Keeping Student Services Relevant in a Virtual World

Christopher Giroir & Christine Austin, Arkansas Tech University

There are not many guarantees in higher education, but one that is certain is change.  Failure to embrace the changing trends impacting higher education can have tremendous impacts on many divisions on a university campus, including student affairs.  Close to 32% of today’s college student population has taken at least one academic course online with the trend predicted to grow even more in the coming years (Sheehy, 2013).  This trend requires closer examination and a response from the student affairs community on how to best serve online students’ particular needs.

The majority of college students have been traditional-aged (18-22 year olds) and residential at four-year institutions, so many of the services and activities offered to students are designed for face-to-face delivery (Thelin & Gasman, 2011).  In a recent study conducted by Van Der Wef and Sabatier (2009), universities predicted only half of their student population in 2020 will be traditional-age, full-time students.  This indicates a more diverse student population with different needs to be considered when looking at what services, programs, and activities will be offered at universities, including those from student affairs.  This article examines the characteristics of online students, how theoretical frameworks can assist student affairs administrators in meeting the unique needs of this population, and how some institutions are presently serving students who strictly attend classes online.

A Unique Student Demographic:  Online Students

It is difficult to determine a clear picture of the new college student, but research has helped identify common characteristics.  Based upon the Van Der Weft and Sabatier study (2009), approximately one third of higher education institutions estimate 60% of students will complete their entire academic coursework online.  Online education is becoming an integral part of many colleges and universities, with 65.5 percent of chief higher education administrators reporting online education is an essential component of the strategic plan (Lytle, 2011) for their institution.  These reports indicate higher education is embracing online learning and is recognizing online students as essential to the growth and sustainability of higher education.

Administrators need to gain an appreciation for the mindset and demands of online students if they hope to retain and increase their online student population (Floyd & Casey-Powell, 2004).  Many online students and their parents are exploring higher education through a retail lens by wanting quick, convenient, and instant service (Selingo, 2013).  They not only expect customer service in meeting their academic needs but also in the traditional services commonly provided by student affairs.  Higher education institutions have devoted financial and human resources such as online platforms, technology support personnel, online instructional designers, and massively open online courses (MOOCs), to help address the academic needs of the online student (Haynie, 2013a).  Administrators need to consider how these same resources might be used to give students exposure to the needed services commonly associated with student affairs.

Using Theory to Connect to Online Students

Failure to consider how to serve online students and their demands could drastically impact the need for student affairs divisions all together (Moneta & Jackson, 2011).               According to Cawthon, Boyd, and Seagraves (2013), “[f]actors such as economic conditions, increased accountability, increased focus on student learning, campus retirements, and changing student demographics are impacting the organizational structure of student affairs divisions” (p. 5).  By being proactive and taking measures to show how services provided by student affairs can be modified to meet an online student’s needs, student affairs divisions can confirm their presence as a necessary and relevant entity in a collegiate environment.  Student affairs professionals have often justified the benefits associated with their services by using student development theory as a foundation for their work with a traditional, residential student (Upcraft, 1998). Student services areas now need to use the same theories with the online student as the main focus.

Student Development Theory

Unfortunately, there has not been much discussion in the literature about how traditional student development theories can be applied to the online student.  One of the foundational theories student affairs professionals reference when developing programs or services (e.g. Astin’s Involvement Theory) can be easily adapted with the online student in mind.  The theory stresses the importance of connecting students to the campus through active and quality involvement that can create a positive impact on the student’s overall development and satisfaction with the campus.  Online students in particular need the feeling of social presence and connection to create conditions for optimal learning (Aragon, 2003).

Today’s student is a multi-tasker with many obligations and commitments, and student affairs administrators report difficulty in trying to help connect students who are physically on campus to get involved (Roper, 2007).  The challenge only escalates when trying to find ways to promote involvement for online learners.  Student affairs professionals will need to investigate how they can creatively use technology or other resources at their disposal to help online learners feel connected and involved with the campus.

Social Network Theory

One way to encourage the type of involvement advocated by Astin (1984) is by examining the ways in which students seek connection in other parts of their lives.  There is a rich variety of social networks to which students belong and contribute their time.  Knowing how to create or enhance these networks can contribute to online learning success “due to the isolated nature of these instructional settings” (Aragon, 2003, p. 61).  One theory closely related to the involvement perspective of student development is social network theory (SNT) (Kilduff & Tsai, 2003; Thomas, 2000; Webster, Freeman, & Aufdemberg, 2001).  Initially designed for use in sociology, social network theory is useful when examining the way in which students, particularly online students, interact with their distance education.  A distance student’s requirements are focused more on his or her own individualized needs.  Through the use of data analytics and algorithms (Kilduff & Tsai, 2003) SNT tracks the interaction of the individual within the larger network, and identifies the building of community through a series of interactions.  It views the social relationship as a series of nodes (individuals) and ties (relationships) (Kapucu, Yuldashev, Demiroz, & Arslan, 2010).  In SNT the ties or the links between the individual and other agencies within the network demonstrate the importance of the relationship.  Rather than the individual driving the interaction, it is the quality of the interaction that contributes to success (Thomas, 2000).  By understanding the patterns of navigation that online students take as they maneuver through student services, student affairs administrators will be able to provide and refine the services that online students demand to create the community and social networks they need to be successful in a virtual educational environment.

Translating Student Services to the Virtual Environment

Understanding the paths by which online students seek assistance in the varied types of student services necessary to their successful retention and ultimate completion of a college degree is essential to ensure that we serve them effectively. Learning the ways in which students seek information about services as varied as campus activities, admissions, career and health services, and academic advising will assist student affairs professionals to be present in the virtual world our online students inhabit.

Campus Activities

One way to promote involvement and community for online students is through the creation of online student groups and organizations.  Many institutions, such as Penn State (“Penn State students create,” 2010), offer online students the opportunity to join a virtual student group.  Many of the online groups center around an academic major focused on helping these students become successful in their chosen academic field (Kolowich, 2010).  The following are some examples of online student organization activity.  Conducting resume and networking webinars and presentations from professionals working in their chosen field on current topics via a live video feed are examples of using technology to meet online students’ needs.  Students can post comments about the presentations, hold an active discussion by calling in and conducting a group chat, or make use of other technology programs like Second Life (n.d.), where students can meet and talk in a virtual context.  Holding organizational meetings online where students can participate by watching a “live video feed” and typing in their questions or comments is another effective way of interacting.  The questions and responses from these organizational meetings can be archived for future use and can provide a record of the organization’s activities.  All of these activities can create opportunities for online students to participate in student organizations (Underwood, Austin, & Giroir, 2008).


Online students want to feel connected to their institutions and experience a true collegiate bond with their classmates, faculty, and staff (Pokross, 2012).  Some institutions, such as Utica College in New York, are giving registered, online students an opportunity to have an official student identification (ID) card, giving these students tangible evidence of being a part of the university community (Utica College, 2014).  Having a student ID gives online students the opportunity to access many of the services for which they pay fees such as library access, entrance into university athletic events, and access to health services, among others.

Career Services

Career services is also a common student affairs functional area of which online learners want to take advantage (Haynie, 2013b).  Much like traditional on-campus students, online learners want opportunities aimed at helping them find employment (Floyd & Casey-Powell, 2004).  Using the telephone, e-mail, or video calling programs with smart phones are just some examples of how career coaches are helping online learners gain access to career searching resources (Haynie, 2013b).  Institutions, like Central Lakes College (2014), are giving their online learners access to practice interviewing strategies through a computer program entitled Interviewstream.  The software has general or industry specific interview questions it can ask the online learner and records their responses.  The user can then send the recorded interview via e-mail link to career coaches or advisors on the campus for feedback (Interviewstream, 2014).  Online learners can send resumes via e-mail to counselors for feedback; and it is not uncommon to see many universities hold virtual career fairs.  Employers post job announcements on a career services web-site and both on-campus and virtual students can submit their resumes and applications for these positions electronically to the employers for their review (Virginia Tech, 2014).

Health Services

Another common student affairs functional area adapting to meet the needs of online learners is health services.  While not able to perform full medical appointments over the Internet, Santa Fe College nonetheless created a resource site for online students, which includes a number of internet-based resources (Santa Fe College, 2014).  Students are invited to use programs such as to learn about the effects of alcohol, drugs, and stress, as well as to learn more about various health and wellness issues.  Santa Fe College online students, as well as on-campus students, have access to the Student Health Care Center staff via the Internet for any health-related questions they may have as well as a host of links to other health-related information.

Academic Advising

In an effort to assist online students with their holistic development, many student affairs functions are exploring ways to provide effective services in a variety of areas for their online students.  One functional area that ranks as a top priority for online learners is academic advising.  Good academic advising is essential for traditional and online student success and many institutions are exploring a variety of advising techniques, with some specifically designed to meet online students’ needs.  Intrusive advising (Cannon, 2013) is a type of academic advising commonly being used with online students at Arkansas Tech University (ATU) in the accelerated bachelor of professional studies (BPS) degree program (ATU, 2014).  This approach is more than just asking a student what classes they want to take for the upcoming semester, it is a holistic approach looking at all the different factors that impact the student and could have an impact on their academic success.   Student affairs professionals need to be knowledgeable about the institution and the resources available; many times, they are the sole contact for the student regarding university issues, such as registration, curriculum changes, or financial aid, so it is vital for student affairs professionals to be aware of those resources (Albecker, 2012).  By using a holistic approach which reaches out to the student rather than waiting for them to ask for assistance, online student services create interrelationships that influence the student’s academic success (Upcraft & Kramer, 1995).


Student affairs professionals need to face the challenge of a changing student population and begin to seek ways to use technology to get students involved and connected with their institutions.  Understanding the needs, from both a theoretical and practical perspective, of online students will assist in placing resources judiciously to offer distance students the interaction and community that will make them successful.  Students are very clear about what they need to be successful and several institutions have made that connection to their students.  Adapting and modifying services to meet the needs of online students will demonstrate how professionals are using many skills from the equity, diversity, and inclusion professional competency area and  enhancing the relevance and function of student affairs for all students, both those on campus and those in the virtual university.

Discussion Questions

  1.  What are you currently doing at your institution to help online students be successful both in and out of the classroom?
  2. What services do you think online students may need or want from student affairs at your institution and what are ways you could provide these services?

About the Authors

Christopher Giroir and Christine Austin are both Associate Professors of College Student Personnel (CSP) at Arkansas Tech University (ATU).  The CSP program at ATU gives students the option to complete their master’s degree entirely online, so both authors have research interest in online student success and learning. 

Please e-mail inquiries to Christopher Giroir.


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.


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Becoming a Better Ally: Reflections from ACPA 2015

Although a great deal of literature calls attention to the lived experience of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and questioning (GLBTQIQ) community, very little attention has been given to the lived experience of allies and providing practical applications of examining uncomfortable growth areas in one’s allyship.  Upon return from ACPA’s 2015 Convention in Tampa, FL, I reflect upon my learning during the 2014 Convention in Indianapolis and the proverbial “gut check” I underwent regarding my allyship to the GLBTQIQ community.

I was bullied throughout high school.  My “crime” was that I loved acting.  I excelled in theatre.  I was athletic but I was not an athlete.  Big difference.  For this, and several other reasons, I was picked on.  Bullied.  Harassed.  This made me feel scared.  Intimidated.  Lesser than.  I was pushed into lockers and harassed in the cafeteria.  I was called a faggot.  My only recourse at the time – or so I thought – was to convince everyone that I was not gay.  In fact, I was tireless in my pursuit to prove my heterosexuality to others and make the overall bullying stop.  I was unsuccessful on both counts.  Sadly, my personal bullying example is not an isolated incident.

According to a recent study, 1 in 5 college-aged students is a victim of bullying (“Gay Bullying Statistics,” 2014).  Likewise, the same study reported that, “9 out of 10 [GLBTQIQ students] have reported being bullied at school within the past year because of their sexual orientation” (para. 4).  While my bullying experience due to my perceived sexual orientation is certainly not the same lived experience as someone in the GLBTQIQ community, my encounter has given me a greater sense of empathy and framed my motivation toward allyship.

There were times in high school when attention was diverted away from me and others became the brunt of the jokes.  I would like to think that I was silent during the rude jokes.  The truth is, sadly, I probably laughed nervously.  It was easier because, for one moment, the tirade was not directed at me.  I was out of the crosshairs.  In retrospect, while I was not malicious in my behavior, I certainly was not a very good ally.  I was slow to share my painful experiences with adults.  Besides my parents, I wondered to whom I could look for support.  Again, my experience is not unlike many of today’s students as they are often reluctant to report bullying behavior to persons of authority.  Specifically, many GLBTQIQ students cite a failure to report due to a perceived failure of action on the part of professionals (“Gay Bullying Statistics,” 2014).  As higher education professionals and allies, this notion should terrify, then call, us to action.

Controversy and confusion surrounding the word “ally” has existed for quite some time.  For example, allyship has appeared, periodically, counterproductive for the communities with which one is aligned.  Specifically, who names someone as an “ally”?  Allies are frequently individuals who hold the dominant identity and, therefore, by naming ourselves, are actually again re-asserting our unearned power and privilege.  These power dynamics continue to play out despite often-good intentions.  Likewise, being an ally is a call to action, not a period of stasis.  Yet, individuals may use the term without grasping a full understanding of the immense responsibility associated with it.  Mychal Denzel Smith (2013) noted,

The problem lies in people who make it a point to let everyone know they are an ‘ally’ to a movement, whether they’re actually doing the work required of them or not.  More often than not, they’re just seeking credit for being a good person. (para. 3)

I came to realize that each of these concerns, at different points in my allyship journey, required in-depth examination.

The days of being bullied are in my distant past, but they are far from my distant memory.  I harken back to these experiences because they were the beginning of my allyship to the GLBTQIQ community.  I used these negative experiences as a catalyst for action.  As a seasoned student affairs administrator and new tenure-track faculty member, I espouse social justice but I often wonder how well I really live it.  I would find out at ACPA’s 2014 Annual Convention in Indianapolis, IN.  Before I made my way into the large convention hall for the opening session, I noticed a large sign adjacent to the registration table advertising the location of an all-gender restroom.  Near this location was a table advertising the Standing Committee for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Awareness.  I picked up a rainbow sticker and affixed it to my nametag.  Then I noticed a sticker that read “My preferred pronouns are _______.”  I wrote “Him, His, He” on a sticker and attached it to my nametag.  “What a powerful and empowering gesture,” I thought.

Once inside the convention hall, I found my seat but was faced with the need to attend to my bodily functions: I needed to use the bathroom.  As I exited the massive hall toward the restroom, I found myself face to face with the sign once more: All-Gender Restroom.  In my mind the sign suddenly started to flash as brightly as a marquee on Broadway.  I realized that, for as often as I advocated social justice, conducted trainings on gender identity, and lived my life as an “engaged” ally, this would be my first time using an all-gender bathroom.  This unnerved me.  It challenged my own biases and assumptions about what was comfortable and normal.

I had an internal dialogue with myself and I wondered if I caught anyone’s attention.  Why is this man staring at a bathroom door?!? I wondered why this was suddenly a challenge for me.  Why was I comfortable wearing rainbow stickers and a gender pronouns badge but this task suddenly seemed daunting and overwhelming?  This was a moment when I thoughtfully – critically – needed to take a hard look at whether I was “doing the work.”  Smith (2013) spoke to the danger that exists when an ally’s words and actions do not align, commenting,

This isn’t to say that the work that’s supposed to be done by ‘allies’ isn’t meaningful, but the word itself has started to become meaningless…As much as social justice movements need people, if those people aren’t committed…and willing to push themselves out of their comfort zones, they serve little purpose beyond the superficial. (para. 5)

I realized in this instance, and in many past instances of my social justice advocacy, I was not fully committed and willing to push myself out of my comfort zone.  My inaction added up to nothing more than meaningless rhetoric.  Still, I took a deep breath and walked through the door.

I’m not quite certain what I expected to see.  It was a bathroom.  A normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill bathroom.  I began to relax.  As my anxiety subsided, I made a promise to myself that, when available throughout the conference, I would intentionally use an all-gender bathroom.  Three bathrooms had been identified for all-gender use throughout the length of the Convention.  The next morning, with the comforts and the safety of my hotel bathroom aside, I quickly found that all-gender restrooms were few and far between for the size of the conference.  This realization caused me to be more deliberate about finding them rather than assuming there were bathrooms around every corner.  I could no longer quickly run out in the middle of a workshop to use the restroom.  My lived privilege quickly became apparent.

Transgender students face this dilemma all too often.  “Should I use the bathroom with the pants-wearing stick figure or the dress-wearing stick figure?”  For me the choice is obvious – the men’s restroom – and fits with my preferred gender pronouns.  But for students that don’t necessarily prescribe to the socially constructed gender binary, or identify with a gender that is misaligned with their biological sex, the decision is not as clear.  Members of the trans- community face discrimination and harassment as well as threats of arrest each day as they look for a safe place to use the restroom.  A recent article on Inside Higher Ed reported that a transgender student at a community college was detained by security officers and escorted off campus after she used the women’s bathroom (Jaschik, 2014).  A handout at the Annual Convention explained the purpose of the all-gender restrooms in the second paragraph: “Everyone has the right to meet their basic needs in a safe environment, without feeling threatened or intimidated.  All-gender restrooms provide an opportunity for our community members to enter a restroom without being questioned if they are in ‘the right place.’”

As allies in the GLBTQIQ community, we must walk the proverbial talk.  How might educators combat bullying and show their unwavering support and inclusivity of all students, but, most notably, the GLBTQIQ community?  Creating a positive campus culture starts with modeling inclusive behavior.  Be vocal regarding how to report bullying and exclusionary behavior.  Lend your voice so that others may find theirs.  Employ active listening techniques and model inclusive, empathic, and respectful behavior to students in all settings.

For me, this means taking risks, embracing my anxiety, and acting outside of my comfort zone.  Staring at the bathroom door, at that moment, I made a promise with myself to make some changes when I arrived home after the Convention had concluded.  I would no longer be a passive ally.  I show my support of the trans- community by using all-gender restrooms any time I encounter one, including at this year’s Convention in Tampa.  I supportively challenge people that harass individuals suspected of living outside the socially-constructed gender binary.  I use learning tools such as the “gender pronouns” exercise when I teach my courses on student development.  I ask all of my students their preferred name rather than assume it is the name on my class roster.  I work toward an “inclusion agenda” – which includes creating more all-gender restrooms – as part of my institution’s strategic plan.

GLBTQIQ concerns are not isolated to one particular group on campus, nor should they be the responsibility of one particular functional area.  The conversation of engaged allyship must reach all members of the campus community.  I encourage student affairs professionals to affirm all aspects of our students’ identities and advocate justice for all members of the campus community.  I invite staff to create welcoming and inclusive spaces.  I challenge faculty to transform pedagogy to cultivate more inclusive language during class.

As hindsight is 20/20, I would like to go back to high school and talk to my former self.  I would tell that scared little boy that he is just fine the way he is.  I would tell him that people care deeply about him.  Maybe I need to do more so that my students know that I care deeply about them; that they are fine just the way they are.  I wrestle with the concept that perhaps I am not as good of an ally as I once thought.  While this notion initially terrified me, it also, strangely, empowered me.  It permitted me to accept my own gender and sexual identity development and critically look at my life through a different lens.  I have learned a great deal about myself through this experience.  While a large part of being an ally constitutes acting outside of my comfort zone in order to widen my worldview, there is an equally important component that is less about “me as ally” and more about me using my power and privilege to advocate for the communities of which I am attempting to align.

My initial discomfort using an all-gender restroom propelled me to rethink my allyship and reaffirmed my responsibility as a social justice advocate.  Mia McKenzie (2013) echoed this sentiment, “‘Ally’ cannot be a label that someone stamps onto you—or…that you stamp on to yourself—so you can then go around claiming it as some kind of identity.  It’s not an identity.  It’s a practice.  It’s an active thing that must be done over and over again, in the largest and smallest ways, every day” (2013, para. 4).  This experience reminded me that my allyship is a journey.

Discussion Questions

1.     How might educators combat bullying and provide their unwavering support and inclusivity of all students, but, most notably, the GLBTQIQ community?

2.     How might we affirm and celebrate the multiple aspects of our students’ identity?

3.     What does an inclusive campus culture look like, and what strategies might we utilize to create such a campus culture?


The author acknowledges that the use of GLBTQIQ as an initialism is not an entirely-inclusive term, realizing that there are individuals with a spectrum of additional identities that go unnamed in the article.  The choice in language was not meant to be exclusionary; rather, it was chosen as an umbrella term to provide context for the reader.

References (2015). Gay bullying statistics. Retrieved from

Jaschik, S. (2014, April 2). Questioned for being transgendered. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from transgender-student-rights

McKenzie, M. (2013, September 30). No more “allies.” Retrieved from

Smith, M. D. (2013, October 1). The case against “allies.” Retrieved from

Standing Committee for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Awareness. (2014) All-gender restrooms. [Brochure].

About the Author

Matthew R. Shupp is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Counseling and College Student Personnel and Co-Chair of the GLBT Concerns Committee at Shippensburg University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Matthew R. Shupp.


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.

Diversity in America and on Campus

by Tadd Kruse, American University of Kuwait

Over the last two decades higher education has made significant efforts to emphasize and capitalize on the role and importance of diversity in tertiary education.  Related terminology is easily found in most institutional mission statements, strategic plans, and institutional goals, as well as being illustrated by a variety of offices to support specified services and programs.

Diversity manifests itself in many forms on campus, especially in the United States, with varying perspectives to support exposure both domestically and internationally.  Given the evolving global climate one might question whether higher education is a change agent/advocate in this effort, or is merely a reflection of the current state.  Regardless, diversity and related issues play a major role in tertiary education’s responsibility to prepare students for a global marketplace, and a seemingly shrinking world.  Institutions of higher learning need to recognize recent shifts within domestic and international populations in order to identify, embrace, and maximize benefits.

As the term diversity can be applied in many contexts, and interpreted different ways, for the purpose of the following points diversity is “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.: the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.  Diversity in this context extends beyond just race and culture to include the multitude of categories often used to identify human differences (gender, ethnicity, age, etc.). Regardless, diversity and related issues play a major role in post-secondary education’s responsibility to prepare students for a global marketplace, and a seemingly shrinking world.

Diversity on Campus: A Reflection of the Global Population

Many universities in the United States have developed offices for equity, diversity and inclusion as a means to foster equal opportunities, open dialogues, mutual respect and cross-cultural collaboration.  Additional offices exist to support more specialized populations and needs, and vary from domestic to international in basic scope: recognizing that domestic students face similar yet different issues as international student populations and vice-versa.  Even with such support services in place, campuses continue to adapt to the growing shift towards heterogeneous student bodies, illustrated through the increasing growth and variety of domestic and international student populations.

The United States’ population is becoming more diverse according to projections from the 2010 United States Census.  A 2012 Census Bureau projection reported that the United States is, and will continue to become, a more racially and ethnically diverse nation.  The Bureau projected that the United States will grow from the 2014 estimated population of around 320 million to surpass 400 million in the next forty years, becoming a majority-minority nation (no group will make up a majority) for the first time in 2043. Minorities, which are now 37 percent of the United States population, are projected to comprise 57 percent of the population in 2060, seeing the total minority population more than double, from 116.2 million to 241.3 million.  Of particular interest to educators is the proportion of the population younger than 18, which is expected to decrease only slightly from 23.5 percent to 21.2 percent from 2012 to 2060.  The Census Bureau report indicates a shift towards greater diversity across the country, which impacts campus populations at present as well as the near and distant future.

The Chronicle’s Almanac of Higher Education 2014, made accessible in August of this year, lists the most diverse campuses by measuring the probability that two people chosen at random from the student body are of different racial or ethnic groups.  The list includes the top fifteen institutions by category (4/2-year, public/private, non-profit/for-profit) with California having the highest number of campuses listed at 36, followed by Hawaii at 14, and New York at 10.  As most public and private institutions enroll students in state or within a geographic region, often within a specified radius, the demographic make-up of the region may largely determine an institution’s structural diversity.  As these states are very ethnically and racially diverse this may be a glimpse of the future for domestic diversity, and the impact on student populations.

In addition to United States domestic diversity, the addition of international student populations significantly enhances institutional diversity.  Globally, 2014 will see nearly five million students’ worldwide pursuing coursework for degrees outside of their home country, with the United States hosting an estimated 900,000.  Although the number of international students coming to the United States this year is estimated to be the highest ever, it represents approximately 3-4% of the national total higher education enrollment, a percentage that historically has been fairly consistent. These figures and trends present a substantial potential resource to universities and surrounding communities providing numerous benefits.

During summer 2014 a number of reports became available to further articulate the flow of international students.  A U.S. News and World Report article, based on data submitted to U.S. News from 263 ranked colleges, indicated the ten national universities with the largest percentages of international, degree-seeking undergrads in fall 2012, ranging from 15-29% of the student population.  The majority of these institutions were in New York, Florida, California, and the Midwest.

Further, The Brookings Institution released The Geography of Foreign Students in U.S. Higher Education: Origins and Destinations.  The report analyzes data on F-1 visa approvals, the most common form of visa for international students in the U.S., which is included in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) database. Unlike previous available data, the Brookings findings focused on the origin and destination cities of international students coming to America.  The report found that from 2008-2012, 85 percent of foreign students pursuing a bachelor’s degree or above attended colleges and universities in 118 metropolitan areas across the nation.  These 118 metro areas collectively accounted for 73 percent of United States higher education students.  According to the report, from 2008-2012, the top five source and destination cities for international students are as follows:

Top Five Source Cities

1. Seoul, South Korea             56,503 students

2. Beijing, China                       49,946 students

3. Shanghai, China                    29,145 students

4. Hyderabad, India                26,220 students

5. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia          17,361 students

Top Five Destination Metropolitan Areas

1. New York, NY                    101,586 students

2. Los Angeles, CA                   68,271 students

3. Boston, MA                                     53,486 students

4. San Francisco, CA                37,610 students

5. Washington D.C.                  35,459 students

Other Asian source cities that followed on the list include Mumbai (17,294), followed by Taipei (15,985), Hong Kong (12,406) and Kathmandu (10,721).  From 2008-12, other cities that welcomed more than 20,000 foreign students to the U.S. included Chicago (35,204), Dallas (25,353), Philadelphia (24,346), and San Jose (19,015).

From 2008 to 2012, approximately 3,700 United States educational institutions received approvals for F-1 visas for Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree programs with the top 100 schools accounting for 46 percent of all F-1 students pursuing at least a bachelor’s degree. With a high percentage of foreign students having attended a relatively small number of colleges and universities, and only one-third of foreign students having attended colleges or universities with little to no research activity, larger research based institutions and those in metropolitan settings do have an advantage.


Regardless of your institutional type and location, there are a number of benefits from developing and supporting a truly diverse student body.  Below are several factors to consider and embrace in support of expanding cultural awareness, cultural exchange, and intentionally promoting diversity at your institution.

  • Cultural Exchange – More diverse campus populations provide for a plethora of cultural exchange opportunities, both formal and informal.  Campuses can capitalize on the diversity presented within the student body through the celebration of culture and intentionally developing awareness opportunities.  These opportunities often are presented through international weeks, special programs, bazaars, campaigns, and language initiatives.  These exchanges can enhance not just the campus community but the local community as well, especially for those institutions in less metropolitan areas.
  • Economics According to The Brookings Institution report, approximately $21.8 billion in tuition and $12.8 billion in other spending added to the 118 metropolitan economies from international students between 2008 and 2012.  Nearly $7 billion a year was pumped into the United States economy during that period from this student population.  Much of that spending went beyond institutions and into community businesses.  The 2012-13 IIE Open Doors report suggests 313,260 jobs were supported by these funds.
  • Education A more diverse group, or class make-up, has long been deemed an important component to educational processes and learning.   Achieving a diverse student body, starting with admissions processes, helps to provide greater opportunities for classroom engagement and idea exchange.  The importance of diversity was supported in the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Grutter v Bollinger, addressing the University of Michigan Law School admissions processes.  The ruling reinforced that maintaining diverse and inclusive student populations is important to higher education environments.
  • Enrollment Source Students make decisions about where to study based on many factors, including academic reputation, programs, and recognition of degrees (both domestically and internationally).  Other key factors include language and cultural considerations; geography; similarity of education systems; links with institutions, regions, or countries; future job opportunities; cost; and cultural aspirations and immigration policies.  Universities need to be aware of strengths and weaknesses related to these factors in order to maximize institutional appeal and potential enrollment sources.
  • Labor Force – In addition to the economic benefits of international students, the labor force can also capitalize. As The Brookings Institution report stated, “With knowledge of both markets, foreign students can be valuable assets to local business communities that are seeking to expand globally, and the wider metropolitan economies in which they sit.”  The report further stated that 45 percent of foreign student graduates extend their visas in the United States to work in the same metropolitan area as their institution.
  • Personal Growth – A vital function of the higher education journey is the personal development of students.  Although often deemed a secondary outcome of the collegiate journey, many student affairs professionals or graduates would argue that this is quite significant.  By developing diverse populations and opportunities for exposure and understanding, institutions further support the maturation and growth of students in a multitude of ways.
  • Promote Tolerance & Cultural Diversity – As the United States and other countries around the world continue to diversify, the increased exposure and opportunities for cultural exchange help to develop and promote tolerance.  The United States has been viewed as a “melting pot” of cultures, but many would argue that it is more of a “kaleidoscope,” (that both immigrants and society adapt and change). A favored Mark Twain quote sums it up best by illustrating the importance of exposure in overcoming barriers to equity, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”


As tertiary education the world over continues to expand, crossing more borders than ever before and continuing to pair with shifts in domestic diversity figures, academia is not necessarily the change agent perhaps it once was.  It is now a closer reflection of the global population.   Multiculturalism and diversity issues are present on campuses now more than ever, mirroring an increased societal picture, especially in the United States.  Census projections see the country diversifying in major categories over the next three decades.  However, diversity tends to be generalized across a broad population of individuals depending on institutional make-up, and is not always an accurate representation.  These factors coupled with the largest international student population in the United States to date presents a need to revisit what diversity really means on your campus.  As student affairs practitioners, it is important that we acknowledge how diversity presents on campus.  Further, we must intentionally review and plan to embrace the dynamics of an evolving University community, as both a reflection of shifting national and global dynamics.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is your campus a reflection of the region in terms of overall diversity?  If not, how does it differ and why?
  2. Do you know the demographics of your student body on campus, including both domestic and international populations? Does your supervisor or peers?
  3. How might you go about gathering information about diverse student populations on your campus, and the services in place to support those most common?
  4. Is your institution type/setting one that benefits from the findings of The Brookings Institution report? What can your institution, your department, and you do to benefit from diversity at your institution?

About the Author

Tadd Kruse is Assistant to the President for Institutional Planning and Effectiveness at the American University of Kuwait (AUK).  With fifteen years of higher education administrative experience and having worked at institutions in the US, UK, and in the Middle East, he has spent more than a decade working abroad. He has experience in international education on a variety of fronts 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 Senior Student Affairs Officer, founded a department at a start-up institution, and worked in a variety of professional fields within Student Affairs.

Please e-mail inquiries to Tadd Kruse.


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.

The Pomp and Circumstance Marches

The Pomp and Circumstance Marches

by Jeffrey C. Sun, University of Louisville

Colleges and universities are gearing up for commencement.  However, on some of our campuses the pomp and circumstance march will not be in academic regalia.  Instead, we may face marches of students, alumni, and guests who are protesting the invitation of the school’s commencement speaker.

The pomp and circumstance march is not a new phenomenon.  According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “controversies over commencement speakers are practically an annual tradition on college campuses” (Anonymous, 2014).  The reasoning for pomped-up protests have included disdain over a speaker’s actions while in political office, objections about public expressions over social and political matters such as individual rights or war, and disapproval (June, 2014).

This article touches on the student rights and conduct concerns involving pomped-up protest through what is known in law as the Heckler’s Veto.  Heckler’s Veto is conduct that inhibits the free speech rights of the speaker in response to an opposing individual or party’s protest reactions (Daniel, Gee, Sun, & Pauken, 2012).  In situations involving a commencement speaker, a Heckler’s Veto prevails when a public college curtails the speech in reaction to protest tactics such as chanting, rallying, name calling, rabble-rousing, or thrown objects (Daniel, Gee, Sun, & Pauken, 2012).

Supporting a Heckler’s Veto potentially counters First Amendment principles of free speech (Daniel, Gee, Sun, & Pauken, 2012).  In other words, it is not consistent with the First Amendment.  As a federal appellate court once explained in non-education case, a Heckler’s Veto “would empower an audience [or others in a crowd] to cut off the expression of a speaker with whom it disagreed” (Glasson v. City of Louisville, 1975, 905-906).  In essence, a Heckler’s Veto rewards “community hostility and threats of violence to justify censorship” (Glasson v. City of Louisville, 1975, 906).  Therefore, public colleges may only address the conduct that is not protected under the First Amendment, such as expressions or activities that:

  • actually are or likely to lead to substantial disruption of the educational purpose;
  • true threats in which serious messages of one’s intent to commit an unlawful act of violence onto a particular individual or group of individuals;
  • incite the audience to engage or leading to imminent physical harm; or
  • are obscene expressions that an average community member would say appeal to prurient interest, are patently offensive, and lacks value (in a social, political, scientific sense).

For public colleges, the challenge is that they “are taxed with a dual responsibility to permit the free expression of ideas on campus while providing the safety and security of their students” (Rock for Life – UMBC v. Hrabowski, 2010, p. 555).  Thus, public colleges must consider the rights of the speaker, the audience, the hecklers, and the institution.

Because of its legal origins (i.e., constitutional rights drawn from the First Amendment), the Heckler’s Veto may not strictly apply to private colleges. The First Amendment precludes government from creating policies or taking other actions that abridges one’s freedom of speech.  Thus, public colleges, which are also government entities, must comply with constitutional standards in developing policies and procedures and engaging in practices involving their operations.

Given the legal distinctions between private and public colleges, it’s not surprising that private colleges have much greater discretion in terms of oversight and regulation of its campus environment (Daniel, Gee, Sun, & Pauken, 2012).  Typically, private colleges would refer to its student code of conduct and other campus policies to determine the student rights and conduct regulations.  These decisions are largely analogous to or actually treated as contract terms.  These policies may resemble First Amendment rights, so the principles discussed below are relevant to many college campuses.  Further, on occasion, a special law such as the situation in California may govern a private college’s policies regarding student expressions that require adherence to certain legal principles of the First Amendment’s free speech provisions.[1]

While there are differences between public and private colleges in terms of free speech, the academic environment should, regardless of its organizational form, foster an open dialogue and maintain its status as the space for the marketplace of ideas.  Thus, we should avoid activities that suppress speech.

Conclusion and Discussion Questions

Here are some basic guidelines that we should consider when we have veto attempts from hecklers.

  • Review the actions of the hecklers.  Are they creating a disruptive environment that substantially interferes with the purpose of the event?  Are there conduct matters of concern such as events leading to physical harm, obscene gestures or other expressions, or events leading to incitement or imminent harm that is likely to occur?  What recourse might you have to maintain order?  Are there any opportunities to educate the audience and the hecklers?
  • Examine what the speaker is expressing that may create harm.  Ask yourself the same questions as the hecklers, but keep in mind that you should avoid rewarding the Heckler’s Veto.
  • Consider the rights of the audience such as the graduates and their guests.  How might you articulate their rights to gather for the event and be present to hear the speech as well as engage in the commencement ceremony?


[1] For instance, California has law, known as the Leonard Law, which states in pertinent part: “No private postsecondary educational institution shall make or enforce a rule subjecting a student to disciplinary sanctions solely on the basis of conduct that is speech or other communication that, when engaged in outside the campus or facility of a private postsecondary institution, is protected from governmental restriction by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or Section 2 of Article I of the California Constitution.” Cal. Educ. Code § 94367 (2014).  This provision does not apply to religious postsecondary institutions when its application is not consistent with the religious tenets of the institution.


Anonymous (2014, May 20). A field guide to this spring’s commencement-speaker outrage. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Daniel, P. T. K., Gee, E. G., Sun, J. C., & Pauken, P. D. (2012).  Law, policy, and higher education: Cases and materials. New Providence, NJ: LexisNexis.

Glasson v. City of Louisville, 518 F.2d 899 (6th Cir. 1975).

June, A. W. (2014, May 7). The perils of picking a commencement speaker. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Rock for Life – UMBC v. Hrabowski, 411 Fed. App’x 541 (4th Cir. 2010).

About the Author

Jeffrey C. Sun, J.D., Ph.D. is Professor of Higher Education and Assistant Chair in the Department of Leadership, Foundations, & Human Resource Education at the University of Louisville.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jeffrey C. Sun.


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.

Muslim Students in Higher Education

Responding to the diverse needs of students based on their cultural and/or ethnic backgrounds has become a priority in many higher education institutions. Universities have been shifting their priorities to focus on attracting, retaining, and representing students and professionals of varying cultural and ethnic backgrounds (Manning & Coleman-Boatwright, 1991), but religion is too often absent from conversations about diversity in higher education. Research on the impact of religion on student performance and satisfaction in higher education has historically been neglected, and religious affiliation was rarely, if ever, considered to be an influencing factor in either area (Cole & Ahmadi, 2010).

Islam, specifically, is consistently overlooked in higher education literature. Prior to 2003 no research existed that addressed Muslim students’ needs or experiences on college campuses in the United States, even though Muslims have become a significantly more visible demographic group in the United States due to the global political climate, and even given the fact that Islam is the second largest religion in the world (Mays, 2003). As the number of Muslims in the United States increases, it is likely that college enrollment rates will mirror these trends (Cole & Ahmadi, 2010). In order to ensure that Muslim students receive the support they need to be successful and satisfied with their college experiences it is critical that policy makers, administrators, and faculty at higher education institutions become educated about this traditionally marginalized religious group, and that they acknowledge the important role religion plays in college student development (Mays, 2003).

This article will provide an overview of existing literature on Muslim college students in American postsecondary institutions, as well as implications for future research and recommendations for practitioners.

Review of the Literature

In reviewing the literature on Muslim students attending institutions of higher education in the United States, three broad themes were prevalent. First, the literature often addresses the challenges Muslim students face on college campuses in the United States; second, the unique needs of Muslim students were illustrated; and third, the articles discussed theories of Muslim student development.

Challenges for Muslim Students in Higher Education

Muslim students face unique challenges within higher education. Many Muslim students at universities in the United States report feeling judged because of their religious preference, and some admit to feeling uncomfortable performing Islamic rituals that can be seen by others, such as fasting or praying (Ali & Bagheri, 2009). In a series of qualitative interviews conducted by Nasir and Al-Amin (2006), all respondents indicated that they felt other members of the campus community imposed negative stereotypes on them (including ‘Muslim terrorist’ and ‘oppressed Muslim woman’) because of their religion. Many Muslims feel that Islam has a negative connotation for those outside the religion, and that it is often perceived to be violent and extremist (Mays, 2003). In Allaf’s (2010) study, one student indicated that she felt the need to defend her life as a Muslim against Western stereotypes, and that she was often frustrated by others’ assumptions that life for Muslims (especially women) is difficult, violent, or degrading. A ‘religionized’ image of ‘us’ (Muslims) versus ‘them’ (the dominant majority, or non-Muslims) can occur in these cases, with Islamic students in the role of the stereotypical, one-dimensional, religious Muslim (Mir, 2009).

Muslim students tend to face other challenges, as well. They are usually older than other students, speak English as a foreign language, and come from a greater variety of racial/ethnic groups (Cole & Ahmadi, 2010). International Muslim students have the additional hurdle of adjusting to life and trying to perform academically outside of their comfort zones, which can have psychological ramifications including anxiety and feelings of alienation (Razek & Coyner, 2013). It is easy to see how these unique challenges, combined with the judgments (perceived or real) of non-Muslims, may contribute to a sense of “otherness” among Muslim students.

Muslim Student Experiences in Higher Education Institutions

A sense of otherness is not the only issue that Muslims experience on college campuses. Muslim students have reported being victims of direct discrimination and even hate crimes (Ali & Bagheri, 2009), particularly in the wake of September 11, 2001. One student interviewed stated that his university friends didn’t speak to him for several days after the attacks; another student reported that there was tension between her and her classmates because they did not understand that not all Muslims supported the attacks (Mays, 2003). A third Muslim student explained that his non-Muslim roommate stopped speaking to him after the attacks because he knew someone who was killed in one of the World Trade Center towers. When the Muslim student attempted to offer his condolences, the roommate told him that he was not allowed to because he was Islamic (Mays, 2003).

Other students admit to feeling alienated because Muslim students rarely make up a majority in universities within the United States, and the only time they tend to gather as a group is in mosques (Mays, 2003). Although colleges and universities are often regarded as places that embrace diversity and tolerance, Muslim students are not immune to discrimination on campus, however subtle it may be. A particular difficulty for Muslim students presents itself in classes where there is a political or religious focus. If discussions are not properly monitored, they can lead to ridicule and prejudice towards the student or towards Islam, and Muslim students have reported feeling hesitant to speak up or correct professors because professors are authority figures (Ali & Bagheri, 2009). Overt discrimination and a lack of understanding by professors have had an impact on the academic performance of some Muslim students as well (Nasir & Al-Amin, 2006). Female Muslims often feel uncomfortable when eating in cafeterias or at campus social gatherings because conservative Islam forbids male-female interaction between unmarried individuals (Mir, 2009). Women who wear a hijab (veil) on campus often report more exaggerated feelings of alienation (Ali & Bagheri, 2009). Additionally, because Islam is a collectivist religion (it emphasizes values and customs that everyone within the group must embrace), Muslim students often feel as if they are representatives of their entire religion. This collectivist mindset embedded within a very individualist culture (the United States) can lead to anxiety and depression (Razek & Coyner, 2013).

Fortunately, not all Muslim students report having negative experiences in higher education. Some students even had positive experiences in the wake of September 11, when they noticed that their friends and classmates began to ask questions, do research, and learn about Islam (Mays, 2003). In these cases, Muslim students had the opportunity to educate their peers about Islam from their own perspectives. Other students felt accepted within their institutions and noted that faculty and other students were very tolerant (Mays, 2003). Even seemingly trivial events, such as receiving a compliment on a hijab, colored students’ experiences for the better (Nasir et al., 2006). Muslim students also tend to be more involved on campus with diversity clubs and programs, and they tutor peers more often than their non-Muslim counterparts (Cole & Ahmadi, 2010).

Unique Needs of Muslim Students in Higher Education

No group of students, regardless of their similarities, will have identical experiences at any given university, but there are some common needs that Muslim students often report as being unmet within their higher education institutions. Largely, these students report not having a place to pray (Ali & Bagheri, 2009). One student mentions feeling ‘sneaky’ when she walks through the campus buildings looking for empty classrooms in which to perform the ritualized prayers, which Muslims must do five times daily (Nasir & Al-Amin, 2006). It has been suggested that student affairs practitioners can designate a specific, private area for Muslim students to use for this purpose (Ali & Bagheri, 2009).

These students also have special needs related to their academic calendars, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan. Because students are fasting during this time, it is often difficult for them to sit for long exams or partake in strenuous activity (such as in a physical education class) (Ali & Bagheri, 2009). Female students may face challenges regarding on-campus mixed-gender housing facilities, and dining hall options can also be limiting for students who follow Islam, as they cannot have pork products and their meats must be halal (Ali & Bagheri, 2009). Muslim students may also be uncomfortable attending campus or other social events (such as fraternity and/or sorority events) where alcohol is present (Mir, 2009). These students need specific dining hall menu options, special scheduling considerations during Ramadan, safe prayer spaces, and alcohol-free social events in order for them to feel fully integrated as part of the campus community (Ali & Bagheri, 2009).

Methodologies and Theoretical Frameworks Employed in the Study of Muslim Students

Most of the studies conducted on the experiences of Muslim students in colleges and universities have employed qualitative methodologies (Allaf, 2010; Mays, 2003; Mir, 2009; Razek et al., 2013), which are particularly suited for ascertaining the details of an individual’s unique experience. However, Cole and Ahmadi (2010) conducted a quantitative study that compared the differences between the experiences of Muslims, Christians and Jews at colleges and universities in the United States. The study used the scales to measure several aspects of the students experiences at their postsecondary institutions, including time spent praying, interracial interactions, involvement in academic activities, and student-faculty interaction (Cole & Ahmadi, 2010).

Several theoretical frameworks surfaced in the literature, one of which was DuBois’s concept of double-consciousness, which is relevant because Muslim students are often trying to navigate both their ‘Muslimness’ and being a ‘normal’ college student (Mays, 2003). Another theory that was applied to one qualitative study was that of passing, in which an attempt is made by an individual to blend into the dominant culture (Mir, 2013). Tinto’s interactionalist theory of college student departure and social integration is utilized as a lens for viewing Muslim female student retention (Allaf, 2010). It is important for student affairs practitioners to be aware of the developmental theories that may explain or help illuminate the experiences of this group of students on college campuses.

Recommendations for Practice

Several recommendations can be made to help college and university faculty and staff accommodate their Muslim student populations. First, a designated space should be provided for Muslim students to utilize for prayer (Ali & Bagheri, 2009). The space can be a non-denominational or multi-purpose space, but it should be quiet, peaceful and available for Muslim students to use from sunrise to sunset. Additionally, halal dining options should be offered in on-campus dining halls and cafeterias (Ali & Bagheri, 2009).

During the holy month of Ramadan, Ali and Bagheri (2009) recommend allowing students to make slight changes to their academic and extracurricular schedules due to the fact that they are fasting in the daytime during this month. Students may be exempt from strenuous physical activity (such as physical education courses or sports team practice), and they may also need to modify exam schedules (for example, to take exams early in the morning after they have eaten). There should also be ample opportunities for Muslim students to become involved with student groups, and student group activities should be alcohol-free in order to encourage Muslim student attendance (Ali & Bagheri, 2009).

Employing Muslim faculty and staff can also help to make students feel more represented on campus, and can help Muslim students to identify Islamic advisors or mentors that can help them succeed in college. Workshops, seminars and speaker panels on religious diversity and tolerance are also recommended in order to educate the campus population about Islam and create open dialogue about what it means to be a Muslim student on a college campus in the United States.

Implications for Future Research

It was not until relatively recently that the effects of a student’s religion on their development and success began to gain attention from higher education researchers, but Cole and Ahmadi’s (2010) study showed that a student’s religion is more important than it ever has been in shaping student identity and engagement. While the body of literature is slowly expanding, there is still a lack of knowledge about the ways religious affiliation may impact student academic performance, involvement, and satisfaction rates at postsecondary institutions, particularly regarding student affiliation with Islam and the unique needs and experiences of Muslim students (Cole & Ahmadi, 2010). Most of the early literature on higher education assumed that the average student was white, attended college full-time, lived on campus, and was most often male between 18 and 24 years old (Smith, 2005).

The dearth of information about the specific needs of Muslim students on college campuses in the United States is puzzling when one considers the increased media attention towards Muslims after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which made observers of Islam more visible and arguably contributed to an environment of Islamophobia and xenophobia that extended to the college campus (Cole & Ahmadi, 2010). The lack of research about this particular demographic is also unusual given the large population of Muslims in the United States. According to one estimate, Islam is the second largest religious group in the country (Mays, 2003).

Limited in-depth studies have been conducted on higher education, Muslims, and college students, but literature addressing the overlap of these areas is sparse to non-existent (Allaf, 2010). The studies focus on specific sub-groups of Muslim students or are limited in scope to one institution, making the generalizability of the results questionable. The quantitative study conducted by Cole and Ahmadi (2010) encountered limitations in its sample populations (only 66 Muslim students responded, the majority of whom were females with a college GPA of B or better) and research sites (largely private universities). The qualitative studies faced their own limitations. One study was conducted solely at a Jewish-sponsored university (Mays, 2003), one interviewed only women (Mir, 2009), and one utilized a sample population of only Saudi Arabian international students (Razek & Coyner, 2013). Further research could contribute to filling the gaps in the sparse literature relating to Muslims in universities within the United States, including research addressing the following questions:

  • Does being a practicing Muslim student affect the satisfaction levels of undergraduates at four-year public institutions in the United States? If so, how?
  • Is there a significant difference in academic achievement or retention rates between practicing Muslim students and their non-Muslim peers? If so, what factors might influence this?


While diversity is a focal point on most college campuses, research, policies and institutional practices have too often neglected to address the impacts of a student’s religion on his or her college experience. Some scholars have recently argued that religious identity and engagement are more important to today’s college students than they ever have been before (Cole & Ahmadi, 2010). If we acknowledge that a student’s religion is as important as race, ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic background to his or her academic success and satisfaction, it is critical that policy makers and educational practitioners implement measures to ensure that all students, including the most underrepresented, are included in the academic community. Because of historical trends, a lack of research and recent global events, it could be argued that Muslims may be one of the most marginalized student groups in the United States. Therefore, it is critical that educators’ knowledge of this group increases, so that higher education institutions in the United States can implement inclusive policies that will ensure Muslim students a safe, successful and satisfying college or university career.

Discussion Questions

  1. What obligations, if any, do you think an institution has to accommodate the religious needs of its students?
  2. What are some ways that college and university practitioners can foster an environment of open communication and respect of values across the entire campus and its diverse student populations?
  3. What biases (against or for) Islam do you have or encounter in your daily life or academic setting? What are some ways to overcome or defend against these biases?


Ali, S., & Bagheri, E. (2009). Practical suggestions to accommodate the needs of Muslim students on campus. New Directions For Student Services, (125), 47-54.

Allaf, C. (2010). An exploration of higher education graduation rates: A case study of women in Jordan. Retrieved from Proquest Digital Dissertations. (UMI 3431816)

Cole, D. & Ahmadi, S. (2010). Reconsidering campus diversity: An examination of Muslim students’ experiences. The Journal of Higher Education, 81(2), 121-139.

Manning, K., & Coleman-Boatwright, P. (1991). Student affairs initiatives toward a multicultural university. Journal of College Student Development, 32, 367-374.

Mays, N. G. (2003). Muslim students at an American university: A postmodern ethnography in new millennium. Retrieved from Proquest Digital Dissertations.  (UMI 3089753)

Mir, S.  (2009). Not too “college-like,” not too normal: American Muslim undergraduate women’s gendered discourses. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 40(3), 237-256.

Nasir, N. S., & Al-Amin, J. (2006). Creating identity-safe spaces on college campuses for Muslim students. Change, 38(2), 22-27.

Razek, N. A., & Coyner, S. C. (2013). Cultural impacts on Saudi students at a mid-western American university. Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 17(1), 103-117.

Smith, D. G. (2005). The challenge of diversity. ASHE Higher Education Report, 31(1), 1-90.

About the Author

Kate Mazal is a master’s degree candidate in the Higher and Postsecondary Education program at Columbia University, Teachers College. She received her B.S. degree in English Education from the University of Central Florida, and spent six years teaching English both in the United States and the Middle East. Currently, she works at Columbia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science in the Office of Undergraduate Student Affairs and Global Programs. Her main responsibilities include student programming and academic study abroad advising. Within higher education, her research interests focus on international students and their acculturation processes to different university and cultural settings, as well as the success and satisfaction levels of historically underrepresented student groups, particularly Muslim students.

Please e-mail inquiries to Kate Mazal.


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.

Next Gen 2014: Reinventing Student Affairs for Social Justice

Next Gen 2014: Reinventing Student Affairs for Social Justice

Next Gen 2014 is a unique opportunity for undergraduate students to learn about careers in student affairs. The conference will introduce participants to ACPA – College Student Educators International and student affairs, invite them to consider opportunities for professional involvement and graduate preparation, develop strong connections among participants, and facilitate meaningful interactions between participants, practitioners, and scholars.

ACPA’s Next Generation Conference (Next Gen 2014) will take place Saturday and Sunday, March 29-30, 2014, prior to the start of the ACPA 2014 Convention in Indianapolis.  Registration is $125.  In addition, Next Gen 2014 participants may register for the ACPA 2014 Convention at an exclusive discounted rate of $150, a savings of $125 (the actual combined registration cost for Next Gen 2014 and ACPA 2014 is $275).

The Next Gen 2014 planning team has developed a program with a central focus on social justice and innovative presenters and formats.  We are especially excited about our new, creative format for meaningful interactions and dialogue between Next Gen participants and Entity Groups (the commissions and standing committees of ACPA).

Keynote speakers will focus on social justice as the foundation of student affairs. On Saturday, March 29:

  • Gretchen Metzelaars (2014 ACPA Convention Chair), Kathleen Kerr (ACPA President), and Cynthia Love (newly appointed ACPA Executive Director) will welcome Next Gen 2014 participants and share their perspectives on serving the association and the profession through a social justice lens.
  • Kristin Skarie, President of Teamworks and Vice President of the ACPA Foundation Board, will facilitate “flashback” and “flash forward” conversations to introduce individual reflection and a sense of purpose.
  • becky martinez, an independent consultant and trainer with Infinity Martinez and a Social Justice Training Institute faculty member, will emphasize the connection between individual reflection and organizational and social change, and how student affairs professionals can facilitate such change.
  • Thomas C. Segar, Vice President for Student Affairs and Affiliate Graduate Professor at Shepherd University, will illuminate the possibilities for organizational and social change in student affairs by sharing his own journey as an administrator, educator, scholar, and proud member of ACPA.

On Sunday, March 30:

  • Stephen J. Quaye, Assistant Professor of Student Affairs and Higher Education at Miami University and one of three theorists invited to deliver a HEd Talk at the 2014 ACPA convention, will facilitate a dialogue about social justice as a core value of the profession.
  • Next Gen participants will also have an exclusive opportunity to spend time with Cathy Bao Bean, author of The Chopsticks-Fork Principle and chair of the Society for Values in Higher Education, who will deliver an innovative HEd Talk at the 2014 ACPA convention.

As excited as we are about “reinventing” through Next Gen 2014, we need help from this generation to encourage the next generation of student affairs professionals to attend this conference. Seldom if ever do students find our field without the help of someone who is already in it. Many of us can trace our involvement in the profession to a small group of professionals who encouraged us to take the first step. Next Gen 2014 might be the next step.  Please encourage students to register!

Academic Coaching: Experiences and Lessons at One Urban University

Academic coaches encourage “persistence and completion by helping students find ways to overcome both academic and ‘real-life’ barriers and to identify strategies for success” (Bettinger & Baker, 2011, p. 10). Coaching has also been defined as moving a person “to a higher level of competence, confidence, performance, or insight … Coaching is all about change” (Reiss, 2007, p. 11). Aguilar (2013) wrote that the art of coaching encompasses doing a set of actions, holding a set of beliefs, and being in a way that results in those actions leading to change.

Changes created by academic coaching can promote retention and engagement. Bettinger and Baker (2011) found that college students who had used Inside Track, a private academic coaching company, were more likely to remain in college even up to two years after receiving coaching than those who had not. One student who worked with an academic coach at Portland State University wrote in a survey this year, “I feel a lot more connected with school and the improvements I have made in the term” (Hatfield, 2013). Robinson and Gahagan (2010) noted, “Millennial students … gravitate toward individual mentorship and are more likely to succeed if they feel connected to their university” (p. 29). This suggests that relationships developed in coaching programs can impact affinity with an institution as well as academic success.

Academic Coaching at Portland State University

To help students build positive academic habits such as planning for long-term assignments and communicating professionally with faculty, Portland State University’s (PSU) Learning Center used to offer workshops scheduled at various times, but few students attended. In response, it created a one-on-one coaching model open to all undergraduate and graduate students of this large, urban university.

During the program’s first year in 2011-2012, four interns from PSU’s Graduate School of Education who specialized in postsecondary, continuing, and adult education helped fellow students in 170 coaching sessions. They worked through myriad issues experienced by many students ranging from juggling courses with work and family, communicating with faculty, and strategically approaching long-term assignments. Although coaches focused on academic strategies, they learned quickly that successful academic work is related to other areas of students’ lives. Coaches walked students to the Student Health and Counseling Center, the Disability Resource Center, and the Women’s Resource Center, among other places. Students learned about other resources on campus offered by both professional staff and student organizations that provide support in areas outside of the classroom. In addition to the coaching interns from PSU’s Graduate School of Education, one coach was a graduate student from the School of Social Work who also helped develop services for students who are veterans.

Students can meet once with a coach or they can return weekly throughout the term. A few students continue for two terms or for the entire year (PSU is on a quarter system). The coaching program’s outcomes are simple and are grounded in common assessment practices: students will create individual goals and measurable plans to meet these goals. Goals may address school/life balance, active learning strategies and various approaches to studying course content, improving communication skills, and learning of resources on campus.

Students who seek coaching complete an interest form online. Coaches have access to Google calendars for appointments and a Google site accessible only to them. The site contains information on campus resources, training materials, coaching literature, ethical standards of the International Coach Federation (2008), and forms coaches may need such as those having to do with pre- and post-assessments. Coaches are encouraged to upload to the site literature and other resources they have found. Coaching is conducted in a semi-private office in the Learning Center during scheduled appointments. Coaches and administrators meet bi-weekly to discuss sessions, share resources and ideas, and set goals for learning. Unlike other Learning Center student employees (tutors, workshop leaders, and office assistants), coaches are not paid, but are part of all Learning Center celebrations and all-staff meetings.

Academic Coaching Lessons from K-12

Administrators of PSU’s Learning Center have used a variety of resources in creating its coaching program. This year, the program’s third, administrators are planning to incorporate parts of Elena Aguilar’s 2013 book, The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation. Although the book is written for K-12 administrators and teacher coaches, many principles can be applied to higher education coaching programs. Aguilar touches on several theories and the importance of professional development. This section explores four of the strategies that apply to students who seek coaching and the learning outcomes of coaches themselves which the Learning Center has incorporated into their coach training.

Reflective Learning

To create change, Aguilar (2013) encouraged ongoing reflection. Students whom coaches help and the coaches themselves must have time to reflect on their process and their subsequent development because of this process. Through reflection, coaches help students understand that decisions in areas outside of school can impact academic performance and vice versa. Thus, coaches can help students see their lives as one interconnected whole and not a “miscellaneous heap of separate bits of experiences, but in some organized and systematic way—that is, as reflectively formulated” (Dewey, 1902, p. 5).

Constructivists, like John Dewey, emphasize the importance of active construction of knowledge. Students’ previous knowledge and experiences are where new learning begins, and coaches must co-create knowledge rather than simply give knowledge to the student. Before Learning Center coaches meet with students, they have a sense of what the students are bringing to the initial session through an interest form that students complete before the first appointment is made. Students are asked questions such as “What has been your best experience so far?” and “How do you typically study?” These questions, in addition to those having to do with what the student hopes to get out of coaching, create a foundation from which both coaches and students can work. During coaching sessions, coaches and students work together to create specific goals tailored to each individual stemming from their conversations.


Aguilar (2013) also discusses the zone of proximal development, which is the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers (Vygotsky, 1978). Coaches provide scaffolds for student learning. For example, students regularly say they have never thought about writing a paper or studying for an exam over a distributed time period—they had always done it the night before. Learning Center coaches suggest frameworks that promote studying over a period of time and do so without being punitive. For example, students are not required to create mini-deadlines for their assignments and are not refused coaching if they do not follow through with their goals. Rather, if students do not meet their goals for the week, they can return to their coaches knowing that they can share what hindered their work and go on from there.

Critical Pedagogy

Aguilar (2013) grounded her work in the frame of critical pedagogy, which encourages a critique of dominant forms of knowledge and social practices that organize meanings and experiences (Giroux, 2009). The critical educator asks how social norms impact and are impacted by class, race, gender, and other disparities of power. Critical theory applied to the classroom often begins with students’ own voices and experiences; it is no different with coaching. Coaches also need to be cognizant of power at multiple levels and be trained in how their own assumptions frame their world views, and thus how they approach their work with students. According to Aguilar (2013), if coaches do not explore the belief systems that drive their own actions, they may not see transformational, sustained change in the people they help.

Academic coaches must ask themselves if they truly believe everyone, regardless of academic history, age, wealth, and so on, can be academically successful. Nearly 30,000 students attend PSU and the majority of undergraduate students have transferred from a community college or four-year university (Portland State University, 2012). Also, many students are the first in their families to attend college. Coaches must explore the assumptions they have of these and all populations. Part of the Learning Center’s training of coaches includes integrating critical theory in confronting their own assumptions, reflecting on how their world views were formulated, and discussing what happens when they apply their assumptions to coaching sessions. Sharing stories in staff meetings help coaches to identify these assumptions, particularly when coaches have never personally experienced what a student is going through.

Development of Coaches

Aguilar (2013) emphasizes the professional development of coaches, for it is not only the students who coaches help who need support from administrators. PSU’s Learning Center takes seriously the growth and development of its student employees, interns, and graduate assistants. Specifically, administrators ask coaches to develop their own learning outcomes for their coaching experience. Coaches created outcomes ranging from asking more open-ended questions to being involved with programmatic assessment. PSU’s coaching program also is certified through the College Reading and Learning Association (2013), which has a mentor program certification component. The certification process required administrators to reflect on training components and what coaches were learning from their experiences. Lastly, the Learning Center has created a culture of observation and each student employee or intern is observed at least once (and sometimes more if appropriate to the position) with a debriefing conversation following an observation.


Those in higher education wanting to implement an academic coaching program may want to read Elena Aguilar’s (2013) The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation. Although it provides helpful charts, rubrics, and prompts for coaches to use during sessions, it more importantly grounds coaching in theoretical frames and emphasizes the need for contextualization. Without such foundations, coaching would be akin to throwing darts with hopes of hitting the center. Work with students cannot be approached this way; rather, coaches must begin with each individual student to determine how to scaffold learning and development. Higher education professionals should explore what their K-12 partners have to say about doing this in meaningful ways.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the boundaries of academic coaches? In other words, what specifically is their role in a university?
  2. If you have a coaching program, on what theoretical foundations do you base your program? If you do not have a program, which theories would guide you? What about in your other programs?
  3. How do you know if your coaching program is successful? How would you measure success in your context?


Aguilar, E. (2013). The art of coaching: Effective strategies for school transformation. San Francisco, CA: Wiley.

Bettinger, E., & Baker, R. (2011). The effects of student coaching in college: An evaluation of a randomized experiment in student mentoring (No. w16881). National Bureau of Economic Research.

College Reading & Learning Association. (2013). International mentor training program certification. Retrieved from

Dewey, J. (1902). Child and the curriculum. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Giroux, H. A. (2009). Teacher education and democratic schooling. In A. Darder, M. P. Baltodano & R. D. Torres (Eds.), The Critical Pedagogy Reader (pp. 438-459). New York, NY: Routledge.

Hatfield, L. J. (2013). [Learning Center academic coaching post-assessment 2012-13]. Unpublished raw data.

International Coach Federation. (2008). Code of ethics. Lexington, KY: Author. Retrieved from…

Portland State University. (2012). New freshman and transfer student profile. Retrieved from

Reiss, K. (2007). Leadership coaching for educators: Bringing out the best in school administrators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Robinson, C. R., & Gahagan, J. (2010). Coaching students to academic success and engagement on campus. About Campus, 15(4), 27-29.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

About the Author

Lisa Hatfield currently serves as the Director of the Learning Center at Portland State University, where she is also pursuing an Ed.D. in Curriculum & Instruction. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching and a Master of Arts in English. Her research interests include P-20 alignments, assessment, and scholarship of student affairs professionals.

Please e-mail Inquiries to Lisa Hatfield.


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.

ACPA’s Evolving Influence on Student Learning

James P. Barber
College of William and Mary

The higher education landscape was quite different in 1924 when the National Association of Appointment Secretaries, a job placement organization that would later become ACPA – College Student Educators International, was founded. A trajectory becomes clear in reflecting on 90 years of ACPA’s history. Student affairs practitioners (formerly, student personnel workers) demonstrate an increasing interest in student learning, and learning is gradually repositioned as the core purpose of the Association. In this essay, I explore the ways in which ACPA – College Student Educators International has affected college student learning over nearly a century.

The Past: Facilitating Learners’ Journeys

ACPA and its predecessor groups (National Association of Appointment Secretaries, National Association of Personnel and Placement Officers) focused primarily on helping students find employment and roles in society where they could use their learning. The pioneers in the field indirectly affected the student learning environment in establishing the foundation for the profession by bringing together those college employees with interests in “student personnel” work. This focus on job placement was typical of the early years of the student affairs profession, and ACPA was not out of the norm in its priorities. Looking to the American Council on Education’s 1937 Student Personnel Point of View, student learning is not explicitly discussed as a primary role for student personnel workers. In fact, the word learningdoes not appear in that seminal document (Barber & Bureau, 2013).

The Journal of College Student Development is one of the most substantial ways ACPA – College Student Educators International has influenced learning in the past (and continues today). Founded in 1959 as the Journal of College Student Personnel, ACPA’s research journal has become a well-respected publication. The journal was a vehicle for much of the early research on student development theory, influencing both faculty and practitioners in the teaching and learning environment.

In the late 1960s, ACPA (then a division of the American Personnel and Guidance Association), took a major step toward embracing learning as a professional value with the launch of the “Tomorrow’s Higher Education” (T. H. E.) Project. Robert Brown authored a 1972 monograph for the project that examined the relevance of the emerging field of student development theory and made the argument that student affairs practitioners needed to reposition themselves as behavioral scientists, in addition to their accepted roles in student support functions.

Student personnel staffs are going to have to possess new sets of competencies….they are going to be needed to design programs that will change the environment and provide a setting for optimal student growth…for classroom settings as well as residence hall settings, for academic programs as well as student activities, and for all students as well as the most visible. (Brown, 1972, p. 47).

The move toward a more active and academic cadre of student affairs practitioners had a lasting impact on the direction of student personnel work and solidified student development theory as a cornerstone of professional practice and the graduate preparation curriculum. Although student learning was not explicitly deliberated in Brown’s monograph, the shift to a profession more invested in personal growth and development was unmistakable.

ACPA made a clear statement of its commitment to student learning as a central mission in 1994’s Student Learning Imperative (SLI), which called for the establishment of “The Learning-Oriented Student Affairs Division” (p. 1). The document greatly influenced student affairs professionals’ approach to learning and began to make a distinction between the concepts of student development (well established and accepted in the field by 1994) and student learning. The SLI mentioned these two elements by name, but asserted that “the concepts of ‘learning,’ ‘personal development,’ and ‘student development’ are inextricably intertwined and inseparable” (p. 1). ACPA’s Student Learning Imperative aligned well with Barr & Tagg’s (1995) call for a shift in higher education from a teaching paradigm focused on the instructor to a learning paradigm centered on the student.

The SLI was followed by a Joint Statement from ACPA, the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE), and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) titled Powerful Partnerships: A Shared Responsibility for Learning (1998). This document was important for the way that it defined and contextualized learning. This was the first time that the term learning was described separately from student development by the association. In Powerful Partnerships, learning was defined in a series of ten statements, including one unpacking the concepts of learning and development: “learning is developmental, a cumulative process involving the whole person, relating past and present, integrating the new with the old, starting from but transcending personal concerns and interests” (p. 5).

Along with Principles of Good Practice in Student Affairs (released a year earlier in conjunction with NASPA in 1997), Powerful Partnerships marked the beginning of a series of lasting partnerships among higher education stakeholders that would characterize ACPA’s attitude toward learning for the next decade and introduce the present era of influence.

The Present: Partnering to Advance Student Learning

In the present era, ACPA – College Student Educators International has positioned itself as a leader and advocate for improving student learning. Building on the strong reception of Principles of Good Practice (1997) and Powerful Partnerships (1998), the Association collaborated with other leading student affairs professional associations to further define student learning and shape practitioners’ approaches to promoting better learning.

The Learning Reconsidered volumes (Keeling, 2004, 2006) are the most direct and influential documents ACPA – College Student Educators International has coauthored to date with regard to student learning. Learning Reconsidered (2004) “advocates for transformative education – a holistic process of learning that places the student at the center of the learning experience” (p. 1). These publications continue the trend of differentiating the concepts of learning and development, expertly illustrating how the two are distinct but related. In the Learning Reconsidered work of the mid-2000s, student learning is paramount, a different approach from the T. H. E. project of the 1960s and 70s which served to establish and prioritize the emerging student development literature. Learning Reconsidered positions student development as a learning process and proposes “an integrated vision of learning and development” (ACPA & NASPA, 2004, p. 10), supported with research drawn broadly from educational psychology, adult learning, and personal development literature (e.g., Baxter Magolda, 1999; Caine & Caine, 1994, 1997; Kegan, 1994; King & Kitchener, 1994; Mezirow, 2000).

In 2006, ACPA – College Student Educators International released the ASK Standards (Assessment Skills and Knowledge) to prepare student affairs professionals to assess student learning outcomes. These standards encourage practitioners to be leaders in assessment on their campuses and highlight the Association’s commitment to preparing student affairs administrators to be well versed in both creating effective learning experiences, as well as assessing student learning. ACPA has also developed professional development resources that influence how practitioners frame their own learning. The Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners (2010), coauthored with NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, offer a series of basic, intermediate, and advanced skills to be expected among student affairs professionals. One of the competency areas is “Student Learning and Development;” this area “addresses the concepts and principles of student development and learning theory. This includes the ability to apply theory to improve and inform student affairs practice, as well as understanding teaching and training theory and practice” (p. 26). This particular competency will be a focal point for the future work of ACPA – College Student Educators International as it relates to student learning.

The present era has seen much progress in terms of refining the working definition of student learning and considering means for improving learning experiences for all students. ACPA – College Student Educators International remains a strong advocate for the benefits of diversity to student learning, and its work, independently and in cooperation with other higher education stakeholders, decisively makes the case for inclusive environments. Although the recent momentum has been quite positive, major changes lie ahead in our constantly transforming postsecondary environment. Next, I address the ways in which ACPA – College Student Educators International might continue to impact student learning in the future.

The Future: Experts on How Students Learn Best

As ACPA – College Student Educators International looks toward its centennial, I see three main areas where the Association can continue to have a positive impact on student learning: (1) advancing professional knowledge on how people learn; (2) embracing and leveraging technology to enhance student learning; and (3) infusing global perspectives into student learning.

It is crucial for student affairs practitioners to understand current theories of how people learn. This will require revisions to the curricula of many higher education and student affairs programs, as well as a reallocation of attention in the Association’s programming. Most higher education graduate programs offer at least one course (if not several) on college student development theory, focusing on how students grow and change in the college environment. However, there is rarely a companion course examining how students learn. Although some learning theories are included in traditional student development courses (Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning is frequently included), theories of adult learning (e.g., metacognition, transfer, Knowles’ concept of andragogy) are largely absent from our collective curriculum.

This concept was mentioned in Brown’s 1972 monograph Student Development in Tomorrow’s Higher Education: A Return to the Academy:

In tomorrow’s higher education it will be essential for student development staffs to be able to know, understand, and to program for changes in students that will be consistent with developmental growth. This means that the staffs will have to have some expertise in learning theory, growth and development, campus ecology, management theory, and evaluation. (Brown, 1972, p. 42)

ACPA – College Student Educators International and the student affairs field as a whole have cultivated many of these areas of expertise in the past 40+ years, but learning theory has too often been included as a subset of development theory. ACPA has the resources and reach to promote the acceptance of learning theory as a more prominent part of the college educator’s toolkit. Learning Reconsideredopened the door wide to learning theory, and ACPA is well-positioned to advance this initiative. This shift can transform the direction of student affairs work, moving beyond student personnel or student advising to becoming experts in how people learn best and integrate learning across contexts (Barber, 2012).

Technology is transforming our daily lives in ways unimaginable when ACPA was born in 1924; it has forever altered how we read books, how we listen to music, how we take photographs, and how we watch television. It is not surprising that technology is changing the face of higher education as well. With an increasing number of students participating in eLearning, blended courses, online components, or fully virtual degree programs, the profession will need to reexamine student learning as it relates to eLearning initiatives.

The Association can work to develop resources to support college educators in reaching students who may rarely (or never) set foot on a traditional campus. How can ACPA – College Student Educators International position itself to be a leader in promoting student learning among those who interact with teachers and fellow students through technology? Knowing more about how people learn best (see above) will be critical to this effort. Foundational models such as Sanford’s (1962) notion of challenge and support and Astin’s (1984) involvement theory certainly have application for students learning via technology, but implementation may need to be reimagined for a new population of learners who may not be 18-22 years old, live in a residence hall, and attend football games.

Finally, in considering how ACPA – College Student Educators International will impact student learning in the future, there must be continued advocacy for the inclusion of all types of diverse learners. Neurodiversity is an area in which the Association can be a leader. As more students with different ways of processing information enter higher education (including the Autism Spectrum and ADHD), student affairs practitioners will need resources for supporting this group of learners. Likewise, inclusion must reach beyond national and cultural borders. The numbers of international students studying in the United States continues to rise, and a growing number of American-born students are choosing to study abroad (Institute for International Education, 2012). These trends create an environment in which student affairs practitioners need to be globally competent and well-versed in cross-cultural approaches to learning. The learning theories curriculum proposed above should not be limited to American or Western research on learning, but rather address multiple views on how people learn.

Among the most effective ways to provide practitioners with a global perspective is to provide opportunities to leave the country and experience different cultures. The global initiatives ACPA – College Student Educators International already has underway are a strong foundation; forging strategic partnerships with organizations similarly invested in internationalization (e.g., American Association of Colleges & Universities, Institute for Shipboard Education /Semester at Sea, NAFSA-Association of International Educators, International Association of Student Affairs and Services) can bolster the impact of existing initiatives and create new opportunities. By providing professional development resources and affordable study abroad options for practitioners, ACPA – College Student Educators International can continue to influence learning for college educators and the students they serve.

In conclusion, ACPA’s journey over the past 90 years is one that has brought it ever closer to student learning. The organization has transformed from a placement service for college graduates to a key partner and stakeholder in higher education, and has great potential to become an association known for expertise in how people learn. Members of ACPA – College Student Educators International should be proud of the progress that has been made over nine decades and excited about the possibilities that await in the next 90 years of influencing learning.


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Barber, J. P. (2012). Integration of learning: A grounded theory analysis of college students’
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Barber, J. P., & Bureau, D. A. (2012). Coming into focus: Positioning student learning from The
Student Personnel Point of View to today. In K. M. Boyle, J. W. Lowery, and J. A. Mueller (Eds.), Reflections on the 75th anniversary of The Student Personnel Point of View. (pp. 35-40). Washington, DC: ACPA – College Student Educators International.

Barr, R. B., & Tagg, J. (1995). From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate
education. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 27(6), 12-25. Retrieved from

Baxter Magolda, M. B. (1999). Creating contexts for learning and self-authorship: Constructive-
developmental pedagogy. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

Brown, R. D. (1972). Student development in tomorrow’s higher education – A return to the
academy. (Student Personnel Series, No. 16). Washington, DC: APGA – American Personnel and Guidance Association.

Caine, G. & Caine, R. (1994). Making connections: Teaching and the human brain. New York,
NY: Addison Wesley.

Caine, R. & Caine, G. (1997). Education on the edge of possibility. Alexandria, VA: Association
for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Hiemstra, R., & Sisco, B. (1990). Individualizing instruction: Making learning personal,
empowering, and successful. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Institute for International Education. (2012). Open doors fast facts. Retrieved from Facts 2012.ashx

Keeling, R. P. (Ed.). (2004). Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student
experience. Washington, DC: American College Personnel Association and National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. Available:

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

King, P. M., & Kitchener, K. S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment: Understanding and
promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescents and adults.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Knowles, M. S. (1970). The modern practice of adult education: Andragogy versus pedagogy.
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Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and
development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Sanford, N. (1962). The American college.  New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

About the Author

James P. Barber is assistant professor of education at the College of William & Mary.  His research interests include integrated student learning and development, college student learning environments and experiences, and internationalization in higher education.

Please e-mail Inquiries to James P. Barber.


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.

We are all Esther Lloyd-Jones’ Grandchildren

Paul G. Brown
Boston College

The student affairs profession is a young profession. As a relatively new profession, the basic philosophies and tenets of the field remain nearly the same as they did almost 100 years ago. Written in 1937, the original Student Personnel Point of View set the philosophy of the profession as that of the “whole student.” It stated that higher education had an obligation to consider the student as a whole – [one’s] intellectual capacity and achievement, [one’s] emotional make up, [one’s] physical condition, [one’s] social relationships, [one’s] vocational aptitudes and skills, [one’s] moral and religious values, [one’s] economic resources, [one’s] aesthetic appreciations. It puts emphasis, in brief, upon the development of the student as a person rather than upon [one’s] intellectual training alone. (American Council on Education, 1937, p. 3)
The profession is also small. Professional networks and connections in the field are dense and interconnected. The combined memberships of the two national comprehensive student affairs organizations, ACPA – College Student Educators International and NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, barely reach 15,000, or the population of a mid-sized university. When meeting someone new at a national convention or professional development event, attempting to discover shared connections is a common first topic of conversation.

With these two thoughts in mind, I began to wonder: How far removed are we from the founders of our profession? If we could trace back our lineage, how many degrees separate the current generation of professionals from those that were pioneers in the field? It is with this in mind that I started an Internet experiment known as The Six Degrees of Esther Lloyd-Jones Project. This crowd-sourced project is an ongoing attempt to trace the professional lineage of student affairs professionals to Dr. Esther Lloyd-Jones.

Esther Lloyd-Jones was one of the signatories of the 1937 Student Personnel Point of View, a longtime faculty member at Columbia University Teacher’s College, and a president of ACPA—College Student Educators International. Given her prominence and impact on the field, tracing lineage back to her seemed appropriate. Because of the difficulty of collecting this type of data, I turned to crowdsourcing, a powerful force for harnessing collective power through massive online collaboration. In his work, Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky (2008) states that with the advent of the Internet and social media, “most of the barriers to group action have collapsed, and without those barriers, we are free to explore new ways of gathering together and getting things done” (p. 22).

I developed a website that outlined the project, provided some guidelines and rules for submissions, and linked to a spreadsheet where anyone could add their information. To get it started, I included the connection I knew I had to Esther Lloyd-Jones, through my doctoral adviser, Karen Arnold, and her doctoral adviser, Jo Ann Fly, who was a student of Lloyd-Jones. Beginning with this one connection, I sent out a message across all of my social media networks. Within the first 24 hours, the site recorded over 500 hits. By the end of May 2013, the number of connection strings logged in the spreadsheet is nearing 100 and the page has been viewed over 1000 times. Within these rows are numerous professionals and details of their connections back to Esther Lloyd-Jones.

In the months since I began this project, I have learned a lot, not only about the professional lineage we can trace to Dr. Lloyd-Jones, but also the woman herself and the power of social media and crowdsourcing. I refer to these as both the outcomes and meta-outcomes of the project.

In terms of outcomes in learning about Lloyd-Jones, and the professional lineages we can trace back to her, this project uncovered information from unexpected sources. Although I started this project with two degrees separating Dr. Lloyd-Jones and myself, I discovered that there was actually only one degree of separation between us. While working at Miami University, I had the privilege of working with Dr. Dennis Roberts, a former President of ACPA – College Student Educators International and currently the Assistant Vice President for Faculty & Student Services at the Qatar Foundation. Dr. Roberts has contributed greatly to our understanding of Dr. Lloyd-Jones, conducting an in-person interview with her in 1987 as a part of ACPA’s Generativity Project, delivering one of her eulogies, andwriting a tribute to her in this very same publication seven years ago.

Over the course of this project, I also became connected with Hannah Certis, a new professional that completed her Master’s thesis at the University of Tennessee on the early life of Dr. Lloyd-Jones. I came into contact with Hannah after finding apresentation on Esther Lloyd-Jones that she posted online. I embedded this presentation into my website and upon her noticing its inclusion, she reached out to me. When asked to share the most significant thing she learned about Esther Lloyd-Jones, Certis (personal communication, May 28, 2013) stated the impact of Lloyd-Jones’ 1934 article, “Personnel Administration,” is often overlooked. In many ways it was the precursor to and formed the foundation for the 1937 Student Personnel Point of View. Esther Lloyd-Jones’ impact is perhaps greater than most may realize.

In addition to these outcomes, I also uncovered interesting meta-outcomes about the evolving project. As more individuals added to the project, many previous long strings could be shortened. As I mentioned earlier, I began this project believing there were two degrees separating Esther Lloyd Jones and myself. That has now shortened to one. As additional individuals have contributed their knowledge and information, this has also shortened the lineage for many others and also opened up new avenues for other professionals to connect. The beauty of this project is that as more people contribute to it, the possibilities and information contained therein become exponentially more useful.

The project also highlighted the central importance of our preparation program faculty in maintaining these connections. Given the high volume of future professionals that pass through their classrooms, faculty represents some of the key connectors in the project. Many create the initial first and second generational connections to Esther Lloyd-Jones and, as a result of reaching out to faculty listservs, I received some of the most valuable connections. These faculty members also generously gave of their time to contribute to the project, a quality that is frequently attributed to Dr. Lloyd-Jones. It is perhaps a fitting tribute that they continue in this spirit of giving and collaboration.

Based on this project, I think I can safely conclude that most of the current professionals in the field are likely separated from Esther Lloyd-Jones by only one or two degrees. In essence, we are all her professional children and grandchildren. The incoming generations of graduate students and new professionals are likely to be the fourth generation of student affairs professionals, the great-grandchildren of the profession. As I reflect on this experience and the meaning I have taken away from it, I take pride in the fact that a simple idea, the education of the whole student, is one that has endured for over 90 years. My wonderful colleagues and I are a part of a history attached to an amazing woman who began this “experiment” with her colleagues only two generations ago. As ACPA – College Student Educators International celebrates it’s 90th anniversary, I think this project illuminates not only the history of this profession, but also how we are making history in the present. Knowledge of the past becomes equally as important as knowledge of the present and future.

The Six Degrees of Esther-Lloyd Jones Project is ongoing. If you would like to participate you can head to the project landing page.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the implications of working in a small, interconnected field? For knowledge generation and dissemination? For sharing of best practices? For networking and job seeking?
  2. How does one’s sense of history change when one can make direct connections to the history-makers of the past?
  3. What will be your legacy? For what will you be known?


American Council on Education. (1937). The student personnel point of view. Washington, DC: Retrieved from

Shirky, C.  (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations.
New York, NY: Penguin Books.

About the Author

Paul G. Brown is an instructor in the Higher Education programs at Boston College and Merrimack College.  Currently a Ph.D. candidate, Paul has over 10 years of professional experience in higher education and student affairs in a diverse array of functional areas including residential education, honors programs, academic advising, and student activities.  His research passions include issues involving first year students, honors and high ability/high achieving students, learning communities, residential curricula, and social media, technology and design.  He currently serves with the Governing Board of the ACPA—College Student Educators International as the Coordinator for Standing Committees.  Paul holds a B.A. in Philosophy from the State University of New York College at Geneseo and an M.S. in College Student Personnel from Western Illinois University.

Please e-mail Inquiries to Paul G. Brown .

Follow Paul G. Brown on Twitter @paulgordonbrown or visit his webpage.


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.

ACPA’s Influence on Collegiate Mental Health

ACPA’s Influence on Collegiate Mental Health

Susan R. Stock
Roosevelt University

As part of the celebration of the ACPA – College Student Educators International 90th anniversary, a series of articles was commissioned forDevelopments to discuss the impact of the Association on key areas of student affairs. In this article, I examine the nature and history of the Association’s involvement in collegiate mental health, both in terms of the practice of college counseling and the broader practice of student affairs.

As an organization, ACPA – College Student Educators International was interested in college student mental health from the very beginning. A review of reports from early annual meetings reveals several papers and discussions on “mental hygiene,” student counseling, and diagnosis; for example, a paper from the 1932 Annual Meeting (the 9th) is titled “The relation of mental hygiene to the selection, adjustment, placement, and progress of the student” (Emery, 1932). In that paper, Emery noted that

During the last ten years Mental Hygiene has broadened its aims, scopes and purposes. Formerly it was specially interested in the treatment and prevention of mental disease, mental defect, and delinquency. In the past few years mental hygiene has shifted its emphasis so that now it includes an effort to bring about an optimum of mental adjustment for every individual, and strives to play its part towards bringing about a relative happiness, contentment, satisfaction, success, and efficiency for all (p. 36)

With some leeway allowed for the language of the day, this is a statement that many current university and college counseling staff members would endorse—the ongoing balance of attending to developmental concerns as well as more serious presenting issues.

The first university mental hygiene clinic opened at Princeton University in 1910 and, by the 1930s, several colleges had endorsed this kind of service and were figuring out how best to use it. The Emery (1932) article disseminated information about a variety of current practices, including Yale University’s policy of having the “mental hygienist” meet with all new students. The author notes that this practice did not have impact on admission practices, given that these meetings took place once classes had begun, and therefore was “used primarily to bring those students who need help in contact with the psychiatrist” (p. 39).

ACPA conference proceedings from the 1930s and 1940s reflected active work on mental health issues. In 1933, for example, a working group produced a paper that articulated the “principles, functions, and standards” for personal counseling (Cowdery et al., 1933). McClintock (1936) offered a perspective on the importance of “The religious factor in student counseling.” The 1939 conference proceedings were more extensive than in previous years and featured a collection of four papers under the heading “Diagnosis and Counseling of Students.” In 1940, a paper titled “Diagnosis and counseling: Aspects of student motivation” was presented (Feder, 1940), and a report of a similarly titled 1941 conference roundtable discussion facilitated by Lloyd-Jones stated that “Tests and other mechanical devices are useful….[but] must be interpreted wisely and used with discrimination” (p. 64). It was also noted that “…complete acceptance of the Freudian viewpoint was protested” in the discussion (p. 64).

Mental hygiene, counseling, clinical services, therapy, diagnosis, and guidance appeared to have various meanings in the early part of the 20th century. Functional areas were not as distinct as they are now, and “counseling” referred to academic advising, individual therapy, mentoring, and career counseling—individually as well as collectively. Often the same individuals in the same department would provide these services and more. One could argue, then, that through its members’ active discussion of these varied aspects of mental health, ACPA – College Student Educators International has had a broad impact on collegiate mental health from its earliest years as an organization.

Mental health issues continued to be explored at what were now called the “Annual Conventions of the Association” through the 1950s. Although attention continued to be paid to broad theoretical issues and the development of standards, the convention proceedings began to reflect an interest in specific clinical issues and in the training and supervision of counselors. Additionally, these proceedings indicated the involvement of leaders in the field who were also members of sister organizations, furthering the impact of the work of ACPA – College Student Educators International. For example, the report of a presentation from 1953 titled “Teaching aids for counselor training” noted collaboration with the Counseling Training Committee of Division 17 (Counseling Psychology) of the American Psychological Association (Robinson et al., 1953). The ACPA presentation attempted to take the work of Division 17 and build upon it, and the closing sentence reads “The discussion concluded with a suggestion that an ACPA committee might be established to serve as a clearing house for available teaching aids” (p. 13). The 1953 convention also featured Bordin presenting on client expectations, and a demonstration of group therapy (Seeman et al., 1953).


In 1961, ACPA began to implement a new organizational structure. It had been decided that the 1963 convention programming would stem from a series of groups called commissions, each with a particular focus on an area of student personnel work. Commission VII was formed to attend to issues of counseling, testing, and advising. In 1961, then President-elect of ACPA, Melvene Hardee, wrote letters to student affairs professionals asking them to become founding members of the new commissions. In a letter sent to Alyce Graham Pasca of Roosevelt University, Hardee wrote of the importance of the perspective of the functional areas “in higher education in the years ahead” and noted that Pasca would “ably represent” the “national constituency” of this new Commission VII (Hardee, 1961).

Commission VII provided a good opportunity for those interested in college counseling to work together, and early records of the Commission reflect attention to both internal and external matters. That is, Commission VII became a place for college counselors to come together, further their own work, and discover ways to disseminate findings from college counseling to the broader field of student affairs. In the early years of Commission VII, it was reported that members were mostly counseling center directors who explored questions such as “How can counseling centers serve as liaisons between administrators and student activists?” and “Are there roles for counseling center staff besides ‘therapist?’” (Roney, 1986). Tom Magoon was Chair of the Commission in 1965 and linked the Commission to the University of Maryland Data Bank (begun in 1962), which annually surveyed counseling center directors regarding clinical issues, challenges, and achievements in college counseling (Boyd & Kandell, 2011). The Maryland Data Bank remains a rich repository of over 50 years’ worth of data regarding the changes in university and college counseling work.

A note about terminology: Commission VII officially changed its name to the more inclusive and representative “Commission for Counseling and Psychological Services” in 1987. However, “Commission VII” continued to be used by members until the early 2000s when there was an Association push to begin to use titles of the Commissions rather than numbers, as the use of numbers was felt to be less descriptive and less welcoming to newer members of the Association. At that time the acronym “CCAPS” began to be used more frequently to describe the Commission.

As previously mentioned, Commission VII members were often leaders in other professional organizations in addition to ACPA. Individuals such as Tom Magoon, Ursula Delworth, Helen Roehlke, Jack Corazzini, Christine Courtois, and Melba Vasquez, to name just a few, were members and leaders in the first 25 years of Commission VII. The work of Commission VII members provided professional leadership to college counseling center work as well as the broader field of student affairs. A few highlights include:

  • The University of Maryland Data Bank and associated Annual Convention Program, “Innovations in Counseling,” which shares innovative ideas, programs, and interventions used at counseling centers around the United States. “Innovations” has been offered at almost all of the ACPA Annual Conventions for the last 50 years, and is often presented to standing-room only audiences.
  • Commission members were active in writing position papers and participating in Association discussions regarding disaffiliation from APGA and AACD/ACA.
  • Commission VII members were active in the DSM-III-R revision process.
  • A 1997 special interest group focusing on counseling centers and the Internet resulted in three important developments: the development of the Commission webpage, coordinated by Jonathan Kandell; a clearinghouse for online psychoeducational self-help material coordinated by Wendy Settle; and a group led by David Gilles-Thomas began work on theCounseling Center Village, which houses a wide range of resources for college counseling professionals and trainees.
  • In 2001, CCAPS issued a position paper regarding the provision of online therapy services (Perez & Gaw, 2001). The paper was unanimously endorsed by the Commission Chairs group and was published inDevelopments . To this writer’s knowledge, it was the first effort by a professional association to speak to the ethical challenges of online services, making it an important milestone not only for student affairs but for mental health treatment in general. It is noteworthy that this paper was published in Developments , as this venue allowed non-mental health colleagues to be informed about the concerns regarding online services.

More on these accomplishments and additional information can be found in Lynch’s (2011) history of the Commission, which covers 1986 to 2011.

In the early 1980s, liaison relationships with Commission VII were begun. Relevant sister organizations of ACPA and Commission VII sent liaison representatives to the ACPA Conventions, and Commission VII also sent representatives to those organizations’ conventions to further collaboration and dissemination of knowledge. An incomplete list of past and current liaisons includes the American Association for Counseling and Development; the American College Health Association; the American Counseling Association; the American College Counseling Association; the American Psychological Association’s Division 17; the Society of Counseling Psychology; the Association of Counseling Center Training Agencies; the Association for the Coordination of Counseling Centers Clinical Services; the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors; the Center for Collegiate Mental Health; the Higher Education Mental Health Alliance; the International Association of Counseling Services, and NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

As may be obvious from the previous paragraphs, ACPA via CCAPS and other entities has been an important contributor to the professional development of generations of student affairs professionals. Convention programming, online and written information, and more recently phone-in discussions and webinars have enhanced the knowledge base of many. Beginning in 1995, continuing education credits for social workers, counselors, and psychologists have been offered for many of these events. Additionally, leadership opportunities in CCAPS have been important early experiences for individuals who have, for example, become the President of the American Psychological Association (Melba Vaquez); the founder and executive director of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (Ben Locke); and the President of ACPA – College Student Educators International (Heidi Levine).

The Future

The individuals mentioned in the last paragraph were chosen intentionally, as they are people who currently hold the leadership position listed, or have done so recently. As I move into a brief discussion of what the future may hold, it is important to note that many of the previously described accomplishments have current impact on student affairs and will continue to do so. CCAPS’ current and future plans include:

  • Continued membership in and collaboration with the Higher Education Mental Health Alliance (HEMHA), a partnership of eight organizations. Recently, HEMHA published Balancing Safety and Support on Campus: A Guide for Campus Teams. This guide provides a road map for campuses that are building and maintaining behavioral intervention teams, and is available for free online.
  • Continued collaboration with the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, a research consortium using de-identified student data from over 150 university and college counseling centers. This unprecedented confluence of data has allowed population-level research (in contrast to sample research) that has in turn revealed important insights about collegiate mental health and treatment.
  • Continued provision of webinars, allowing ACPA – College Student Educators International and CCAPS expertise to reach national and international audiences, in the comfort of participants’ own campuses.
  • Continued response and involvement in national issues of concern, such as serving as a signatory on a School Shooting Position Paper as well as a letter of support for the re-authorization of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act (personal communication, Bershad, 2013).

ACPA – College Student Educators International has been attending to issues of collegiate mental health since its inception. Although the job descriptions, job titles, and content of that focus have changed over the years, it is clear that student mental health is important to ACPA’s membership of student affairs professionals. It is my hope and expectation that the intertwining of college counseling and student affairs will continue for a long time in ACPA – College Student Educators International.


Bordin, E. (1953).  The implications of client expectations for the counseling process.
ACPA Personnel-O-Gram (1953). Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University,
Center for Archival Collections, MS-319.

Boyd, V.S., & Kandell, J. (2011).  History of the CCAPS innovations program: Maryland
Archival Databank revisited.  Retrieved from

Conrad, S.L. (2011).  History of the Commission for Counseling and Psychological Services
(CCAPS):  The second twenty-five years.  Retrieved from…

Cowdery, K.M., Patton, L.K., Woodruff, K., Purdom, T.L., Belknap, F., Dreese, M., & Stone,
H.E. (1933).  Personal counseling:  College personnel principles, functions, and
standards. Report of the Tenth Annual Meeting of the American College Personnel
Association:  Minneapolis, MN.

Emery, E.V.N (1932).  The relation of mental hygiene to the selection, adjustment, placement,
and progress of the student.  The study of the individual student. Report of the Ninth Annual Meeting of the American College Personnel Association:  Washington, DC.

Feder, D. D. (1940).  Diagnosis and counseling:  Aspects of student motivation. Report of the
Seventeenth Annual Meeting of the American College Personnel Association:  St. Louis, MO.

Hardee, M.  (1961).  Letter to Alyce Graham Pasca.

HEMHA (no date).  Balancing safety and support on campus:  A guide for campus teams. 
Retrieved from

Lloyd-Jones, E. (1941).  Diagnosis and counseling.  Report of a roundtable discussion facilitated
at the Annual Meeting of the American College Personnel Association: Atlantic City, NJ.

McClintock, D.A. (1936).  The importance of the religious factor in student counseling.  Report of the Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the American College Personnel Association:  St. Louis, MO.

Robinson. F., Burnett, C.W., Embree, R.B., Lifton, W.M., McCormick, K.F., Roeber, E.C., &
Schwebel, M. (1953).  Teaching aids for counselor trainees.   ACPA Personnel-O-Gram (1953). Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University, Center for Archival Collections, MS-319.

Roney, L. (1986)  History of Commission VII.  Retrieved from

Seeman, J., Gordon, T., & Starr, A. (1953).  Counseling demonstration—Group therapy
ACPA Personnel-O-Gram (1953). Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University, Center for Archival Collections, MS-319.

About the Author

Susan R. Stock serves as the Director of the Counseling Center at Roosevelt University. She has held many volunteer and leadership roles in ACPA, including the Chair of the Commission for Psychological Services (CCAPS) from 2002-2004. In 2009 she was the recipient of the CCAPS’ Mid-Level Career Achievement Award and is a member of the 2014 class of ACPA Foundation Diamond Honorees.

Please e-mail Inquiries to Susan R. Stock.


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.

Staying Motivated: Perspective on Successfully Completing a Dissertation

Staying Motivated: Perspective on Successfully Completing a Dissertation

Betsy L. Diegel
Davenport University

During my dissertation process, I kept the simple phrase, ‘Keep your eye on the prize’ at the forefront of my mind. The prize, of course, was finishing and successfully defending my dissertation. I had always had a tenacious, highly motivated demeanor when it came to accomplishing personal goals. This attitude allowed me to complete my undergraduate degree while also being a student-athlete, continue immediately on to my Master’s degree, and finally begin a career in higher education teaching and administration. After two years of full-time teaching and supervising adjuncts, it became obvious I needed a terminal degree to continue to move up the academic ladder. However, the process scared me. I knew I was motivated and focused, but I questioned whether I was intelligent enough to perform well in the doctoral classes, and then subsequently, complete the doctoral courses. This article highlights my experiences in successfully completing a dissertation and discusses learning lessons I endured along the way to readers who need that final nudge to finish their dissertation.

My Experience

I was honest with myself from the beginning that pursuing a terminal degree was probably the most daunting task I had ever faced. I wanted my dissertation topic to be unique but something I was able to accomplish within an adequate time period so I would not lose my passion along the way. I had no idea when I began my doctoral program what I wanted to research, which was overwhelming because most of my peers did. However, I listened to my professors and, in their words, “let the program wash over me” through coursework and expertise of my dissertation committee members to find a dissertation topic. I wanted a topic that related to my career, was exciting but attainable, utilizing qualitative methodology. My professors’ advice proved to be valuable as I was able to solidify my topic just before I took my comprehensive exams. After passing my comprehensive exams, I took a deep breath and prepared to immerse myself in the process of collecting and analyzing mounds of qualitative data. I had decided to do a phenomenological study to explore what department chairpersons did to provide support, mentoring, and professional development opportunities to adjunct faculty in their departments. I interviewed three department chairs and eighteen adjunct faculty to collect my initial data, followed by a focus group of adjunct faculty to solidify the major themes that arose during the initial interviews. This process was lengthy, involved some travel, numerous organizational revisions of content to each chapter, and at least one Diet Coke per day, until eighteen months later when I scheduled my dissertation defense.

During the dissertation process, I slowly realized each day of my life had to be planned out to accommodate for writing time. Balancing a full-time career, pregnancy, and producing quality writing became my reality. I was shocked at the amount of revisions I needed to do for each chapter of my dissertation. As soon as I would get something back from my dissertation chair, I would scroll to the last page of what she reviewed to see how many comments and edits she made on what I sent her. At times, the amount of feedback was overwhelming. Because of this, people who are writing dissertations should be aware that stress and even crying are part of the writing process. Additionally, it is also important to never get frustrated with your dissertation chair. That individual is your advocate in seeing you through to the finish line. Embrace your chair’s expertise and dedication toward your research—even if they ask you to revise the same sentence multiple times.

As I neared completion, I began preparing for my dissertation defense. I was less nervous about the public speaking and more concerned about taking the approximately one hundred-page dissertation and discussing all of what I found to be important in just 20 minutes. I used Microsoft PowerPoint for my presentation and decided to dedicate two slides per chapter. It was tough deciding what was most important to share, but I found I naturally elaborated on specific details as they emerged through the question and answer session at the end of my presentation. I was nervous during the question and answer session because I had no idea what questions my committee members were going to ask me. However, my nerves quickly subsided. It was my hard work to display and I was proud of it. Furthermore, I realized no one knew my topic of research better than me. I was so happy I invited my immediate family members, cohort members, a few friends, and people I work with to my defense because they could share in my elation when I passed and officially became Dr. Diegel.

My family and I celebrated together after my dissertation defense but the next day and subsequent few weeks that followed involved completing the final edits and formatting. Even though I was technically still working on my dissertation, I did not feel the same type of pressure and time crunch as when I was writing. This was mainly because the edits I needed to make were fairly minor and did not involve analyzing my data again. There was no better feeling than submitting my final proofed and approved dissertation to the university before I walked at graduation. I was never more proud of myself as I was at that moment. I knew my personal motivation, tenacity, and support system got me through to completion.


It is crucial to realize early on in your dissertation path that the ultimate goal must be to finish. I had numerous colleagues, as well as fellow students in my cohort, who lost their passion when they finished their coursework and comprehensive exams. Time passed and they did not move forward in completing their dissertation. That was not acceptable for me. I was pregnant and had set writing goals for myself after I completed my comprehensive exam of what I wanted to have completed before my son was born. I planned to take a two week hiatus from my writing once he arrived but planned to set aside one hour per day after that to stay on track. Additionally, I recalled all of the hours during the weekend I had spent in the classroom trekking through my concentration and cognate courses, studying early in the morning and late at night, money spent, time away from my family, and what this terminal degree could do for my career. I buckled down by setting up a weekly calendar that tracked my writing progress through each chapter while I was home on maternity leave. When I returned to work, I would block writing time in between teaching, meetings, and student office hours. I set a goal that once I received comments and revisions from my chair regarding a particular chapter, I would not exceed more than a two-week turnaround time to return it back to her.

Moreover, I surrounded myself with people who wanted me to succeed. I formed a few close friendships with people in my cohort who had the same drive to finish their dissertation that I had. We would proofread for each other, informally discuss dissertation topics or methodology ideas, or just grab lunch together in between classes to get a break. I also found support from people I worked with who already had their terminal degrees and understood the rigorous process in attaining it. Additionally, I communicated frequently with family members who cared about my success. I would often talk about my topic and data collection with my support network. I would see them on campus or during a family gathering and they would ask how my writing was going. I wanted to make them proud and show them I could do it. And even though I became annoyed when people would ask, “are you done yet?” their questions helped me stay accountable to my goal of finishing my dissertation.

Around one year into full data immersion and writing my final two chapters, I began to set short-term goals to keep me motivated. For example, when revisions came back from my dissertation chair, I would commit myself to working on a set number of them or for an indiscriminate amount of time every day. I would do something every day toward my dissertation—even if it was only modifying my cover page or adding someone to my acknowledgements section. I had colleagues who would dedicate their entire weekend to writing or rent a hotel room for a few nights to do nothing but write but that was not my style. I worked best writing and revising in short, but regular time intervals.

Finding your style and balance with work and life is integral to staying organized and on track. If you work, take days off to dedicate toward your writing or learn to say no at work when it comes to taking on extra responsibilities. That certainly is not an easy thing to do but it became clear to me that the long-term payoffs far exceeded the short-term sacrifices I made to complete my dissertation. I kept the lines of communication open with my supervisor about needing to take days off or keeping my office door shut between meetings or teaching so I could get some quality writing time. It felt odd at first to turn down committee work or extra projects because I am passionate about staying involved in every aspect of my job, but I was determined to finish in a timely manner.

Over time, the novelty of being referred to as ”Dr.” will wane. However, the result will always be yours. Work to forage relationships early on with people in your cohort and your professors, surround yourself with people who care about your success, do something every day when it comes to your writing, and always have a positive attitude. As someone stated to me long ago, “a good dissertation, is a finished dissertation.” Stay strong; you can do it!

Discussion Questions

  1. Define personal accountability. How can you achieve this to assist you in finishing your dissertation?
  2. Describe your ultimate writing environment. Be very descriptive so we can all picture being there with you. How will you create this environment on a regular basis so you can complete your dissertation?
  3. How will you successfully finish your dissertation once you pass your comprehensive exams? Define your path.

About the Author

Betsy Diegel is the Director of Academic Services & Associate Professor at Davenport University in Midland, MI. Her roles include academic administration and undergraduate teaching in a variety of science and biology courses. Her research interests include adjunct faculty development and women in higher education.

Please e-mail inquiries to Betsy Diegel.


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.