The Open Door to All: Can Community College’s Student Cohorts Truly Co-Exist?

The Open Door to All: Can Community College’s Student Cohorts Truly Co-Exist?

Marisa Vernon
Cuyahoga Community College

Open Access: A Melting Pot of Age, Experience, and Personal History

Within the state of Ohio, community colleges are busy welcoming an increased number of high school dual-enrolled students to our campuses. While community colleges have often served as the institutions of choice for high school partnership programs, recent changes to the former Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) program have nudged many community colleges to revamp these relationships in order to adhere to new statewide standards.

The Ohio Department of Education has made strides in standardizing the state’s previously widely varied dual enrollment programs, thus extending the higher education experience to increased numbers of high school students. This standardization benefits students, colleges, and school districts by establishing guidelines for program delivery, structure, and funding formulas throughout the state.

Perhaps one of the most profound details within Ohio’s new College Credit Plus program (hereafter referred to as CCP) refers to the population eligible to take advantage of the program. Where the former PSEO program cast a net reaching mostly students in the latter portion of their high school experience, Ohio’s new CCP model opens this opportunity to any college-ready student in grades 7-12.

While students still need to verify college readiness through placement testing, college admission standards, or other criteria set forth by the institution, communication of this opportunity alone has increased the number of middle- and early- high school students seeking entrance into Ohio’s colleges to earn post-secondary credits while remaining in the K-12 system. For some of the state’s largest community colleges, this year’s College Credit Plus enrollment is akin to the number of students attending a small liberal arts college. Given the numbers and an expected increase over the next several years, this cohort has changed the landscape of many Ohio college campuses.

Given the community college access mission, diversity of class offerings, as well as low tuition costs and ease of transfer, community colleges are often desirable partners for school districts seeking to expand CCP opportunities for their students. However, as community colleges begin to see an increase in minor students attending classes, campus events, and utilizing services, college administrators struggle to find a balance between minor populations and other student cohorts also utilizing the institution to achieve educational and career goals.

As mentioned in previous articles within this column, community colleges’ doors swing wide open, often providing a second chance to individuals who carry a criminal background. As one may assume, this sub population of the community college profile includes those whose offenses were of sexual nature, many of whom are required to adhere to state sex offender registry laws. While attendance at a community college can be an accessible route to rebuilding one’s life after incarceration, co-enrollment with an increased population of minor students may present a conflict with one’s probation, parole, or a long-term sex offender registry requirement.

As the average age of those attending college, and more specifically, community colleges, begins to drop due to increased partnerships with K-12 education systems, campus administrators are faced with complex questions that, in many cases, challenge the access mission on which community colleges were originally built.

Perhaps the most glaring campus safety question facing administrators at open access colleges is how to integrate an increasingly younger population into a learning environment that currently includes registered sex offenders.

In July 2015, one Ohio two-year college restricted a previous offender’s utilization of on-campus housing, based on the college’s existing housing policy. Hocking College admitted the student and permitted his participation on the college’s football team, thus allowing the student to pursue his education, but with limitations (Community College Week, 2015).

While some colleges can bar sexual offenders from utilizing on-campus residential services, many other community colleges lack on-campus housing. Given the absence of this service, community colleges may find themselves without options for restricting interactions between sexual offenders and the general student population. This scenario can present challenges for community colleges that seek to fulfill the role of community educator, while balancing the safety and risks associated with supporting the educational needs of a diverse student body. Which services, if any, present the largest risks and therefore should be limited? How can colleges identify these areas and plan policies accordingly?

The Court of Public Opinion

As community colleges, once open to all, grapple with the ethical challenge to both educate and protect such a vast array of students, the focus has fallen on the offenses that are primarily sexual in nature. Many colleges have been asked to further examine their admission and monitoring stance on the sexual offender population, however, other groups with criminal background do not appear under the same scrutiny. Why, then, has this particular cohort of the restored citizen population been under close review?

As mentioned above, one can make the connection between the increased number of minors attending community colleges and concerns about the safety of the college environment. As K-12 partnerships expand to bring more middle- and high-school aged students into the community college classroom, these partnerships have nudged student affairs professionals to re-examine existing policies designed to ensure student safety. Likewise, parent groups, community stakeholders, and dually enrolled students also apply increased concern, thus challenging the openness of the community college’s doors.

The debate over sexual offender admission and enrollment restrictions runs parallel to public opinion surrounding sex offender registries, sentences, and the permanent “label” associated with this subgroup of previously incarcerated individuals. As stated by Pickett, Mancini, and Mears (2013), “with the possible exception of terrorists, sex offenders in the United States experience a greater degree of punishment and restriction than any other offender group. Members of the public overwhelmingly support “get tough” sex crime policies and display an intense hostility toward persons labeled ‘sex criminals’.” Given this pattern, it seems logical that campuses may experience unique pressure from the community regarding the issue of sex offenders within the college environment.

Pickett et al. (2013) outline models that seek to explain the public’s negative response to sexual offenders when compared to offenders of other crimes. One such model indicates a strong form of solidarity between the general public and victims of sexual crimes, leading to protection of possible victims regardless of extent. Likewise, the other two models outline a public opinion of sexual offenders as “monsters” and thus any actions unforgivable, as well as a perception that sex crimes are prevalent and thus require risk management. The article, however, also points out that further research is needed to identify whether or not public opinion is justified when connected to recidivism rates and the outcomes associated with various sex offender rehabilitation methods.

An Ethical Challenge

Given the status of current public opinion regarding the perceived threat of past sexual offenders, community colleges may struggle to respond to increased pressure to restrict enrollment while also advocating for a marginalized cohort of individuals who may benefit greatly from open access to education.

As open access institutions, community colleges offer opportunity to restored citizens, and are viewed by community partners as an education pathway for those exiting the criminal justice system. This mission presents ethical and moral challenges for colleges drafting policies that maintain open access while attempting to diminish the risk of sexual violence on and connected to the campus environment. Review and creation of such policies requires multiple perspectives and vantage points, including those represented by Legal Counsel, community stakeholders, student affairs, administration, and, of course, the student body voice. While restrictions and admission review policies have begun to take shape around this issue, the voice of law enforcement, community agencies, and registered sex offenders themselves has, presumably, yet to be heard.

As community colleges work to negotiate these concerns and craft responses to minimize risk to other students, additional ethical challenges often arise. While some colleges may seek to fully deny the most violent offenders admission, other students with lower registration status may still be admitted. Likewise, with a current focus on sexual offenders, previously incarcerated individuals whose crimes involved non-sexual violence, drug trafficking, or theft may be admitted without review. In these cases, as with many student cohorts pursuing degrees, student services staff and faculty will be presented with ethical challenges associated with the advisement and career planning process for those with criminal pasts.

This challenge, not unique to the open access environment, demands that staff, faculty, and administrators learn as much as they can about the individual goals, motivation, and personal story associated with nearly every student occupying a seat. As educators, we play a role in helping students to identify educational options and choices, while respectfully helping those with potentially limiting backgrounds to identify alternative routes to meaningful employment. This perspective is critical when developing policies that limit access for some students, but also when identifying other cohorts who can be granted admission but may be barred from certain career fields, academic programs, and internships due to criminal background. Likewise, administrators, Legal Counsel, and other student support teams may need to examine which components of the student experience, such as student life opportunities, intramural or organized athletics, and clubs can or should be restricted due to perceived risk. Data and research presented outside of higher education, such as recent work in the areas of sociology, criminology, psychology, and other disciplines, may need to be consulted in order to inform strategies that protect some students while restricting the access of others.


As with many issues facing higher education, and specifically, community colleges, strategies to bar admission to registered sex offenders presents moral, ethical, and legal implications. As stated above, public opinion, increased community support for higher education, and closer partnerships between K-12 and college campuses have brought concerns about student safety to the surface. Administrators faced with these decisions should be encouraged to reflect on the mission of the American community college, seek consultation with Legal Counsel, and maintain communication with community partners in order to support those who may be barred access to the institution.

In the spirit of the community college mission, which provides access for anyone to improve his or her living, contribution, or obtain employment, creating links for those who cannot attend will prove a commitment to serving our communities. If our campuses cannot support those with certain criminal backgrounds, it will be important to provide an alternative pathway to meaningful education, employment, and a livable wage. After all, this is the core value of campuses that truly serve their communities.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your personal stance on admitting sexual offenders to community colleges to pursue degrees and other educational experiences?
  2. Does your view shift when considering those with non-sexual criminal history? Why or why not?
  3. How can community colleges continue to offer open access to education while still maintaining the safety of minors who attend college classes through K-12 partnership programs?
  4. What do you believe is the role of a college and its administration as it relates to student safety? Does this change when considering minors versus the safety of others over the age of 18? Why or why not?


College Credit Plus FAQ (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2016, from Ohio college will allow participation but will bar man from living in dormitory. (2015). Community College Week, 28. Retrieved from;see 2015/07/27;c-2566151

Pickett, J. T., Mancini, C., & Mears, D. P. (2013). Vulnerable victims, monstrous offenders, and unmanageable risk: Explaining public opinion on the social control of sex crime. Criminology, 51(3), 729-759.

About the Author

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Marisa Vernon.


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

Guidelines for Positive Experiential Learning Experiences for Students and Supervisors


Guidelines for Positive Experiential Learning Experiences for Students and Supervisors

Amber Fallucca
University of South Carolina

Overview – Assessment Practicums and Internships

Many higher education and student affairs (HESA) graduate programs promote engagement in first-hand experiential learning experiences for students to learn about the varied types of positions and professional duties existing in the field. Often referred to as practicums, internships, or experiential learning opportunities, HESA programs may require this field experience in a half-semester, full semester, or summer term, and they may or may not be credit-bearing. For the field-based supervisors, the additional “hands-on support” in the office or program can be perceived as both a blessing and minor challenge as finding the correct amount and appropriate types of activities to shape a comprehensive view of their unit, or expertise area, can be daunting. For the student, the exposure gained from the experience and developing skillset can be difficult to articulate if not pinpointed early as part of the internship design. For example, can supervisors articulate what skills or knowledge the field students will be gaining from the personalized experience? Is there a roadmap to help ensure the student and supervisor will have a quality and engaged learning opportunity benefitting both parties?

In my professional role as a director of assessment in a university housing department, I provide leadership across assessment design of residential engagement outcomes and staff satisfaction, summative program evaluation, and documentation of departmental strategic planning. I regularly supervise 1-3 practicum students across varied lengths, including the half-semester, full semester, and summer-long internship. The following account demonstrates how supervisors and student participants can promote quality practicum experiences, regardless of the length or area of expertise involved.

In terms of participants, my institution’s HESA program requires a combination of practicum experiences to complement the theoretical foundation provided through the academic curriculum. While these experiential learning opportunities are considered a program requisite, students are able to self-select from a number of offices providing practicum opportunities each semester. Interested supervisors are asked to submit available opportunities via a listserv, and no obligation exists to participate from the offices themselves.

My decision to write this article stems from the many positive experiences I personally have encountered with providing practicum experiences to graduate students and the positive feedback I receive from participants completing the specific structured experience. Former practicum and internship participants responded to my request to share their respective experiences through three posed questions as part of the development of this article. The following themes emerged from the respondents.


Reasons for Selecting the Assessment Practicum/Internship

Participants noted the importance of facilitating assessment in our student affairs field, as well as the perceived value placed on developing an assessment skillset. One respondent stated

Assessment is a ‘buzz’ word we use in higher education but is something critical in positions. I knew that in these tough economic times professionals were being asked to do more with less, and what we are doing needs to be backed by facts and numbers to give validity to how and why we help students.

Another respondent noted his interest emerged “because assessment is a hot-button topic. I had some limited experience, but they [previous supervisors] assured me that this skillset would help as an emerging leader in student affairs.”


Skills Gained Carried into Professional Career

When asked about the skills gained through the experience, respondents described specific technical skills that continue to support their professional role. For example, one respondent developed “a strong respect for writing learning outcomes as probably the strongest asset.” A respondent provided an example of a learned skill that continues to resonate: “My ability to create an executive summary is spectacular-and I often am tasked with making data ‘pretty’ and ‘presentable’ to various constituencies.” From an analysis standpoint, one participant found it “a benefit to learn about equations, filters, everything. I use it with ease now and watch as many professional struggle just how to organize properly in an Excel sheet.”


Approaches to Ensure a Successful Experience

Emerging themes centered on the use of informed strategies focused on meaningful outcomes and realistic expectations:

Something foundational for me was the usage of the NASPA/ACPA Competencies for Student Affairs Practitioners. This seems something so practical in terms of developing goals and outcomes for a position, yet is something overlooked … This is something that I can and definitely will use with future student affairs practitioners that I supervise!

Furthermore, the idea of a project-based practicum, as opposed to limited exposure office elements, proved to be beneficial:
The most valuable part of this practicum was taking ownership over a project and gaining the hands-on experience while I completed it…The practicum should extend beyond                “shadowing” and general office work, because neither of those tasks are helpful beyond the practicum experience.

In addition, the availability of the supervisor was deemed valuable.  One respondent noted a positive experience was associated with “consistent meetings and an open door.  I constantly had questions and wanted to clarify things – eventually I learned this is how the data/process works, but it was intimidating at first.”

Supervising Experiential Learning Opportunities

While learning student affairs assessment is the focus of my field experience, please note the following practices can be included across many varied student affairs professional areas and implementation methods. For example, 10 competency-based areas exist as part of the Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners (ACPA & NASPA, 2010). Your department might not fit easily into one area as mine focuses mainly on Assessment, Evaluation, and Research (AER); however, there is opportunity to focus on multiple criteria across numerous competencies. I have framed the potential advantages of this experience into two categories: supportive practices and supervisor gains.


Supportive Practices

Many practices support a positive experience for the student. I present three specific areas here.

  • Competency-based education. The Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners (ACPA & NASPA, 2010) guide the experiences I provide; however, there is potential with the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS), the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I) competencies, and other professional guidelines to provide direction for the skillset or goals achieved by completing the practicum experience. The focus becomes less on the time-on-task requirement, (i.e., “butt in chair” thinking), but more so on the proficiencies gained through the practicum. Participating students will rise to the challenge of project development and completion once foundational knowledge is provided. Furthermore, because they are using common terminology and competencies likely to be well-known across multiple institutions and programs, they walk away with a familiar language in which to articulate their work to future employers.
  • Syllabus “roadmap” to guide the experience. A very important discussion should occur very early on in the practicum, ideally even before its initiation. This conversation should focus on an overview of the unit functions, as well as exploring what the student wants to learn from the experience. A supervisor should also review expectations, usually specific to individual supervision style, communication expectations, overview of anticipated project ideas, etc. The follow-up meeting should include a review of the competencies, or guiding professional framework. Furthermore, an explanation for how these activities will align with the expected competencies should be included. Timelines are important; however, be sure the syllabus is flexible enough to allow for a change of course based upon project completion or individual student interest. The mid-experience “check-in” is designed to provide updates regarding student progress and also creates an opportunity to inquire about ongoing uncertainties or anticipated future roadblocks. Lastly, it is essential to require a culminating project for students to demonstrate what was learned via the practicum experience. This capstone event is significant so the learned skillset can be utilized as part of a job interview or as means of articulating what was gained through the experience. For example, how would the student articulate this experience on his/her resume? What tangible evidence could they present to describe what was gained?
  • Goal-setting: Early stages through “Closing the loop”. Revisit the competencies as part of the final evaluation. As homework, I ask students to review the AER competency criteria (ACPA & NASPA, 2010) prior to the last meeting. Students should determine if they gained expertise across the list of criteria and be able to describe what activities shaped this decision (see Figure 1). Examples are key! As supervisors, our job is to ensure the review is comprehensive (e.g., did they see that web-based training or oral report contributing to their competency development as much as you did?), but also realistic. For example, I sometimes have to remind the students that I am not at the level of “expert” on every assessment skill, so it is more likely they are not either. The competency self-evaluation helps to remind the supervisor of the key projects and skills gained, which will then inform the documented practicum evaluation the student (and likely graduate program or affiliated course) will receive for academic credit. Best of all, this exercise requires students to reflect on their experiential learning and presents a visible understanding of the practicum’s cumulative effect leading to their growing professional skillset. As a supervisor, I find this to be a highlight as the students articulate what they learned as part of the collaborative effort.
ACPA Assessment, Evaluation and Research (AER) Rubric

*NOTE: throughout this rubric AER is used to refer to Assessment, Evaluation and Research.  Institutions and individuals are encouraged to choose the term that best fits their situation/focus.

  Beginner Intermediate Advanced
Define Terms and Concepts Has trouble differentiating among assessment, program review, evaluation, planning and research in methodologies and approach Utilizes the appropriate assessment, program review, evaluation, planning and research methodology/approach in data collection and review.

Completed online exercise matching examples with definitions

Teaches others the differences between assessment, program review, evaluation, planning and research.
Value May see value in AER, but has difficulty translating into action through active participation, use and practice. Actively participates in AER activities and effectively uses AER in daily practice.

Utilization of Assessment Practices, including SPSS usage for RM Survey, EBI Analysis, and Excel Usage for year-end-reports

Creates the climate at the unit level that AER is central to the unit’s work and encourages others to use AER in daily practice through training and allocation of resources.

Presentations in RLC Training & during RM Focus Group about Assessment strategies/techniques.

Figure 1

Example of Matching Exercise from Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners


Supervisor Gains

Now, what do you get out of it? There can be much for you to gain so the experience can be mutually beneficial.

  • Work efficiency and new skills. In terms of my office, the practicum student’s development of an assessment skillset likely means one less report, or summary for me to complete—a lighter workload, but more noticeably a significant contribution from the student, not just an “add on” component. Ideally, this is what a practicum experience should entail. Ask yourself and your office, “what meaningful opportunities for work contributions can be made available for a practicum student? Program facilitation? Meeting with students? Executive summary of findings from a focus group?”


Furthermore, listening to the comments from this “external consultant” lens is a continuous reminder of whether I am articulating concepts in a clear manner, or if certain procedures should be revisited for practical consideration. If they have questions about the initiative I am describing, chances are so would the outside audience. In addition, the supervisor will learn new skills. Students show me new tricks with software, or varied formats of sharing data across social media. I am continually looking for new ways to advance my work and often innovation originates with the practicum students. Lastly, I know they are walking away “giving assessment a good name”. The better our new professionals are with designing and facilitating strong assessment, the better our student affairs profession will be. Imagine how a quality experience in your office will continue to resonate across the participant, his/her peers, graduate program, and ongoing development within the profession. Who knows—these students may be your colleagues one day, or even someone you hire. The time invested early will pay off dividends later.

Discussion Questions

  1. Can the practicum and internship supervisors in your unit articulate what skills or knowledge the field students will be gaining from your personalized experience? For example, how would the student articulate this experience on his/her resume? What tangible evidence could they present to describe what was gained?
  2. Ask yourself and your office, what meaningful opportunities for work contributions can be made available for a practicum student?
  3. How would the supervisor describe the experience of managing the practicum student and experience? What components would you maintain and what elements would you change based upon what was gleaned through participating students’ reflections?



ACPA & NASPA. (2010). Professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Washington,

DC: Author. Retrieved from

About the Author

Amber Fallucca leads assessment and research efforts for six functional units across the University Housing department and provides support for student affairs and institutional assessment initiatives. She has published on student affairs assessment and directs the program receiving a 2014 National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Excellence Bronze Award on the topic of developing a culture of assessment in student affairs. She also received the Outstanding Experienced Professional, 4-9 Years by ACPA – College Student Educators International and the Commission for Housing & Residence Life in 2014. Amber currently serves as a member of the editorial board for the Journal of College and University Student Housing, provides practicum and internship opportunities as part of the Higher Education & Student Affairs (HESA) graduate program at the University of South Carolina, and regularly serves as a thesis committee member. Related research interests include: student affairs assessment, intercollegiate athletics and student-athletes, professional training programs.  She has a bachelor of science degree in psychology from the College of Charleston, a master’s degree in exercise and sport psychology from the University of Florida, and holds a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of South Carolina.

Please e-mail inquiries to Amber Fallucca.


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.

Innovation in Action: The Ability Exhibit

Innovation in Action: The Ability Exhibit

Karen A. Myers
Maureen A. Wikete Lee
Saint Louis University


I learn from allies every day.

Allies teach me.

These allies are my students.



As the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 approached (July 26, 2015), I reflected on the 25 years I have been a disability educator and ability ally. Casey-Powell and Souma (2009) describe an ally within the student affairs community as “someone who acts to change policies, procedures, and attitudes on campus and to educate other dominant group members, in this case people without disabilities, about individuals with disabilities” (p. 150). I witness the innovative ideas and actions of allies each day on the campus of Saint Louis University (SLU), a Jesuit institution where I am a faculty member. Graduate students and student affairs practitioners work together to broaden our campus community’s awareness and understanding of individuals with disabilities, as well as provide opportunities for the development of allies within our university and in the St. Louis community. Examination of, and reflection on, personal awareness and attitudes regarding disability and disability issues occur in coursework and through the continued growth of the student project Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit.

Within the graduate course I teach, Disability in Higher Education and Society, students are challenged to unpack their multifaceted roles as allies within the university and community. This process is individualized, nudging each student forward in developing self-awareness and advocacy skills. Casey-Powell and Souma (2009) make recommendations for actions regarding graduate students and student affairs professionals. One suggestion includes:

Student affairs units should facilitate programs and workshops that promote and appreciate diversity while challenging some individuals to learn more about themselves and encouraging others to promote an understanding of individuals with disabilities. Diversity challenges stereotypes and allows others to communicate more effectively with individuals of various backgrounds. (p. 165)

The faculty of the School of Education at Saint Louis University has supported graduate students in such innovative work in the development of the Allies for Inclusion project.

Allies for Inclusion Overview

In 2010, graduate student Anne Marie Carroll conceived the idea for Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit. The project has evolved each semester as new groups of students enroll in the disability course. The student project has now become a national traveling exhibit hosted by over 40 institutions. The exhibit promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities while demonstrating and supporting the values of social justice, inclusion, and ally development. We are the proud recipients of the ACPA’s 2013 Student Involvement Program of the Year 2013 and the Jesuit Association of Student Personnel Administrators’ 2012 Ignatian Medal for Outstanding Campus Program.

Through generous donations and grants, the exhibit’s concept has expanded to include an Ability Allies K-1 edition for kindergarten through first grade students. Also, through a United Way student grant, an Ability Allies Committee is conducting Ability Ally workshops similar to the Safe Zone program model, which provides lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer awareness and ally training workshops. As part of the Saint Louis University School of Education’s strategic plan, disability education was identified as a priority. Evidence of this commitment to disability education is the development of an Ability Institute, which will include degree programs, disability research and assessment, and Allies for Inclusion projects.

With service and reflection as central to Jesuit values, the Allies for Inclusion exhibit clearly is connected with the Jesuit objective to develop men and women for others. For a service-learning project in my Disability in Higher Education and Society graduate class, students set up, participated in, and dismantled the 400-pound, 10-station exhibit on our campus in order to create a promotional video. The value of the service-learning project was its connection to the themes of social justice, inclusion, and ally development, along with the opportunity for students to actively engage in service and share their reflections. Such reflection is demonstrated through a colorfully descriptive account from a student in my Disability in Higher Education and Society course, Maureen A. Wikete Lee. Her words encompass the true meaning of Allies for Inclusion through a social justice lens.

Reflections from Maureen A. Wikete Lee, Graduate Student

As an early childhood educator, I most often considered inclusion in terms of creating a learning environment in which all preschool students and staff are ensured access, participation, and support (DEC/NAEYC, 2009). My personal lens regarding inclusion has expanded throughout our course. I now think about adults, especially university students and personnel, as I develop course assignments, facilitate discussions, and navigate our campus. Our work to set up the Ability Exhibit for the creation of the promotional video has provided me with an incredible opportunity for personal learning and reflection. The following describes my thoughts on the inclusive nature of Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit.

As we gathered to set up the exhibit, I was eager to get to work. I looked forward to experiencing the exhibit for the first time and being part of a campus-wide program to promote awareness of persons with disabilities, disability issues, and what it means to be an ally. The project leaders had a clear vision for the events of the day, and I wanted to contribute to keep us on schedule. Our class formed a strong sense of community throughout the semester; this was evident as we worked together trying to figure out the best way to set up the exhibit stations. The group was productive and worked with a light and fun sense of exploration as each station was unpacked and assembled. Teams worked together to set up laptops and projectors and create appealing visual displays. I was pleased to participate in a variety of ways, including moving furniture, steaming the camera backdrop, setting up stations, posing for promotional photographs, and recruiting student participants to view the exhibit and share testimonials of their experience for the video.

We worked on set-up until the moment visitors arrived. Mary Bruemmer, former Saint Louis University Dean of Students, longstanding member of the Saint Louis University Women’s Council, and founder of the Saint Louis University Women’s Commission, made an immediate impression as our first visitor. Ms. Bruemmer graduated from Saint Louis University in 1942 and has continued to be a part of the community following her retirement. I assumed the visitors would be undergraduate students. Perhaps I thought this because of my invitation to students in my undergraduate course or because of our invitation to campus organizations. I expected the exhibit to be an experience focused on education to enlighten young university students about a history they may have never studied. Instead, Ms. Bruemmer’s attendance made me recognize the exhibit’s wide audience and varied purposes.

The exhibit is a reflection on where we have been as a country and where we should be headed. It can be seen as a collection of past artifacts, present statistics, and future goals for our work as allies for inclusion. The undergraduate student visitors who followed Ms. Bruemmer learned about the history of the disability movement and gained a new sense of understanding about disability, as well as the continued call for inclusion in today’s society based on the displayed data, facts, and videos. My personal growth and increased understanding of inclusion goes hand in hand with my evolving social justice perspective.

Social Justice

I was introduced to Bishop’s (2002) model of ally development in our Disability in Higher Education and Society course. The model, rooted in the development of social justice allies, was introduced in course readings as also appropriate for the development of disability allies (Casey-Powell & Souma, 2009). The first step includes understanding oppression (Bishop, 2002); our work as allies begins here. We must challenge ourselves to deepen our understanding of oppression related to disability and in turn, as allies we must encourage others to join us on the journey as well. Our individual coursework and group discussions had led us to the moment in which we would engage the campus community and invite Saint Louis University students and personnel to deepen their understanding of oppression and continue to grow as allies for inclusion. What I had not anticipated was the impact of the exhibit on my understanding.

After I finished setting up the exhibit stations, talked with students, and posed for promotional pictures, it was my turn to experience the exhibit. I was surprised at the profound impact the exhibit had on me. By this time, I had seen the stations being set-up and was familiar with much of the information from course readings and class discussions. The quiet opportunities to see, hear, and read all of the displays at once were powerful. I was challenged to acknowledge the oppression people with disabilities in our own country faced and gained a deeper understanding of the surprisingly recent disability movement and resulting legislation in the United States. The testimonials and personal experiences shared, the staggering statistics, and the very personal “Do You Know Someone with a Disability?” and “Ally Pledge” stations brought the information and experience full circle. This experience brought the realization that disability issues not only affect persons with disabilities as a group and as individuals, but disability issues also impact me. I wondered what others were feeling and was eager to hear the responses recorded as part of the video testimonials.

Saint Louis University is an excellent sponsor for this exhibit as it fits with the university’s mission regarding social justice. Goodman (2001) suggests one motivation for becoming an ally is moral and spiritual values.  The network of Jesuit institutions at the high school and university level would be an excellent target audience for the exhibit as the students are likely to be motivated to become allies due to the institutions’ strong missions. I left feeling excited that we are increasing the likelihood others will have the opportunity to visit the exhibit in the future. We each bring our own perspective and view the exhibit through our personal lens. The exhibit may mean different things to different people, but I believe it is meaningful for everyone who views it. The exhibit offers an invitation to all who view it to engage in personal development with a pledge to be allies for inclusion.

Ally Development 

Essential to inclusion is the ongoing work of allies to challenge themselves personally, and to work for social change. Ally development is an ongoing process (Myers, Lindburg, & Nied, 2014), and our class continues to challenge ourselves to develop a deeper awareness of the perspectives of people with disabilities and an understanding of the harm in making assumptions regarding other’s perspectives and experiences. We are ready and eager to take action and engage the community in similar learning experiences. The opportunity to contribute to the viewing of Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit is our next step in the process. Our work will result in the creation of a promotional video and updated exhibit website to better share the message of inclusion to other universities, institutions, and corporations. During the service learning experience focused on promoting the exhibit, I progressed in my personal development as an ally.

As the time came to take the exhibit down and to pack it into containers, I thought of all the places the exhibit has traveled and of all the possibilities for future travel. I felt excited to think the K-1 edition might be starting on a similar path to promote respect toward people with disabilities, comfort in interactions with people with disabilities, and awareness of disability issues among young children. I was very excited to be a part of the development of the K-1 edition, which has since been piloted in six elementary school classrooms. I left the exhibit feeling a renewed sense of confidence in my work with the Allies for Inclusion K-1 edition and a sense of purpose toward our goal of promoting respect, comfort, and awareness. I strongly believe talking about similarities and differences with very young children is a developmentally appropriate way to start conversations that will lay the foundation for these ideas. It will be empowering for young children to have opportunities to share their perspectives and experiences, and powerful when they are encouraged to take into consideration the perspectives of others.

The graduate students’ sense of teamwork was apparent as we worked to pack the exhibit and prepare it for the next destination. Our Disability in Higher Education and Society class has become a community; our work began as one student’s project and now continues as the work of a growing number of allies for inclusion. I was eager for the promotional video to be completed along with the updated website and hopeful they would be effective tools to promote the exhibit.

Reflecting on the service learning experience, I realize my service has the potential to make a difference in the promotion of the exhibit. Although the volunteers relied heavily on those most familiar with the exhibit materials for instruction, we worked together to get the job done faster. We were allies together in an unconventional way; we were working to promote future awareness and education. The video will be essential in sharing the exhibit’s message to the public, so our work was not limited to the handful of visitors on that particular Sunday. The video will promote respect, comfort, and awareness each time someone views it on the website and at each future exhibit host site. The Ability Exhibit has now expanded into a variety of innovative programs designed by faculty and graduate students each semester, all promoting the development of allies for inclusion in our community.


Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit is an innovative project that has grown into a multifaceted program involving the work of faculty, graduate students, and university personnel. The exhibit is shown regularly at Saint Louis University to promote awareness within the community and has traveled to campuses, conferences, and corporations throughout the country. Last year, in celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s 25th Anniversary, it was hosted by the ACPA Convention in Tampa, FL, and at the NASPA Convention in New Orleans, LA, in addition to several corporations in St. Louis, MO. Since its inception, more than 50 United States colleges and universities have hosted the exhibit. Taking on a global perspective, the Ability Ally Initiative has been facilitated in Africa and India and was presented in Spain at Saint Louis University in Madrid, the University of Girona, and the Autonomous University of Barcelona in March 2015. Young children are now benefitting from the program through the piloting of a K-1 edition, and plans for developing an edition for medical professionals is underway. This innovative program has grown from graduate students’ active engagement in coursework. The Disability in Higher Education and Society course is just the beginning of students’ development as allies yet their work has already impacted ally development on Saint Louis University’s campus and beyond.

This promotional video is the result of the students’ work.

The Ability Exhibit can be reserved online at

Discussion Questions

  1. Is disability education essential for college students? If so, how can you promote disability education at your institution?
  2. What does being an ally mean to you? How will you be an ally for inclusion?
  3. Words matter. Attitudes matter. Behaviors matter. Common terminology used in discussing people with disabilities assigns a deficit identity to the disability population and obstructs societal change. Attitudinal barriers and negative language can impede change. Based on what you have learned about The Ability Exhibit, inclusion of people with disabilities, and ally development, discuss how you will be a change agent in the social construction of disability.


Bishop, A. (2002). Becoming an ally: Breaking the cycle of oppression in people (2nd ed.). Halifax, Nova Scotia: Fernwood.

Casey-Powell, D. & Souma, A. (2009).  Allies in our midst. In J. L. Higbee & A. A. Mitchell (Eds.), Making good on the promise (pp. 149-170). Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc.

DEC/NAEYC. (2009). Early childhood inclusion: A joint position statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute.

Goodman, D.J. (2001). Promoting diversity and social justice: Educating people from privileged groups. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Myers, K., Lindburg, J., & Nied, D. (2014). Allies for inclusion: Students with disabilities. ASHE Higher Education Report, 39.5. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

About the Authors
Karen A. Myers, Ph.D., is Associate Professor and Director of the Higher Education Administration graduate program at Saint Louis University and Director of the award-winning international disability education project, Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit and of Saint Louis University’s Ability Institute.  She has been a college teacher and administrator since 1979, is a national disability consultant and trainer, teaches her self-designed graduate course, Disability in Higher Education and Society, and is co-author of the recently released ASHE monograph, Allies for Inclusion: Disability and Equity in Higher Education.

Maureen A. Wikete Lee, Ph.D. completed her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction at Saint Louis University in May 2015. She is certified in early childhood and early childhood special education and taught in inclusive preschool, kindergarten, and first grade classrooms for 12 years.

Please e-mail inquiries to Karen A. Myers or Maureen Wikete Lee.


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.


Perspectives on Environmental Justice

Perspectives on Environmental Justice

Andrew M. Wells
University of Georgia

Jessica Belue Buckley
University of Louisville

Dillon Kimmel
University of Delaware


Student affairs administrators consider both sustainability and social justice to be important considerations in our work (ACPA & NASPA, 2010; ACPA, 2008).  While these priorities are clear and often inform student affairs practice, the language used to advance these issues separates them.  Social justice is understood as a process of addressing systems of power and privilege; social justice advocates work to dismantle oppressive institutions while advancing equity for historically marginalized communities (Bell, 2010).  Conversely, sustainability is focused on environmental issues and often falls short of critiquing the socially unjust institutions that create environmental problems (Agyeman, 2005).  We propose the perspective that environmental issues and social justice are connected to one another and that a philosophy of environmental justice (Agyeman, Bullard, & Evans, 2002) can inform and enhance student affairs practice.

As institutions that not only educate citizens and leaders, but also provide vision and research for contemporary problems, colleges and universities have a role to play in alleviating environmental degradation.  Global environmental degradation is contributing to poverty, growing divides between the rich and poor, issues of hunger and malnutrition, as well as threats to cultural vitality of communities in vulnerable parts of the world (Brainard, Jones, & Purvis, 2009).  Postsecondary institutions must work to address these kinds of issues and focus on studying not just subjects for their own sake, but also to ensure college students are adequately equipped to respond to the causes and outcomes of environmental degradation (Cullingford, 2010).  In 2003 Anthony Cortese, founder of Second Nature and a leading advocate of sustainability in higher education, argued that postsecondary institutions have a moral obligation to create a just and sustainable future.  As institutions have a responsibility to address global issues, student affairs administrators have a role in engaging colleagues and students in understanding and developing skills to mitigate issues of environmental and social injustice.  As student affairs administrators prepare students for life in an increasingly globalized world, we should embrace environmental justice as a priority in students’ learning and development (Agyeman, Bullard, & Evans, 2002).

In this article, we hope to demonstrate the importance of incorporating environmental justice into student affairs administrators’ practice.  First, we examine common definitions of sustainability, social justice, and environmental justice, as well as demonstrate how these concepts are related.  Next, we explore how and why these concepts are important for student affairs practice.  Finally, we discuss examples of environmental justice in practice in a myriad of functional areas from across the country through interviews we conducted with student affairs practitioners at campuses noted for their connection of environmental and social justice issues.

Social Justice, Sustainability, and Environmental Justice

To better understand how social and environmental justice intersect, it is important to establish a common understanding of the terms “social justice,” “sustainability,” and “environmental justice.” One of the “Basic” foundational competencies in the field is to be able to “articulate a foundational understanding of social justice and the role of higher education…in furthering its goals” (ACPA & NASPA, 2010, p. 12).  Student affairs associations, such as the ACPA – College Student Educators International and the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), host multicultural and social justice institutes to foster continued learning and action around issues of social justice.  Across North America, student affairs personnel embrace social justice as a core principle of good practice, and indeed, an area of professional competency (ACPA – College Student Educators International & NASPA – Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education, 2015).

Social Justice

The core principle of social justice is rooted in common definitions, which we argue are directly related to environmental sustainability and justice.  Bell (2010) suggested that “social justice is both a process and a goal” (p. 21) with “the goal of social justice [being] full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs” (p. 21).  Social justice is not a process or a goal that is without challenges; advocates of social justice recognize the many intersecting and interacting structures of power that must be addressed.  North (2006) suggested that social justice education has three “spheres” that necessitate a balance of (a) knowledge and action, (b) micro and macro levels of consideration, and (c) redistribution of goods and recognition of individuals or communities (p. 509).  She suggested that the work of social justice seeks to address and consider each of the tensions of her framework.  On campus, the work of social justice often seeks to disrupt systemic marginalization of groups based on social identities, such as race, class, or gender.  These efforts are not limited to the campus community or even state or national borders. Bell (2010) and North’s (2006) concepts of social justice transcend geopolitical boundaries and are relevant for the entire planet’s population.  The pursuit of social justice on college campuses connects us to a global movement toward social justice, and if the pursuit of social justice includes and addresses environmental issues, practitioners may be brought closer to advancing global environmental justice.

To better align campus social justice efforts with global environmental issues, student affairs educators might apply North’s (2006) framework of social justice to examine issues of sustainability, such as climate change.  Brainard, Jones, and Purvis (2009) argued that climate change is a social justice issue when considering the ways in which changes in rainfall, agricultural yield, desertification, and the scope of natural disasters have disproportionately affected the most vulnerable persons and communities around the globe.  The examination of climate change through North’s framework might help educators realize the need to balance (a) knowledge about climate change and tangible work to mitigate it; (b) individual actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and organized, structural actions; and, (c) attention to increased access to material (and other) goods for those most affected by climate change.  Using North’s framework as a lens, educators realize the need to recognize that not only equitable distribution of goods, but also cultural vitality of diverse communities is an important consideration of socially just responses to climate change.  Student affairs practitioners in North America cannot overlook the social justice implications of our behavior.  The decisions we make about consumption of energy, goods, and natural resources have significant consequences for people and communities around the globe.  As we acknowledge these consequences, student affairs practitioners assume responsibility for addressing these issues as a part of social justice advocacy.


Although less broadly discussed than social justice, the concept of sustainability is familiar for many student affairs administrators.  One of the first and most cited definitions of sustainability rises from the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED).  The commission’s 1987 publication, Our Common Future, articulates a definition of sustainable development that balances the needs of current generations with those of future generations. Student affairs documents acknowledge the WCED definition.  For example, in 2008, ACPA sponsored the publication of a monograph that explored the role of sustainability in student affairs administration, and in 2010, the joint ACPA-NASPA statement of professional competencies articulated the importance of both sustainability and social justice in our work.  However, the history of the sustainability movement significantly predated these documents.  The environmental movement, a precursor to sustainability, largely began in the 1970s (Agyeman, 2005; Ferris & Hahn-Baker, 1995) in response to issues of industrial pollution, air and water contamination, and urban waste disposal (Anguelovski, 2013; United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, 1987).  Scholars often attribute the modern environmental movement to the preservation of ecology for recreational and aesthetic reasons (Gould, Schnaiberg, & Weinberg, 1996; Postma, 2006); we have argued in this article that the social justice implications of environmental issues should inform our pursuit of social justice.

On the heels of the environmental movement, the sustainability movement sought to bridge environmental issues with economic issues, largely in the landscape of international development.  For many, sustainability was understood in terms of the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit (Elkington, 1999).  While sustainability has been described in many ways by many organizations and individuals, the consensus is that environmental sustainability addresses pollution, moderate consumption of natural resources, and the importance of human behavior on non-human species and systems.

The evolution of the environmental and sustainability movements has moved issues of environmental degradation into some common practice areas in student affairs work.  Student affairs administrators often include energy and water conservation in social and educational programming; we also highlight food scarcity in low-income populations by educating students about food waste and sustainable agriculture.  Sustainability is particularly prominent in housing and dining services, where administrators benefit both from the efficiency and popularity of environmentally sustainable buildings and construction (Pursehouse, 2012).  Environmental sustainability is no longer a philosophy exclusive to a political fringe group; it is a common expectation among many college students.

The work of sustainability in student affairs is typically limited to efforts that can be easily incorporated into existing structures and processes.  In a more aggressive approach to sustainability, student affairs practitioners would challenge unsustainable systems akin to the social justice critique of systematic power and privilege.  Newport (2012) argued that higher education uses sustainability to advance conservation efforts that save money, but fall short of fully integrating the movement’s strategic vision or social justice ideals.  He suggested that postsecondary institutions focus on the economic and environmental aspects of sustainability’s triple bottom line, while overlooking the aspect of social justice.  We believe that by applying a social justice ethic to environmental sustainability, we can synthesize two similar values and embrace a unifying ethic of environmental justice that centers environmental issues on a social justice framework.

Environmental Justice

We use the term “environmental justice” to describe the intersection of social justice and sustainability (Agyeman, Bullard, & Evans, 2002).  An environmental justice approach couples issues of environmental degradation with social justice and promotes action on environmental issues that affect historically marginalized communities.  The concept of environmental justice bridges the gap between social justice and environmentalism by naming the long history of the intersections of race, class, and abuses of the natural environment in the United States.  Environmental justice is closely aligned to the values and priorities of student affairs administrators who work to foster students’ attention to issues of equity and personal moral development.

Environmental Justice in Student Affairs

Student affairs administrators have long taken responsibility for students’ learning and development through co-curricular educational experiences (Creamer, Winston, & Miller, 2001).  In the context of an increasingly globalized planet threatened by climate change and persistent issues of environmental and social justice, student affairs administrators may consider how environmental justice is related to social justice, and how it can enhance students’ learning and development.  In the following section, we address the implications of environmental justice for student affairs practice such as equity and inclusion, student learning, and student development.

Equity and Inclusion

Equity and inclusion are at the heart of student affairs values.  An entire section of the Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners articulates standards for social justice and inclusion (ACPA & NASPA, 2010/2015).  The standards describe the need for professionals to work toward individual competence in equitable practice, competence in fostering students’ attention to issues of social justice, and competence in fostering institutional practices that are equitable (ACPA & NASPA, 2010/2015).  In an increasingly globalized world, college students and university administrators must reframe the perspective on social justice to incorporate an awareness of our place within and impact upon the global community.

We have argued that there is a significant connection between student affairs practitioners’ pursuit of social justice and environmental justice.  We present two examples of structural inequity steeped in environmental degradation to demonstrate the connection between student affairs and social and environmental justice issues.  First, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, hundreds of thousands of farm workers suffer pesticide-related illnesses each year; race is the most significant factor in differentiating where disposal facilities of hazardous wastes are sited (2003).  Second, climate change is resulting in agricultural shifts that are impoverishing small farmers globally; this contributes to malnutrition poverty in the most economically depressed communities in developing nations that have little control over the factors that contribute to climate change (Brainard, Jones, Purvis, 2009).  While these issues may at first seem disconnected from daily life on a campus, it is important to consider where campuses attain their food, dispose of their wastes, how they invest their financial holdings, and what policies govern the environmental and just labor implications of purchasing.  Answers to these questions may reveal direct links to environmental injustice.  By educating our students about the importance of our carbon footprints, consumption of locally-produced resources, and engagement in local and national discussions about sustainability, we can achieve progress toward environmental justice.

Student Learning & Development

Student affairs administrators have a responsibility to help curb institutional practices that maintain environmental injustice and educate students who can make individual and collective decisions that promote environmental justice.  This role in facilitating students’ ability to mitigate global concerns is rooted in the very foundation of the field of student affairs. The Student Personnel Point of View reminded administrators of the need to foster “development of more citizens able to assume responsibilities in matters of social concern” (ACE, 1949, p. 4).  The document’s authors claim postsecondary education must “[provide] experiences which develop in its students a firm and enlightened belief in democracy, a matured understanding of its problems and methods, and a deep sense of responsibility for individual and collective action” (p. 4). Today’s students live in a society that will only become increasingly globalized, and we must ensure their collegiate experiences prepare them to understand the global implications of their daily decisions.

By supporting students’ learning and development through the co-curriculum, student affairs administrators are ideally situated to incorporate a perspective of environmental justice in programming and educational interventions.  Service-learning, study abroad, and educational programming in residence halls are all examples of opportunities for environmental justice to enhance student learning. Service-learning opportunities help students apply theories and classroom learning in “new situations” (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005, p. 129) and in their communities (Keen & Baldwin, 2004).  Study abroad provides students with experiences in other developed and developing countries and enhances students’ capacity for perspective-taking in a global community (Tarrant & Lyons, 2011; Tarrant, Rubin, & Stoner, 2013).  Pascarella and Terenzini (1991, 2005) found that educational programming and formalized Living-Learning Communities contribute positively to student success and learning in university residence halls. Blimling (2015) notes that the more engaging the program and the more involved faculty and student affairs professionals are in the community, the more engaged and the more students learn.  We have argued that the research on student learning and development strongly supports the development of programs that integrate environmental justice and social justice learning in applied settings.  In the subsequent section, we describe examples of environmental justice in practice at six postsecondary institutions in the United States; these examples demonstrate the connection between environmental justice and student affairs work.

Environmental Justice in Practice

Today, at least one organization offers a designation to assist institutions in developing more environmentally just practices.  Similar to the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS; a system supported by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education), Fair Trade Campaigns offers a fair trade institution designation for colleges and universities who demonstrate a pledge to five commitments outlined by Fair Trade Colleges and Universities (2014).  According to Fair Trade Campaigns, a fair trade commitment “ensures consumers that the products they purchase were grown, harvested, crafted, and traded in ways that improve lives and protect the environment” (Fair Trade Campaigns, 2014).  In 2008, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh became the first fair trade institution by developing a fair trade resolution for their campus community that included a commitment to fair trade education and building partnerships across campus.

Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa followed suit and signed their fair trade declaration in 2012, and has created an eight-person committee charged with peer education and outreach.  Some of Loras’ efforts included (a) offering fair trade coffee at a weekly coffee hour; (b) informing the campus community of the origin of food and highlighting when products are locally produced; and (c) connecting with local community organizations such as solid waste management and local farmers (A. McDermott, personal communication, October 20, 2014). By embracing fair trade as a priority for purchasing and education, the institution developed an economically feasible strategy to enact environmental justice even in a retail operation.

Like Loras College, Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida mobilized different units such as the campus bookstore to purchase fair trade clothing, and athletics to purchase fairly traded sports equipment.  Additionally, students were exposed to education about the migrant farmers who produce many of the state’s citrus fruits and learn about aspects of environmental justice through their coursework (A. Francis, personal communication, October 20, 2014).  These examples demonstrate the value of leadership within divisions and departments on campus, and how this leadership can demonstrate to senior campus administrators that environmental justice is a relevant pursuit that can be advanced campus-wide.

Integration of these concepts into the institutional academic missions is important to the advancement of environmental justice initiatives.  At Seattle University, the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability leans on the institutional mission and Jesuit tradition to communicate its message.  The mission of the institution includes “…empowering leaders for a just and humane world,” and the Jesuit tradition of “seeing God in all things” (K. Price, personal communication, September 26, 2014).  Administrators at Seattle University have embraced the natural connection between sustainability and social justice that yields environmental justice.  Beyond institutional mission and values lies the importance of collaboration and partnership between individuals and units on campus.

Partnership within and across academic divisions is an important contributor in the pursuit of environmental justice.  At Elon University, a Sustainability Master Plan was created in 2007 as an effort to create an all-campus commitment to sustainability.  Later, a more succinct Sustainability Policy was written and disseminated throughout the campus.  Elon’s Leadership and Multicultural Office and the Office of Sustainability frequently partner to create educational opportunities on campus.  This includes a yearly Intersect Conference that seeks to bring together various perspectives related to social justice and inclusion.  “When you sit down and share with [social justice educators] your thoughts, you get a positive response.  There really are common interests and goals” (E. Durr, personal communication, October 10, 2014).  Collaboration across the institution yields enhanced results for sustainability.

In addition to staff collaboration, involvement of students in teaching one another about sustainability is a common, successful practice.  The influence of peer education has long been recognized as one of the most significant factors in an undergraduate’s growth and development while in college (Astin, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).  Institutions that have adopted environmental justice principles recognize the power of peer education to reach the larger campus community. Student leadership groups such as Eco-Reps at Seattle University have been duplicated at many other universities nationwide and can be enhanced to incorporate social justice principles and training.  At the University of Colorado-Boulder, students in a Climate Justice Leadership Program are trained on sustainability and social justice principles; in addition to group projects, each student completes a capstone designed to educate the campus community (M. Gabrieloff, personal communication, October 16, 2014).  The examples provided in this section demonstrate not only the importance of leadership at the top level of campus administration, but also the value of embracing students’ passion, energy, and willingness to partner with campus leadership to advance environmental justice.


While traditionally viewed as separate issues, sustainability and social justice are inherently related.  Our hope is that by embracing environmental justice as the natural extension of our values regarding social justice and sustainability (ACPA & NASPA, 2010/2015), student affairs practitioners can begin to realize the local and global implications of their practice in developing students and promoting equity.  Environmental justice empowers us to address the challenges of environmental degradation and social justice.

Reflection Questions

  1. How can we incorporate environmental justice into the the strategic goals of my department?
  2. How can we incorporate environmental justice into the learning outcomes in my department or functional area?
  3. How can I communicate the importance of environmental justice to my students? Colleagues? Senior administration?
  4. How can environmental justice inform my personal life as well as my professional role?
  5. How can I foster an environmentally just mindset on campus, encouraging students and colleagues to consider broad and long-term implications of decisions such as purchasing (i.e., thinking “single-purchase” instead of “single-use”)?
  6. What are the “facts” of environmental justice on my campus? For example, where does our waste go? What are procurement policies? Where do we invest? What is our relationship with the local community?


ACPA – College Student Educators International, & NASPA – Student Affairs Professionals in Higher

Education (2010). Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners. Washington, DC: ACPA – College Student Educations International, & NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

ACPA – College Student Educators International, & NASPA – Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education. (2015). Professional competency areas for student affairs educators. Washington, DC: Author.

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American Council on Education. (1949). Student personnel point of view. American Council on Education Series 4(13). Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

Agyeman, J. (2005). Sustainable communities and the challenge of environmental justice. New York, NY: York University Press.

Agyeman, J., Bullard, R. D., & Evans, B. (2002). Exploring the nexus: Bringing together sustainability, environmental justice, and equity. Space & Polity, 6(1), 77-90. DOI: 10.1080 /1356257022013790 7.

Anguelovski, I. (2013). New directions in urban environmental justice: Rebuilding community, addressing trauma, and remaking place. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 33, 160-177. DOI: 10.1177/0739456X13478019.

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

Bell, L. A. (2010). Theoretical foundations: What is social justice? In Adams, M., Blumenfeld, W.J., Castañeda, R., Hackman, H.W., Peters, M.L., & Zuñiga, X. (Eds.), Readings for diversity and social justice: An anthology on racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism and classism (pp. 21-26). New York/London: Routledge.

Blimling, G. (2015). Student learning in college residence halls. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brainard, L., Jones, A., & Purvis, N. E. (2009). Climate change and global poverty: A billion lives in the balance? Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

Cortese, A. D. (2003, March-May). The critical role of higher eduction in planning a sustainable future. Planning for Higher Education, 15-22.

Creamer, D. G., Winston, R. B. Jr., & Miller, T. K. (2001). The professional student affairs administrator: Roles and functions. In R.B. Winston, Jr., D. G. Creamer, & T.K. Miller (Eds.), The professional student affairs administrator: Educator, leader, and manager (pp. 3-38). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Group.

Cullingford, C. (2010). Sustainability and higher education. In J. Blewit, & C. Cullingford (Eds.), The sustainability curriculum: The challenge for higher education (pp. 13-23). New York, NY: Earthscan.

Department of Health & Human Services. (2003, May). Building healthy environments to  eliminate health disparities symposium. Washington, D. C.

Elkington, J. (1999). Cannibals with forks: The triple bottom line of 21st Century business. Oxford, United Kingdom: Capstone Publishing Limited.

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What is Fair Trade?

Ferris, D., & Hahn-Baker, D. (1995). Environmentalists and environmental justice policy. In B. Bryant (Ed.) Environmental justice (pp. 165-188). Washington, DC: Island Press.

Gould, K., Schnaiberg, A., & Weinberg, A. S. (1996). Local environmental struggles: Citizen activism in the treadmill of production. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Keen, C., & Baldwin, E. (2004). Students promoting economic development and environmental sustainability. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 5(4), 384-394.doi:10.1108/14676370410561081

Newport, D. (2012, April 1). Campus sustainability: It’s about people. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

North, C. (2006). More than words? Delving into the substantive meaning(s) of “social justice” in education. Review of Educational Research, 76(4), 507-535.

Pascarella, E. & Terenzini, P. (1991) How college affects students. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pascarella, E. & Terenzini, P. (2005). How college affects students: A third decade of research. (Vol. 2). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Postma, D. W. (2006). Why care for nature? In search of an ethical framework for environmental responsibility and education. In M. Korthals & P. B. Thompson, (Eds.) The international library of environmental, agricultural and food ethics, 9. Dordrecht: The Netherlands: Springer.

Pursehouse, C. (2012). Sustainability in housing and dining operations. In B. A. Jacobs & J. Kinzie (Eds.), Enhancing sustainability campuswide (New Directions for Student Services No. 137, pp. 41-53). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tarrant, M. A., & Lyons, K. (2011). The effect of short-term educational travel programs on environmental citizenship. Environmental Education Research, 18(3), 403-416.

Tarrant, M. A., Rubin, D. L., & Stoner, L. (2013). The added value of study abroad: Fostering a global citizenry. Journal of Studies in International Education, 20(10), 1-21. doi: 10.1177/1028315313497589.

United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, (1987). Toxic wastes and race in the United States: A national report on the racial and socio-economic characteristics of communities with hazardous waste sites. New York, NY.

World Commission on Enivornment and Development [Brundtland Commission]. (1987). Our common world. Oxford, Great Britian: Oxford University Press.

About the Authors

Andrew M. Wells is a Ph.D. candidate in College Student Affairs Administration at the University of Georiga.  His current research focus is on college students’ attitudes toward the environment and student affairs practitioners’ incorporation of environmental justice in practice and pedagogy.  Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, he worked in student affairs at the University of California, Davis.

Please e-mail inquiries to Andrew M. Wells.

Jessica Belue Buckley holds a B.A from the University of Virginia, an M.Ed. from the University of Vermont, and a Ph.D. in College Student Personnel from the University of Maryland.  She is currently the Clinical Assistant Professor and Assistant Project Director, Cadre & Faculty Development course at University of Louisville.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jessica Belue Buckley.

Dillon Kimmel holds a B.A. from Ball State University an M. Ed. from the University of South Carolina.  He currently serves as a Complex Coordinator at the University of Delaware.

Please e-mail inquiries to Dillon Kimmel.


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

Life Off-Campus: A Personal Reflection

Marisa Vernon, Cuyahoga Community College

I recently changed jobs, taking on more administrative responsibility and strategic leadership. My current position has brought me to another large community college only a few hours from the familiar campus where I learned to fully embrace and understand the role of the two-year college in our educational system.

In the three years I spent at Columbus State Community College, I learned how to truly lead others and also how to navigate the politics, processes, and strategies of a large urban community college.  Leading an advising office through the peaks and valleys of institutional change, I began to understand how to inspire others to focus on student needs, provide exceptional support to the campus community, and push others to dissect the student experience.

Though this professional experience has, undoubtedly, added a valuable layer to my administrative foundation, the most profound impact from my time in Columbus, Ohio, was not gained on campus. Rather, I now find myself most grateful for a personal challenge I decided to accept in order to connect even closer to the students I served.

This article takes a bit of a detour from my regular, less personal commentary on issues facing community colleges, though I am convinced we become better educators when we share interesting, rich experiences from an honest perspective.

Poverty and Education: The Beginning of a Passion

As a kid growing up, I shook things up a little bit. I was relatively reserved, though balanced with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and experiences that had to have been utterly exhausting to two young parents. I asked questions often, and I cannot imagine most of them were easily answered or satisfied with a yes or a no.

Colleagues know my brain has not changed much, and now rather than exhausting my parents, it can at times exhaust me as a professional. A never-ending stream of intake, processing, and reflection means I rarely exit experiences without takeaway. Like many who work in two-year college environments, layers and layers of experiences have slowly stoked the social justice fire within. I carry it around often, and am blessed to have a career where open dialogue is not only appreciated, but encouraged.

I first came to the community college world after a seven year experience at an open-enrollment regional campus of a large University, which was a wonderful bridge. The two environments were similar in terms of access missions, retention challenges, and low tuition costs. I understood the student population, trends, and stigma associated with open access education, which supported my smooth transition into a community college culture. I happily settled into a nearby suburb, and got to work.

In an effort to meet my new colleagues and connect further with students, I joined a learning community, open to faculty, staff, and students, focused on diversity issues. The dialogue was richer than I had experienced in previous environments, and our group conversations often touched upon the great, unspoken factor linked to success in life: wealth. While I, perhaps intellectually, understood that wealth could facilitate choices, achievement, and further attainment, I had not fully connected its power in education until then.

Almost immediately after engaging in raw, uncensored dialogue through the campus learning community, I began to see differences in the student population that had initially seemed familiar. I no longer simply heard student stories about struggles related to transportation, lack of book money, childcare conflicts, and domestic struggles; rather, I really listened to the stories and tried to comprehend their impact on the students’ ability to complete a degree. Suddenly, the standard excuses I had heard from students for nearly a decade began to seem deeply individualized, intertwined, and complex. One barrier to success seemed to be tied to another, and untangling the web of challenges facing our campus’ urban population presented a daunting task.

My lens is that of a middle class, majority, heterosexual, graduate school educated professional. I could have left it at that, and tucked myself away into a pocket of the world that feels comfortable, safe, and familiar. I have, many times, felt as though I don’t belong in conversations about race, class, sexuality, or culture. During those moments, all internal alarms signal to run back to safety. But on many occasions while working at community colleges, I have ignored that internal alarm and challenged myself to understand how these forces may apply themselves to educational attainment.

Making the Move

As I began to interact with more students, hear their stories from my Academic Advisor supervisees, and engage in dialogue at the campus level, I felt a disconnect between work focus and my personal life. Daily, I immersed myself in developing strategies to increase attainment and success among first-generation, minority students from impoverished backgrounds. At the end of each day, I returned back to a comfortable suburb packed with dining and shopping options, two-parent families, and an esteemed school system. The gap between the two environments was pervasive and a bit unsettling, especially as I developed a deeper understanding of the challenges poverty presents to community college students.

After several years on the job, my husband and I decided to begin looking for a home to buy. We quickly realized many of the suburbs were financially out of reach given our preference for disposable income. I had become familiar with the area near the community college campus, an old neighborhood seeing its fair share of challenges. The area was exceptionally diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and income levels, with boarded up homes next to newly renovated ones. I knew many of the college’s students lived in the area, and was aware of the challenges as the neighborhood fought to find equilibrium.

We worked on an abandoned home for several months before moving in. And in the months to follow, I learned more about the issues facing the students with whom I worked than I could have ever imagined.

Experiencing Challenges Firsthand

While working with urban community college students in an academic advising capacity, safety, transportation, access to quality food, and a lack of social support are often described as barriers to success in education. These concepts often made me reflect on my own educational journey, which was relatively void of serious challenges and free of barriers. Looking back, I realize how simplistic my advice may have seemed to the students with whom I worked. While I logically knew students relied on a complicated bus system to access the community college, I did not fully understand this impact on course scheduling, the ability to engage while on campus, and the time invested in travel. I listened to students’ stories about their responsibility in caring for family members with chaotic lives, often prodding them to focus on themselves and their education. I could not understand why a student struggling financially would decline the student loans intended to help him or her obtain an education, or why another may jeopardize his or her financial future by maxing out Financial Aid each semester. I even sat in student affairs meetings and wondered whether or not the campus truly needed a food pantry, and why some students seemed to rely so heavily on the campus community to provide even more than just access to an education.

I did not realize how difficult these success barriers were to untangle until I lived in the same community, attempted to overcome the same barriers, and saw firsthand the lack of resources available to those who live in a deteriorated neighborhood.

As an avid runner, I felt trapped by my concerns about safety past dark. This simple unfulfilled ritual forced me to think about what a student walking home to the neighborhood from evening class may encounter. In addition, I found myself thinking about related issues, such as stress management, health, and overall wellness, and how these aspects of a student’s livelihood may be impacted simply by his or her address. Sure, an individual can make a conscious choice to select a different means to an end (in this case, outdoor exercise), but doing so requires additional steps, complications, and intrinsic motivation.

Similarly, I was immediately able to see why the area from which many of our students came had been deemed a “food desert”. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define food deserts as “areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lowfat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.” Save a few urban gardens and a recently added co-op, the nearest grocery stores required access via automobile or city bus. Even as a new member of the community, I could envision how, without reliable transportation, access to food could become a cumbersome chore to those already juggling roles as students, parents, caretakers, and employees.

This observation was exacerbated by a robust discussion among neighbors via an online forum. One individual posted a long rant about a national pizza chain that refused to deliver to her home based on her address. The issue sparked an ongoing debate about access to services, and how limited services may be for those who live in neighborhoods deemed “poor” or “unsafe.” While pizza delivery served as a trivial issue on the surface, the example was a simple display of the differences in convenience, commodities, and service available within less developed sections of American cities.

Previous to my move, I had been involved in several campus meetings focused on initiating a campus food pantry. As a student affairs administrator, I had always supported the idea, and joined active committees to push the idea forward. However, I can honestly say I did not fully understand how such a resource could alleviate stressors for our students until I placed myself directly in the same environment. While my experience was far different than my neighbors’ due to my earnings, even minimal exposure to a food desert was enough to show me how students may be struggling to meet basic needs while attending community college.

As I observed the neighborhood through a lens of privilege, I began to notice that the most profound factors were actually intangible and difficult to describe. Each year in my previous neighborhood, middle- to upper-class families proudly displayed banners in their front yards, boasting high school graduation and the name of the student’s destination college or university. Celebrations of success were not present on the blocks surrounding our new home, though I knew students attending the campus on which I worked lived behind those doors. Such intangibles, immeasurable details, are the differences that I continue to reflect upon even now that I have moved on to a new community college system.

These subtle social nuances between the “haves” and the “have nots” surely play a role in the resiliency, persistence, and motivation it takes to complete a college degree. While I am not a social science expert or researcher by trade, I can tell a deep shift in my approach to working with students who juggle multiple stressors on their way to a degree. Students who start off with few resources are far more likely to experience bumps in the road more frequently, are more fragile than their privileged peers, and perhaps experiencing greater stress than others will ever encounter.

The Take-Away

The social issues impacting our students are complex, and so are the lenses through which we view them. However, sitting back and looking through the lenses we were given has its limits. By pushing the limits of a comfort zone, we cannot help but learn and question in order to adapt. In turn, we are better educators, supporters, and guides for students who face challenges that may be different from those with which we have personal experience.

The return on pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone is that we can no longer ignore large-scale social issues when we are close to them. When issues like food deserts, income gaps, access to quality education, and transportation serve as inconveniences in our own lives, we begin to take notice. For educators who appreciate the process of learning, choosing to be part of the solution means watching from the sidelines is no longer an option. It’s not a matter of settling for less; it is a matter of leaning into uncomfortable experiences knowing the return will help us be better, know more, and empathize more deeply.

As faculty, staff, and administrators, moving to a new neighborhood, worldwide travel, or additional education may not be feasible to all. However, small attempts to push our personal boundaries can help to chip away at the walls that often prevent us from supporting students in the best way possible.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some small ways you can learn more about what your students may be experiencing in their lives off-campus, and how can your institution address some of these issues?
  2. Reflecting upon your experience, have there been student success initiatives your college or university may have explored that you did not support? Looking back on these initiatives, can you view them with a different perspective?
  3. What are some of the invisible or visible privileges you have that may prevent you from fully understanding certain students’ experiences while in college?


A Look Inside Food Deserts. (2012, September 24). Retrieved November 12, 2015, from

About the Author

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Marisa Vernon.


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

Strengths as a “Career Compass”: Helping Undergraduate Students Navigate their Career Development through Strengths Awareness and Development

Krista M. Soria, Brooke Arnold, & Katy Hinz, University of Minnesota
Jeremy Williams, University of St. Thomas

Career development professionals in higher education institutions are increasingly implementing strengths-based approaches in their daily practice with undergraduate students (Janke, Sorenson, & Traynor, 2010; Reese & Miller, 2009; Soria & Stubblefield, 2014; Soria & Stubblefield in press-a, in press-b; Stebleton, 2010; Stebleton, Soria, & Albecker, 2012). One of the most well-known tools to help college students discover their strengths is the Clifton StrengthsFinder, an online assessment that identifies areas where an individual’s greatest potential for building strengths exists (Asplund, Lopez, Hodges, & Harter, 2009).  These identified areas, referred to as talent themes, are naturally-recurring patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors which, when refined with knowledge and skill, can be developed into strengths (Hodges & Harter, 2005). The StrengthsFinder assessment helps individuals to identify their personal five most salient talent themes out of 34 natural talent themes, often known colloquially as an individual’s “top five strengths.”

One of the fundamental principles underlying strengths-based perspectives in higher education is that college students who capitalize upon their best qualities will experience greater success in a variety of outcomes than if they spend time remediating their weaknesses (Clifton & Harter, 2003; Lopez & Louis, 2009). Scholars have contended that strength-based interventions in higher education promote college student engagement and retention because students who identify and apply their strengths in their lives will be more focused on their academic and career goals (Soria & Stubblefield, 2014; Stebleton, Soria, & Albecker, 2012). Yet, even as over one million college students in the United States have discovered their top five strengths and strengths-based approaches continue to gain steady momentum in colleges and universities, little research exists that empirically describes the benefits of strengths-based practices. In particular, little is known about the potential benefits of strengths-based approaches as a tool to elevate college students’ career exploration and career planning.  Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine college students’ own perspectives on the utility of strengths-based approaches and strengths awareness in their career development.


In fall 2011, the Office of Student Engagement at a large, public research university located in the Midwest offered the StrengthsFinder assessment to all incoming first-year students at no charge. Before they arrived on campus for matriculation, 5,122 first-year students (amounting to 95.4% of the first-year class) took the online assessment and received their top five talent themes. All first-year students attended a strengths seminar during a weeklong concentration of programming prior to fall classes. Many first-year students also encountered strengths-related discussions in first-year seminar classes, housing and residential life offices, and in many other areas across campus. At the end of their first semester, all first-year students were invited to participate in an online survey measuring their strengths-related engagement across campus. To encourage participation, a lottery incentive was offered to participants, in the form of a chance to win one of four $25 university bookstore gift certificates. In the survey, students were asked to provide insights into how they had utilized their strengths within their first semester of study at the University.  These data were then used in the present study.


The student response rate for the survey was 27.8% (n = 1,493). White and female students were slightly overrepresented in this sample when compared with the first-year student population (which was 52.2% female and 75.4% White).  The sample was 61% female, 3% Black, 13% Asian, 1% Native American, 3% Hispanic, 4% international, and 76% White.

Data Analysis

In the survey, students responded to several essay questions, one of which asked students to “provide specific examples of where strengths has benefited your first-year experience at the University.” We used NVivo 10 software (QSR International, 2007) to categorize and code students’ responses to the survey item. Data were analyzed using in vivo, open, axial, and selective coding procedures (Creswell, 2007). In the process of integrating the data and refining the categories, central themes emerged that explained relationships among the data. Both codes and themes were sorted and reviewed for similarities and differences until the point of saturation: the point at which additional analysis does not offer any additional insight (Creswell, 2007). To enhance the credibility of our qualitative data analyses, we used direct quotes to authenticate the findings (Merriam, 2009). Codes and themes were verified by the authors, a step which enhanced the validity of the analyses (Creswell, 2007).


In analyzing the qualitative data, two key themes emerged that conveyed how some students perceived applications between strengths and their career exploration and development. The first theme described below conveys how strengths benefitted students’ career development by enhancing their self-awareness and increasing their career decision-making abilities. The second theme describes how students used their strengths self-awareness to obtain employment or engage in experiential opportunities. Collectively, these two broad themes suggest that strengths awareness enhances students’ self-awareness in ways that benefit areas related to short-term career opportunities and long-term career development pathways.

Using Strengths as a Compass in Career Development Decisions

In responding to the prompt asking students to cite specific examples of where strengths benefited their first-year experience, several students noted the applicability of strengths with regards to their career exploration.  For example, one student noted that he used strengths in “discovering what career path would fit me,” while another student reflected that strengths were useful with regards to “looking into my future career path.” A third student focused on the holistic benefits of strengths in career decision-making in stating:

Knowing my strengths gives me a good idea where I stand. I understood more about myself after the survey, and with some research, what kind of career would be good for me. I used them as the compass to discover the way I should be heading during my career.

In addition to discovering their top five strengths, students learned more about the types of work environments that would suit them best.  For example, one student wrote:

I realized that I don’t want to go into a job where I am doing basically the same thing every day. My top strength was “learner.” I knew that, but I never realized it or thought about it. My strengths helped me see that I really want/need to be in an occupation in which I am always learning and discovering new things.

Determining this student’s top five strengths improved this student’s ability to be more selective when pursuing jobs and their associated work environments.

While many students discussed how they were going to apply their strengths while making decisions along their career paths, several students also felt affirmed that they were already making appropriate career decisions after learning about their strengths.  For instance, one student noted that her strengths awareness “helped me to reassure myself in my chosen career/major path. My strengths fit my choice.”  Similarly, another student wrote, “It was helpful for affirmation that I’m looking at the right career paths.” These affirmations point toward an increase in students’ career decision-making abilities, as students became more confident that they were making the most appropriate career development decisions for themselves. In particular, one student’s reflection conveyed a deep understanding and application of strengths in consideration of a career path:

I would say that strengths has increased my self-awareness and has also reinforced some of my ideas about potential career paths. For example, my strengths: learner, intellection, input, restorative, and achiever fit my goal of becoming a doctor because it is necessary to be a lifelong learner, to be able to set and accomplish tasks, and to be able to solve problems.

Strengths gave these students the skills to help discover their career path, further their identity development as it relates to their chosen career, learn the environments where they work best, and reaffirm their career field choices.

Using Strengths to Obtain Jobs and Experiential Opportunities

Several students reported that they used their strengths in obtaining employment during their first year of study.  For example, one student noted, “My strengths were crucial in getting me the on campus job I wanted. My employer and I had a lengthy conversation about my strengths and how they could be applied in a job setting.” Likewise, another student wrote, “During my first interview, I told my manager about my strengths and how they are related to the job that I was applying to. She was very impressed.” One student effectively leveraged his awareness of strengths in a job interview.  He commented, “The question asked was, ‘if asked, what would your peers and professors say are your top traits or strengths?’ Because I knew what my top five strengths were, I answered the question with little difficulty.” These students interacted positively with employers through having knowledge of their strengths.

One student declared that he did not obtain the employment position to which he had applied.  However, the student’s positive attitude about his new-found strengths vocabulary helped him envision how he could reference his strengths in a future employment interview.  He stated:

It gave me a way to talk about my strengths and skills in a job interview on campus. I didn’t get the job, but they told me I was a strong candidate and actually recommended me to someone else searching for student workers. I think that having the vocabulary to talk about it helped me explain it better than I could on my own, which probably helped me make a good impression.

As in this student’s case, knowing how to verbalize strengths has the potential to open new career opportunities.

Beyond obtaining employment, students also related that they utilized their strengths in engaging in volunteer positions as well.  For example, one student noted she “was able to put some of my strengths on my application for the volunteer position of [Mascot] greeter, and I think the way I talked about how I could use those during my interview really helped get me the volunteer position.” Another student stated, “Strengths helped me during my job and volunteer position interviews.  I was able to discuss the strengths I would bring.”  Both of these students shared the benefit knowing strengths can bring to civic engagement-related positions.

Students frequently expressed learning specific ways in which they could use strengths in future job positions and in their future, long-term careers.  For example, several students noted that they listed their top five strengths on their resumes.  One student wrote, “I can point out strengths when employers ask, ‘What attributes will you bring to the table?’” Another student discussed future application within volunteering or employment: “It made me aware of what I might be better at doing, i.e. in a job or volunteering experience.” A third student projected her knowledge of how companies are utilizing strengths in their workplace as she envisioned being able to apply her strengths in those future contexts: “Knowing my strengths will help when I start applying to jobs because a lot of companies use strengths.”  Comparably, these students demonstrated the utility of using strengths both immediately and throughout their careers.

Discussion and Recommendations

The results of our qualitative data analyses suggest that many first-year college students saw great applicability of strengths awareness in their current employment searches, potential for post-college employment searches, and in serving as a compass to lead them on a career path that takes advantage of their natural talents. Overall, the use of strengths-related programming on this campus helped many students to enhance their self-awareness and career decision skills, in turn positively impacting their career development. The following paragraphs provide several recommendations that career development practitioners can utilize in their implementation of strengths-based approaches with college students.

First, we recommend that practitioners help students to gain an awareness of their strengths by encouraging them to take assessments to discover their strengths (e.g., the Clifton StrengthsFinder). Strengths-related conversations can begin by asking students to describe their strengths in their own words and think of examples of how they have utilized their strengths in the past.  Student affairs practitioners are also encouraged to discover their own strengths by taking the StrengthsFinder to facilitate connections with students and demonstrate how their own strengths are used in their professional practice (Soria & Stubblefield in press-a, in press-b).

Second, practitioners can help students to strategically use their strengths in a job search. When creating elevator pitches, resumes, and cover letters, students engage in powerful analysis when using their own words to describe in-depth examples of their strengths being utilized. For example, students could simply list their top five strengths on their resume or, to reflect upon their strengths on a deeper level, a career counselor could help students create bulleted action statements to help students discuss their the top five strengths without stating the StrengthsFinder themes.

Third, to take the strengths application a step further, career counselors can help students examine a job description and analyze how their strengths could be utilized in that role. As previously mentioned in student examples, students can seek job descriptions reaffirming their career path decisions and jobs with work environments more conducive to their strengths.  It is essential for career counselors to help students understand that their top five strengths do not necessarily equate to one specific job or career.  Instead, many strengths can be used for any job or career.  What matters most is how an individual maximizes his or her strengths to be successful in a specific role.

Last, strengths can be used for interview preparation.  Interview skills can be enhanced by career counselors asking students to create a chart with a list of experiences on the horizontal axis (e.g., work, volunteer, leadership in an organization, etc.) and their top five strengths on the vertical axis. In each box, students can identify examples of times they used their strengths in those experiences. By practicing those statements aloud, students will be more prepared for their interviews.

The StrengthsFinder assessment can be very useful for students as they plan their college experience and careers, particularly if they make their own meaning of the words and apply their strengths. The data from the survey shows that many students who took the assessment found the results helpful for choosing a career field, and when applying for jobs, interviewing for jobs, and engaging in other experiential opportunities.  These findings demonstrate the important role strengths can play in a student’s career development. Strengths can serve as a career compass to direct students on their path, and career counselors can facilitate this process by helping students make these connections.


In conclusion, the results of this brief qualitative report suggest that students see the potential for the applicability of strengths in their career development. In particular, students identified that knowing their strengths enhanced their self-awareness, contributed to their career decision-making abilities, and aided them in obtaining employment and experiential opportunities, thereby positively impacting their career development. We recommend that future researchers continue to examine the potential benefits of strengths-related approaches in higher education and that practitioners continue to develop new approaches to help students utilize their strengths in their career development.

Reflection Questions

  1. What do you think are some additional ways in which strengths awareness and strengths-based approaches can facilitate students’ development in higher education?
  2. How can you serve as a strengths-based practitioner in your daily work with undergraduate students?
  3. What are some alternative ways in which undergraduates can utilize strengths in their career development journeys?

About the Authors

Krista Soria is an analyst with the Office of Institutional Research at the University of Minnesota. Her research interests focus on understanding the experiences of underrepresented students on college campuses, developing high-impact practices to support students’ success, and leveraging opportunities to facilitate students’ leadership development. Krista is also an adjunct faculty with the leadership minor at the University of Minnesota, for the English department at Hamline University, for the educational leadership program at St. Mary’s University, and for the higher education administration program at St. Cloud State University.

Brooke Arnold works in the Carlson School of Management Undergraduate Program office at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.  As an academic adviser and career coach, she has the opportunity to help students discover, develop, and maximize their strengths during their collegiate experience and beyond.

Katy Hinz works in the Office for Student Engagement at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Prior to that she worked in career services and continues to be passionate about how to help students use their strengths in the career exploration and career planning process. 

Jeremy Williams has worked in multiple career fields over the last decade with the primary goal of helping people.  Currently, he is a second year graduate student in the Leadership in Student Affairs program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. 


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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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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Floyd, D. L. & Casey-Powell, D. (2004). New roles for student support services in distance learning. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2004(128), 55-64.

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Roper, A.  (2007, January 1).  How students develop online learning skills. College Student Education International.  Retrieved from

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Unprepared First Generation Students: Developing Autonomous Learning Strategies through College Academic Coaching

Kimberly M. Florence, University of Nevada Las Vegas

In the United States, billions of dollars are spent yearly toward remedial education to ensure students academically unprepared for college level study are equipped to meet the demands of post-secondary learning (Carter, 2013). For example, Complete College America (2012) revealed that upwards of three billion dollars in both state funds and student monies went toward remedial education courses. As a result, support programs such as academic coaching have been developed to hinder the reliance on remedial education and increase student retention rates. The purpose of this article is to outline how college academic coaching can develop independent learning strategies in Unprepared First Generation Students (UFGSs) by linking academic self-discipline to academic performance. If UFGSs develop independent learning strategies then they are more likely to persist through the demands of post-secondary learning. Thus, academic coaches can increase academic success rates for unprepared first-generation students through the development of autonomous learning strategies.

Unprepared First-Generation Students

Bettinger, Boatman, and Long (2013) describe the unprepared college student as someone who confronts academic, social, and financial issues. Consequently, if these issues are not managed, low self-esteem, frustration, and a greater propensity to drop out of college can result (Bettinger, Boatman, & Long, 2013). First-generation students are defined as individuals from families where no parent or guardian earned a baccalaureate degree (Soria & Stebleton, 2012). Thus, unprepared first-generation students characterize a demographic in need of further examination because of an increased likelihood to have difficulties transitioning into higher education (Soria & Stebleton, 2012).

The first-generation college student has commonly been described as being (a) female, (b) older than the traditional first-year college student, (c) Black or Hispanic, and (d) from a lower socioeconomic background (Engle, 2007). Coffman (2011) used a social constructivist lens to explore how these characteristics, specifically race and culture, influenced first-generation students’ perceptions of themselves in comparison to their non-first-generation peers. Findings indicated that low socioeconomic status and inadequate secondary preparation decreased the propensity for academic achievement. However, Coffman (2011) added that higher education institutions could overcome these social constructs by (a) not marginalizing students based on race, (b) providing supplemental learning opportunities on campus, and (c) fostering support networks for continued academic success.  Thus, Coffman’s (2011) work supports the need for first-generation college students to improve learning outcomes through specialized and/or extended campus services.

Concurring the contention that institutions can support first-generation students, a panel of academic professionals and first-generation students organized by the Huffington Posts’ “Huffpost Live” gathered to discuss the varying needs of first-generation students. Sara Lipka, senior editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education, asserted that instituting additional advising centered on both academic and career-based assistance was particularly helpful in serving this specific student demographic (Lipka as cited in Menendez, 2013).  Academic and career advising improved the development of self-efficacy and enhanced study skills (Young-Jones, Burt, Dixon & Hawthorne, 2012). It is from the development of self-efficacy and study skills, which are linked to college success, that enable long-term positive changes to occur. Lorna Contreras from the organization Students Rising Above, a non-profit founded in 1998 to help students manage the academic, social, and emotional challenges of college, stated that by upholding an initiative to help first-generation students remain committed to higher education, they are 93 percent more likely to have children who will be committed to post-secondary learning. Thus, their children acquire a college-going ideology that can be passed down from generation to generation (Contreras as cited in Menendez, 2013). In terms of UFGSs, academic coaching is an advantageous service for procuring long-term academic commitment to post-secondary learning.


Academic Coaching

Cheug (2012) described academic coaching as a service used to retain incoming students based on one-on-one mentoring. Generally established under the umbrella of academic affairs, academic coaching has been practiced through a variety of forums that include but are not limited to semester long courses, summer bridge programs, peer mentoring, and private sessions with academic advising professionals. The purpose of this service was to generate and apply varying strategies designed to enhance learning outcomes, such as organizational management diagrams, test taking strategies, goal setting plans, and motivational techniques. For example, InsideTrack, a company independently contracted to provide academic coaching services on behalf of colleges and universities, developed a comprehensive system of coaching, analytics, programs, and support services to improve student success rates and increase enrollment numbers. InsideTrack conducted a study that evaluated the effectiveness of their system across eight institutions (Bettinger & Baker, 2013). Results showed that academic coaching that took place within the first year of college increased persistence by five percentage points (Bettinger & Baker, 2013). The use of academic coaching to enhance learning strategies proved effective for InsideTrack. However, first-generation students are still more likely to leave a four-year university before their second-year of college (Irlbeck, Adams, Akers, Burris, & Jones, 2014).

Despite success in academic coaching, retention rates among unprepared first-generation students (UFGSs), especially first-generation students of color, remain low. In a 2012 article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, nearly 90 percent of first-generation college students failed to graduate within six years because institutions were not prepared to confront the financial, personal, emotional, social, and educational challenges associated with this demographic (Greenwald, 2012). Therefore, institutions must consider how to best reach first-generation students who are failing to complete college. Self-regulation is a strategy students can use to help improve learning outcomes and to persist with post-secondary learning (Stefanou, Stolk, Prince, Chen, & Lord, 2013). The following sections outline how institutions with academic coaching programs can assist UFGSs in developing self-regulated learning strategies.


An essential trait for any college student seeking long-term academic and professional success rests primarily on the ability to self-regulate learning. Self-regulation is a person’s aptitude to self-direct mental abilities into task-oriented academic skills therefore, forming the capacity to self-monitor, self-instruct, self-evaluate, and self-reinforce (Zimmerman, 2013). The development of self-regulation among UFGSs is particularly important due to the multitude of internal and external variables that can impact overall academic performance. Naumann, Bandalos, and Gutkin (2003) found that variables associated with self-regulation are better predicators of first-generation students’ overall academic success when compared to ACT scores. The purpose of their research was to “determine the predictive validity of self-regulated learning variables in comparison to traditional college admission test scores of first generation students” (Naumann, Bandalos, & Gutkin, 2003, p. 5). The researchers conducted a quantitative study designed to examine a variety of independent variables, three of which included (a) generational status, (b) ACT scores, and (c) self-regulated learning. These variables were assessed in relation to the grade point average (GPA) of both first-generation and second-generation college students (Naumann et al., 2003). Thus, the findings indicated that self-regulatory behaviors are significant to UFGS’s overall college success when compared to their second-generation counterparts.

Self-Regulation and Academic Coaching

Contrary to other services and programs devised to guide students toward academic success, academic coaches work with students to enrich their learning, develop academic accountability, and improve learning effectiveness (Webberman, 2011). Carol Carter, an international success expert for students grades K-16, said “at the core of the coaching relationship is always having the coach ask powerful questions to help students become as self-sustaining as possible” (as cited in Webberman, 2011, p. 19). To that end, academic coaches must guide UFGSs through inquiry with the aim of developing autonomous learning strategies.

The Cyclical Phase Model of Self-Regulated Learning

The Cyclical Phase Model of Self-Regulated Learning (CPMSRL) illustrated the continuous process students encountered when developing self-regulated learning skills. The model consisted of three phases, which included (a) Forethought phase: Task Analysis and Self-Motivation; (b) Performance Phase: Self-Control and Self-Observation; and (c) Self-Report phase: Self-Judgment and Self-Reaction (Cleary, Callan, & Zimmerman, 2012). Assessment of the transition between phases was conducted through the use of Self-Regulated Learning Microanalysis (SRL Microanalysis), a methodology used to measure the self-regulatory beliefs and reactions of students while they were engaged in real-time context-specific tasks. For example, Zimmerman and Cleary (2012) used SRL Microanalysis as an assessment measure for Self-Regulation Empowerment Programs (SREP). The programs required SREP tutors to assist at-risk middle and high school students set goals, implement learning strategies, and self-record outcomes. The CPMSRL was the process by which self-regulated learning behavior was developed. SRL Microanalysis was the procedure used to measure the CPMSRL. If both the CPMSRL process and SRL Microanalysis procedure were utilized by academic coaches to understand self-regulatory behaviors of UFGSs, then the following five-step procedure would be used (see Figure 1).

Fig1 - cyclical phase model self regulation

FIGURE 1: The Cyclical Phase Model of Self-Regulation and the SRL Microanalysis steps are referenced in accordance to developing self-regulatory behavior.

In the first step, the coach and student identify an impending academic task, activity, or assignment that must be completed by the student. In order for proper application of the SRL Microanalysis, the task should be suitable for evaluation by the academic coach, such as studying for a final examination. The second step requires the student and the academic coach to identify the self-regulatory sub-phase most relevant to productively completing the task. This is important to further the student’s ability to self-assess what is useful in executing the task. In other words, if a student can assess that crafting a strategic plan, which would fall under the task analysis sub-phase, is constructive to learning, then there is a greater propensity for identifying future tactics useful toward eventual success. Next, the academic coach transitions into the performance phase of the CPMSRL.

The third and fourth steps require the academic coach to develop Likert scale related, forced choice, open-ended, closed-ended or free response questions that measure the real-time academic activity. For example, the academic coach asks, “What steps within your strategic plan do you believe will be helpful in receiving a passing grade on your final examination?” This question has been presented prior to the student actively utilizing a learning strategy like flash card memorization. As the student performs the flash card memorization task, the academic coach may ask, “Do you have a system for keeping track of flash cards with concepts you did not remember?” Then, the academic coach poses self-reflection questions once the student has performed the task, such as “Why do you think you incorrectly defined the concept on your flash card?” In other words, the academic coach asks questions consistent with self-judgment and/or self-evaluation. Next, the academic coach examines the student’s responses.

The fifth and final step includes scoring and evaluating the process. Upon completion of the assessment, the academic coach evaluates the assessment based on the types of questions posed. The results of the evaluation inform both the academic coach and the student how the self-regulatory process comprehensively impacted the effectuation of the academic task. Therefore, it provides insight into which strategies do and do not work. According to Cleary, Callan, & Zimmerman (2012), if the strategy used has proven to be ineffective, then students are “more likely to infer that they needed to adapt their strategic methods to perform more effectively on the task in the future” (p. 15). Subsequently, the CPMSRL can be reexamined through the SRL Microanalysis to further contextualize what learning strategies are effective.

An important feature to the Cyclical Phase Model of Self-Regulated Learning is the continuous application toward context-specific tasks. This allows the coach to work with a student as they jointly navigate learning strategies. Academic coaches have UFGSs self-report what learning strategies work for them. This report, as well as the coach’s evaluation, is used to monitor progress in relation to the task at hand. Therefore, academic coaches can reapply the CPMSRL and monitor overall growth as the student continues their coaching sessions.

The outlined five-step procedure can be conducted over a few sessions at roughly 15-20 minutes per session. The number of sessions dedicated to CPMSRL have been largely determined by the UFGSs success at completing a given task or, if additional factors such as self-efficacy and study skills need to be enhanced in association with the task. College academic coaching programs that utilize CPMSRL in conjunction with SRL Microanalysis when working with UFGSs will find the process beneficial to understanding UFGSs and the requirements necessary to help them become autonomous learners.

Expected Results

The application of the Cyclical Phase Model of Self-Regulated Learning, assessed through the SRL Microanalysis, is anticipated to result in multiple benefits for unprepared first-generation students, academic coaches, and higher education institutions. First, when serving students through the acquisition of self-regulatory skills, academic coaches will gain the opportunity to help UFGSs identify their limitations while also building the skills necessary to establish behaviors and thinking that are autonomous and personalized to their learning. As a result, more UFGSs will be prepared to matriculate through college coursework and handle the difficulties of transitioning from student to professional. Second, higher education institutions will be able to retain and educate UFGSs that would have previously strayed from their college degree aspirations. Specifically, academic coaches will receive a greater competency in understanding their students’ challenges as well as provide strategies necessary to guide them towards academic success. The only foreseen limitation is the amount of academic coaching time available. If an academic-coach has a high student-to-coach ratio then time per student may decrease, which may limit the capacity to properly implement the five-step procedure. In conclusion, by assisting UFGSs to become autonomous learners, both academic coaches and higher education institutions will experience benefits such as student persistence and active learning engagement that are residuals of student’s improved academic performance.


Unprepared First Generation Students comprise a population with absolute distinction. They are entering the postsecondary environment with issues that influence the way institutions serve them. Although colleges have taken great strides to improve retention among UFGSs, it is also important to ensure that these students generate a deep understanding of themselves and the approaches that will advance their academic goals. The Cyclical Phase Model of Self-Regulation based on SRL Microanalysis serves as a strong foundation for developing autonomous learning strategies dedicated to the short-term and long-term success of UFGSs.

Reflection Questions

  1. How can autonomous learning strategies impact long-term academic outcomes for unprepared first generation students?
  2. How can the CPMSRL, examined through SRL Microanalysis, help college academic coaches understand the individual academic needs of unprepared first-generation students?
  3. How can post-secondary institutions practically apply the phases/steps of the CPMSRL within current student academic advising/ coaching programs?

About the Author

Kimberly M. Florence is a Higher Education, PhD student and graduate assistant at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Her research interests include academic success and retention among first-year students, underrepresented students, and students of low SES backgrounds.

Please e-mail inquiries to Kimberly M. Florence.


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.


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Bettinger, E. P., Boatman, A., & Long, B. T. (2013). Student supports: Developmental education and other academic programs. The Future of Children, 23, 93-115. doi: 10.1353/foc.2013.0003

Carter, C. (2013, January 23). The cost of remediation: Preparing students for college success [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Cheug, C. (2012). Impact of the academic coaching program on selected first-year students (Thesis, Rowan University). Retrieved from

Cleary, T. J., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2004). Self-regulation empowerment program: A school-based program to enhance self-regulated and self-motivated cycles of student learning. Psychology in Schools, 41, 537-550. doi: 10.1002/pits.10177

Cleary, T. J., Callan, G. L., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2012). Assessing self-regulated as a cyclical, context-specific phenomenon: Overview and analysis of microanalytic protocols. Education Research International, 2012  , 1-19. doi: 10.1155/2012/428639

Coffman, S. (2011). A social constructivist view of the issues confronting first generation college students. New Directions Teaching and Learning, 127, 81-90. doi: 10.1002/tl

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Irlbeck, E., Adams, S., Akers, C., Burris, S., & Jones, S. (2014). First-generation college students: Motivations and support systems. Journal of Agricultural Education, 55, 154-166. doi: 10.5032/jae.2014.02154

Menendez, A. (Host). (2013, February 15). First generation students face big challenges. [Video Webcast] In Huffpost Live. Retrieved from

Naumann, W. C., Bandalos, D., & Gutkin, T. B. (2003, Fall). Identifying variables that predict college success for first generation college students. The Journal of College Admissions, 181, 5-9.

Soria, K. M., & Stebleton, M. J. (2012). First-generation students’ engagement and retention. Teaching In Higher Education, 17, 673-685. doi: 10.1080/13562517.2012.666735

Webberman, A. L. (2011). Academic coaching to promote student success: An interview with Carol Carter. Journal of Developmental Education, 35(2), 18-20.

Young-Jones, A. D., Burt, T. D., Dixon, S., & Hawthorne, M. J. (2012). Academic advising: Does it really impact student success. Quality Assurance in Education, 21, 7-19. doi: 10.1108/09684881311293034

Zimmerman, B. (2013). Theories of self-regulated learning and academic achievement: An overview and analysis. In B. J. Zimmerman, & D. H. Schunk (Eds.),  Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: Theoretical perspectives (pp. 1-36). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Historical Keys to Open Access in Community Colleges Between 1940 and the Mid-1970’s

Deborah Anderson, Ivy Tech Community College – Southwest/Wabash Valley Region

The Commission on Student Development in the 2 Year College is sponsoring this series to expose readers to the past, present, and future of open access institutions. Open access institutions are colleges that are nonselective in their admission standards. Primarily two-year or community colleges provide open access to students.    For many at-risk students with low academic performance, open access institutions are the only gateway for pursuing higher education.  With the pressure to meet new standards for graduation rates set forth by the American Graduation Initiative, the mission of open access is at risk.  Admitting students with little to no academic resources while dealing with external pressure to increase graduation rates could force some institutions to movewhile dealing with external pressure to increase graduation rates ents with the en access I away from their traditional mission and create academic standards that would bolster graduation rates and meet the demands of the Federal government.

The purpose of this article is to map the historical events and markers to open access postsecondary education relative to community colleges in the United States (U.S.). In this article, I will provide a discussion of key moments impacting open access in community colleges between 1940 and the mid-1970’s.  Additionally, I will share context regarding events prior to 1940 that influence the chronological history of open access and community colleges in the U.S.  Lastly, I will discuss these mile markers and how they have shaped contemporary community colleges.

Prior to 1940

The emergence of junior colleges profoundly affected thinking about the structure and purpose of U.S. higher education.  Junior colleges first appeared in the decade of the 1900s, but multiplied in the 1920s.  In the summer of 1948, Jesse P. Bogue, Executive Secretary for the American Association of Junior Colleges, addressed faculty in an essay titled, “The Community College,” for the bulletin of the American Association of University Professors discussing the origin of the community college. He shared:

It was William Rainey Harper, first President of the University of Chicago, who crystallized general concepts and gave inspiration for the establishment of the first public junior college in 1902 at Joliet, Illinois.  Although Decatur Baptist College, Decatur, Texas, celebrated its half-century of existence in 1947, Joliet is the oldest public junior college operating today.  President Harper is regarded as the man who coined the name ‘junior college’ and is considered by educational historians generally as the father of the movement.  This is most certain true in the sense that his organizing genius was applied to the concept and that he really did something about it. (Bogue, 1948, p. 286)

Following the establishment of Joliet, there was a proliferation of junior colleges within the U.S. that continued to multiply over the next several decades (Geiger, 1999).  Junior colleges, along with other institutional types such as teachers’ colleges, municipal colleges, women’s colleges, and business schools, provided educational opportunities to students and appealed to widely diverse student populations (Geiger, 1999).  Recognized as “booster colleges,” the development of the two-year “junior college” came of age predominantly in the West and Midwest between World War I and World War II (Thelin, 2004, p. 206).  By 1930, six states had ten or more public junior colleges:  California, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Kansas (Brint & Karabel, 1989).

Between 1940 and the Mid-1970’s

Cohen (1998) defines the period between 1945 and 1975 as the Mass Higher Education Era and noted within those 30 years enrollments grew by more than 500%.  Also, public community colleges increased enrollments from two million to five million (Cohen, 1998).  In 1940, 60% of the community college student population was male, and by 1950, enrollments temporarily increased to 70% due to veterans returning home to attend community colleges (Cohen, 1998).  In 1944, Congress introduced Public Law 346, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, also called “the G.I. Bill of Rights,” which passed by a Congress fearful of mass unemployment when millions of servicemen were demobilized (Cohen, 1998, p. 182).

The G.I. Bill 

The G.I. Bill built upon smaller federal student aid programs developed at the end of the Great Depression and represented the federal government’s first attempt to provide student aid on a large scale.  This effort helped to break down the economic and social barriers to attending college (Vaughan, 2000).  Under the G.I. Bill, any honorably discharged veteran who had served 90 days or was injured in the line of duty was entitled to a free college education up to four years.  The government would pay $500 per year for tuition, fees and books at any approved education institution.  This resulted in over 2.2 million veterans returning to college, 3.4 million in other schools, 1.4 million in on-job training, and 690,000 in farm training, resulting in 40% of veterans who received a higher education.  Thelin (2011) wrote

By the fall of 1945, eighty-eight thousand veterans had applied and been accepted for participation.  By 1946, GI Bill college enrollments surpassed one million, and total benefits paid out by the federal government as part of the act exceeded $5.5 billion.  By 1950, of the fourteen million eligible veterans, more than two million, or 16 percent, had opted to enroll in postsecondary education as part of the GI Bill. (p. 263)

Thelin (2011) added that while the GI Bill enhanced postsecondary education opportunities for modest-income veterans, the terms of the GI Bill carried no requirement that participating institutions demonstrate non-discrimination (Thelin, 2011). One notable feature of the program was the benefits were awarded to individuals rather than institutions, allowing veterans to use them for any educational or training programs to which they were accepted (Turner & Bound, 2003).

The Truman Commission 

In July 1946, as the end of World War II drew near, President Harry S. Truman appointed the first official body to examine expansion of enrollments in American colleges and universities.  The President’s Commission on Higher Education, also known as “The Truman Commission,” was composed of a group of 28 educators led by George F. Zook, President of the American Council on Education, and was charged to address federal higher education policies, reexamine the roles of colleges and universities and develop a national dialogue on higher education reform.  The significant feature of this endeavor was that it marked the first time a president of the United States deliberately extended federal inquiry into nationwide educational issues; the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution customarily reserved the topic for state and local government (Thelin, 2011).

The Truman Commission’s report contained six volumes and appeared between December 1947 and February 1948, under the general title, Higher Education for American Democracy.  This series was viewed as one of the most influential documents in the history of American higher education.  The primary focus of the Commission was to address barriers to educational opportunities in two key areas: 1) improving college access and equity and 2) expanding the role of community colleges (Gilbert & Heller, 2013).   Community colleges were a primary strategy in the Commission’s plans to increase higher educational access to increased populations.  Approximately 600 two-year colleges existed during the time the Truman Commission report was released (Quigley & Bailey, 2003).

Brubacher and Rudy (1968) contend the Truman Commission’s central message was to ensure every American should be “enabled and encouraged to carry his education, formal and informal, as far as his native capacities permit” (p. 239).  The authors stated community colleges were particularly appealing as a means of handling student expansion because two-year colleges could be constructed quickly and were generally viewed as being more cost effective.  The Commission proposed the nation double its enrollment in college and universities within a decade (Brubacher & Rudy, 1968).

The Commission addressed open access in the report’s preface and noted the increasing number of young people seeking a college education and highlighted the complexities offered by increased industrialization and the accelerated enrollment growth due to the enactment of the Veteran’s Rehabilitation Act and the G.I. Bill.  The Commission noted, “Statistics reveal that a doubling of the 1947-48 enrollments in colleges and universities will be entirely possible within 10 to 15 years, if facilities and financial means are provided” (The President’s Commission on Higher Education, 1947, Volume 1, p. 1).

The Truman Commission recognized a variety of barriers – geographical, racial, religious, socioeconomic – might prevent populations from pursuing higher education.  Since costs presented access and equity barriers to students, the Commission’s report emphasized the importance of eradicating these barriers, stating, “If college opportunities are restricted to those in the higher income brackets, the way is open to the creation and perpetuation of a class society which has no place in the American way of life” (The President’s Commission on Higher Education, 1947, Volume II, p. 23).

The commissioners provided advocacy for expanded construction of community colleges and a larger influx of student enrollment growth in future years.  Reuben and Perkins (2007) noted commissioners lobbied for a number of policies that would become important features of American higher education in the late twentieth century, including the expansion of public higher education, particularly two-year institutions which the Commission renamed “community colleges” rather than “junior colleges,” federal financial aid programs, and the end to discrimination based on religion and race (pp. 265-266).  The Commission’s report offered specific recommendations to increase higher education attainment from 2.4 million students in 1947 to 3.9 to 4.6 million students between 1952 and 1960. Approximately one million veterans were anticipated to return to college under the G.I. Bill and the Commission made a series of recommendations to increase enrollments (Gilbert & Heller, 2013, p. 420).  

Improving college access

Improving community college access to underserved groups, such as minorities and veterans, continued throughout the 1960’s.  Before the 1960’s, at least 20 major cities (including Denver, St. Louis, Cleveland, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Miami) did not have community colleges and diverse populations were actively seeking college access (Luskin, 2011).  By the 1960’s, there was a general sentiment that college should become a birthright for Americans, much like high school had become a birthright in the 1920’s (Cervantes, Creusere, McMillion, McQueen, Short, Steiner & Webster, 2005).

Federal programs 

The Federal government created direct programming and financial assistance to postsecondary students that sparked national discussions on the government’s role within higher education.  Dallek (1998) asserted President Johnson had an almost mystical faith in the capacity of education to transform people’s lives.  Public demands for social equality helped to facilitate federal support for financial support of higher education. Federal programs were established and college attendance soared prompting a national shift in America’s college student demographics.  These federal programs offered college access to disadvantaged populations and assisted underrepresented minorities with college preparatory skills.

The Higher Education Act (HEA)

The Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965, under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, offered financial assistance to public and private colleges and eligible students under Title IV.  The HEA of 1965 established the Federal government as an important player in higher education policy and recognized the goal of removing college price barriers as a federal priority (Cervantes et al., 2005).

According to a national report, “Higher Education Act: Forty Years of Opportunity,” Title IV authorized federal aid to students seeking higher education and assisted low-income students (Cervantes et al., 2005).  The leading HEA grant program was the Educational Opportunity Grant, later renamed the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or SEOG.  The Guaranteed Student Loan program, later recognized as the Federal Family Education Loan program (FFEL), was the largest source of student financial aid in the country (Cervantes et al., 2005). Additional financial aid assistance programs designed to increase open access include federal work-study programs, National Teaching Fellowships and the National Defense Student Loan Program, now known as Perkins funding.

The HEA was amended under Title IV to create three federal programs: Upward Bound, Talent Search and Student Support Services; hence the phrase “TRIO” emerged.  These TRIO programs assist low-income students, first-generation college students and other underrepresented groups through tutoring, mentoring and bridge programs.  President Johnson was recognized for clarifying the role of the Federal Government “to do something for the people who are down and out, and that’s where its major energy in education ought to go” (Cervantes et al., 2005, p. 22).

Civil Rights and Women’s Equality Movements 

In tandem, the civil rights and women’s equality movements increased social awareness and helped break down barriers for disadvantaged groups (Vaughn, 2000).   While these federal measures were established within the historical legislative framework of higher education, men and women of color continued to experience racial disparity and inequity while pursuing access to higher education.

Open Door Policies

Community college’s open-door policies offered increased access to higher education for diverse populations impacted by social class, race, gender and ethnicity.  Edmund Gleazer’s (1994) foreword in America’s Community Colleges: The First Century notes, “The college that cuts “across” ethnic lines, socioeconomic classes, educational interests, geographical boundaries and generations brings people together so that not only their differences, but also their common interest and needs can be acknowledged and valued” (Witt, Wattenbarger, Gollattscheck, & Suppiger, 1994, p. xvi).

In the late 1960’s, colleges and universities experienced decreased admission of academically prepared students.  Universities chose to soften admission requirements and increased financial assistance for eligible students.  At the same time, community colleges offered open door admissions to attract students and increase enrollments (Cohen & Brawer, 2003).


Carnegie Commission on Higher Education

In 1970, the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education issued a three-part series report titled, “The Open-Door Colleges: Policies for Community Colleges” highlighting the role of community colleges.  The first section, released in June 1970, focused on the Federal Government’s role in advocating for academic success and increasing educational opportunities.  The second series highlighted higher education policy to ensure racial and educational equality.  The third series discussed the role of community colleges and presented enrollment projections for two-year institutions with projections for future community college expansion in 1980 and 2000.

Brint and Karabel (1989) contended the Carnegie Commission’s report was modeled after an existing trend, “Californiaization” of American higher education and recognized the California Master Plan of 1960 as a landmark in the evolution of community colleges.  By the time the Carnegie Commission’s report went to press, there were over 1,000 two-year colleges throughout the United States.  In 1968, ten states comprised 30% or more of all undergraduates enrolled in two-year colleges.  Other states’ enrollment varied from 10% to 30% and in seven states, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Texas and Washington, enrollments were 30% or higher (The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, 1970, map 1, p. 14).

The Carnegie Commission’s goals addressed national expansion of college access within each high school.  The Commission clarified that college attainment might not include individuals who did not have plans to go to college, but universal access for all high school graduates or persons over 18 years of age was highly recommended.  The Commission report stated without such open admissions policies, community colleges would not provide equal opportunity to the highest degree possible.

The Commission’s report outlined goals and recommendations to be completed by 1976:

  • Open access to all public community colleges
  • The removal of financial barriers to enrollment
  • A state plan for the development of community colleges in every state
  • Comprehensive programs that provide meaningful learning options in all public two-year institutions of higher education.
  • Achievement of the goal of a community college within commuting distance of every potential student, except in sparsely populated areas where residential colleges are needed – plans for 230 to 280 new community colleges initiated by 1976
  • Low tuition or no tuition in community colleges
  • Adaptation of occupational programs to changing manpower requirements and full
    opportunities for continuing adult education (The Carnegie Commission on Higher
    Education, 1970, p. 51)

The success of the Carnegie Commission’s goals required support and advocacy of federal aid to higher education and increased national funding.  Ten-year recommendations goals outlined establishment of additional community colleges and to ensure 35% to 45% of all undergraduate student enrollment (The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, 1970).  Twenty-year recommendations outlined continued community college expansion, additional increases for student enrollments and ongoing curriculum reform to adapt to economic development and community needs in the 21st century (The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, 1970).


Through the early decades of the twentieth century, two-year colleges provided access and opened pathways for diverse groups including veterans, women, minority groups, individuals and families facing economic challenges.  Between 1940 and the mid-1970’s, social influences advocating for select groups, federal legislation, and governmental programs were viewed as beacons to ensure access of higher education for underserved groups.   These influences were instrumental in widening the doors of two-year institutions to a greater number of people seeking educational access.  Today, community colleges continue the tradition of opening doors to underserved populations and remain at the forefront of national dialogue on the expansion and accessibility of higher education.  Open access in community colleges continues to provide underrepresented students with educational resources to assist in short and long-term skill building and degree attainment.

Discussion Questions

  1. How have other federal and social influences shaped higher education, particularly for two-year colleges?
  2. From your perspective, what are some of the benefits of two-year colleges and open admissions?  Have the educational needs of community college students changed within the last ten years?  How has your institution’s original mission adapted to the needs of today’s college students?
  3. In general, do two-year colleges serve the same role as early junior colleges?  Why or why not?

About the Author

Deborah L. Anderson is the Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Institutional Research at Ivy Tech Community College – Southwest/Wabash Valley Region.  A three-time graduate of the University of Kansas, she holds a B.A. in Italian Studies, a B.S. in Journalism, and a M.S. in Education.  She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership at the Bayh School of Education at Indiana State University.  Deb serves on the ACPA Commission for Two-Year Colleges and Wiley’s Enrollment Management Report Board of Advisors.

Please e-mail inquiries to Deborah L. Anderson


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.


Bogue, J. P. (1948, Summer 1948). The community college. Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors, 34, 285-295.

Brint, S., & Karabel, J. (1989). The diverted dream. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Brubacher, J. S., & Rudy, W. (1968). Higher education in transition: A history of American colleges and universities, 1636-1976 (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.

Cervantes, A., Creusere, M., McMillion, R., McQueen, C., Short, M., Steiner, M., & Webster, J. (2005). Opening the doors to higher education: Perspectives on higher education act 40 years later. Retrieved from

Cohen, A. M., & Brawer, F. B. (2003). The American community college (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Dallek, R. (1998). Flawed giant: Lyndon Johnson and his times, 1961-1973. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Geiger, R. (1999). The Ten Generations of American Higher Education. In P. G. Altbach, R. O. Berdahl, & P. J. Gumport (Eds.), American Higher Education in the Twenty-first Century (pp. 38-69). Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Gilbert, C. K., & Heller, D. E. (2013, May/June). Access, equity, and community colleges: The Truman Commission and federal higher education policy from 1947 to 2011. The Journal of Higher Education, 84, 417-443.

Gleazer, Jr., E. J. (1994). Foreword. In America’s Community Colleges: The First Century (pp. v-xvi). Washington, D.C.: Community College Press, American Association of Community Colleges.

Luskin, B. J. (Ed.). (2011). Legacy of leadership: Profiles of the presidents of the American Association of Community Colleges. Retrieved from

Quigley, M. S., & Bailey, T. W. (2003). Community college movement in perspective: Teachers College responds to the Truman Commission. Lanham, MA: Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Reuben, J. A., & Perkins, L. (2007, August 2007). Introduction: Commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the President’s Commission report, higher education for democracy. History of Education Quarterly, 47, 265-276.

The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education. (1970). The open-door colleges: Policies for community colleges. Hightstown, New Jersey: McGraw-Hill Book

The President’s Commission on Higher Education. (1947, December 1947). Higher Education for American Democracy [Report]. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office: 1947. George Frederick Zook Collection, US President Commission on Higher Education 1947, Topeka, KS.

Thelin, J. R. (2011). A History of American Higher Education (2nd ed.). Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Turner, S., & Bound, J. (2003, March). Closing the gap or widening the divide: The effects of the G.I. Bill and World War II on the educational outcomes of Black Americans. The Journal of Economic History, 63, 145-177. Retrieved from

Vaughan, G. B. (1985). The community college in America: A short history. (ISBN-0-87117-141-4). Washington, D.C.: American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, National Center for Higher Education.

Vaughan, G. B. (2000). The Community College Story (2nd ed.). Washington, D.C.: Community College Press, American Association of Community Colleges.

Witt, A. A., Wattenbarger, J. L., Gollattscheck, J. F., & Suppiger, J. E. (1994). America’s Community Colleges:  The First Century. Washington, D.C.: Community College Press, American Association of Community Colleges.

Fulfilling our Promise to Students: Fostering and Demonstrating Student Learning and Success

The benefit of June, July, and August on many college campuses is that the pace slows down allowing time for reflection and planning for the coming academic year. I’ve spent those months continuing to consider our role as college student educators in fostering student learning and success.

Currently, a great deal of focus is on student learning in higher education. President Obama’s completion agenda centers on post-secondary certificate or degree completion and the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ (AACU) (n.d.) Essential Learning Outcomes and the Lumina Foundation’s (2015) Degree Qualification Profile (DQP) identify the knowledge and skills United States college graduates should have. There are increasing calls for accountability from a variety of constituencies inside and outside higher education. As part of this call for accountability, the federal government is requesting demonstration of learning outcomes. In addition, legislatures, parents, and students are seeking validation of the return on their financial investment in higher education. And, employers are lamenting that college graduates do not possess critical knowledge and skills to effectively perform in the workforce. There is a great deal at stake for higher education if we cannot foster learning and then demonstrate what students acquire from their college experience. While accountability is one reason higher education needs to focus on student learning, it should not be the only reason. Our job is students’ education and we should be able to demonstrate our role in it.

While the current focus on accountability in higher education is centered on student learning across the entire collegiate experience, college student educators should be able to articulate the unique impact we have on student learning. To be an equal partner on campus and compete for valuable resources we need to be able to effectively articulate our contributions to student success. In a resource deficient collegiate environment decisions regarding financial allocations are based (or at least should be) on evidence of contribution to the educational mission of the institution. We need to focus on fostering and documenting student learning and success to demonstrate the connection to that mission. ACPA – College Student Educators International is providing an opportunity this fall to assist in achieving this goal.

ACPA will sponsor the 2015 Presidential Symposium: Fulfilling Our Promise to Students: Fostering and Demonstrating Student Learning and Success on September 29th from 1pm-5pm ET/12pm-4pm CT/11am-3pm MT/10am-2pm PT. This is an innovative, action-oriented, engaging educational opportunity with a live event hosted by our friends at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and “campus participation parties” across the North America. Our goal is to create a learning community of more than 5000 people for the world’s largest online professional development event.

An activity focusing on student learning would not be a quality one if it did not have its own learning outcomes. As a result of attending this event, participants will be able to:

  • Describe benefits of increasing accountability for student learning and development;
  • Identify current state of affairs regarding accountability for student learning and development; and
  • Articulate guidelines, strategies, and methods for improving accountability for student learning and development.

The symposium will be composed of three content modules guided by the following questions:

  • Why is it important for colleges and universities to focus on student learning and development?
  • In what ways do student affairs educators foster student learning and development?
  • How can student affairs educators effectively demonstrate our impact?

Each module will be comprised of two 12-15 minute high intensity talks streamed to participants. After each module will be an opportunity for a “campus conversation” allowing individuals at participating campuses to discuss and apply the information to their own context. Individual workbooks and facilitator guides will be distributed for reflection and discussion. Individuals who are not part of an individual campus site will be able to participate at a regional campus site or join hosted virtual conversations with other colleagues. The “campus conversation” after the final module will be dedicated to campus-based action planning identifying ways to improve fostering and demonstrating student learning.

Speakers include Jillian Kinzie, Shaun Harper, Linda Suskie, Amber Garrision Duncan (Lumina Foundation), Karen Solomon (Higher Learning Commission), and Deb Garrett (President of CAS). We also have “bonus” talks, which will be shared with registrants after the event.

All talks will be recorded enabling registered participants to use them for future professional development or in graduate courses. In addition, all materials for the symposium (recordings, manuals, supplemental resources) will be packaged to create a “professional development in a box” that can be used if an individual, department, or division is not able to participate synchronously on September 29th.

Hopefully, you are as excited as we are about this innovative opportunity and want to know how to sign up as an individual, department, division, or graduate preparation program. ACPA wants to make this high-quality educational event cost effective. The cost is a mere $19 per individual or $99 per site (for as many people who can fit into a room to view the streaming). With many webinars running as high as $400 for 60 minutes, this symposium is sure to be the most economical educational events of the academic year.

You can register here. I hope you will join 5000 of your colleagues and participate in the 2015 ACPA Presidential Symposium.


Association of American Colleges adn Universities. (n.d.). Essential learning outcomes. Retrieved from

Lumina Foundation. (2015). Degree qualifications profile. Retrieved from

Elevating Native American College Students’ Sense of Belonging in Higher Education

Native American students are an underrepresented minority group in higher education, representing less than 1% of all college-going students in the United States (Ginder & Kelly-Reid, 2013).  Although they represent a small proportion of the college student population in the United States, it is important to research Native American students’ experiences in higher education.  For decades, scholars have documented the persistent challenges encountered by Native American college students, which can include lack of role models, feelings of isolation, racial discrimination, and a cultural mismatch in higher education (Garrod & Larimore, 1997; Larimore & McClellan, 2005).  These barriers are coupled by the challenges of being a non-traditional student, with many studies showing that the majority of Native American students are the first in their families to attend higher education, are employed while in college, have dependents, and live in poverty (American Indian College Fund Data, 2011).  The confluence of these factors contributes to higher dropout rates among Native American students: only 39% of Native American first-time, full-time students who started college in 2005 graduated within four years, compared to 60% of White students (Knapp, Kelly-Reid, & Ginder, 2012).

There is a significant lack of research about Native American students in higher education.  The majority of studies exploring factors associated with Native American students’ success in higher education feature qualitative designs, have smaller sample sizes, or are derived from single-institution samples (Jackson, Smith, and Hill, 2003; Larimore & McClellan, 2005; Okagaki, Helling, & Bingham, 2009).  Jackson et al. (2003) discovered family support, structured social support, the warmth of faculty and staff, and reliance upon spiritual resources contributed to Native American undergraduates’ retention.  The purpose of the present research study was to expand upon prior research by examining factors associated with Native American college students’ sense of belonging in higher education.  To expand upon prior research, we utilized a large sample size of Native American students within a quantitative, multi-institutional analysis.

This research is unique in that the primary dependent variable in this analysis was students’ sense of belonging, a concept that Hausmann, Schofield, and Woods (2006) connected to students’ retention.  Yet, we approach sense of belonging cautiously when considering the unique experiences of Native American college students.  Native American students experience a great degree of stress in higher education because many feel forced to choose between assimilating into the dominate culture as a means of achieving academic success and maintaining ties to their traditional culture by resisting dominant assimilation (Larimore & McClellan, 2005).  For many Native American students, these choices can mean breaking away from family and home communities or dropping out of higher education.  Some researchers have suggested Native American students who are able to connect with their cultural identity and also adapt to the demands of campus life are more likely to succeed in meeting their educational goals (Huffman, 2001).


The Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) survey is administered annually within a consortium of large, public research universities that are members of the Association of American Universities.  All sets of items used in the present study were derived from the SERU survey or provided by the institutional research offices at participating campuses.  The SERU survey contains over 600 items, and the purpose of the instrument is to gather data on students’ satisfaction, academic engagement, use of time, perceptions of campus climate, research experiences, and civic/community engagement, among other areas (Douglass, Thomson, & Zhao, 2012; Soria & Thomas-Card, 2014).  Researchers have provided evidence for the internal consistency of students’ responses over several administrations of the survey (Chatman, 2011).

In spring 2013, the SERU survey was administered to eligible undergraduate students enrolled at 13 institutions.  Institutional representatives sent emails to 356,699 enrolled undergraduates asking them to respond to the web-based questionnaire.  The institutional level completion response rate for the SERU survey was 35.50% (n = 126,622).  We utilized survey responses from Native American undergraduate students enrolled in 13 large, public research-intensive universities (n = 863).  The majority of Native American students identified as female (60.7%), non-transfer (76.0%), and non-first-generation (59.9%).  The average age of participants was 21.68 (SD = 4.93).


Dependent Variable

Four survey items were utilized to measure students’ sense of belonging.  Two items asked students to indicate their level of satisfaction with the social and academic aspects of their educational experiences and were scaled 1 (very dissatisfied) to 6 (very satisfied).  Two additional items asked students to rate their sense of belonging on campus and asked whether they would choose to reenroll on campus.  These items were scaled 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree).

Independent Variables

Several measures were utilized in the analysis that were either provided by students in the SERU or provided by institutional research offices at the respective institutions.  Institutions provided students’ sex, transfer status, and academic level (as defined by the number of credits earned).  Students provided information regarding their parents’ highest level of education achieved, from which we derived their status as first-generation students (defined as parents not earning a bachelor’s degree or higher).  Students also answered questions regarding their current residence and social class.  Prior researchers provided evidence for the validity of students’ self-reported social class (Soria & Barratt, 2012).

The SERU was administered at 13 different universities; therefore, to get a sense of whether the location of the institution had any bearing on student outcomes—and to preserve anonymity of participating institutions—we coded institutions into three categories based on their general geographic region in the United States with the remaining two schools (which were generally located on the West coast) as the referent schools.  The focal categories included four schools located in Southern regions, five schools located in the Midwest region, and two schools located in the upper-Eastern region of the United States.

Variables were used to assess students’ perceptions of campus climate for diversity and socioeconomic class, level of academic engagement, frequency of faculty interactions, and frequency of classmate interactions, which prior research has discovered are associated with students’ sense of belonging and retention (Soria & Stebleton, 2012, 2013).  We also utilized items which asked students to indicate the frequency with which they engaged in a variety of activities per week, including paid employment, community service, recreational activities, spiritual or religious activities, socializing with friends, and spending time with family.  These items were scaled from 1 hour to more than 30 hours.

Data Analyses

All data analyses were conducted using SPSS 21.0 and first utilized a factor analysis for the purpose of data reduction, to explain a larger set of measured variables with a smaller set of latent constructs.  To develop the dependent and independent measures used in this study, a factor analysis was conducted on 27 items with oblique rotation and used Velicer’s (1976) minimum average partial (MAP) method to estimate the factors (Courtney, 2013).  We utilized the procedures outlined by Courtney (2013) to analyze the data using SPSS R-Menu v2.0 (Basto & Pereira, 2012), and Velicer’s MAP values suggested a distinct fifth step minimum squared average partial correlation suggesting five factors.  Due to this evidence, five factors emerged: campus climate, academic engagement, sense of belonging, faculty interactions, and classmate interactions.  We computed the factor scores using the regression method and saved them as standardized scores with a mean of zero and a standard deviation of one.  Each of these factors had good reliability: campus climate (α = .868), academic engagement (α = .891), sense of belonging (α = .857), faculty interactions (α = .804), and classmate interactions (α = .823).

After conducting the factor analysis, hierarchical least squares regression analyses were conducted regressing students’ sense of belonging on the independent and control variables.  The model was guided by predominant theoretical frameworks suggesting students’ demographic characteristics and institutional contexts might covary with collegiate experiences, thereby potentially confounding the effects of those collegiate experiences (Astin, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).  To that end, we entered data into three blocks to assess the variance specific collegiate experience items explained above and beyond the variance accounted for by control measures (Petrocelli, 2003): 1) precollege characteristics; 2) institutional region, and; 3) collegiate experiences.


The results of the hierarchical linear regression analysis suggest Native American students’ collegiate experiences explained a significant among of unique variance in students’ sense of belonging above and beyond the variance accounted for by previously entered variables (R = .545, R2 =.297, F(14, 849) = 16.886, p < .001; R2 Change = .251, p < .001).  In other words, students’ collegiate experiences are significantly associated with their sense of belonging and help to predict their sense of belonging above precollege characteristics and institutional region.

Native American students’ perception of the campus climate for race and class, in addition to the frequency of their interactions with classmates, were significantly and positively associated with their sense of belonging (Table 1).  The frequency with which students participated in student clubs or organizations, engaged in recreational or creative interests, and socialized with friends was also positively associated with their sense of belonging.  The frequency with which students spent time with family was significantly and negatively associated with their sense of belonging, meaning that Native American students who spent more time with their families were less likely to feel a sense of belonging on campus (β = -.081).  None of the other collegiate variables were significant in this model, although we also found that students attending colleges in the Eastern region of the U.S. had significantly lower sense of belonging (β = -.084) compared to the students who attended colleges in other regions.

Table 1


The results of this study suggest there are elements of Native American students’ experiences on campus that can positively support their sense of belonging, in addition to factors that may detract from students’ sense of belonging.  In particular, we found that students’ engagement with their peers in academic and social contexts was particularly influential in promoting their sense of belonging, a finding congruent with prior scholarship (Larimore & McClellan, 2005).  Prior research suggested the importance of student-faculty interactions and family in Native American students’ belongingness (Jackson & Smith, 2001; Larimore & McClellan, 2005); however, in our study, we only measured the length of time students spent with faculty and family, not the quality of these relationships.  The time students spent with family may be attributed to living off campus with family, a factor that may compromise students’ ability to interact with peers on campus.  Based on these findings, it is recommended that researchers continue to explore the many ways in which students’ interactions with faculty and family can influence their collegiate experiences and deduce the ways in which these interactions may be crafted to support Native American students’ success.

Concomitant with the results of this study, there are several recommendations for student affairs practitioners to support Native American college students’ sense of belonging in higher education.  Given the connections between campus climate and sense of belonging, practitioners are encouraged to develop a warm and welcoming campus climate for students of color and students from lower social class backgrounds (Soria, 2012).  This study suggests that Native American students’ interactions with classmates in academic settings is positively associated with their sense of belonging, and practitioners need to provide adequate study spaces to students at hours convenient to their busy schedules.  Given the positive associations between Native American students’ time spent in student clubs and organizations, socializing with friends, and students’ sense of belonging, it is recommended that practitioners seek to integrate the curricular and co-curricular domains for students; for example, a Native American cultural group could have a space reserved for study time with peers in which hospitality is provided.  Opportunities for Native American students to explore recreational or creative interests alongside their peers may further support students’ integration in the university, while helping them to remain connected or develop new connections with their cultural traditions.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can Native American student services on your campus support students’ academic interactions with classmates, recreational or creative interests, and time spent socializing with friends?
  2. What steps has your campus taken to facilitate a welcoming campus climate for Native American students in particular?
  3. What spaces to Native American students occupy on your campus?  How can these actions and spaces be expanded to support Native American students’ sense of belonging and success?


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About the Authors

Krista Soria is an analyst with the Office of Institutional Research at the University of Minnesota.  Her research interests focus on understanding the experiences of underrepresented students on college campuses, developing high-impact practices to support students’ success, and leveraging opportunities to facilitate students’ leadership development.  Krista is also an adjunct faculty with the leadership minor at the University of Minnesota.

Please e-mail inquiries to Krista Soria.

Brandon Alkire is an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota.  He is majoring in Sociology and Law/Crime/Deviance and minoring in Political Science.  He is a Dakota citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which straddles the North/South Dakota boarder.  He is avidly involved in many activities at the University of Minnesota, including a general board member of the American Indian Student Cultural Center, member of the Native Student Awareness Committee, Student Parent Help Center, Circle of Indigenous Nations, and American Indian Studies Work Shop.

Please e-mail inquiries to Brandon Alkire.


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.