institutions each offering a targeted degree program. For example, Texas A&M University in Qatar focuses on engineering degrees. Education City serves a mix of graduate and undergraduate students in addition to having a predominantly commuter student population.   

The American University of Kuwait (AUK), established in 2003, is a private liberal arts institution of higher education based on an American model.  Located in Salmiya, Kuwait, AUK has a population of approximately 2,500 students and is an urban commuter campus.  The institution provides English language instruction and undergraduate education through the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Business & Economics.

We must illustrate a greater context under which campuses in this region operate by further sharing with readers how each category is applied.  Even though our title states “the Good, the Bad, and the Foreign,” in order to provide greater perspective we will address these in reverse order, highlighting the Foreign (not right or wrong, but different), the Bad (challenges), and the Good (successes).     

The Foreign

Within the United States, the field of student affairs has been evolving over the years with landmark publications, including the 1937 Student Personnel Point of View (American Council on Education, 1937), the 1996 Learning Imperative (Calhoun, 1996), and the 2004 first version of Learning Reconsidered (Keeling, 2004). In the international context this process of professionalizing the field of student affairs is just starting but has seen significant highlights with documents such as the 2002 UNESCO report on the Role of Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education and organizations such as the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS). Recognition and value for the field of student affairs is a daily struggle in our context of the GCC (UNESCO, 2002).

Education within the Gulf is viewed more as a transactional process. This is reflected in many public K-12 systems that focus more on rote memorization than critical thinking and the processing of information. When students arrive at a foreign model institution in the Gulf it is not only a new style of learning, but the idea of learning outside the classroom is also a new concept. The overall understanding and value of student affairs for many of these students and their families does not exist, resulting in professionals educating others and advocating for its importance. The lack of awareness of student affairs in the general population is to an extent that people are not aware that positions aside from faculty posts exist in higher education institutions.

There are two levels to how this impacts our work here; the student level and the staff level. For students, they may have little interest in student affairs because, “what’s in it for me?” We spend a lot of time trying to demonstrate the importance of holistic education and skills that can be developed through involvement. Because of the academic focus of the culture and prior public education, most students see the college experience as strictly earning the degree, nothing more.

From the staff side, the values and purpose of student affairs is also a new concept. Many professionals in the GCC do not have a formal background in student affairs or education, for that matter. In order to better serve students, many staff members engage in regular training to develop skills such as advising and counseling as they familiarize themselves with the field of higher education. It takes time for professionals to both learn the job and act as a practitioner but it is a long-term investment in making a sustainable profession.

The role of religion and family are at the very core of society in the GCC.   As a result families of many students often do not see the value in experiential learning.  State laws and governance in Gulf nations is largely influenced by religious doctrine. This in turn encompasses rules and regulations pertaining to the establishment and operation of state and private universities.  Subsequently, student affairs practices must adhere to a strict social etiquette based on religion and cultural norms.  The importance of family and image is paramount.  Most campuses have a high proportion of commuter students. All students at AUK and more than half at HBKU are expected to reside at home and may have limited access to campus after classes.  The collectivist culture also makes it difficult for programs such as personal counseling to make a successful impact on students, as there is still a stigma behind seeking guidance/psychological help in the region. Unfortunately, this leads most help-seekers to prioritize reputation and image over counseling.

The Bad

When we say the bad, what we really mean is challenges. As we stated earlier, we are writing to offer our experiences in implementing a student affairs model in a non-United States context. One of the biggest challenges in the GCC is understanding the experiences of our students. Student development theory is a pillar in the field of student affairs, yet we know that it comes with limitations. With incredibly diverse student bodies it becomes difficult to generalize these theories to our students. There is little to no research about the development of Gulf students. The backgrounds, experiences, and outcomes for these students are fundamentally different than those students from whom most developmental theories were developed and based.

For example, Baxter Magolda’s (1999) theory of self-authorship, based on a North American student population, posits that students will go through four stages in their process of developing the capacity to define their own beliefs and identities. These stages are non-linear and begin with following formulas, crossroads, becoming the author of one’s life, and an internal foundation. During the crossroads phase, students will struggle with questions such as “how do I know” and “who am I?” They will often look for external approval as they move towards becoming the authors of their own lives with a strong internal concept (Baxter Magolda, 1999).

In Education City, advising students attending an international service-learning opportunity often elicits questions that include, “Can my family member travel with me?” or “Will I be able to call my family every day?” While the self-authorship model might suggest supporting students through a crossroads as they seek support and approval, it is less of a developmental challenge and more of a life reality that needs to be addressed. Family is at the center of the lives of many students in the Gulf and without their support they are not able to participate in many campus based programs As a new professional in the Gulf one might attempt to support students along a developmental continuum towards more independence and decision making. It would take some time before realizing that the desired outcome was not independence but an ability to gather family support through demonstrating the benefits of involvement.

Another challenge in the planning, execution, and participation in student affairs programs in the GCC is government intervention. Gender segregation is a key social and legal issue in the GCC and impacts our work in student affairs. Some GCC institutions provide separate campuses for male and female students or have designated single gender sections of campus. Under Kuwaiti laws, universities must operate their buildings to ensure gender segregation in all departments and student activities. Due to space limitations, AUK does not offer separate gender campuses but assigns specific usage to communal spaces by allocation of space or time. The common area called “The Hangout,” which contains lounge areas, game consoles, table tennis, and billiards, is arranged to be available on alternating days for male and female students. The Office of Student Life oversees this area and due to the alternating days it limits the interaction the office is able to have with students. Gender becomes a focal point of many programming efforts as the office looks for creative ways to serve both student bodies equally.

The Good

When it comes to the internationalization of higher education, there is incredible work being done all over the world. There are many aspects where United States higher education serves as an example of good practice, and others where the United States stands to learn a lot from our overseas colleagues. Here in the Gulf institutions provide many of the same services as United States counterparts, however these are provided as influenced by the campus infrastructure, and the local/campus cultures.  For instance, some government requirements are designed to provide balance and protect national interests, yet in others infrastructures and systems are not fully developed within expanding higher education systems.  

Regardless of the challenges, excellent services and programs are being provided by professionals in the region amongst the gaps in theory, infrastructure, and resources.  Kuwait, with approximately ten operational institutions and more under development, sees institutions built on models from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia. Each institution provides varying but similar services related to advising, counseling, and sports, each within the local context. For instance in Kuwait and in Qatar, advising must take into consideration government requirements placed upon students on government scholarships; counseling is conducted in settings with limited external resources off-campus and lacking more developed laws like FERPA; and sports program competitions and guidelines exist without a national governing body providing oversight

In planning programs we make cultural considerations that capture our local context, the backgrounds of our students, and general diversity. Our goal is to respect all and create spaces in which students feel comfortable to participate and actively engage. We constantly discuss how we can recognize native Arabic speakers in an English medium academic environment. We have conversations about the benefits of single gender programs while in a co-gender education environment. Finally, we plan schedules that work around prayer times, family commitments, and student lifestyles.  There is deep complexity in this kind of environment. At its best, students have an incredibly rich learning experience from the diversity of backgrounds and varied services. At its worst, students feel marginalized and disengage. It is an ongoing challenge for professionals, both in the GCC and further abroad, to create an inclusive campus environment.

In the United States we see diversity growing in our student bodies.  In the international context many campuses already contain incredibly diverse student populations. Education City has over 60 nationalities on campus, and the American University of Kuwait’s student body represent over 45 nationalities, with faculty/staff further expanding these figures.  Within campus communities such as these, diversity goes well beyond race and ethnicity. This diversity provides an incredible learning opportunity as we seek to develop global citizens. During the average day for one of our students they may eat breakfast with friends from Egypt and Syria while speaking in Arabic. They then go to a class, taught in English, with a professor from Britain. Later, when they go to their on-campus job they check in with their Qatari/Kuwaiti supervisor before assisting students from six different countries and multiple university programs.  This serves as a small example of the global exchange that students develop on campuses such as ours in Qatar and Kuwait. Is this the only place in the world like this? Not necessarily, but it is an example of an environment that is rare in the United States, yet commonplace here in the GCC.

New Approaches within the American Model

In our experience we too often see administrators from the United States believing that our model of education is “right” and that international students or professionals need to accept and conform to a United States system. What we believe is that for the American education system to be adapted properly we must be willing to deconstruct it, incorporate local cultures and values, and reconstruct it as a strong more impactful model that resonates with students.

In the examples provided we have shown how theory, governmental interventions, and academic cultures may not align with United States student affairs practice, but that successful services are making a positive impact. For practitioners working internationally, we challenge you to throw away general stereotypes about students, and embrace the surrounding diversity of the global community as you develop operational theories to guide your work. For practitioners in the United States, be patient with your students, international and domestic, as they navigate an often-foreign set of educational and cultural values.  The internationalization of higher education presents an exciting and challenging period that is here to stay.  We encourage you to reflect, review, reach out and engage in the ongoing conversation on student affairs within your own campus climate as many of us do; but also to dialogue within an international context.

Reflection Questions

  1. What are some major governmental guidelines or cultural factors that impact how you provide services to students on campus?   
  2.  What parallels can you draw from your campus environment to the issues faced by administrators on campuses in the Arabian Gulf States (i.e. diversity, impact of family, student engagement, etc.)?
  3.  How do you adapt traditional student affairs theory to practice within the context of your work?
  4. How aware are the students and their families of the services provided to support students on your campus?  
  5. In what ways do you embrace the diversity on your campus to effectively develop operational practices to guide your work?


American Council on Education. (1937). The student personnel point of view. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education.

Baxter Magolda, M. (1999). Creating contexts for learning and selfauthorship: Constructive development pedagogy. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

Calhoun, J. C. (1996). The student learning imperative: Implications for student affairs. Journal of College Student Development, 37(2), 188-122.

Chow, P., & Bhandari, L. (2011). Open doors: Report on international educational exchange. New York, NY: Institute of International Education.

Keeling, R. P. (Ed.). (2004). Learning reconsidered. Washington, D.C.: ACPA & NASPA.

UNESCO. (2002). The role of student affairs and services in higher education: A practical manual for developing, implementing and assessing student affairs programmes and services. Paris, France: UNESCO.

About the Authors

Tadd Kruse is Assistant to the President for Institutional Planning and Effectiveness at the American University of Kuwait (AUK). He has spent almost fifteen years working abroad at institutions in the United Kingdom and Middle East, including international student housing, study abroad, exchange programs, and he co-founded and still oversees the Student Affairs Graduate Summer Internship Program at AUK.  Tadd has served as a Senior Student Affairs Officer, founded a department at a start-up institution, and worked in a variety of professional fields within Student Affairs and Services. He currently serves as a Leadership team member for the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS), and as a member of the Middle East, North Africa, & South Asia (MENASA) NASPA Advisory Board.

Please e-mail inquiries to Tadd Kruse.

Abdulwahab Al-Khaldi serves as the Office of Student Life Coordinator at the American University of Kuwait. He is a Kuwaiti national and has worked for over seven years in multiple higher education institutions in Kuwait.

Please e-mail inquiries to Abdulwahab Al-Khaldi.

Evan Witt is a Campus Life Project Coordinator with the University of Auckland-City Campus. Previously, he spent four years as the Assistant Director for Student Engagement at Hamad bin Khalifa University located in Doha, Qatar. His work focuses on student leadership development, student engagement, graduate student involvement, and service-learning. Evan completed his master’s degree in Higher Education Administration at the University of Maryland-College Park (MD) and his bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Leadership from James Madison University (VA).

Please e-mail inquiries to Evan Witt.

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.

Mattering, Healing, and Sharing in the Process: Working through the Trauma of Losing Black Lives (Part I)

Mattering, Healing, and Sharing in the Process: Working through the Trauma of Losing Black Lives (Part I)

Mahauganee D. Shaw
Shamika N. Karikari
Miami University of Ohio


Hi…so I’m reaching out because I’m exhausted and hopeless and so many other emotions. The death of Sam Dubose in Cincinnati has shook me in ways I didn’t anticipate. He got killed 10 minutes from my house. I remember the riots of 2001. When it happens in your home it becomes SO REAL. Like this isn’t just on the news, this is down the street from my home. Did you feel similar things about Ferguson? Do you understand? I’m reaching out just to share my thoughts as I feel most people around me just don’t get it….I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I don’t need or expect a response, just wanted to share. Thank you.


It was nearly midnight when I received Mika’s email. When I read an email at that time of night, I often won’t reply until the next day. Her email, however, brought a flood of memories and compelled me to respond.

Hi Mika,

I totally get it. Michael Brown’s death, watching my community be portrayed improperly in the media, and listening to my family and friends who were on the ground last fall really took me to low places. Last August through November it was hard for me to focus on anything work related when my mind and my heart were in Missouri. So, I know it’s not the exact same thing, but I do get it.

My motivation for co-planning the town hall last fall came from my need to do something productive with the energy I was placing into following the news surrounding Ferguson. The working group format was my seedling of an idea because I was exhausted from discussing the case over and over and didn’t want to sit and talk about it and leave continuing to feel hopeless. I’m not sure what will be helpful to you in this moment, and it’s likely that you’re also unsure of that. But please know that I’m here and willing to be an ear, a shoulder, or an accomplice. My suggestion is to take the time you need to be in community with others who are from Cincinnati and understand the significance of this moment, allow yourself to feel, forgive yourself for whatever guilt that may accompany those feelings, and then find an outlet for your energy. If there’s anything I can do to help you avoid the emotional pit I fell into last fall, please let me know. There’ll definitely be company in the pit, but it’s also very difficult to climb back out of it once you’re in there.

Big Hugs, Mahauganee

Soon after the indictment of former police officer Ray Tensing for the shooting death of Sam DuBose, we exchanged these emails. We found ourselves as colleagues who shared common personal experiences of working through hometown tragedies and wondered how to be supportive to each other and why it was so difficult to find that support within our professional lives. What we learned through our conversations is that the location of tragedy in our hometowns is what made the impact feel weightier than it would have otherwise.

In Mika’s words:

I reached out to Mahauganee via email because I didn’t know who else to turn to. I didn’t know who else would be able to relate to how I was feeling. It felt safe to reach out to Mahauganee because she had publicly talked about her connection to Ferguson and how it felt different because it was her “home”. What’s funny is that Mahauganee and I aren’t besties, and it was vulnerable to reach out but also so freeing to share my real emotions with someone who would get it. Through our email exchange and further conversations, I learned that shared experiences, even traumatic ones, can connect you in powerful ways. I’m grateful this was my experience with Mahauganee.

The purpose of this article is twofold.  One goal is to share our story of negotiating our personal emotions and reactions to national tragedies connected to both our homes and our experiences as Black women, while also drawing implications and recommendations for student affairs practice. A second goal is to transfer the time we spent processing our experiences into lessons for others to heal from the trauma of negotiating these recurring tragedies. We accomplish these goals in a two-part article. This, the first part, introduces the two tragedies that brought us together, and how we connected (to each other and others) through those experiences. The second part of this article, to appear in the next issue of Developments, contains suggestions on how our experiences navigating these tragedies connect to our work in student affairs and provides implications for other educators.

Tragedy and Its Impact

Our experiences with tragedies connected to our respective hometowns allowed us to see the impact of community tragedy on our professional practice as university employees, and the practice of other campus colleagues.  While it became clear through our process that many people around us—our colleagues, our students, our neighbors and community partners—were also hurt by these tragedies, the harm we experienced felt deeper and more severe.  This harm was connected to the notion of “home” and the additional layer it added to the way we internalized these tragedies.  Below, we introduce the two tragedies that were the impetus for our email exchange, describing first the large-scale impacts of each and next the individual impacts on us personally. Organized in this manner, this section highlights the trickle-down effects of tragedy.

Losing Mike Brown

August 9, 2014 was the day that Michael Brown, Jr., a Black teenage resident of Ferguson, Missouri, died immediately after sustaining at least six gunshot wounds inflicted by Darren Wilson, a local police officer.  Brown was unarmed.  He died in the middle of a local street, and his lifeless body lay in the street for at least four hours as a growing crowd of local residents gathered. During this time, his parents broke down from the news their child was no longer living, while social media reports and mobile picture uploads allowed people near and far to see the images of all that unfolded.

For several weeks thereafter, community activists in Ferguson gathered to protest and continually call for answers from the local government officials and law enforcement officers. Eventually, national news crews also gathered in Ferguson, giving audiences around the globe a front-row seat to view unfolding events: a growing crowd of protesters from across the United States, excessive use of force by law enforcement on those protestors, a slow trickle of facts and information regarding the incidents that led to Brown’s death, and a community in turmoil. While the local K-12 schools closest to Ferguson’s “ground zero” decided to delay the start of school, local postsecondary institutions in the process of gearing up for the fall semester were preparing for the potential impact of this community turmoil on their campuses and the students they serve.

Mahauganee’s Reflection. I was at a wedding when Michael Brown, Jr. died.  I was so excited for this particular wedding as I’d made the difficult choice to forego the wedding of my cousin at home in St. Louis to attend this one instead. During the wedding reception, I learned of Michael’s death. I was sitting at a table in a large ballroom, flanked by other wedding guests, when my phone began to light up with messages. It was the GroupMe chat group I keep with my high school friends. GroupMe is an app that allows multiple people to maintain an ongoing text message conversation in a private group.  This particular group includes four Black females who were born and reared in different areas of St. Louis, Missouri. Almost immediately, I was sucked into this hand-held conversation and swept away from the people partying around me. I spent the better part of the reception texting my friends, reading news stories online, posting my outrage to Facebook, stepping outside to take phone calls from other St. Louis natives who saw my Facebook post and had additional details not available via the Internet.  I only took brief breaks from my phone to participate in traditional wedding activities and to greet the newlyweds.

After that day, discussions with my friends and family revolved only around Ferguson, firmly rooting my mind in St. Louis, even while my body went through the motions of academic life in Oxford, OH.  I taught classes, attended meetings, and did my best to participate in professional life. But, I was most content at home, on my couch, with my TV tuned into whatever footage I could get of my hometown, and my phone ever-connected to other St. Louisans. I found myself on edge when I was outside of my home, tense any time someone mentioned Ferguson.  I was falling behind on tasks, because if I had to choose between spending my evening doing my usual work or spending it tuned in and connected to home, I always chose the latter. I became this fierce public defender of information related to Michael Brown’s death, the city of Ferguson, the city of St. Louis, and the state of affairs on the ground.  My body remained hundreds of miles away, while my mind, heart, and interest was at ground zero.

For a few months, I swung back and forth between the extremes of needing to feel close to home (and coping by gorging on every single detail of available information) and feeling overwhelmed with despair (coping by withdrawing as much as possible from taking in new information about the continuing unrest).  The worst part about the overwhelmed side of my spectrum was the amount of guilt I felt for disconnecting from the news coverage and people who kept me afloat when I was on the other side of the spectrum.  It felt selfish and shameful to take advantage of the freedom my physical distance allowed me to disconnect. How could I disconnect with peace of mind when my family and friends were living in the midst of a law enforcement-created battle zone without the option to simply turn off the television and continue business as usual?

There came a day when I became tired of feeling useless and ready to find an outlet for my angry, weary energy surrounding Ferguson.  Aware of the deafening silence I’d built around me with people in Ohio, I reached out via text message to a group of Black colleagues and acquaintances, asking them to sign a petition related to Michael Brown’s case. I remember holding my breath when I sent that message, unsure of how people would receive it, as I had not heard any conversation about Michael or Ferguson from the people closest to me in Ohio.  The supportive responses from within that group helped me to break my silence surrounding Ferguson with people at work, and to allow that conversation to spill over into my work life rather than being confined to the safety of my couch, my phone and other St. Louisans. Those responses opened me up to the possibility that I did not have to withdraw from social circles in my professional environment, and I could engage with co-workers around Ferguson and leave the conversation without feeling wounded.  

That one text message thread, and the experience of sharing my inner turmoil with people who, at least on some level, “got it” helped me to begin opening up in other social circles.  My perspectives on Ferguson, the value placed on Black lives, and the importance of Michael’s death was not always validated in those conversations, but I increasingly became better able to engage without needing to retreat into the safety of the St. Louis couch-phone bubble I’d constructed around myself.  It took me time to get to that place, but once I arrived, I was ready to channel my energy and knowledge of events surrounding Ferguson into actions that would help me feel useful.

Losing Sam DuBose

On July 19, 2015, Samuel DuBose, a Black son, father, brother, and friend to many, was shot and killed by University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing. The officer stopped Sam DuBose because he did not have a front license plate. DuBose sustained a single gunshot wound to the head that killed him immediately.  DuBose was unarmed.  The week following his death, peaceful demonstrations took place in Cincinnati, Ohio in support of indicting officer Tensing. On July 29, 2015, officer Tensing was indicted and his body camera film was released to the public. The video showed officer Tensing shooting DuBose in the head almost immediately after stopping him, and the story that officer Tensing shared about Sam DuBose being a threat did not add up.

Cincinnati is not new to police officers having hostile interactions with Black men.  In 2001, a Cincinnati police officer shot and killed an unarmed, 19-year-old Timothy Thomas in an alley. After this occurred, the city erupted.  Over 800 were arrested for protesting, vandalizing, and demonstrating their unrest with the police continually getting away with killing Black bodies. The police officer was not indicted in this case, inspiring citizens in Cincinnati to respond in protest and eventually leading to the city being placed on a curfew. Timothy Thomas’ death, and the subsequent turmoil in the city gained national attention (Moore, 2012). The memory of that tragedy impacted the sense of urgency after the death of DuBose.

Mika’s Reflection. Events that have a significant impact on me stay imprinted in my mind. Especially when they are somehow personally connected to me. This was no different when I heard of the death of Sam DuBose.  It was a Sunday, the day after I came back from vacation in Jamaica with my husband. I remember that day being a blur, being exhausted from getting home late the evening before. I remember feeling so tired but what I didn’t realize then was the emotional and mental fatigue I would continue to feel in the following days and weeks. Late that Sunday evening I was scrolling through Facebook and saw mention after mention after mention of a shooting in Cincinnati.  As I looked further into who was involved in the shooting I saw that a White police officer (Ray Tensing) killed Sam DuBose, an unarmed Black man. I remember calling my husband from the other room to tell him what occurred.  I was angry and sad.

I kept thinking, “AGAIN! Another Black man dying at the hands of the police. When will this end?”  I couldn’t help but to think back to 2001 when Timothy Thomas, another unarmed Black man, was killed by a white police officer in my beloved city of Cincinnati. I remembered the officer in that case not being indicted. I remembered our city being on a curfew.  I remembered the riots.  I remembered the heartache and pain. I remembered feeling like justice wasn’t served. I couldn’t help but wonder if history would repeat itself and I would have to watch my vivid memories happen all over again in real time.  For the sake of self-preservation, I had to disengage. I couldn’t be immersed in the news around Sam DuBose because the pain was too much. I remembered too vividly 2001.  

Ten days later on July 29, 2015, we were informed that Officer Tensing would be indicted and be put on trial for the murder of Sam DuBose. I remember sitting in my office when I watched the live broadcast.  I remember feeling nervous about what would happen. I remember making a deliberate choice not to watch the video of Sam DuBose being killed. I didn’t need the video. I already believed he was wrongfully killed. I always believed it because my memory from 2001 gave me no choice not to.  I was attached to my computer. I kept watching Twitter and Facebook to see how my city would respond. What would my colleagues say or do?  Did anyone care outside of Cincinnati?

I remember one of my friends texting me to come meet his girlfriend. I remember thinking, “he certainly hasn’t watched the news or been on social media today, why would he ask me that?”  This encounter only further reminded me that people aren’t experiencing this tragedy the way I am because the tragedy was happening in my hometown.  As well, it reminded me how disconnected I felt.  I stayed at work that night until 8pm or 9pm doing meaningless work; I had to. I didn’t have the energy to be around people or to give in ways I always do. I couldn’t. A friend invited me to A Night of Hope, a program at one of the local churches in Cincinnati.  I appreciated the offer but declined because I just couldn’t that night. I later watched the recording of the service from that evening and that was one of the ways I was able to begin moving forward and healing. Connecting to my faith and looking for ways to bring racial reconciliation to my beloved city with my brothers and sisters in Christ was the hope I held on to.

These memories stay imprinted on my heart and mind because they are connected to who I am and where I am from. Being a Black woman, I cannot help but feel deeply when another Black person is killed. I cannot let it go. The memory of when I found out about DuBose being killed will forever stay with me because it hit so close to home. When traumatic events happen, they just do not go away.  Even when I think I have healed from them, a memory surfaces reminding me that is not fully the case. This reminds me healing is a process. It happens over time and in stages. I have to allow myself to fully heal, regardless of how long it may take.

How Tragedy (Near or Far) Touches Campus

Home is a space that is extremely familiar. For us, it is where many of our most significant memories were created and continue to exist, where we know the people and the culture, and where we felt the safest and most comfortable throughout our formative years. When we lost Mike and Sam, our communities mourned on national prime time, and we mourned alongside them. It was difficult to watch the deaths of these Black men replay repeatedly on television, knowing that either of them could have easily been one of our relatives.  Given our connections to the communities in which these deaths happened, the safety of home slipped a little further away with these incidents.  We each had moments when it was difficult to focus in our professional lives because our personal lives, our home lives, were in turmoil.

The impact of these tragedies on our home communities and personal lives highlights a specific problem: institutional leaders do not typically make the same considerations, accommodations, and supportive space for employees as they make for students when tragedy occurs.  When tragedies occur, on or off campus, institutions have an opportunity to use these incidents as learning tools.  Inhabitants of institutions dedicated to education, holistic development, and preparing global citizens, should seize opportunities to react to and foster conversation around national news events. When the news involves tragedy, the opportunity is extended even further, to offer care and support to all within our communities who may be directly or indirectly impacted.

When institutional leaders neglect to publicly address tragedies, institutional constituents may interpret the silence as a devaluing of their personal experiences and concerns. The intended goal/outcome of not addressing an (inter)national tragedy may stem from a belief that institutional boundaries are impermeable to tragedy that occurs elsewhere, or from a desire to appear neutral on controversial topics and news events.  Unfortunately, members of the campus community who are impacted by that tragedy may receive this silence as a lack of care or understanding.

Since our email exchange that opened this article, and the start to this joint healing process, we have lost several additional Black lives and countless other tragedies have struck communities both in the United States and abroad. While our experiences are just two in a multitude of people who are impacted by these types of tragedies and the news coverage of them, we hope that our stories have provided some useful implications for practice. However, we realize that readers may be pondering: Why does this matter? How does this impact student learning and development?  What is the value in our stories, our struggles, our healing? Part two of this article will help to answer these questions by centering our personal experiences and offering recommendations focused largely on individual and networked support.

Discussion Questions

Our goals for this article are served if our experiences prompt conversation among others and help readers to consider the impact of community tragedy and tragedy in the news on their own lives and wellbeing. Below, are questions that may help spark reflection and dialogue.

  1. What do you believe is the role of a college and its administration as it relates to supporting employees in healing from tragedies?
  2. Are there news stories that resonate closely with you or have had a strong impact on you or a colleague or student? If so, how have you worked through the tough moments? If not, how might you prepare to work through those moments in the future?
  3. How can connecting with others be part of the healing process?

As you consider these questions, and other topics raised in part one of this article, we invite you to engage in conversation with us in the twitter-sphere. If you are willing, please share your thoughts, responses, and comments with us using the hashtag #BLMhealing. Our personal healing processes were aided by sharing it with one another. We hope the opportunity for a larger conversation can help you to reflect, share, connect, heal, and ultimately claim that your experience matters.


Moore, D. M. (2012). Mark Twain was right: The 2001 Cincinnati riots (2nd ed.). Portland, OR: Microcosm Publishing.

About the Authors

Mahauganee D. Shaw is a faculty member in the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Miami University of Ohio. Mahauganee’s research focuses on moments of crisis and tragedy that impact campus communities, how institutions respond to such incidents, and the process of recovery and healing that follows.

Shamika N. Karikari is a doctoral student in the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Miami University of Ohio. Shamika’s developing research agenda is focused on the experiences of Black women in student affairs leadership roles.


Please e-mail inquiries to Mahauganee D. Shaw or Shamika N. Karikari.


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.

Preparing New Professionals in Student Affairs: A Supervisory Model to Maximize Graduate Student Success


Preparing New Professionals in Student Affairs: A Supervisory Model to Maximize Graduate Student Success
Katelyn Romsa
Bryan Romsa
South Dakota State University

Effective preparation for graduate students pursuing work in the field of college student affairs most often includes both a formal classroom experience as well as a supervised practical experience, such as internships or graduate assistantships (Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, 2012). A formal classroom experience typically consists of specific learning outcomes, regular and structured class meetings, and educational experiences designed by the instructor. This experience is vital to graduate student growth and development but is insufficient in preparing them for the real-world experiences they will soon face. Although supervised experiences have historically been a required component of preparation programs’ curricula (McEwen & Talbot, 1977), strategically designed and executed supervised experiences are vital in preparing new professionals to thrive within the rapidly changing landscape of higher education.

With the constant pace and complexity of changes occurring at higher education institutions student affairs professionals will be required to manage more ambiguous contexts in environments demanding a greater degree of responsiveness (Levine & Dean, 2012; Selingo, 2013). Although the learning that occurs in a classroom is important, researchers have found that having a supervised internship experience in addition to classroom instruction is more effective for student learning and development (CAS, 2012). The effect of intentional design in internship, which includes purposeful actions, often leads to successful outcomes (Bruening, Peachey, Evanovich, Fuller, Murty, Percy, & Chung, 2015).

Given the fast change and complexity of higher education contexts, graduate students will need to develop increasingly complex thinking and intuitive problem solving skills during their practical experiences (graduate assistantships or internships), which will likely generalize to new situations that they may encounter during their first professional position (Reber, 1993; Sheckley & Keeton, 2001). Faculty and site supervisors can serve a critical role in helping graduate students achieve these necessary skills prior to graduation through the development of strategic assistantship/internship experiences.

As faculty members who have had experience teaching graduate students involved in an assistantship/internship experience, we want to provide insights to other faculty supervisors and site supervisors as to the manner and design of a strategic supervised assistantship/internship experience to maximize graduate student success. In this article we provide a supervisory model for supervisors to help them create and design effective supervised experiences to best prepare graduate students preparing to transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs. The intended audience of this article are faculty and site supervisors at all levels, both seasoned and novice, who are supervising graduate students preparing to transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs.

Why is Strategic Supervision Important?
In order for faculty and site supervisors to best prepare graduate students for work in the field of college student affairs, they will need to be strategic in their supervision approach. A relevant question to answer then is, “why is strategic supervision important”? Strategic supervision can be important because it provides supervisors with a road map of how to help their supervisees achieve specific learning outcomes and work responsibilities (Bruening et al., 2015).

Strategic planning was first introduced in the business world in the 1950s and has led to the success of many businesses, and many of its characteristics can be transferred to the field of college student affairs when supervising graduate students (Steiner, 2010). Strategic planning is a mindset or a way of life. It is having a macro level mindset of specific aims or goals as well as a micro level mindset of clearly defined strategies to achieve those goals. It provides both supervisors and graduate students an opportunity to decide goals in advance while simultaneously allowing room for flexibility of those goals (Steiner, 2010).

In our supervisory model, we have essentially created a strategic plan to help supervisors become more intentional in their supervision with graduate students. Our model consists of attitudes, strategies, and practical ideas that supervisors can implement to maximize graduate student success. Our supervisory model is inspired from the work of Janosik, Cooper, Saunders, and Hirt (2014) and consists of five components: (a) conducting a personal skills assessment, (b) setting realistic expectations, (c) developing a contract for the experience, (d) understanding the roles of each person, and (e) assisting graduate students in achieving life-school-work balance.

Conducting a personal skills assessment
A great place to start when beginning a supervised assistantship/internship experience with graduate students is with assessment. Conducting a thorough assessment of the skills graduate students bring to an internship site as well as the skills students need to improve upon is an excellent tool for developing goals and responsibilities for the experience. By completing an assessment, students create a profile of their (a) current skill level and (b) necessary skill level that must be developed prior to graduation. This will allow students to determine ways in which their internship can be a vehicle for them to meet the appropriate skill levels.

How do graduate students know what skills they should be striving to work towards during their internship to best prepare themselves for the field of college student affairs? ACPA and NASPA leaders of the student affairs profession have created a document of 10 competency areas such as advising and helping and assessment (ACPA & NASPA, 2010) that are essential to student affairs practice. A major purpose for the document is to inform the design of professional development opportunities for student affairs professionals by providing outcomes that can be incorporated into student affairs curriculum and training opportunities. In our classes with graduate students, we created a handout that lists these 10 competency areas where students rank their current skill set (on a scale from 0-5 with 5 being excellent and 0 having no skill). Although we only provided this handout to our graduate students in the classroom, we encourage supervisors to do something similar so that they can also be involved in the assessment of the graduate students they supervise.

We also created two qualitative assessment handouts for both faculty/site supervisors and supervisees titled “Interview Your Supervisee” and “Interview Your Supervisor.” Oftentimes when we want to obtain information, we feel stuck in what, when, and how to ask questions. Some of the questions listed on the “Interview Your Supervisee” handout include: tell me about your academic background; what are your professional aspirations?; and what are some skills that you possess that are an asset to this office and what skills do you wish to improve upon? We created the handout to help faculty/site supervisors to get to know their supervisees better as well as to help supervisees in developing a sense of curiosity and a habit of asking effective questions, which will also help them in the future while working in the field of college student affairs.

A major purpose of the “Interview Your Supervisor” handout was to help graduate students obtain information that could be helpful in developing goals. Some of the questions listed on the “Interview Your Supervisor” handout include tell me about your career path, what are the responsibilities of your position, and what do you most enjoy about your current position. We encourage supervisors to also create qualitative assessments and to incorporate them into their supervision meetings with graduate students throughout the assistantship/internship experience.

After conducting a skills assessment with graduate students, we encourage graduate students to then develop their goals for the assistantship/internship experience. Scholars have affirmed the importance of writing down goals in order for them to become a reality (Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1997). Similarly, if supervisors encourage graduate students to write down their goals for the experience, they will also be more likely to achieve their goals and make the most of their experience.

Setting realistic expectations
After conducting an assessment(s) of graduate student’s skills and developing goals, supervisors will be ready to set realistic expectations for the assistantship/internship experience. This can be broken down into internal opportunities on campus and external opportunities off campus. When thinking about internal opportunities, it will be important for supervisors to discuss how they expect their supervisees to be involved within their office and/or on campus such as attending staff meetings, committees, and/or technology and multicultural opportunities. When considering external opportunities, it will be important for supervisors to discuss how they expect their supervisees to be involved off campus such as attendance at and/or involvement in professional organizations and conferences. We feel that it will be important for supervisors and their graduate students to consider all of the internal and external opportunities available to their students to help them to best develop and improve upon their skills. In addition, it can be a great exercise to help supervisors and graduate students to intentionally design the assistantship/internship experience by linking experiences to goal setting.

Another important area to address with graduate students is the importance of legal and ethical issues. As faculty members we created a legal and ethical issues handout that asked students to write down a list of the major activities they do at their graduate practicum and internship sites such as the following: answering phone calls, handling confidential files, attending meetings where sensitive information is shared, distributing information to students/parents, participating in hiring practices, operating office equipment, supervising others in or away from the work site, and/or planning events. Next, we had them rate the potential of liability of each activity. This is an excellent exercise for supervisors to do with their graduate students as a learning tool to identify the potential of liability as well as to better understand the training that supervisors should provide and expectations they should address with their graduate students to minimize liability and maximize success.

Developing a contract for the experience
Developing a contract is a great way for faculty/site supervisors and their graduate student to write down and outline the goals and realistic expectations they have for the assistantship/internship experience. It will be important for supervisors and graduate students to create the contract at the beginning of the experience, so that expectations are clear right from the start. When we taught graduate students involved in a practicum and internship class, we required our students to take the lead in creating this document, but they were required to ask their supervisors for feedback and approval. Students were to include the following elements in their contract: a purpose statement, goals/objectives, activities, skills or competencies, proposed work schedule and time for each activity, and signatures of the student and faculty/site supervisor(s). We found that it was also helpful to add a section for the faculty/site supervisor’s responsibilities, so that they were also aware of what was expected of them such as: (a) meeting with the student once a week for one hour of supervision; (b) providing orientation and ongoing training; (c) providing feedback to the student; and (d) identifying resources that the student will need to be successful during the experience (e.g., personnel, facilities, equipment, and financial and insurance needs).

Although we required our graduate students to create the document, we encourage supervisors to be contributors. Supervisors could create a list of specific expectations they want to be on the contract before meeting with their graduate students. Being prepared ahead of time will assist supervisors to articulate the roles and responsibilities not only of graduate students but also of themselves.

Most importantly, it is our hope that the contract represents what graduate students hope to contribute and achieve during their supervised experience. Knowing graduate students’ dreams, goals, and ambitions will help faculty/site supervisors to be more intentional in designing the assistantship/internship experience by matching and/or creating opportunities that will allow graduate students to reach and achieve those initiatives. Reviewing and updating the contract throughout the academic year will also be important for supervisors and students to stay on task and make sure that goals are being met.

Understanding the roles of each person
From teaching graduate students involved in an assistantship/internship experience, we have learned how important it is for graduate students and supervisors to understand each other holistically. Graduate students bring much strength to the internship setting such as their skills, experience, and a fresh perspective. Given their role as graduate students, they also bring a wealth of knowledge from the courses they have recently taken or are currently taking (e.g, theories, crisis intervention, multicultural counseling, and administration in higher education). In addition to work and school, graduate students are also balancing their personal lives. We discovered that when faculty/site supervisors understood that their graduate students were balancing many life roles, they had a much greater level of empathy, understanding, and realization of how their student intern’s strengths could be best utilized and stretched. In addition, when the supervisor understood what courses graduate students have taken or were taken, they were better able to have discussions about how real-world work situations connected with their coursework.

While working and communicating with faculty/site supervisors, we found a reoccurring theme of faculty/site supervisors not giving themselves enough credit of the incredible role that they can have on their graduate students professional and personal lives. In other words, the vehicle of students’ learning and development often occurs through a positive working relationship with their supervisor. The importance of the supervisory relationship in students/clients’ development has been supported by several scholars, including Loganbill, Hardy, and Delworth’s (1982) developmental model of supervision. As most solid relationships require an investment of time, it is most often during 1:1 weekly supervision meetings when a supervisory relationship will blossom while supervisors take the time to teach, actively listen, and genuinely care for their graduate students.

Supervisors are not only professionals who provide orientation and training to their students, they are also educators and developmental mentors (Janosik et al., 2014).
We created two handouts to help faculty/site supervisors become the best educators and developmental mentors they can be. The first document we created was a live supervision form where supervisors are to (a) observe and/or listen to their student during a “live” encounter that their student has at their internship and (b) document and provide feedback to the student about that event/experience. We had our faculty/site supervisors do this six times throughout the academic year. We saw how impactful those live supervisions were both to faculty/site supervisors and graduate students in sharing or receiving important feedback, developing goals, and developing their relationship.

The second handout we created was a journal entry handout that graduate students were to fill out weekly and share with their faculty/site supervisors occasionally. Students were to write down a recent event while outlining a description of it as well as their thoughts, feelings, and plans for action because of the event. This handout was a very effective tool for teaching graduate students a way in which they can become reflective practitioners.

Assisting students in achieving life-school-work balance
When discussing the roles of the assistantship/internship experience, we mentioned the importance for supervisors to holistically mentor and educate graduate students. When teaching and working with graduate students, faculty/student affairs professionals may think of students holistically but often think of their primary identity as “graduate students” or “graduate interns” depending upon their role as faculty or student affairs professionals. We encourage supervisors to view graduate students in a balanced triadic order of life-school-work balance. We encourage supervisors to think of “life” at the top of the triangle with “school” and “work” balanced at the bottom two corners of the triangle. In this article we have addressed the school and work items, and now we want to emphasize the importance of the lives or personal needs of graduate students. When considering the personal identity of graduate students, we encourage supervisors to think of graduate students’ well being, which includes their health, happiness, and prosperity.

In our years of working with faculty/site supervisors, we discovered those who were most effective were the supervisors who cared about students as people first and as employees/students second. Contrary to this, those supervisors who lacked a genuine interest or care about the satisfactory condition of their graduate students seemed to have more conflict in their work settings, and oftentimes their graduate students lacked a sense of belonging to their office. We encourage faculty/site supervisors to engage in appropriate conversations with their graduate students to get to know them as human beings. One way supervisors can do this is by asking their graduate students about their goals and aspirations, which will begin a dialogue that will often lead to a healthy and lasting relationship. As graduate students come to understand their supervisor’s care and investment for their lives, they will be even more eager to learn from them and receive their mentorship.

Scholars have concluded that a successful assistantship/internship experience is most often one that is intentional in its design (Bruening, Peachey, Evanovich, Fuller, Murty, Percy, & Chung, 2015). With the constant pace and complexity of changes occurring at higher education institutions graduate students are needing to be more prepared than ever to manage more ambiguous contexts in environments demanding a greater degree of responsiveness (Levine & Dean, 2012; Selingo, 2013). In order to best prepare graduate students for these changes as they transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs, we recommend faculty/site supervisors to be strategic in their supervision approach. It is our sincere hope that our five component supervisory model will provide faculty/site supervisors with a road map of attitudes, strategies, and practical ideas that they can implement to maximize graduate student success.

Discussion Questions
1. How might you apply some of the concepts addressed in this article to your current supervision style?
2. What expectations do you have for the graduate students whom you supervise? How and when have you communicated those expectations to them?
3. What role has assessment had in the development of expectations for the assistantship/internship experience?
4. How can you help graduate students put their goals into practice as they transition to work in the field of college student affairs?
5. How can you assist graduate students in achieving life-school-work balance?

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McEwen, M. L., & Talbot, D.M. (1977). Designing the student affairs curriculum. In N. J. Evans & C. E. Phelps-Tobin (Eds.), The state of the art of preparation and practice in student affairs: Another look (pp. 125-156). Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
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Selingo, J. J. (2013). College unbound: The future of higher education
and what it means for students. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt.
Sheckley, B. G., & Keeton, M. T. (2001). Improving employee development: Perspectives from research and practice. Chicago, IL: Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.
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Zimmerman, B. J., & Kitsantas, A. (1997). Developmental phases in self-
regulation: Shifting from process goals to outcome goals. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(1), 29.

About the Authors
Katelyn Romsa, Assistant Professor of Counseling and Human Development at South Dakota State University, has nine years of higher education experience in both practitioner and scholarly roles. Katelyn’s research interests include the evolution of student-faculty interactions, what matters to millennial college students, preparing graduate students for success, and initiatives to improve student retention and satisfaction.

Bryan Romsa, Assistant Professor of Sport Management at South Dakota State University, has been working as a college professor for the last seven years. Bryan’s research interests include cultural learning through a sport tourism experience, students’ perceptions of leadership behaviors through service learning, and preparing graduate students for success. Both Katelyn and Bryan have taught practicum and internship courses to graduate students pursuing a master’s degree in College Student Affairs or Sport Management. Katelyn and Bryan have created several handouts aligned with the five components of the supervisory model.

Please email inquiries to Katelyn Romsa or Bryan Romsa.

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.

Autism, Inclusion, and Communication in Higher Education


Autism, Inclusion, and Communication in Higher Education
Beth Brennan
Edlyn Peña
California Lutheran University

The number of students identified with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in schools and colleges is steadily climbing. Currently, prevalence of ASD in the United States is estimated at 1 in 68 students (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Since the implementation of the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that set the groundwork for inclusion of students with disabilities into K-12 community schools in the United States, the number of students with ASD who have been included in general education curricula throughout their schooling has steadily risen (Kurth, 2015). Kindergarten-12th grade school districts across the country recognize that inclusion for students with disabilities is based not only on legislation but also on a culture of social justice and research which points to benefits for all students (Kalambouka, Farrell, Dyson, & Kaplan, 2007). As a result of these changes, access to supports from early intervention services for very young children with ASD all the way up through high school has meant that “a greater number of these young people are prepared and interested in attending university” (VanBergeijk, Klin, & Volkmar, 2008, p. 1362). Students with ASD who have been included in their community elementary and high schools are now gaining access to post-secondary environments, desiring to have equitable educational opportunities in higher education and to develop into independent and contributing members of society.

Student affairs professionals must become equipped, both in knowledge and practice, to support the growing population of college students with ASD. Today, close to one-third of high school completers with ASD gain access to college (Roux et al., 2015). Nearly 80% of four-year public institutions enrolled students with ASD in the 2008-2009 academic year (Raue & Lewis, 2011), a rate that has likely increased in the last eight years. While these numbers reflect progress in increasing access for this historically marginalized student population, students with ASD experience unique needs and challenges. For instance, research suggests that college students with ASD are at high risk of being disengaged from postsecondary education (Pinder-Amaker, 2014; Shattuck, Narendorf, Cooper, Sterzing, Wagner, & Taylor, 2012), often failing or dropping out due to “sensory, social, learning styles and organizational challenges combined with fatigue” (United States Autism and Asperger Association, 2013, para. 1). Therefore, the importance for student affairs professionals to have an awareness and acceptance of the needs of students with ASD has never been more critical.

While most students with ASD use traditional speech to communicate, estimates indicate that up to 40 percent of students with autism are minimally or non-speaking (National Autism Association, 2016). Current statistics show that while intervention can certainly improve speech capability for students with autism, 70% of students with ASD who are non-speaking develop production of words while only 30% gain phrased speech (National Institutes of Health, 2010). Those students have faced heightened challenges in finding their voice in general education settings. It is critical for student affairs professionals to understand that not being able to communicate through spoken word is not an indicator of cognitive ability. Motivated by the premise that all individuals have a desire and basic right to communicate, student affairs professionals will want to explore ways to include and support students who use alternative means to communicate. While basic rights for all students with disabilities are covered under the law — Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or the Workforce Investment Act (504), and Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) — training for student affairs professionals must extend way beyond basic law in order to provide effective support for students who are minimally or non-speaking.

Supports and Services
Supporting the needs of students with ASD who use alternative means of communication becomes not only a requirement but also a positive focus for campuses that embrace a diverse student population. This begs the question: how does that focus play out in higher education supports and services for student affairs professionals? To help answer that question, we highlight the story of one college student who uses typing to communicate. Samuel Capozzi is currently a freshman at California State University Channel Islands (CI). Samuel did not have a reliable means of communication prior to the middle of his high school trajectory. At that point, Samuel was reading books for younger children and was doing simple math. He describes how, prior to becoming “a typer”, he learned incidentally through his environment and interactions with others. Once he was exposed to typing, Samuel decided to stay in high school an extra year to earn his diploma. The extra time that he spent was filled with accomplishments. Samuel took the National Latin Exam and graduated with honors. He was able to do these things through grit and determination. But he also had a very supportive school community. Samuel describes his experiences at CI this way:

As I understand it, I am CI’s first non-speaking, non-writing student. I simply can’t say enough about Disability Resource Programs at CI. I am truly embraced, and my presence is celebrated on campus. It’s a nice change! What inspires me most is my professors’ delighted responses and even shocked responses when they hear my cogent answers and read my strong essays. I hope to pioneer a path for other students who communicate differently that may come after me. Knowing this helps me forge on when I become overwhelmed! (Capozzi, 2016).

We invited Samuel to speak to over 350 educators, students, and families at the Spectrum of Opportunity: Autism, Inclusion and Communication Conference at California Lutheran University in March, 2016. This conference provided information on supporting students who use typing or letter boards to communicate. Samuel spoke to the social, academic and communication needs of a minimally speaking student with ASD in a university setting. The audience, including student affairs professionals, learned about the supports that were most helpful to Samuel in his university experience.

Campus Initiatives
There are four basic campus-wide initiatives that can set the stage for students who are minimally or non-speaking, like Samuel, to have a successful experience and make those campuses more desirable to all students when choosing a college. These involve initiatives that support a culture of acceptance, foster a culture of diversity, promote a culture of inclusion and focus on the consideration of practical realities.

Support a culture of acceptance
The most basic premise in acceptance of students who are autistic, including those who are minimally or non-speaking, into the campus community is to presume competence in their academic abilities. Lacking the ability to communicate verbally does not correlate with cognitive ability. Nor does it indicate a person’s desire to communicate. Presuming competence in enrolled students with ASD is the first step toward student success. In order to be a truly inclusive campus community, colleges and universities need to support the entire campus community in both learning about autism and increasing a culture of acceptance. As with any transformational change to an organization, sustainable change needs to involve the whole system. Myers, Ladner, and Koger (2011) argue that “current educational practices both alienate students with autism from their neurotypical peers and compel students to hide their autistic traits” (p. 517). A close examination of both formal and informal practices and traditions on campus will reveal weak points in developing a true culture of acceptance. And any proposed practices should not focus solely on the student with ASD adapting to the environment but on adjusting the environment and perceptions of student affairs professionals to the student.

Foster a culture of diversity
All campus conversations about diversity should include disability in that conversation. “As colleges and universities encourage increased diversity in their students and faculty, this is yet another aspect of diversity that must be considered” (Ashby & Causton-Theoharis, 2012, p. 277). Some have argued that not only is disability missing from conversations and initiatives surrounding diversity but that “disability seems harder for people without disabilities to celebrate and see as empowering” (Davis, 2011, para. 6). Autism is a form of diversity. We can look at a student with autism as someone who may learn differently, socialize differently, move differently and/or communicate differently. To truly embrace diversity, a campus must include a spectrum of diversity that includes autism rather than be limited to focus on one type of diversity (e.g.. race, religion). Campus culture that is high in acceptance of all forms of diversity will better support students with ASD including those who are minimally or non-speaking. This more comprehensive view of diversity builds stronger learning communities. Acceptance of diversity that is inclusive of disability will create learning communities that are more welcoming and willing to adapt for students with ASD who are minimally or non-speaking.

Promote a culture of inclusion
Inclusion is not a program. It is what happens when there is a culture of acceptance and diversity. It is a welcoming of contributions that students with autism who are minimally or non-speaking can make in the classroom and campus environment. It is membership in the campus community. It is also a ‘willingness to know’ on the part of student affairs professionals. Student support needs must be specific to the individual student’s challenges. The willingness to get to know a student can validate and affirm the student’s place in the campus community and will help the student affairs professional to design individual plans for support. This also naturally leads to greater retention and student success. In addition, knowledge about the attitudes and perceptions of neurotypical peers toward students with ASD can support the development of appropriate services and support programs (Matthews, Ly, & Goldberg, 2015).

Consider practical realities
Student affairs professionals must also think through the practical realities to support students with complex communication challenges on a daily basis. Particularly when minimally or non-speaking students with autism first transition into the college environment, they will more likely require higher levels of parent involvement in the transition process than is common for typical college students. Student affairs professionals can work with the campus disability office to make sure that all conditions for FERPA are being met if and when parents initiate communication. In addition, minimally or non-speaking students are generally accompanied by a communication partner. The communication partner assists the student with interacting and responding to others inside and outside of the classroom—typically via a speech generating device or letter board. The communication partner is akin to an American Sign Language interpreter for the deaf and hard of hearing. Always speak directly to the student, allowing him/her/hir/their time to respond while they point to letters or icons to construct their comments and responses. Student affairs should continue to work collaboratively with the campus disability office to maintain a supportive and responsive campus experience that involves the student with autism in meaningful ways.

Closing Thoughts
Although it is acknowledged that experiences of students with autism at the post-secondary level have been understudied, student affairs professionals can cultivate knowledge and practices to frame a supportive culture. Research indicates that strong higher education supports have significantly increased enrollment of students with autism in postsecondary education. And that is good news for our communities. Students with ASD bring to the table many qualities that positively benefit the higher education environment. Student affairs professionals may be the best people to highlight those contributions because they are recognized as a good place to start in setting inclusive campus climate.
Of all the constituencies on college campuses, student affairs, by virtue of its historical commitment to differences and the espoused values of the profession, has assumed leadership for creating learning environment that are inclusive, diverse and affirming. In doing so, values of human dignity, equality, and community serve as an appropriate framework for working with students. (Hall & Belch, 2000, p. 9)
When those values are extended to students with autism including those who are minimally or non-speaking, student affairs professionals will model for others the kind of welcoming campuses that make up vibrant learning communities. As Samuel Capozzi (2015) states, we want “to move from mere awareness to appreciation for the unique gifts and abilities of those on the autism spectrum” (para. 3).

Reflection Questions:

1) In your role, what professional development do you think that you would need to be able to support a student with ASD who types to communicate?
2) Based on your personal life experience, what assumptions or perspectives do you bring with you that might be a barrier to working with a student with ASD and what can you do to overcome those barriers?
3) What could your institution do to be more inclusive and accepting of students with ASD?
4) What collaborations and networks with programs or individuals might you develop or strengthen to support minimally or non-speaking students with ASD?


  • Ashby, C. E., & Causton-Theoharis, J. (2012). “Moving quietly through the door of opportunity”:
    Perspectives of college students who type to communicate. Equity & Excellence in
    Education, 45(2), 261-282. doi:10.1080/10665684.2012.666939
  • Capozzi, S. (2016, March 19).  Words from a college student with autism [Web log post].  Retrieved from
  • Capozzi, S. (2015). Acceptance Speech to the Ventura County Autism Society. Retrieved from
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, March 31). Retrieved from
  • Davis, L. J. (2011). Why is disability missing from the discourse on diversity? Chronicle of Higher Education, 58(6), B38-B40. Retrieved from
  • Hall, L., & Belch, H. (2000). Setting the context: Reconsidering the principles of full participation and meaningful access for students with disabilities. In H. A. Belch (Ed.), Serving students with disabilities, No. 91(1). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Kalambouka, A., Farrell, P., Dyson, A., & Kaplan, I. (2007). The impact of placing pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schools on the achievement of their peers. Educational Research, 49(4), 365-382. doi:10.1080/00131880701717222
  • Kurth, J. A. (2015). Educational placement of students with autism. Focus On Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities, 30(4), 249-256. doi:10.1177/1088357614547891
  • Matthews, N., Ly, A., & Goldberg, W. (2015). College students’ perceptions of peers with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 45(1), 90-99. doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2195-6
  • Myers, J., Ladner, J., & Koger, S. (2011). More than a passing grade: fostering positive psychological outcomes for mainstreamed students with autism. Journal of Developmental & Physical Disabilities, 23(6), 515-526. doi:10.1007/s10882-011-9242-4
  • National Autism Association. (2016). Retrieved from
  • National Institutes of Health (2010). Workshop on nonverbal school-aged children with autism. Retrieved from
  • Pinder-Amaker, S. (2014). Identifying the unmet needs of college students on the autism spectrum. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 22(2), 125-137.
  • Raue, K., & Lewis, L. (2011). Students with disabilities at degree-granting postsecondary institutions: First look. NCES 2011-018. National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from
  • Roux, A. M., Shattuck, P. T., Rast, J. E., Rava, J. A., Edwards, A. D., Wei, X., McCracken, M. & Yu, J. W. (2015). Characteristics of two-year college students on the autism spectrum and their support services experiences. Autism Research & Treatment, 1-10. doi:10.1155/2015/391693
  • Shattuck, P., Narendorf, S. C., Cooper, B., Sterzing, P. R., Wagner, & M., Taylor, J. (2012). Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics, 129(6): 1-8.
  • United States Autism and Asperger Association. (2013). About US college autism project (USCAP). Retrieved from
  • VanBergeijk, E., Klin, A., & Volkmar, F. (2008). Supporting more able students on the autism spectrum: College and beyond. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 38(7), 1359-1370. doi:10.1007/s10803-007-0524-8

About the Authors
Beth Brennan earned her Ph.D. in Special Education in 1997 from Kent State University. Dr. Brennan joined the California Lutheran University faculty in 2011 as an Associate Professor. She currently serves as Associate Dean and Director of Special Education Programs in the Graduate School of Education. Dr. Brennan has worked in supervision and research at Family Child Learning Center in Ohio (a collaborative of Kent State University and Akron Children’s Hospital), as a site coordinator (San Francisco State University) with the Early Childhood Research Institute on Inclusion, and as the Special Education Program Director at Saint Mary’s College of California. Dr. Brennan is a Founding Co-Director of the Autism and Communication Center at California Lutheran University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Beth Brennan.

Edlyn Peña earned her Ph.D. in Education with a concentration in Higher Education in 2007 from the University of Southern California (USC).  After teaching graduate level courses at USC for several years, Dr. Peña joined the California Lutheran University (CLU) faculty in 2009. As an Associate Professor in Higher Education Leadership at CLU, her research currently focuses on social justice issues for students with disabilities, particularly autism, in the preschool through higher education pipeline. Dr. Peña is a Founding Co-Director of the Autism and Communication Center at California Lutheran University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Edlyn Peña.

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.

Life Skills: How Can We Fill in the Gaps Before Graduation?

Graduation Shadow Image

Life Skills: How Can We Fill in the Gaps Before Graduation?

Marisa Vernon
Tonisha Glover
Cuyahoga Community College

Identifying the Skill Gaps

Engage any faculty member or administrator several weeks into the semester and you’re likely to hear about the skills students have somehow failed to pick up during their prior educational experiences. Even the most compassionate educators have vented to a colleague or two about the basic “life” skills today’s college students seem to be missing. If they only knew how to manage their time, we say; if they could only critically think about problems; if they only would just ask for help.  In conversation among academics and student affairs professionals alike, we discuss these gaps often, but struggle to find ways to help students actually develop in these areas. The academic calendar is full, the syllabus already exploding with necessary content. We are confident students are going to develop these skills before they walk across the stage, but we are rarely intentional about helping this process along.

Hiring managers, parents of students, and perhaps even students themselves are concerned about the impact these gaps in communication skills, resiliency, motivation, and problem-solving can have on long-term personal success. These skills, it seems, provide the foundation for handling whatever life throws at a college graduate.

For the community college student, and specifically those pursuing career and technical pathways, the timeline to develop strong “life” skills is relatively short, though critical. I recently worked with a young student who had completed several levels of a medical program and begun working within the field while obtaining his next credential. Experiencing his first major trauma on the job, the student seemingly lost his ability to put the incident in perspective, respond with resiliency, and balance his first high stress work environment with his role as a student. Like many students, education and training had prepared him for the work. However, the incident brought some gaps in preparedness to the surface.

Through a recent conversation with an area employer, as well as a faculty and staff survey, a member of our team highlighted three major skills areas on which we hope to focus student development efforts over the next few years. While the specific terminology came as a result of anecdotes and conversation, Communication, Problem-Solving, and Motivation were identified as the key areas in which many college students (and graduates) are lacking. One could argue that many of the desirable skills identified by employers fall within or are synonymous with these three areas as well.

Before addressing these skills gaps through intentional student development programming, co-curricular support, or within the traditional classroom setting, it is important to understand the areas themselves. Since motivation, communication, and problem-solving serve as factors directly contributing to success in a variety of endeavors, a quick literature review focused on these topics produces an extensive backdrop to the story.

Fear not, busy faculty member, overworked administrator, or dedicated staff member; a member of my team and I have completed the arduous literature review component for you.

How to Use This Article

This edition is slightly different from other articles published in my column, as I wanted to highlight the work of a graduate practicum student who worked alongside me in a recent semester. During the practicum experience, she was tasked with creating three online modules to address the skills gaps identified by our Student Life team detailed above. To begin this process and brainstorm ideas for delivering this student development content, she engaged in a review of the literature associated with the areas of motivation, communication, and problem-solving. By taking the time to learn more about these skills and how students internalize them, a foundation had been built from which intentional student development programming could be built.

It is my hope that the literature review below will generate discussion among your teams, inform the development of new initiatives to support student learning in these areas, and transform your teaching practices to help prepare our students for future success outside of the college environment.

Motivation and Resiliency

Many professors at various colleges and universities have complained about the lack of motivation from their students in the classroom; students seem more interested in social activities with peers in comparison to their academic responsibilities (Crone & MacKay, 2002). However, the literature states that professors must become familiar with the current generation of traditional college aged students and observe their personal academic goals and interests in order to learn what motivates them (Crone & MacKay, 2002) In a 2014 study, a total of 286 undergraduate students majoring in English, Physics, and Finance were given a series of questionnaires and surveys to test students’ perception of instructor’s teaching styles (Myers & Goodboy, 2014). Results demonstrated that student learning was positively influenced when students perceive their instructor to be using both lecture based and discussion-based teaching strategies (Myers & Goodboy, 2014). Additionally, students were most motivated when they felt their instructor listened to and expressed interest in their own thoughts and opinions (Myers & Goodboy, 2014). This may be because most traditional-aged college students are used to constant interaction and retaining strong bonds with family and peers and expect the same from their college community (Crone & MacKay, 2002).

In a qualitative study conducted by Alexakos, Jones, & Rodriguez (2011), 16 junior and senior high school students taking a Physics course at a local college were studied. Data was collected through observation notes, informal and formal interviews, and grades (Alexakos, Jones, & Rodriguez, 2011). During this study the researchers noticed that students empathized with one another when discussing the intensity and struggle of the course. These discussions promoted resiliency in one another as they relied on each other for motivation to get through and complete the course. Close friendships between students promoted motivation and healthy competition, creating a supportive atmosphere amongst students.  Students demonstrated emotional and academic support when classmates solved problems out loud (Alexakos, Jones, & Rodriguez, 2011). Sociable rivalry among the peers was influential since most students can be motivated by peer input and constructive criticism (Crone & MacKay, 2002).  Students served as mentors to one another as they provided information to peers who were lacking certain techniques and skills learned earlier in the course in an effort to keep one another on track for successful completion (Alexakos, Jones, & Rodriguez, 2011).

Similar to the high school students, the online learners in Baxter’s (2012) study yearned for peer interaction and remained motivated to study for online courses when connected to family and peers outside of class. During this qualitative research study data was collected through 16 interviews from students taking an online course in efforts to receive feedback on progression and retention (Baxter, 2012). Baxter found that students adored their online tutor and viewed her as a role model for them when courses began to become difficult, and like the students in Alexakos, Jones, and Rodriguez’ (2011) case study, the tutor’s words of encouragement motivated students to excel in and complete the course (Baxter, 2012). Most students craved social interaction with their peers at the university and suggested “open days” for when students could meet up on campus (Baxter, 2012). Interaction with classmates outside of the classroom seems to be a natural desire for students and can produce motivation and accountability amongst one another (Alexakos, Jones, & Rodriguez, 2011). This soft skill of social collaboration is crucial for college students since most careers involves some type of collaboration and requires individuals to feel comfortable when working well with others in order to produce successful results (Holmes, 2014).

Problem Solving

Students and professionals face several unexpected challenges during their career for which they are responsible to make decisions in efforts to create a positive resolution (Holmes, 2014). Students who lack problem-solving skills will find it difficult to succeed in college and most professions (Holmes, 2014). Instructors and staff should advise students in a way that will challenge them to create their own resolution to a problem by asking prompting questions instead of providing an answer for the student (Crone & MacKay, 2002). When students are prompt to reflect, it can positively influence and increase their problem-solving abilities (Kauffman, Ge, Xie & Chen, 2008).

In a 2008 study, 54 undergraduate junior students majoring in Education interacted in an online module in which their problem-solving capability in an online environment was measured (Kauffman et al., 2008). Half of the students were given problem-solving prompts and half were given a reflection prompt (Kauffman et al., 2008). Students who were prompted to problem solve displayed a better understanding of the assignment and were more likely to problem solve in real life situations compared to students without a problem solving prompt (Kauffman et al., 2008). In addition to encouraging students to problem solve, Alexakos, Jones, and Rodriguez (2011) found that problem solving with peers in the classroom stimulated their interests and resulted in students exercising their problem solving techniques with peers outside of the classroom in authentic challenges. Conversing and expressing their feelings of pressure with peers encouraged students in their college level Physics course to problem solve (Alexakos, Jones, & Rodriguez, 2011).

A review of accounting educators revealed that instructors fail to promote problem solving skills to their students when their dominant teaching strategy involved conceptual modules (Kern, 2002). In this study, researchers created a hands-on model to portray allocations and cost of goods by using a Fisher’s Price toy with colorful rings stacked on top of one another- biggest at the bottom and smallest at the top – then assessed student learning via questionnaire (Kern, 2002). Results revealed that student learning was retained and more effective when hands on models were used within an active learning environment (Kern, 2002). Students should be expected to be hands-on in their education, answering questions in class, creating examples, and participating in group work, in order to develop problem solving abilities (Kern, 2002). To improve this skill [problem solving] students should become hands-on with their learning and enroll in experiential courses when they are available (Holmes, 2014). Students are motivated to problem solve when they engage in experiential learning courses where they have to connect theory to practice (Crone & MacKay, 2002).


Many United States citizens believe that the most important skill to have as a college student is effective communication (Long, 2015). Many traditional-aged college students struggle with communication skills because they have mastered online interactions through social media, but lack experience with face-to-face conversations (Holmes, 2014). Communicating with professors and staff can be difficult for traditional-aged students because they may view the power and age gap as intimidating (Wecker, 2012). Students that are frequently engaging with others in a professional setting or constant talking with their professors in person during office hours seem to successfully hone communication skills naturally (Holmes, 2014). Students feel encouraged when the communication between themselves and the instructor shows that their thoughts and ideas are in fact valued (Myers & Goodboy, 2014). Supportive communication from administration, faculty, and staff motivate students to complete their coursework (Baxter, 2012). Quality interaction between students, faculty and staff was a primary factor in retention for students taking an online course, where general face-to-face communication was limited (Baxter, 2012). Crone & MacKay (2002) stated that effective communication between professors and students can enhance students’ problem-solving abilities when professors use a specific method that encourages reflections, rather than direct answers. A professor at George Washington University uses humor when demonstrating his lack of exceptions for students who are not honest and refuse liability of their own decisions (Wecker, 2012). “College students should take responsibility for when they have made mistakes and focus more on improving for the future” (Wecker, 2012). The use of humor can assist with understanding and clarity of the course content and may boost students’ confidence in approaching their professor when they have a question (Myers & Goodboy, 2014).

Traditional-aged college students feel more confident in familiar situations when surrounded by peers with whom they share a close bond (Crone & MacKay 2002). In Alexakos, Jones, and Rodriguez (2011) study, communication between peers was significant to high school students’ progress in a college level Physics course and promoted motivation and problem-solving amongst the students.  Frequent communication and interaction between peers developed a mentorship among the students, which resulted in a sense of accountability among the group. Likewise, students engaging in an online course glorified their constant communication with the tutor and looked to her as inspiration to complete the class (Baxter, 2012). Discussing and communicating anxiety and stress to other peers who are in similar situations can promote motivation and problem solving (Alexakos, Jones, & Rodriguez, 2011). When students did not have a lot of peer interaction, they asked for access to their peers in efforts to communicate and become social with one another (Baxter, 2012).


The three skills discussed in the literature are all linked and impact one another in an individual. Motivation in college students can encourage students to become resilient in difficult situations. Resiliency is essential to student development and can strengthen individuals’ problem-solving abilities, which is heavily dependent upon communication skills. It is important that college students interact and communicate effectively with peers and professors in efforts to build and develop their passion (motivation) and confidence in their college experience. When students are passionate and comfortable with their situation, it can result in determination and the ability to adapt (resiliency) and sustain through unexpected challenges (problem solving).

The common theme overall is peer-peer and faculty-student interaction. It is important that college students build meaningful relationships with their peers in order to develop a sense of community. In 2014, Holmes named collaboration as one of the top five soft skills needed in the workforce after graduation.

As educators, how can we promote interaction and collaboration within our environments, especially in community colleges lacking residential environments? This is perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing the two-year sector as we seek to develop students who are prepared for the modern workplace. Two-year college students need the same skills, and educators working in non-residential settings need to think creatively to promote interaction both in and out of the classroom.

Whether you work in a two- or four-year setting, with students living on or off campus, are you ensuring students leave equipped with these skills? If not, here are some suggestions for embedding these themes into your campus or department’s approach to student development:

  • Use these themes to develop department programming goals for the year, and align post-program student assessments to the skills discussed in this article.
  • Select one of the skills gaps as a campus or department theme for the year, and align co-curriculars, assignments, and student experiences around the common theme.
  • Review your college’s general education outcomes or departmental curriculum strategy. Are these skills represented, and if so, how can co-curricular strategies increase learning in these areas?
  • Develop modules to embed in your college’s First Year Experience seminar that promote peer-to-peer interaction and address the skills gaps listed above.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you observe other skills gaps among the students with whom you work? If so, what are they, and how do you believe students can fill in these gaps while in college?
  2. How do your Academic and Student Affairs areas partner to ensure students are obtaining the skills they need to be successful? Are there opportunities for collaboration or streamlining goals between the two areas?
  3. How would you incentivize students to participate in learning outside of the classroom in a non-residential environment? What do you believe motivates students to engage?


Alexakos, K., Jones, J. K., & Rodriguez, V. H. (2011). Fictive kinship as it mediates learning, resiliency,

perseverance, and social learning of inner-city high school students of color in a college physics

class. Culture Studies of Science Education, 6, 847-870. DOI: 10.1007/s11422-011-9317-7

Baxter, J. (2012). Who am I and what keeps me going? Profiling the distance learning students in higher education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13, 107-129.

Crone, I. & MacKay, K. (2002). Greater expectations: A new vision for learning as a nation goes to college. Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from

Holmes, B. (2014, May). Hone the top 5 soft skills every college student needs. US News. Retrieved from

Kauffman, D. F., Ge, X., & Chen, C. (2008). Prompting in web-based environments: Supporting self-monitoring and problem solving skills in college students. Educational Computing Research, 38, 115-137.

Kern, B. (2002). Enhancing accounting students’ problem-solving skills: The use of a hands-on conceptual model in an active learning environment. Accounting Education, 11, 235-256.

Long, C. (2015, March 23). The most important skill for students? Communication, say most Americans. The National Education Association. Retrieved from

Myers, S. A., & Goodboy, A. K. (2014). College student learning, motivation, and satisfaction as a function of effective instructor communication behaviors. Southern Communication Journal, 79, 14-26.

Russo, K. (2015, May). Hard skills vs soft skills: What they mean to your job search and the weight they carry with HR. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Sirin, A., & Guzel, A. (2006). The relationship between learning styles and problem solving skills among college students. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 6, 255-264.

Wecker, M. (2012, September). 5 guidelines for college student-professor interactions. US News. Retrieved from

About the Author
Marisa Vernon is Assistant Dean – Access and Completion, at Cuyahoga Community College – Westshore Campus. Opened in 1963, Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®) is Ohio’s first community college and now the state’s largest, serving 50,000 students each year. The college offers two-year associate degrees, certificate programs, and the first two years of a baccalaureate degree.  The curriculum includes 1,600 credit courses in more than 140 career, certificate and university transfer programs. Courses are offered at four campus locations, two Corporate College® facilities, online, hybrid courses, and many off-campus sites.

Tonisha Glover is a Master of Education student at Kent State University, focusing on identifying barriers to college completion, the first-generation student experience, and success factors among low-income student populations. During Spring 2016, she completed a graduate Internship at Cuyahoga Community College, where she developed learning modules to promote soft skill development among students during their early years in college. Tonisha Glover recently accepted a full-time Academic Advisor position at Kent State University, where she will be supporting first year students in exploring majors and academic programs to meet their goals.  

Please e-mail inquiries to Marisa Vernon.

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.

No Adult Left Behind: Student Affairs Practices Offering Social Support to Adult Undergraduates


No Adult Left Behind: Student Affairs Practices Offering Social Support to Adult Undergraduates

Rebecca L. Brower
Bradley E. Cox
Amber E. Hampton
Florida State University


For each of the last 6 years at Florida State University, students pursuing a master’s degree in student affairs have taken a class entitled “The American College Student.”  At the beginning of the first class, the students are asked to spend 10 minutes describing American college students.

The results are pretty consistent. A self-confident student begins the discussion by describing students who look/sound/think/act a lot like he or she did just a few years earlier.  Next, another student, typically one who looks/sounds/thinks/acts differently than the first student, tells the class that not all college students are the same and then goes on to describe how he or she was different from the description provided by the first student.  Eventually, a student will argue that there are many ways to describe college students, and that trying to define the American college student is impossible.  The class transitions to exploring this question, “How do we paint a single portrait of such a diverse group of students?”  Students then list a series of characteristics that might be used to differentiate undergraduate students including demographics, institution type, and academic status. Rarely is age mentioned in the list of student characteristics.

In the second week of class, we transition from brainstorming who we think college students are, to established facts by sharing data from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES).  While this information substantiates the arguments made by the class during the activity in the first class session, one statistic often catches students by surprise.  According to NCES data, the average age of undergraduate students in 2000 was 25 years old.  In fact, although this population accounted for only 27% of undergraduates in 1970, roughly 42% of current undergraduates are 25 or older.  These statistics are surprising to students because adult undergraduates are rarely mentioned during the initial class discussion about the different types of American college students.

This classroom experience causes us to wonder the extent to which student affairs professionals have a real awareness of adult undergraduates. This question is particularly salient right now because as Wyatt (2011) pointed out, adult students are “one of the largest and fastest growing populations of students” (p. 13).   The perception that adult students are self-sufficient and do not need or want student affairs services may lead campus personnel to believe that adult undergraduates need less assistance than their traditional age peers. However, as Hardin (2008) emphasizes, “the misperception still exists that adult learners are self-supporting and do not need the same level of support as eighteen- to twenty-three-year-old students.  In reality, adult learners need at least as much assistance as traditional-aged students, and sometimes more” (p. 53).

The purpose of the current research study was to examine the extent to which student affairs divisions are adopting practices that offer social support to adult undergraduates. We not only write this article as a call to action supported by our research findings, but also as an invitation to take note of a population on our campuses who are in need of greater social support. In this article we present new data suggesting that by failing to adopt adequate practices supportive of adult students, divisions of student affairs offices at four-year colleges and universities may be losing an opportunity to improve outcomes for these adult students. Therefore, our study poses the following research question: To what extent are student affairs divisions adopting practices that the literature suggests provide social support to adult undergraduates (aged 25 and older)?

Literature Review

As a group, adult students share a number of characteristics: they are more likely than traditional age students to be first generation, female, ethnically diverse, and financially independent (Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009). Adult students are also more likely to study part-time, have children for whom they are financially responsible, and work in addition to studying (Giancola et al., 2009; Hardin, 2008; Kasworm, 2003). Reasons for adult students to return to college include career concerns, family needs, and self-improvement (Bauman, Wang, DeLeon, Kafentzis, Zavala-Lopez, Lindsey, 2004; Chao & Good, 2004; Kasworm, 2003). Kasworm (2003) argues that adult students are motivated to attend college by “personal transitions and changes” as well as the desire for “proactive life planning” (p.6). These transitions may occur as the result of positive or negative life events such as promotion at work, reevaluating life goals, divorce, or losing a job (Chao & Good, 2004; Hardin, 2008).

Female students, who constitute the majority of adult undergraduates, have special concerns when they return to college (Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002). Women, in particular, are more likely to experience role conflict between home and school (Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002). The added demands of college, along with employment and other family roles, can produce an added strain on women students juggling multiple responsibilities. Conflicts such as these are often mitigated by the calculated choices some adults make about the timing of enrollment.  Women often return to school to support their family when they divorce or their children enter school (Hardin, 2008).  Because psychological stability increases with age in women, female adult students may be better equipped to manage the stressors and role conflicts in their lives (Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Hardin, 2008). Nonetheless, family responsibilities are the most frequently cited reason for female adult students to leave college. One important factor in this equation is the age of women’s children, because women caring for young children experience the greatest role conflict and face the most serious academic challenges (Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Hardin, 2008). Regardless of students’ gender, family/school conflict can be a major source of stress for many adult students (Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009).

Social support is an important issue for adult undergraduates, particularly for female students, because students with stronger social support systems perform better academically while students with less social support are more likely to require campus services (Bauman et al., 2004). Sources of support for adult students tend to be family, partners, friends, coworkers, and professors on campus, though off campus sources of support are often more influential in their lives (Bauman et al, 2004; Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002 ; Chao & Good, 2004; Donaldson et al., 2000 ; Graham & Gisi, 2000). Depending on a student’s life situation, family, partners, friends, and coworkers off campus can either be a major source of social support or a major source of stress in the case of family/school and work/school conflict (Donaldson et al., 2000; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009).

The literature on adult undergraduates suggests a number of student affairs practices that may offer adult students social support thereby helping them to succeed in college. First, student affairs offices would benefit from an infusion of ideas from colleagues who specialize in adult undergraduates (Bauman et al., 2004; Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009; Graham & Gisi, 2000; Hadfield, 2003; Hardin, 2008; Wyatt, 2011). After training or hiring staff that are cognizant of adult student needs and establishing an office for adult students, student affairs personnel can poll adult students through surveys or focus groups on their service needs and the greatest barriers to their success (Hadfield, 2003). This data can be used to establish services such as child care, orientation programs for adults, and adult student organizations (Bauman et al., 2004; Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009; Graham & Gisi, 2000; Hadfield, 2003; Hardin, 2009).

Programming is another area in which student affairs staff can offer support and help adult undergraduates succeed. Programming that nontraditional students find particularly useful include workshops on stress and time management as well as study skills (Bauman et al., 2004; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009). In addition, programming that welcomes families, partners, and friends, can assist adult students in feeling included in campus life (Hadfield, 2003; Hardin, 2009). Other existing services that can be tailored to the needs of adult students include career counseling, personal counseling and support groups, academic advising, and financial aid advising (Bauman et al., 2004; Chao & Good, 2004; Donaldson et al., 2000; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009).  These services, apart from childcare, are particularly useful for adult students who may not be interested in the traditional collegiate social experience, but benefit from resources connected to employment and course completion.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework for this study is grounded in psychological literature, which suggests that adults require four types of support from their social systems: emotional, appraisal, informational, and instrumental support (House, 1981).  As described in House’s (1981) research, emotional support is felt when others are trustworthy and show concern; appraisal support gives positive encouragement; informational support is the ability to share knowledge and instruction; and instrumental is the shift of a physical setting or investment of funds. These categories broaden our understanding of social support and make sense in light of our study, applying equally to our research question, research design, and interpretation of findings. Specifically, we use this framework from psychological literature to categorize five student affairs practices as offering instrumental, informational, or appraisal support. Thus, childcare services offer instrumental support; new student orientations specifically for adult undergraduates provide informational support; adult student organizations and programming for student of diverse ages offer appraisal support; and hiring student affairs staff with expertise in adult undergraduates provides all three types of social support.

Methods and Data Sources

In order to determine the extent to which student affairs divisions are adopting practices that the literature suggests provide social support to adult undergraduates, we used data from the Survey of Student Affairs Policies, Programs, and Practices, which was distributed to the Chief Student Affairs Officer (typically the Vice President for Student Affairs or Dean of Students) at 57 institutions in five states (California, Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Texas). Included in this quantitative survey were 34 categories of questions that covered topics such as advising, orientation, and assessment date usage.  The survey was distributed by project staff in both hard copy and electronic formats. The 57 participating institutions included 22 bachelor’s degree granting institutions, 29 master’s degree granting institutions, 2 doctoral degree granting institutions, and four specialty institutions (i.e. one Bible college, one health professions school, and two schools of art and design). Of the participating colleges and universities, 13 were public not-for-profit, 42 were private not-for-profit, and two were private for-profit institutions. The sample was inclusive of a wide range of institutional types, sizes, levels of selectivity, and sources of control/funding. To review full results from the project, visit:

Our initial reports included information on the prevalence of student services in areas that the research literature suggests are especially beneficial for adult students: hiring student affairs staff with expertise in adult students, childcare services, orientation programs for adult students, student organizations for adult students, and events for students of different ages.  As shown in Table 1, there were specific questions targeting student populations and the adoption of policies. Possible answers to survey questions were dichotomous “yes,” “no” responses.

Survey Topic Survey Question
Orientation Does institution provide an orientation for specific student populations?
Events Does the institution’s student affairs division hold schedule events and programming for specific student populations?
Student Organizations Does the institution have formally recognized student organizations for specific student populations?
Staff Expertise Does the institution purposefully recruit staff members or counselors with expertise in specific student populations?
Childcare Services Does the institution have childcare services available for students?

Table 1.  Student Population Survey Questions (LIPSS)

We then compared the adoption rates of these practices (with the exception of childcare services) with those for international students and students of color. Services for traditionally underrepresented groups often increases the likelihood of success (Grant-Vallone, Reid, Umali, & Pohlert, 2003), hence, the targeted comparison of populations.  We did not include survey questions about childcare services specifically for international students and students of color because these services are typically extended to all students. Therefore, childcare is not included in subsequent statistical analyses. We then performed four logistic regressions to determine whether higher percentages of adult undergraduates at an institution increased the likelihood that the student affairs practices mentioned above (excluding childcare) would be enacted at that institution.


Our survey asked the extent to which student affairs divisions were adopting practices that the literature suggests provide social support to adult undergraduates. The answer to this question was an unexpected finding that called for more attention.

Table 2

Percentage of Institutions Adopting Student Affairs Practices for Specific Populations

Student Population International Students Students of Color Adult Students
Orientation 77% 21% 21%
Events 76% 74% 37%
Student Organizations 79% 60%* 26%
Staff Expertise 53% 51% 9%

Table 2.  Percentage of Institutions Adopting Student Affairs Practices for Specific Populations

*Average for African American, Hispanic, Asian American, and Native American student organizations.

As we reviewed the results (see Table 2), we encountered the same surprise as the students in our American College Student class.  When we compared the adoption rates of practices for adult undergraduates to rates for international students and students of color, we found that with the exception of orientation programs for students of color, adoption rates are higher for other student populations. It was disheartening to find that student affairs services for adult undergraduates lag behind services for other groups on campus. For instance, when we asked whether student affairs divisions purposely recruited staff members or counselors with expertise in specific student populations, 53% of institutions reported staff expertise for international students, 51% for students of color, and for adult students, it was only 9% of institutions. Logistic regressions uncovered no evidence that student affairs practices for adult undergraduates was related to the percentage of adult undergraduates attending an institution.  In none of the four logistic regressions was the size of the adult-student population a statistically significant predictor of adoption rates for these practices.

The regression results showed that higher percentages of adult undergraduates did not reliably distinguish between institutions with student orientations for adult students and those without such orientations (chi square = 1.706, df = 2, p = .189), nor for those with events for adult students and those without (chi square = .901, df = 2, p = .357). ), nor for those with student organizations for adult students and those without (chi square = .05, df = 2, p = .822), nor for those with student affairs staff expertise in adult students and those without (chi square = .033, df = 2,  p =.855).  In all of these cases, there was little relationship between the variables (Nagelkerke’s R2 of .046 for orientation, R2 of .021 for events, R2 of .001 for organizations, and R2 of .001 for staff expertise).  Thus, overall the greater presence of adult undergraduates in the student population does not seem to influence the practices adopted for these students. Therefore, the differing rates at which institutions adopt services supporting adult students cannot be dismissed as simply a function of the composition of the student body.


Any type of support, whether it is from our communities, families, or staff, decreases the impact of stressors during the college yearsarney-Crompton, & Tan, 2002; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009; Johnson, Schwartz, & Bower, 2010), and yet, we found that many campuses were not instituting the changes needed for adults.  This may be due to a lack of financial resources to develop new programming or the perception that the adult population on campus is small.  However, our results illustrate that student affairs services specifically for adult students significantly lag behind services for other student groups. We affirm the crucial importance of student affairs practices for students of color and international students, and agree that these practices could be extended to adult undergraduates as well. Furthermore, the greater presence of adult undergraduates in the student population does not seem to influence the rates of adoption of student affairs practices for these students. In light of these findings and the observation that adults are the fastest growing segment of the undergraduate population (Wyatt, 2011), we suggest that student affairs divisions would be well-served by a reexamination of their practices related to nontraditional students.

What Institutions Can Do

From our literature review and survey results, we identified five student affairs practices that can offer support for adult students:  hiring staff specializing in adult undergraduate experiences and issues; providing childcare; and tailoring orientation programs, programming, and student organizations to adult undergraduates.  It is our hope that the availability of services and support that are developed or modified for adult students will increase their social support and success, both on and off campus.  Each of the five areas described below are supported by literature suggesting that these practices are especially beneficial for adult undergraduates.

Specialized Staff

Our survey revealed that relatively few institutions hire student affairs staff with expertise in adult undergraduates. Student affairs offices can benefit from the insights of colleagues who have attended college as adult undergraduates or who specialize in the needs of adult undergraduates (Bauman et al., 2004; Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009; Graham & Gisi, 2000; Hadfield, 2003; Hardin, 2008; Wyatt, 2011).  Thus, we argue that a crucial first step in addressing the needs of these students is to hire or train staff with expertise in the lifestyles of nontraditional students.

Having advocates for adult students on staff might also then lead to the establishment of a central office where information and services could be disseminated to adult students. Giancola, Grawitch, and Borchert (2009) discuss a common thread for adults in dealing with conflicting commitments: conflicts among work, school, and family are prevalent among adult undergraduates. Finding a space such as a student affairs office with staff members who specialize in adult undergraduates can help adults navigate these conflicts (Hadfield, 2003).  We cannot overstate the importance of advocacy on behalf of adult students in areas that will be beneficial for them and offer resources, skills, support, and peace of mind.  Even hiring one staff member can make all the difference for adults.


If we frame the needs of adult students in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a basic need is the financial means to attend college.  But more often than not, another basic requirement of adult students is the need to care for children, particularly for adult women, who as a gender, make up the majority of adult students (Johnson, Schwartz, & Bower, 2010).  Miller, Gault, and Thorman’s (2011) research identifies that in the year 2008, 23% of undergraduate students identified as being parents.  Many of these parents face greater challenges in college and have a lower rate of degree completion than students who do not have children (Miller, Gault, & Thorman, 2011).  This fact brings childcare to the forefront as a way to increase access for adult undergraduates.


Many more schools have begun to institute transfer student orientation, which is an improvement in sharing institutional resources with incoming students from other colleges.  Because many transfer students come from community colleges as well (Erisman & Steele, 2015), it may be advantageous for institutions to consider adding specific adult student components.  New student orientations specifically for adult undergraduates could provide both informational and social support.  A tailored adult student orientation can assist students in adjusting to college and connecting with resources on campus.  Since social support is an important consideration for adult undergraduates, orientation programs specifically for adults would help nontraditional students network with one another and adjust to the academic and social demands of college life. Adult student organizations would likewise provide nontraditional students with a sense of belonging and validation for the stressors in their lives.  An approach like this is likely to help all nontraditional students, and specifically assist adult students in building their peer networks and in adjusting to the academic and social demands of college life.


Programming is another area in which student affairs staff can help adult undergraduates succeed.  Bauman et al. (2004) and Giancola, Grawitch, and Borchert (2009) found that programming that nontraditional students find particularly useful includes workshops on stress and time management as well as study skills. In addition to skills-related programming, social programs that are open to families, partners, and children can widen avenues of involvement and feelings of belonging for adults.

Student Organizations

Adult student organizations would likewise provide nontraditional students with a sense of belonging, along with validation for the stressors in their lives (Bauman et al., 2004; Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009; Graham & Gisi, 2000; Hadfield, 2003; Hardin, 2009).  Our study revealed that fewer events are geared to students of different ages than to international students and students of color.  This deficit could be addressed through the development of programs that go beyond one identity, and instead cater to the multiple identities that students have.  As an example, an existing program geared towards African American students could add the words “children and families welcome” to shift the way a program is perceived by adult students.


Our study suggests that student affairs services offering social support to adult undergraduates lag behind services for other groups on campus. We also find that the percentage of undergraduates in the student population has little relationship to the availability of services for these students. Thus, we argue that student affairs divisions can do much more to facilitate the success of adult undergraduates in four-year colleges and universities.  Specifically, we recommend that student affairs divisions hire staff with expertise in adult undergraduates, who could then establish offices with services tailored to the needs of these students.

Discussion Questions

  1. How might your institution adapt existing events and services to encourage adult undergraduate participation?
  2. Adult undergraduates often struggle to balance responsibilities such as work and family with academics. How might the advice and resources you provide adult undergraduates differ from the advice and resources you provide traditional-aged students?
  3. It is often assumed that adult undergraduates should become assimilated into college life. We propose that it is equally important for colleges to become better integrated in the lives of students.  How might colleges better integrate the college culture with adult students’ lives?


Bauman, S. S. M., Wang, N., DeLeon, C. W., Kafentzis, J., Zavala‐Lopez, M., & Lindsey, M. S. (2004).  Nontraditional students’ service needs and social support resources: A pilot study. Journal of College Counseling, 7(1), 13-17.

Carney-Crompton, S., & Tan, J. (2002).  Support systems, psychological functioning, and academic performance of nontraditional female students. Adult Education Quarterly, 52(2), 140-154.

Chao, R., & Good, G. E. (2004).  Nontraditional students’ perspectives on college education: A qualitative study.  Journal of College Counseling, 7(1), 5-12.

Donaldson, J. F., Graham, S. W., Martindill, W., & Bradley, S. (2000).  Adult undergraduate

students: How do they define their experiences and their success?  The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 48(2), 2-11.

Erisman, W. & Steele, P. (2015). Adult college completion in the 21st century: What we know

and what we don’t. Washington, DC: HigherEd Insight.

Giancola, J. K., Grawitch, M. J., & Borchert, D. (2009).  Dealing With the Stress of College A Model for Adult Students.  Adult Education Quarterly, 59(3), 246-263.

Graham, S. W., & Gisi, S. L. (2000).  Adult undergraduate students: What role does college involvement play?  NASPA Journal, 38(1), 99-121.

Grant-Vallone, E., Reid, K., Umali, C., & Pohlert, E. (2003).  An analysis of the effects of self-esteem, social support, and participation in student support services on students’ adjustment and commitment to college.  Journal of College Student Retention:  Research, Theory, and Practice, 5(3), 255-274).

Hadfield, J. (2003). Recruiting and retaining adult students. New Directions for Student Services, 2003(102), 17-26.

Hardin, C. J. (2008).  Adult students in higher education: A portrait of transitions.  New Directions for Higher Education, 2008(144), 49-57.

House, J.S. (1981). Work stress and social support. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.

Johnson, L. G., Schwartz, R. A., & Bower, B. L. (2010).  Managing stress among adult women students in community colleges.  Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 24, 289-300.

Kasworm, C. E. (2003).  Setting the stage: Adults in higher education.  New directions for Student Services, 102, 3-10.

Miller, K., Gault, B., & Thorman, A. (2011).  Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents.  Washington, DC:  Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Wyatt, L. G. (2011).  Nontraditional student engagement: Increasing adult student success and retention. The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 59(1), 10-20.


About the Authors

Rebecca L. Brower is a Research Associate at the Center for Postsecondary Success at Florida State University. Her research focuses on institutional policies in higher education, particularly diversity policies that facilitate student encounters with difference.


Bradley E. Cox is an Associate Professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Florida State University. His research explores how institutional policies shape student experiences in college, with a particular emphasis on the systemic, institutional, and personal conditions that shape college experiences and outcomes for students on the autism spectrum.


Amber E. Hampton is an Associate Director at the Center for Leadership & Social Change at Florida State University and current doctoral student in the Higher Education program focusing on public policy. Hampton’s work as an Associate Director involves increasing dialogue as a form of communication across campus through programs with faculty, staff, and students. Her research as a student focuses on college access and underrepresented populations in higher education.


Please e-mail inquiries to Rebecca L. Brower.


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.

After 35 Years of Publishing Standards, Do CAS Standards Make a Difference?

CAS Standards Logo

After 35 Years of Publishing Standards, Do CAS Standards Make a Difference?

Wendy Neifeld Wheeler
Kelcie Timlin
The College of Saint Rose
Tristan Rios, Hamilton College


The Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) released the 2015 edition of the blue book in August 2015 (  This 9th edition of CAS includes thirteen revised functional areas and guidelines.  As higher education professionals know, calls for better quality accountability measures can be heard from stakeholders across the nation—including the federal government, funding agencies, state legislators, accrediting associations, elected officials, parents, and students.  Educators within student affairs have been impacted by the increasing demands to provide evidence of outcomes assessment.  Upcraft and Schuh (1996) asserted that as “questions of accountability, cost quality access, equity and accreditation combine to make assessment a necessity in higher education, they also make assessment a fundamental necessity in student affairs as well” (p. 7). The inherent goal to continuously make improvements in higher education is an equally compelling factor influencing the necessity of assessment (Keeling, Wall, Underhile, & Dungy, 2008). According to Keeling et al. (2008), “the use of assessment more importantly emerges from the desire of faculty members, student affairs professionals, parents, students and institutional administrators to know, and improve, the quality and effectiveness of higher education” (p. 1).

CAS was launched as a consortium of 11 charter members with the express charge “to advance standards for quality programs and services for students that promote student learning and development and promote the critical role of self- assessment in professional practice” (CAS, 2012, p. v).  It has influenced assessment practice in student affairs since its origination and continues to provide significant revisions and updates as with the newest edition’s release in August 2015.  A primary goal of CAS is to fulfill the foundational philosophy that “all professional practice should be designed to achieve specific outcomes for students” (CAS, 2012, p. v). According to Komives and Smedick (2012), “utilizing standards to guide program design along with related learning outcomes widely endorsed by professional associations and consortiums can help provide credibility and validity to campus specific programs” (p. 78).

Today, CAS has grown to include forty-one member organizations with representatives who have developed these resources through a collective approach that integrates numerous perspectives across student affairs.

The purpose of this study was to replicate the original research of Arminio and Gochenauer (2004). Their investigation was designed to “assess the impact of CAS on professionals in CAS member associations…the researchers sought to explore who uses CAS standards, how and why they are used and whether CAS standards are associated with enhanced student learning” (Arminio & Gochenauer, 2004, p. 52). To that end, the processes of sampling and data collection were mirrored as much as possible. This article addresses the question “What changes, if any, are there between the results of the 2004 publication by Arminio and Gochenauer and the current study?”


In the spring of 2012, the investigators made contact with original author Jan Arminio requesting permission to duplicate the 2004 quantitative study.  Researchers also consulted with Laura Dean, then president of CAS, for approval to move forward with the research.  Dean, in consultation with her CAS colleagues, agreed that CAS would support the research project. IRB approval was sought and granted from the home institution. Once all approvals were completed, Dean, on behalf of the investigators, emailed an invitation to participate in the study to the designated CAS liaisons (a representative of the member association whose role is to provide transparency between CAS and the association).  Ten of 41 professional associations agreed to participate, resulting in an initial sample size of 2,127.  The response rate for each of these associations is provided in Table 1.

Name of Organization Response Percentage Response


ACPA (American College Personnel Association) 13% 41
ACHA (American College Health Association) 1% 5
ACUHO-I (Associations of College and University Housing Officers) 4% 12
ACUI (Association of College Unions International) 3% 8
AHEAD (Association on Higher Education and Disability) 1% 3
NACA (National Association for Campus Activities) 1% 3
NACADA (National Academic Advising Association) 37% 114
NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) 1% 4
NASAP (National Association of Student Affairs Professionals) 4% 13
NODA (National Orientation Directors Association) 2% 7
Other 33% 99

Table 1. Professional Organization Response Rates

The survey consisted of all quantitative multiple-choice questions from the original study (Arminio & Gochenauer, 2004), plus several new multiple-choice questions expanding on the initial question set to 18 items. Twelve of the 18 questions allowed participants to add comments beyond selecting one of the available answer choices. The instrument had three primary purposes: to determine the extent to which the respondent was familiar with and/or utilized the CAS standards; to learn of other assessment tools or methods being used; and to investigate any existing relationship between assessment practices and student learning outcomes. The instrument was uploaded to the online survey system SurveyMonkey (, a free software platform. The researchers analyzed the data using the software included in the SurveyMonkey platform.  Frequencies and summaries of data were included in the statistical analysis.


A total of 15% (n=309) of the initial sample size was included in the data analysis. Of the 309 respondents, 36% (n=109) of the individuals indicated they were employed at public 4-year institutions and 24% (n=75) were from private 4-year institutions.  Community 2-year schools were represented by 12% (n=36) of the sample. A total of 6% (n=18) of individuals indicated job titles of vice presidents, associate vice presidents and assistant vice presidents, while deans, associate deans and assistant deans were indicated by 9% (n=29) of respondents. Directors made up the majority of the participants at a total of 23% (n=72), followed by coordinators at 15% (n=45). New professionals made up 9% (n=28) of the sample, and faculty represented 6% (n=18) of the sample. The remaining 32% (n=99) of participants indicated other as their job title as described in Table 2.

Table 2

Table 2. Percentage of Respondents in Each Job Category


Knowledge and Use of CAS

The current instrument included five yes/no questions; the first asking participants if they had previously heard of CAS. A total of 82% (n=254) of the participants indicated that they had heard of CAS. In contrast, Arminio and Gochenauer (2004) reported that 61% (n=890) of the participants in their study had heard of CAS. For those participants who indicated they had heard of CAS in the current study, follow-up questions were designed to investigate the extent of the usage of CAS.  Of the 254 respondents who had heard of CAS, 65% (n=158) indicated they were using CAS.

CAS Resources and How They Are Used

Respondents who had indicated they were using CAS (n=158) were asked to identify how they were using the current or past editions of the blue book, the CAS CD, or a particular CAS Self-Assessment Guide (SAG). Of those who use CAS, 81% (n=128) of respondents indicated that the blue book was their primary source of CAS-related information, with 72% (n=114) indicating that SAGs for a particular functional area was their secondary source of information.

Participants were then asked to identify how they use each of the materials. The multiple-choice options included: read it, to conduct self-assessment, for evaluation, as a general reference, as a resource guide for my work, for staff development, to increase institutional support, and for accreditation. The foremost reasons respondents were using the CAS resources were to conduct self-assessment at 41% (n= 65) and as a resource guide at 35% (n=55).  Only 11% (n=17) of the respondents selected, to increase institutional support, as a way they used CAS materials.

Arminio and Gochenauer (2004) reported that in their study “more respondents used CAS materials to guide their programs than for self-assessment” (p. 57), which is the reverse of this study’s findings.  Arminio and Gochenauer (2004) did not report on whether respondents indicated using CAS to increase institutional support, but they did include the general statement “several respondents noted using CAS standards to document support for increased resources” (p. 59).

The instrument contained a multiple-choice question asking respondents if CAS had influenced their programs and services. The question included eight items for the participants to select, along with the option to write in additional comments.  The most frequently identified item was assessing current program, which was reported by 70% (n=111) of the participants, with mission statement and goals following at 44% (n=70). This is highlighted by respondents who shared “CAS Standards were critical in helping me to develop program initiatives, mission statements, and assessment plans” and “CAS provides an essential guide of how to best measure, compose and evaluate one’s departmental programs and services.” It was reported by 9% (n=14) of the responders that CAS influenced budget requests. CAS standards were also credited in influencing “emergency procedures and statements of ethics” in addition to “serving as a guideline for organizational change” based on comments of respondents.

Of the respondents who had indicated they had heard of CAS, 35% (n=80) were not using CAS. The most common reasons given for using an alternative assessment tool included that: the tool was more specific to the program/service (59%; n=47); that the tool was easier to adapt to the program/service (33%; n=26); and that the tool was less complex than CAS (9%; n=7). Similar to the previous question, the instrument allowed participants to specify other reasons for the use of an alternative assessment tool.  Respondents indicated via comments that the alternative tools they were using had been “selected by the division of student affairs” or they were “based on the school’s strategic plan.”

Participants, who had indicated they had not heard of CAS, were asked about their knowledge regarding other assessment tool availability. Of the 55 participants who indicated they had not heard of CAS, 32% (n=18) indicated they had heard of alternative assessment tools, but 68% (n=37) had not.  Of those who reported they had heard of other assessment tools 71% (n= 13) indicated they were using an alternative.  Those participants who indicated they were using an alternative assessment listed the following instruments as examples: Noel-Levitz, Collegiate Learning Assessment, World Class Instruction Design and Assessment, and HESI Admission Assessment Exam. There were also comments that indicated that the alternative assessment instruments being used had been developed specifically for that department by internal staff.

Influence of CAS on Learning

A total of 85% (n=134) of respondents stated there was a connection between learning outcomes and CAS.  Arminio and Gochenaur (2004) reported that 24% of the respondents stated they measured learning outcomes generally and of those, 41% indicated a connection between the measured learning outcome and CAS standards.  Several respondents provided comments on learning outcomes as it relates to CAS.  One participant stated, “I think the learning outcomes are brilliant and will guide our programs at my university,” while another respondent shared “CAS provides an essential list of tools and items that must be included in order to meet minimal to substantial learning outcomes.” The current climate, which has a distinct focus on learning outcomes, may have been an influence that resulted in the increase from the 2004 study to the present.

Of those in the current study who indicated there was a connection between learning outcomes and CAS standards, 64% (n=86) described the connection as strong. The connection was described as vague by 36% (n=48) of respondents, while Arminio and Gochenauer (2004) reported 28% of respondents describing a vague connection between learning outcomes and CAS standards. The primary reason given for learning outcomes not being connected to assessment was because student satisfaction is measured more than learning outcomes.

Positive Comments and Constructive Criticism of CAS

Respondents were asked to reflect generally on CAS and share their thoughts.  The most common theme was focused on the collaborative nature of the CAS standards.  This is emphasized by the thoughts of one respondent:

CAS is an essential resource to the student affairs profession.  It is the ONLY available set of objective standards for a standard of practice in each area of student affairs.  The process by which CAS standards are written and vetted is excellent,

and “knowing functional area groups from across campus had to come together to agree on these standards provides even more weight as we work to make change.” The most common challenge of CAS standards was summarized by one respondent: “The sections (of CAS) are somewhat repetitive across functional areas…and the learning outcomes could be more specific to each functional area rather than just discussing broadly.”


The data collected in this study not only supports and enriches the research of Arminio and Gochenaur (2004), but provides an indicator of sustained knowledge and use of CAS since its introduction in the 1970’s.  The current study also indicates that CAS is used primarily to conduct self-assessment and that these assessment activities are directly related to established learning outcomes.  Recognizing the potential CAS can play in enhanced assessment practices of student affairs educators, professional organizations may want to consider additional means of providing training on CAS standards for its members.

Department leaders are encouraged to continue intentional discussions about the role of assessment in the day-to-day work of student affairs. To ensure continued commitment to assessment activities in the future, considerable thought and resources need to be part of a department’s strategic planning.  If one role of student affairs educators is to create the most effective learning opportunities for students, it is imperative that assessment undertakings hold a place of priority.

Limitations and Future Research

This study has a number of limitations.  The overall response rate was low.  This may have been impacted by several confounding factors. Specifically, the original study used a paper and pencil survey that was mailed to prospective participants.  The current study mirrored the questions from the original study, but used an electronic platform for administration. Shih and Fan (2008) have found “web survey modes generally have lower response rates (about 10% lower on the average) than mail survey modes” (p. 264).

The investigators experienced some unforeseen minor technological complications in the use of SurveyMonkey, thus three slight revisions needed to occur during the distribution of the study. Thus, initial invitees were asked to disregard the first link (to the first survey) and use the subsequent link. Future investigators who choose to further replicate the original research may want to revert back to a paper and pencil version of the instrument.

It is also possible that those who chose not to participate selected out of the survey because they were unfamiliar with CAS and did not feel their responses would be valued. It may benefit investigators to more overtly express that invitees do not need to be versed in CAS to participate in the research. Although the sample size was sufficient, others may want to implement additional strategies to increase the overall sample size.

The participants of this study were exclusively members of a “member association” of CAS, thus potentially skewing the results of the study in the direction of CAS knowledge and use.  Concurrently, selection bias may also be a limitation; those who responded may have been more invested in the subject of CAS or have a strong orientation towards the support of CAS. This restricts the generalizability of the findings to a wider range of diverse student affairs professionals who may not belong to these member associations and limits the contextual range of the data.  Future investigations may want to consider a comparison group by including professional organizations that are not member associations of CAS.


Colleges and universities continue to work towards improving assessment and accountability practices. Student affairs professionals seeking to advance their programs and services may want to reflect on whether CAS has served as a valuable resource for peers who, in this study, indicated positive experiences with the CAS instrument.  CAS provides a vetted tool that can serve as a resource in creating new programs, improving current practices and generally providing an instrument with which to judge our work in an intentional way. It is likely that CAS usage will continue to grow in member organizations and that new functional areas will be added.

In summary, two participants articulated the overall value of CAS in these ways: “I find the CAS standards to be very meaningful and an important framework from which to maintain clear focus about what programs are/are not doing and how to communicate to others what national standards and norms are” and “I think CAS standards are valuable to give our work credibility and as they provide guidance for us as we develop our programs.”

Discussion Questions

  1. What additional avenues can be utilized to broaden and enhance the use of CAS across divisions of Student Affairs?
  2. How can a CAS self-assessment study provide additional credibility and validity to the work of student affairs professionals?
  3. As campuses continue to explore and examine their own cultures of assessment, where does the CAS instrument fit into this picture?


Arminio, J. & Gochenaur, P. (2004). After 16 years of publishing standards, do CAS standards make a difference? College Student Affairs Journal, 24(1). 51- 65.

Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (2012). CAS professional standards for higher education (8th ed.). Washington, D.C.: Author Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. Retrieved from

Keeling, R. P., Wall, A. F., Underhile, R. & Dungy, G. J. (2008). Assessment reconsidered: Institutional  effectiveness for student success. Washington, DC: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

Komives, S. R. & Smedick, W. (2012).  Using standards to develop student learning outcomes.

In K. L. Guthrie & L. Osteen (Eds.), Developing Students Leadership Capacity. New Directions for Student Services, no. 140 (pp. 77-88). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Shih, T. H. & Fan, X. (2008). Comparing response rates from Web and mail surveys: A meta- analysis. Field Methods, 20, 249-271.

Upcraft, M. & Schuh, J. (1996). Assessment in student affairs: A guide for practitioners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

About the Authors

Wendy Neifeld Wheeler, Ph.D. is the Dean of Students/Title IX Coordinator at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.  She also teaches as an adjunct instructor in the College Student Services Administration program at The College of Saint Rose.

Kelcie Timlin, MS.Ed., is an Assistant Registrar at The College of Saint Rose.  Her current interests include Academic Advising and whole student development.

Tristan Rios, MS.Ed.,  is a Resident Director at Hamilton College.  He is interested in pursuing more advanced positions in Residence Life and aspires to be a Director.

Please e-mail inquiries to Wendy Neifeld Wheeler.

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.


Fostering Student Speech and Expression While Maintaining Campus Civility, Safety, and Functioning

Fostering Student Speech and Expression While Maintaining Campus Civility, Safety, and Functioning

Image of Neil H. Hutchens

Neal H. Hutchens
Pennsylvania State University


Kaitlin Quigley

Kaitlin Quigley
Pennsylvania State University

Periodically, students’ speech and expressive activities result in legal conflict in regard to institutional regulations designed to address when, where, and under what circumstances students may engage in speech and expression on campus. In one recent illustrative incident that attracted media attention, a community college in California faced a lawsuit after a student challenged institutional rules that restricted him from seeking signatures for petitions outside the college’s designated free speech zone (Masatani, 2014). The college settled the lawsuit, agreeing to pay the student and his attorneys $110,000 and to revise its speech policies to make most areas of campus available for speech and expressive activities. For this column, we examine legal conflicts that potentially arise over institutional rules related to the time, place, and manner of students’ speech and expressive activities on campus. Specifically, we focus on instances involving student speech or expression in seemingly ‘open’ or ‘public’ areas of campus, such as sidewalks or plazas, and when students must gain institutional approval to engage in activities that include handing out flyers or seeking signatures for petitions.

Overview of Legal Standards Impacting Student Speech

Public/Private Distinction, Contract, State Laws

Several legal factors determine the extent of student speech rights and accompanying levels of institutional authority to regulate student expression. An initial distinction often of legal significance involves a college or university’s status as public or private. Public institutions, unlike their private counterparts, must adhere to legal standards mandated under the First Amendment when exercising authority over student speech and expression.

At both public and private colleges and universities, standards derived from sources such as student handbooks are frequently legally relevant. While many courts are careful to avoid defining the student-institutional relationship as solely contractual in nature, contract standards provide a legal framework often used by courts to evaluate institutional actions. This includes in relation to student speech issues, where courts may turn to standards and rules articulated in student handbooks and codes of conduct to evaluate the permissibility of actions taken against students.

Private colleges and universities typically possess much greater discretion than public ones in exercising authority over student speech and expression. From a contract perspective, the key issue involves consistent treatment of students that aligns with established institutional policies and practices. Even while generally possessing greater discretion to regulate student speech, a private college or university must follow, in a fair manner, its own rules in the treatment of students to withstand legal scrutiny.

State laws and constitutional standards are also potentially germane in terms of the legal protections available for student speech and expression. At least one state, California, has a law that requires secular private colleges and universities to grant students the equivalent speech rights that exist for students at public institutions. State laws can also impact public colleges or universities by providing legal protections beyond those granted through federal constitutional provisions. For example, Illinois has mandated that public institutions must provide greater legal protections to student media than potentially provided under federal constitutional standards. Just as with contract standards, state law can play a meaningful role in terms of institutional authority to regulate aspects of student speech and expression.

The First Amendment

The dominant legal imperative for public colleges and universities in the realm of student speech and expression comes from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969) stands as a foundational United States Supreme Court decision in this area. While involving secondary students, the legal rules and principles derived from the case have been extended to public higher education. In Tinker, the Supreme Court decided that high school officials could not prohibit students from wearing armbands as a means to engage in a form of silent protest to the military conflict in Vietnam. The court held that school officials could not restrict the speech unless it would substantially interfere with the educational environment or impair the rights of other students.

Campus areas often differ in relation to the First Amendment rights available for student speech and expression. Institutions are able to exert heightened authority over student speech in specific parts of campus, such as classrooms, libraries, offices, or auditoriums. That is, the nature of the campus location—or forum as it is often referred to in legal decisions—where speech occurs is often legally significant in determining the applicable speech rights available and the corresponding level of institutional control over aspects of such speech. Accordingly, some locations, or fora, on campus are subject to enhanced institutional authority because they have not been designated by the institution or traditionally recognized as some type of open forum for student speech and expression.

For example, classroom spaces—at least when class meetings are taking place—do not constitute locations that have been made generally open for student speech and expression. As such, courts have typically granted substantial authority on the part of public colleges and universities to regulate such learning environments to prohibit disruptions to the educational process. Other spaces on campus not generally open to unconstrained student speech and expression, at least at certain times or for certain purposes, include administrative offices, libraries, and locations for performances and athletic events.

In contrast, some places on campus can constitute places either traditionally recognized or designated by the institution as generally available for student speech and expression. The United States Supreme Court has recognized that students possess substantial First Amendment rights in such forums. A key legal decision establishing this principle is Healy v. James (1972). In this case, the Supreme Court—declaring that First Amendment protections apply to public college students’ speech—rejected the contention that a group of students suffered no First Amendment deprivation when they were denied access to use campus facilities in the same way as other student organizations because they could still meet off campus. The administration’s refusal to grant the organization the right to meet and distribute information on campus was based on fears that the group would engage in disruptive and violent behavior. According to the Supreme Court, while the university could require students to follow reasonable campus rules, it could not seek to silence students on the basis of expressing views disfavored by school officials.

An important point to emphasize is that campus spaces can serve multiple purposes, which means that student speech rights in a campus location can also shift. For instance, an auditorium might be made available at some times for students to reserve to engage in speech or expressive activities. At other times, this same auditorium could be used for performances or lectures and not be an open forum for student speech and expression. Similarly, a university may make classroom spaces available to students when not being used for instructional purposes. When classrooms are made available to students under such circumstances, the institution possesses less authority to regulate aspects of student speech and expression than would often be legally permitted during a class meeting. The remainder of this column will focus on student speech and expression in seemingly open or public areas of campus, including sidewalks and other walkways, courtyards, and other campus areas generally available to students.

The First Amendment and “Open” Campus Areas

Apart from spaces not considered open on a general basis for student speech activities unless by special designation—e.g., classrooms, auditoriums, libraries, and offices—what about the legal status of seemingly open or public areas of campus, such as sidewalks, courtyards, or plazas? Students may reason that, because these spaces are generally open for student use, they constitute fora for expression. This is not always the case. At times, public college and university officials have clashed with students over the legal classification of such spaces. This has led to legal disputes over the types of regulations that institutions are permitted to impose on student speech and expressive activities in such campus areas.

Some institutions have argued in litigation that the legal standards associated with limited or non-public fora should apply to these types of campus areas apart from designated free speech zones. Such a designation generally vests institutions with greater legal authority to control access to these campus spaces in relation to student speech and expressive activities. In contrast, students have contended that rules associated with the traditional or designated public forum should apply to many open areas of campus, at least in relation to students. A traditional or designated public forum is government-controlled property generally open for citizens to engage in speech activities, though still subject to content-neutral regulations based on time, place, or manner. Any type of content-based restriction on student speech or expression is typically subject to heightened legal scrutiny.

Issues related to exactly what kind of forum exists on particular areas of campus, specifically open areas, can be legally complex, at times requiring consultation with institutional legal counsel. Public colleges and universities should be aware that courts may be becoming increasingly wary of institutional efforts to characterize most campus areas as a limited or closed forum and then designate a relatively small free speech zone to serve as a designated public forum for student speech and expression.

An illustrative case involving the University of Cincinnati dealt with restrictions placed on open areas of campus that limited demonstrations, picketing, and rallies to a small portion of campus (University of Cincinnati Chapter of Young Americans for Liberty v. Williams, 2012). The university also required groups of students to provide at least five days notice before engaging in speech and expressive activities. The university argued that all of its campus area constituted a limited public forum in which requirements such as a prior notice could be imposed.

A federal district court in Ohio granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the students that halted the university’s enforcement of the standards. The court discussed in its order that more recent legal decisions, including from the Supreme Court, had treated open areas of campus at public colleges or universities as a designated public forum in relation to students. According to the court, it was unaware of any legal decisions that established that “a public university may constitutionally designate its entire campus as a limited public forum as applied to students” (p. 5). It stated in its order that permitting this level of institutional authority over student speech would be “anathema to the nature of a university,” which is supposed to serve as a marketplace for ideas (p. 5). In a later order, the court approved of a revised policy where student groups of less than 25 engaging in expressive activity such as collecting signatures did not need to gain prior approval or to obtain a permit for speech and expressive activities in the institution’s specified free speech zone as well as other open area of campus, such as plazas and sidewalks.

In another case, a federal court of appeals considered regulations at the University of Texas at Austin that prohibited anonymous leafleting (Justice for All v. Faulkner, 2004). The court held that open areas of a campus should be viewed as an open forum in terms of the student population. The university had contended that such campus spaces should be viewed as a limited public forum and subject to greater institutional control. Upholding the lower court’s decision in the case, the court of appeals determined that the university, as expressed in institutional rules and statements, had “given its students too broad a guarantee of expressive freedom now to claim it intended its campus to function as a limited public forum” (p. 769). In the case, the lower court had also discussed in its opinion that the weight of authority in previous legal decisions had determined that campus grounds (at least open spaces) constituted a type of public forum for student speech and expression. Under the standards applicable to such an open public forum, the court of appeals decided that a prohibition on anonymous leafleting was an unreasonable regulation on the part of the university.

In a case involving Oregon State University, another federal appeals court held that the institution had violated the First Amendment in restricting the placement of news bins for the distribution of a student newspaper produced by a recognized student organization (OSU Student Alliance v. Ray, 2012). Looking to the university’s own administrative rules, the court determined that public areas of campus constituted a designated public forum for students. Furthermore, the court discussed in its opinion how the rule enforced against the student organization and its newspaper was unpublished, unpublicized and applied selectively to only this one publication. Other publications available on campus, including another student newspaper, local newspapers and USA Today, were not subjected to the policy.

Even when courts provide substantial discretion to public colleges and universities to regulate what areas of campus are available for student speech and expressive activity (i.e., what spaces constitute a limited forum versus a designated public forum), institutions must enforce standards in an even-handed manner. Otherwise acceptable time, place, and manner restrictions must contain clear standards and be enforced fairly in relation to students and student organizations.


In responding to instances involving student speech and expression, colleges and universities are faced with more than parsing out specific legal standards for given situations. At its best, the higher education experience provides a unique time and place for students to stretch their intellectual boundaries and to engage in a process of discovery about themselves and the larger world. As part of this journey of intellectual examination and growth, an accompanying function of the collegiate experience is to help strengthen the ability of students to participate in and contribute to democratic society. At the same time, institutions must balance the interests and needs of other members of the campus community, including making sure that environments are safe and that other institutional activities aren’t unduly hampered. These commitments to encouraging the free exchange of ideas and fostering a civil, nurturing educational environment can at times come into conflict and create administrative difficulties for higher education institutions. Student affairs professionals are tasked with determining how best to strike a balance between these multiple interests without running afoul of applicable legal standards.

Discussion Questions

  1. To what extent and in what locations should colleges and universities be permitted to regulate student speech?
  2. Are there laws in your state that affect the way your institution must treat student speech? What are the implications of these laws for you as a student affairs professional?
  3. In what ways does your institution regulate student speech? Are these regulations applied in a fair and consistent manner?
  4. In what ways is it possible to cultivate a campus environment in which free speech and civility peacefully co-exist? How can student affairs professionals aid in creating this environment?


Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169 (1972).

Justice for All v. Faulkner, 410 F.3d 760 (5th Cir. 2005).

Masatani, M. (2014, December 4). Citrus College to pay $110,000 to settle students First Amendment lawsuit. Pasadena Star-News. Retrieved from

OSU Student Alliance v. Ray, 699 F3d. 1053 (9th Cir. 2012).

Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969).

University of Cincinnati Chapter of Young Americans for Liberty v. Williams, 2012 WL 2160969, No. 1:12-CV-155 (S.D. Ohio June 12, 2012).

About the Authors

Neal H. Hutchens is an associate professor in the Higher Education Program at Pennsylvania State University.

Kaitlin Quigley is a Ph.D. student and graduate assistant in the Higher Education Program at Pennsylvania State University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Neal H. Hutchens.


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