Bridging the Academic/Student Affairs Divide: Gaining Perspective to Create Partnerships

Often in reflection of my work and life, I find myself wishing I knew early in my career what I know now.  I have had the good fortune to transition my 26 year career as a student affairs administrator to a full-time, tenure-track faculty member in the Department of Counselor Education.  My long career in student affairs prepared me to teach graduate students pursuing careers in higher education counseling/student affairs and to serve as the higher education program coordinator.

Inspired by David Letterman’s nightly “Top Ten List,” I include an assignment I have titled “Your Top Ten List” in my course “Leadership and Management in Student Affairs.”  The purpose of the list is to highlight points the students want to remember from this capstone course and from their experiences during their graduate work.  Students reflect on budget/funding issues, the importance of student learning outcomes assessment, relational versus positional leadership, collaboration with faculty and working with the whole student.

Recently, as I graded and commented on these lists, I was inspired to reflect on my own journey, a journey which is taking place at the same institution where I spent my career as a student affairs administrator.  In my naiveté I believed I had an advantage as I made the transition from student affairs to academic affairs.  I was confident I knew what I was doing.  Within weeks of the first semester, I experienced a profound learning curve as I immersed myself in the role of a new faculty member.

Murray (2008) studied new faculty members’ perceptions of the academic work life and concluded that “unmet expectations lead to job dissatisfaction” (p. 125).  I am not dissatisfied with my new role, although there have been surprises.  I have a new understanding and appreciation of the work life of a faculty member.  Upon reflection, I realize I am in a unique position to understand both the student affairs educator role and the faculty member role.  The lessons I have learned may be able to assist graduate students, new professionals and even more seasoned student affairs educators in understanding more about faculty culture.

Magolda (2005) reminded us that “partnerships must be meaningful, reciprocal, and responsive” (p. 21).  Had I known as a student affairs administrator what I know now as a faculty member, I might have been able to partner more effectively with my faculty colleagues to create more seamless learning environments as described in the 1994 ACPA document The Student Learning Imperative.  I might have been able to work with my academic colleagues to create and implement opportunities to engage students in high-impact practices.  Brownell and Swaner (2010) identified high-impact practices which lead to higher levels of student performance, learning, and development.  Kuh (2008) reminded us that when faculty and staff endorse a high-impact activity as worthy, other campus constituencies will support it with resources making it more available to a large number of students.  In order to create practices which are engaging, effective, and contribute to student learning outside of the classroom, partnerships between faculty and student affairs administrators are essential.  By understanding each other, we can bridge the academic/student affairs divide and subsequently create learning experiences and environments where student learning and success is a hallmark.

Below is my “Top Ten” list—what I am learning and what I wish I had known to bridge the student affairs and academic divide.  The tips may help student affairs educators build more effective partnerships with faculty, especially new faculty who are often eager to get involved in service opportunities on campus.

Tips for Student Affairs Practitioners for Working with Faculty

10.  The work of a faculty member is never finished

My student affairs days often began at the crack of dawn and would end sometime after sunset.  The line in job descriptions, nights and weekends expected rang true.  My work week was at least 50+ hours, not including the time I spent at home on my computer with email.  My day was often unpredictable but it was structured.

My faculty life is different.  As I was transitioning to my new role, I was looking forward to having time to think about and work on creative projects.  And then I learned an important lesson:  when your time is your own, you have to structure it yourself.  I now have a lot of unstructured time, although, unstructured time is time that should be spent writing, preparing courses, grading, committee work, reading, preparing conference presentations and thinking about interesting research ideas.

A common problem faced by new faculty is feeling as if they do not have enough time to get all the tasks done that need to get accomplished (Murray, 2008).  As a result, I have become less willing and able to agree to commitments which will take time away from my work, no matter how exciting, creative, or meaningful they may be.  Although I want to be available to students when they need my help, I have moved from an open door policy to a “please knock” policy.  I direct students to my office hours first, and if they cannot make them, I try to accommodate as best as possible.  My heart is student-centered and always will be but my head is occupied with an ever growing to-do list.

Tip: Recognize when faculty are not on campus they are most likely working, even if they are at home.  Try as best as possible to accommodate their schedules or find other ways to use technology to connect.

9.  Tick, Tock…the tenure clock is a new faculty member’s “master”

I am now in a tenure-track position.  The tenure process is a five year time period at my institution.  I did not realize that the first year in the tenure process was actually just the first semester.  In my contractual statement of expectations, there are three functions that “count” towards tenure:  teaching, scholarship, and service.

As an administrator and now as a faculty member, I am an avid reader of publications and journals and I consider myself a scholar practitioner. However, the expectation of publishing in peer-reviewed journals is enormous.  Finding the quiet time to prioritize writing projects is a new behavior for me.  The lack of time to engage in scholarship while balancing the demands of teaching and service is stressful to many new faculty (Murray, 2008).

Tip: Invite new faculty to participate on committees where they can contribute their expertise but do not have to take the lead on time-consuming responsibilities.  Committee involvement will expose faculty members to the ways in which student affairs educators support students and contribute to learning.

8.  A university is a complex bureaucratic environment  

I was already aware of the complexity of the university environment. However, as I watched new faculty colleagues navigating our system, I relearned the impact of this lesson.   One of the most significant benefits I had as I transitioned at the same institution was that I was familiar with the resources, policies, databases, registration system and people to contact for assistance.  New faculty members spend an inordinate amount of time in the first year navigating a new environment.  It was a great benefit to me to make my transition at the same institution but I imagine I would have had an advantage even at a new institution.  After 26 years in student affairs, I understand how universities function.  Again, according to Murray (2008), new and younger faculty are often not prepared to enter institutions which can be very different than their doctoral-granting institution.  Until they understand the systems themselves it reasons that they might have difficulty advising and helping students find what they need to succeed.

Tip: “Mentor” a new faculty member: invite them for coffee or lunch.  New faculty members may benefit from having a student affairs colleague to help them navigate the bureaucracy and network with helpful administrative colleagues.

7.  “Reply all” is a necessary function

On my last day in my student affairs role, I cleaned out my email inbox.  For the first time since I had access to email, I had an empty inbox.  In my faculty role, my average inbox email queue is incrementally less than when I worked in student affairs.  Early in my first semester of teaching I observed the common use of the “reply all” function by my faculty colleagues.  Now my email inbox is often full but with email responses to the same inquiry.  Often important emails are easily lost in the “reply all” traffic.

I discovered the importance of “reply all”.  A faculty department is different from an administrative department.  First, there is value of shared governance (see #6) where everyone has a voice.  Second, given teaching schedules, faculty may only see each other at bi-weekly or monthly faculty meetings.  “Reply all” is used to stay connected and to make decisions and I have embraced the function not for everything, but for the times when I am actually trying to work on a team without direct contact.

Tip: Work in a faculty department can take more time than expected given the lack of daily personal contact.  A request that you pose to a faculty member may be vetted through the entire department, including the chair.  Try to be patient as decisions are being made.

6.   Shared governance requires increased work

Within my first week in my new position at our bi-annual retreat I learned that the work of the department gets done by the people in the department.  Of course this makes sense on paper but what it means in practice in a graduate-only department is that we have committees for all of our functions:  admissions/recruiting, orientation, assessment, curriculum development, and field experience.  In the spirit of shared governance, the locus of control is with the committee.  I had my fair share of meetings when I worked in student affairs and when I transitioned I thought those days were in the past.  I had no idea there would be even more committee assignments as a faculty member.

Tip: As student affairs educators, you can help students and colleagues understand faculty culture and how decisions get made in faculty departments.  Some issues requiring a faculty vote will take more time.  And, you may be, as I was surprised about what decisions require a vote.

5.  Faculty have little control over financial resources   

One of the first realities I faced in my transition was the lack of control of my own budget.  As an administrator, I purchased what I needed to do my work.  I did not have access to an abundance of resources nor did I purchase items I did not need but I had control of the budgets I was given to manage.

Most faculty at my institution have little involvement with budgets: for example, the department chair manages the budget and all requests for expenditures.  Initially, I felt a wonderful sense of freedom because I did not need to reconcile my purchasing card, log into a complicated system to review purchases and balances, or know the rules about forms.  The most complicated budgetary form I had to complete in my first year was a travel reimbursement form and the department support staff put the form in my mailbox and did most of the heavy lifting.  But, when a few of us thought a bulletin board might be helpful for posting notices and creating a learning environment for students, the process was more complicated than pulling out a purchasing card.  We discussed the need, how it would be used, where it should be placed, if students would use it and if the cost was prohibitive.

Tip: Engage faculty in your program planning.  Faculty have wonderful ideas for programs and speakers but don’t always have the financial resources to move the idea to reality.  Most of the financial resources will come from your budget.  Faculty members can contribute in other ways such as ensuring student attendance and gaining access to academic affairs funding.

4.  One is the loneliest number   

I am learning about the solitary nature of a faculty position.  I had years of having non-stop student contact during the academic year and I was sure I was contributing to student learning on a day-to-day basis.  I had colleagues right outside my door at least eight hours a day, five days a week.  It was hard to go to the restroom without having someone follow me wanting to talk about an issue.  Now, however, I am often on my own.  My departmental colleagues are in their own worlds of advising, teaching, and writing.  We work on committees but often our goal is to get the task done and move on to the next project.

I find myself working more at home, by myself.  I miss the moments when I could get up from my desk, walk down the hall, connect with a colleague on an issue or question, chat for moment, and then get back to work.  The synergy of seemingly random conversation often resulted in ideas for programs and services to assist students.  One consequence of solitary work is the lack of spontaneous brainstorming that leads to great interventions.

Tip: Offer to assist faculty on projects they are doing or contemplating.  Invite faculty to join you on joint writing projects, develop staff training modules, and assess programs; yet understand the limits of their involvement.

3.  A career in student affairs is great preparation for a faculty position

My colleague, Joanne Conlon, a former student affairs professional and recently-tenured faculty member said to me as I transitioned roles, “The best preparation for a faculty position is a career in student affairs!” You might not believe this to be true but it is.  I am accustomed to being busy and interrupted.  I am comfortable managing a student crisis one hour, discussing water stations for orientation in the next, and chairing a university committee in the afternoon.

I continue to work at a similar pace and am still overwhelmed by the responsibilities of teaching, scholarship and service expectations.  I came to the position as a “multi-tasker” and the ability to manage multiple priorities.  New faculty coming directly from doctoral programs may not have had the opportunity to experience the intensity of multi-tasking needed in a new faculty position; however, they are becoming experts in their discipline.  You may be able to work with faculty to increase student learning in areas where faculty are often experts—their own scholarship and the research methods to support their scholarship.

Tip: Inquire about faculty scholarship and research interests and ask faculty to participate on panels where they can discuss their decision to pursue a doctorate, their research interests and research tips.

2.  A shift to me involves learning to say no!

After long career of serving the needs/wants of students, I am unfamiliar with shifting the focus on myself.  I am grateful to be at a teaching institution where good work in the classroom with students is valued, appreciated and rewarded; however, this new role is more than teaching and serving students directly.  Students still want my time and I give it to them but within the limits I can manage.

I am learning to say “no” to requests (both personal and professional) which will take me away from my progress to tenure.  I say “no” to meetings that conflict with my office hours.  I understand that the best way I can serve students in the long-term is to earn tenure and be able to continue in my role of preparing students for future careers in student affairs.

Tip: Assist faculty in their pursuit of tenure.  Take time to write a thank you letter for their involvement in your program or a letter in support of their tenure/promotion application.   Understand when they say “no,” it may mean “not right now, but ask again later.”

1.  You are always a “first year student” at something   

At some point in the late 1980’s during our orientation program, we showed the film Welcome to the Time of Your Life featuring Mr. Will Kiem.  His message was “You are always a freshman at something” resonated with me.  I have repeated those words to students and to myself for a quarter of a century.  I said it when I took on new roles in student affairs, when I went back to work on my doctorate at age 45 and when I left my position in student affairs for my current faculty position and it continues to be true.  I had no idea what I did not know about faculty life.  For many years previous to this one, I taught as an adjunct instructor and I am confident in my teaching skills.  But the work of a faculty member is more than just teaching.  I am learning this lesson over and over again in my new role.

Tip:  Challenge yourself to learn about faculty culture, to reach out to a new or more seasoned faculty member, to participate in a faculty committee.  You may be able to develop a partnership and in turn create a significant learning experience for students.

Last summer when I learned about the passing of comedian/actor Robin Williams, I remembered the scenes in the film Dead Poet’s Society, where Williams’ character, John Keating, asked the students to take a different perspective while marching around the school yard or standing on their desks.  Taking a new or different perspective about faculty may give you the opportunity to create partnerships with academic colleagues that allow for and enhance student learning, engagement and success.

Discussion Questions

  1. In what ways can you personally and professionally bridge the faculty/student affairs divide?  How might your efforts help students who you serve?
  2. How can we move towards more collaborative efforts with faculty?  What could you do in your department to partner with faculty colleagues?  What efforts can you do in the short-term?  What efforts might need more planning?
  3. How does taking a new perspective help you?  How does it help your department or division?  How does modeling perspective taking help students learn and achieve success?


American College Personnel Association. (1994). The student learning imperative: Implications for student affairs.  Washington, DC. Retrieved from

Brownell, J. E. &  Swaner, L. E. (2010). Five high-impact practices: Research on learning outcomes, completion, and quality. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Kiem, W. (1989). Welcome to the Time of Your Life. Video presentation at West Chester University, New Student Orientation.

Kuh, G. D.  (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who as access to them, and why they matter. Washington, D.C.:  Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Magolda, P. M. (2005).  Proceed with caution:  Uncommon wisdom about academic and student affairs partnerships  About Campus, 9(6), 16-21.

Murray, J. P. (2008).  New faculty members’ perceptions of the academic work life.  Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 17(1/2), 107-128.

About the Author

Jacqueline Hodes is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Counselor Education at West Chester University. She teaches higher education/student affairs and counseling courses and works specifically with graduate students who wish to enter the student affairs profession. Her research interests are varied and include examining effective teaching and advising practices for graduate students entering the field of student affairs, strengths-based leadership practices that lead to effective practice in higher education and creating organizational change to support marginalized groups on campus.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jacqueline S.  Hodes.


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.

Becoming a Better Ally: Reflections from ACPA 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions

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

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

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


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

References (2015). Gay bullying statistics. Retrieved from

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Matthew R. Shupp.


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

Be our Guest: A Conflict Over Transient Student Services

Note: This article was written under Marisa’s previous role at Columbus State Community College. All institutional references are to Columbus State Community College.

Community college services remain busy throughout all three of the main semesters: Fall, Spring, and Summer. Due largely in part to a non-traditional population, accelerated degree programs, technical career fields, and alternative scheduling, two-year college students often attend classes across ten months of the year.

While the Summer peak remains high and often mirrors the enrollment activity at four-year colleges and universities, the demographics of a community college change slightly between May and August. Campuses begin to take on a more traditional feel as college students return back home from residential institutions and utilize the community college setting to get ahead or catch up over a long break.

Transients, as many colleges classify this particular cohort and enrollment pattern, represent a significant portion of many community college’s profile year round. During Summer 2015, our campus welcomed over 6,000 students in the Transient/Guest cohort, making up a significant percentage of the overall enrollment for the term. These students represent a wide variety of educational goals and profiles, coming to the community college from universities within the area and also those outside of the state. On several occasions the Advising team has even worked with students attending Ivy League institutions who are home for the summer seeking enrichment or completion of a general requirement.

In most cases, the local community college campus is an ideal destination to achieve such educational goals. A low cost of tuition, adherence to transfer module standards, and a wide variety of general purpose coursework creates an excellent environment in which to host guests. For the most part, the enrollment process lacks some of the barriers often found at more selective institutions. An open enrollment environment welcomes all into the classroom, and community colleges have grown accustomed to meeting the needs of perhaps the widest variety of individuals.

Given this perfect match, why might community college struggle to meet the needs of the Transient population? What are the challenges facing some community colleges as they attempt to increase enrollment through service to students in this cohort, and should community colleges offer the same support services to Transient students as native students?

These are just some of the questions facing many community college administrators as two-year campuses continue to embrace the innovative success, retention, and support initiatives commonly found within university systems. As community colleges grapple with movement from enrollment-based funding models to success and completion agendas, where does the Transient student population fit?

The Transient Student Dilemma

Guest students can easily be viewed as a source of tuition revenue by those managing enrollment at community colleges, however, intake processes designed for the general, degree-seeking population can present additional barriers to a temporary population. While community colleges have remained focus on access and open enrollment, admissions processes have evolved to maintain data integrity and promote student success. In an effort to better track student progress, provide proactive retention supports, and establish reliable data, some community colleges are beginning to explore mandatory transcript submission policies, academic credentialing related to Math and English proficiency, and widespread encouragement of standardized test completion. Likewise, as a response to success-driven funding changes, some community colleges turn focus to increased course pre-requisite requirements, concurrent enrollment pairings, and learning community structures.

While these initiatives and policies, in theory, support student learning, they can be viewed as barriers to visiting students who wish to simply complete a singular course to meet a requirement at his or her primary institution. If a guest student is required to submit additional transcripts, take placement tests outside of the desired content area, or attend mandatory Orientation programming in order to register, he or she may opt out of enrollment altogether. While the student is entitled to do so, these choices can impact a community college’s revenue and overall enrollment in the long-term.

This risk leaves community colleges to explore separate application, advising, and registration approaches for varied groups of students.  The open enrollment nature, coupled with a reliance on student self-reporting, presents a challenge in creating multiple and unique routes of entry.

This challenge extends beyond Admissions processes as well, as support units such as Advising, Tutoring, Financial Aid, and Counseling struggle to identify the best courses of action for both native and visiting students.

The fast-paced student services office I currently lead was faced with this conflict several summers ago. Faced with an increase in Transient/Guest student traffic within the Advising office, both native and guest students experienced high wait times during peak walk-in hours. The Advisors and I quickly realized Transient/Guest students were simply seeking transactional services such as permission to enter certain courses, quick pre-requisite reviews, and assistance with online registration procedures. This cohort of students, however, was mixed in with degree-seeking students in need of developmental advising, academic intervention discussions, career guidance, and extensive first semester assistance.

Stretched thin and overwhelmed with overall student traffic, our team began to develop strategies to serve Transient/Guest students differently and encourage simplified, online, transaction-based interactions. Through the introduction of an online registration form and pre-requisite authorization process, most guest students are now served at a distance, leaving additional advising capacity to manage the more extensive support needs of degree-seeking students at the institution.

This example demonstrates the challenge faced by many other community college enrollment departments. As community colleges commit to meeting nearly every educational need presented at the front door, colleges are forced to look at new ways to spread resources and, in some cases, diversify service structures.

With an increased focus on student success, however, does movement towards transactional services for guest students impact the student experience? What impact could this approach have on overall student success, and the college’s ability to attract and possibly retain the Transient/Guest student population?

An Enrollment Management Perspective

As with most other institutions, both two- and four-year, credential completion remains a central priority in student success within community colleges.

However, administrators focused on Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) often struggle to find a balance between open accessibility and supporting current students in their efforts towards degree completion. As guest students utilize the community college in an effort to fulfill home institution requirements, save on tuition costs, or fill in gaps between undergraduate and graduate programs, the community college environment struggles to prioritize these goals.

Due to the high proportion of first generation students attending community colleges, the college’s native population risks late registration behavior. Through direct work with students, I have observed this pattern on many occasions, as our students sometimes wait to register for the next term due to childcare considerations, lack of confidence in his/her ability to successfully complete current term coursework, financial constraints, or scheduling needs. As open registration progresses, savvier guest students from other colleges and universities begin to register for available sections. Unfortunately, hesitant community college students sometimes find themselves stuck without the courses they need in order to persist. Changing the late registration pattern requires communication and encouragement from student services offices such as Advising, Financial Aid, and specialized programs.

A 2013 review of California community colleges explored priority registration across 110 institutions and found that 93% of the institutions reviewed offered priority registration to continuing students. While some of the community colleges prioritized students by time at the college, others prioritized by the number of credit hours accumulated (Bahr, Gross, Slay, & Christensen, 2015).

While the study did not directly address colleges’ handling of Transient populations, this stratified registration strategy reflects a high priority on student credential completion. As a result (either intentional or unintentional), this type of approach postpones registration activity that could impede native students’ ability to persist within the system. This is just one example of methods community colleges may employ to strike a balance between meeting the needs of Transient and native student populations.

Bahr et al. (2015) acknowledge that registration priority has the potential to disadvantage students moving across multiple institutions to achieve educational goals. The authors encourage enrollment management officials at community colleges to explore partnerships between other institutions that allow students to retain priority as they move across systems. Such an approach could assist Transient students as this cohort attempts to secure seats in key community college classes, however, variances across partner institutions challenge this recommendation.

Recruiting Transient Students: What is Appropriate?

As mentioned earlier, Transient students can help community colleges fill empty seats, establish strong transferability agreements with other institutions, and offer a solution to students seeking flexible course options at a lower tuition rate. From a student success perspective, data at the institution in which I work has shown that the Transient student population successfully completes coursework at a higher percentage than other students within the College. In addition, students with home institutions withdraw from classes at a lower rate compared to others attending the college. While these students present service and support challenges to community colleges, they can also be perceived as assets in states that employ success-based funding for higher education.

But is it appropriate for community colleges to directly recruit a Transient population? After all, these students are enrolled in other institutions, presumably completing degrees at home colleges and universities. While the community college is well positioned to offer services and coursework to these individuals, should colleges actively seek their business?

In a recent interoffice conversation, several Advisors and I were discussing the “word of mouth” nature of our Transient enrollment patterns. Several local colleges and universities, as well as those further away from the state, are regularly represented in our summer guest student cohort. In some cases, the student’s Advisor may have recommended a summer class or two while home from a residential campus. Presumably, however, these colleges and universities would prefer to obtain revenue from additional coursework taken at their tuition rate.

The Transient population presents significant enrollment potential for many community colleges, though the unique existence of a home college or university complicates traditional recruitment efforts designed to increase overall enrollment. While active recruitment of this population on campuses would generally be considered unethical, community colleges may employ more passive strategies to incentivize students to take a course or two over a semester break, utilize the community college to “catch up” in degree programs, or fulfill general education requirements within a unique setting.

Given its representation in community college enrollment profiles, the Transient student population represents enrollment potential that cannot be ignored. How a college attempts to secure this enrollment, however, presents unique challenges to Admissions, Enrollment Management, and Marketing offices alike. Strategic and collaborative efforts between each of these departments can help a community college to attract a strong guest cohort, especially during summer terms when degree-seeking student enrollment may decline.

Unintended Consequences

Anecdotally, many Transient students appear to prefer quick, uncomplicated transactions with the community college. With home institutions fulfilling the role of support, guest students can utilize their existing support structures to fulfill in-depth academic advising, Financial Aid, or long-term planning needs. In these cases, the community college with which Transient students interact can be seen as a means to an end.

While some Transient students may prefer a transactional interaction with the community college, overly simplified processes can cause barriers for students later on. For example, community colleges that waive required documents or Admissions processes for guest students may find it challenging to work with students if and when their educational goals change. In addition, bypassing pre-requisite coursework in an effort to abridge registration barriers may lead to advising challenges if the student decides to remain at the college and pursue an academic program. For this reason, simplified efforts designed to cater to the Transient population may need to be weighed against potential unintended consequences. Without communication, proper control over student records, and a strategic method of bridging a Transient student into an academic program (if desired), colleges may find gaps in meeting the long-term needs of this student population.


Students utilizing multiple institutions to meet degree requirements is not a new phenomenon, and this enrollment trend may in fact increase as students wish to save tuition dollars, accelerated completion, control student loan debt, or diversify their college experience. Community colleges are well-positioned to serve the needs of this student populations through ease of access, diverse course offerings, and open enrollment structures.

Faced with a diverse range of students’ educational goals, community college student services and enrollment management professionals continue to evolve processes, service models, and policies to serve the needs of many. Capitalizing on existing resources, community colleges stretch capacity to defy the “one size fits all” approach to student support and services. Transient students represent a significant portion of a community college’s enrollment, and the management of resources surrounding this population continues to prompt discussion moving forward. The Transient student population provides not only challenges, but unique opportunities to community colleges seeking to increase enrollment in the coming years.

Discussion Questions

  1. In your opinion, should Transient/ Guest students receive the same services and attention as native students? Why or why not?
  2. What implications could differences in services and processes have on student success, retention, and persistence? Might differentiated services prevent prospective students from fully transferring to the institution to pursue degrees?


Bahr, P. R., Gross, J. L., Slay, K. E., & Christensen, R. D. (2015). First in Line: Student Registration Priority in Community Colleges. Educational Policy, 29(2), 342-374. doi:10.1177/0895904813492381

About the Author

Upon completion of this article, Marisa Vernon has transitioned to a new role as 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.

An Ode to the Community College Academic Advisor

Higher education and student affairs is a broad field where individuals with a variety of skill sets can contribute to the overall success of an institution. Working with students can be technical, navigating between red tape, periods of policy reform, and crunching numbers related to enrollment, tuition, and complex curricular changes. Many corners of the field may require highly developed interpersonal skills, empathy, motivation, and an understanding of student development theory. The ability to leverage a bureaucratic environment, establish positive relationships in intense political cultures, and deliver exceptional service in high-stress situations are also desirable skill sets for professionals working in higher education settings.

While many professionals can lean into limited facets of this work, the Academic Advising office is often the intersection of them all. Within those four walls, a team of professionals switches between high-level, low-level, analytical and soft skills day in and day out.

Advising in the Community College

In many ways, community college Academic Advisors are the rock stars of higher education, as those most successful in impacting students are constantly striking a balance between technical knowledge and compassionate guidance. Perhaps more frequently than in other areas of an institution, they often shoulder the institution’s enrollment and retention pressures, while still maintaining a commitment to the best interests of students. An Advisor’s work often involves helping students make sense of overly complex curricular pathways, aligning majors to ever-changing workforce opportunities, identifying bottlenecks in the student experience, and sometimes guiding students away from their dreams.

This is especially true in community college settings where the “other duties as assigned” line in the job description often delivers more than meets the eye.

Recently, I was selected to oversee the development and implementation of our College’s One-Stop center, which will join together high-volume student service areas like Admissions, Records and Registration, and Financial Aid. As a result of this assignment, a great deal of my time recently has been spent facilitating conversations with departments across the Enrollment Management and Student Services division. While many of the conversations focused on the scope, training, and transactions within the center, my meeting with the Advising team included high-level concerns about the support structures in place after the student completes the enrollment processes within the center. As one Advisor mentioned, without the oversight of Residence Life (infrequently found at community colleges), Academic Advisors often fulfill the role of caretaker, mentor, and guide throughout the entire student experience. This support, as she pointed out, is critical as the College streamlines its transactional services.

Her point has stuck with me, and has caused me to see the Advisor role differently within the context of a community college setting. As a former Academic Advisor myself, and now an administrator providing leadership to an Advising unit, I have always understood the profound impact quality academic advising can have on student success. I have even naturally expanded my advising philosophy to fit into the community college setting, though without much reflection. In the absence of Residence Life and other services provided by four-year institutions, community college Advisors are often responsible for building a similar safety net around the students they serve.

When I take a step back and look at the Advising department I currently lead, I can see the swelling of Advisor responsibilities within our setting. While providing guidance related to curriculum makes up a large portion of the Advisor role, individuals are also expected to help a largely first-generation population understand what it means to be a college student. They look into the eyes of students who have turned to our college as their last hope to obtain an education and improve their lives, and help them find a motivational spark. They are often responsible for telling students they can no longer return to the institution due to their low grades, or that the career an individual has been trying to build may no longer be an option due to a competitive admission process.

While these discussions are commonplace in any academic advising setting, they are often complicated by the “last option” nature of a community college opportunity. Early in my career, while working at a semi-selective four-year institution, I was able to facilitate these conversations with students knowing they would leave my office with other options. The local regional campus or community college would welcome the students who left our university and provide them another chance at an education. While still impacting me as an Advisor, these discussions seemed easier when an alternate option lie within reach.

Institutional completion agendas and retention plans often challenge Advisors to think critically about alternative pathways available to struggling students. Where a student’s plan to transfer to a four-year college begins to crumble, an Associate of Applied Science degree may present a viable option for career options. A developmental education student’s bumpy path may present an opportunity for a certificate on which a degree can be built later on. Countless articulation agreements can open doors that may be the perfect for some students, but a recipe for disaster for others. When community colleges fail to foster success in students’ lives, the doors for future education begin to close. The pressure to retain students and ensure they leave with a credential is profound within this type of setting.

Community college advising requires an exceptionally high level of compassion, coupled with a whole lot of grit. As underprepared students embark on their educational journeys, the learning curve can be steep, the stakes high. When barriers such as grade point average, past criminal history, lack of family support, and financial strain appear, they often appear in a profound way for a community college student. Without a complete understanding of the resources available to them, the Advising office often becomes the primary location of refuge. Students remember the person who assisted them at the front door, and equate college Advisors to the guidance counselors who may have assisted in the distant past.

Good Advisors dissect the student experience for clues, and can skillfully deconstruct a student’s struggles or triumphs and weave together carefully tailored plans of action. The Advisor brain balances active listening while simultaneously connecting the story to appropriate campus resources, weighing options, and thinking within the context of the college’s complex policies and curriculum. For the student, the Advisor is an educational equivalent of Grand Central Station; he or she is the sounding board where all the facets of an overwhelming college experience intersect and branch out.

Breaking the Advising Burnout Cycle

Given the heavy lifting involved in academic advising at a community college, one of my biggest challenges is keeping morale high and motivation strong among the Advisors I supervise. Their days are often repetitive, structured, and demanding. Not surprisingly, a college’s priorities and focus on outputs like enrollment, retention, and persistence reinforce the belief that Advisors should simply see as many students as possible. As a result, the field has become known by many as a high burnout area within many Student Affairs divisions. Keeping advising teams motivated requires a commitment to diversification of job tasks, which is often counterintuitive to the idea that Advisors should be ready at all times should a student walk in the door.

In my experiences both as an Advisor and an administrator in this student services area, I have found that breaking down the walls around advising helps to lessen workload, form partnerships, and increase visibility on campus. During low student traffic periods in my current office, Advisors can often be found staffing an outdoor table or approaching students about their plans for attending next semester. These interactions break the cardinal rule regarding Advisor coverage by taking Advisors out of the office. However, this has not only helped students connect with Advisors, but helped the team to shake up their routine and feel more connected to the campus community. Likewise, these outreach efforts are usually followed by a surge in student traffic as individuals who conversed with Advisors in a casual setting often stop by to continue the dialogue or utilize the department for additional support. A proactive and targeted stroll around campus can almost always reach more students than a team of Advisors waiting for students to walk through the door. As an administrator, I just needed to think differently about what an advising team can do, and redefine the expectations surrounding how we connect with our students.

By nature, many Advisors are lifelong learners who crave not only information but also a clear understanding of how systems, processes, and curricula impact the way students move throughout institutions. They are often the ultimate student advocates in the community college setting, and show keen awareness about barriers, bottlenecks, and complexities that create stumbling blocks for students. Because of this, advising departments rely heavily on strong partnerships and open flows of communication surrounding processes at the college. For example, our team has established a mutually beneficial relationship with our campus Financial Aid department. This partnership has created areas for cross-training among both teams, as well as helped Academic Advisors contextualize how student situations can have both academic and financial consequences. A strong understanding of Financial Aid requirements regarding completion and progress frames a more holistic approach when working with students, and helps Advisors provide guidance from a variety of perspectives.

As mentioned early on, Advisors draw upon a large knowledge base in order to respond to the needs of each individual student while maintaining an understanding of overall student behavior patterns. While any Advisor training program should include a heavy amount of informational material, the introduction of related content can enrich the required knowledge base as well. For example, advising team staff meetings can include conversations about diversity, poverty, unemployment, religion, cultural competency, counseling, workforce trends, safety…the list goes on. Nearly any topic relating to human behavior can add depth and dimension to an Advisor’s toolkit if a culture of learning is established early on among an advising team. This steady stream of information, training, and learning continually refreshes the work of an Advisor, and provides a variety of lenses through which to view individual student situations and the college experience.

While advising remains a high burnout area within many college settings, the field of community college Advising provides an excellent training ground from which other experiences can take root. Few other areas within student services foster such a broad foundation and complex understanding of the college’s inner workings, and an Advisor is likely to bring this wealth of expertise to other levels or areas of the institution.

Parting Thoughts

Whether you read this article from the vantage point of an Advisor, supervisor, faculty member, or professional from an area outside of academic advising, I hope that you can now see the role of the Academic Advisor with renewed appreciation – especially within the community college setting. These teams build safety nets around students and think on their feet to help students navigate the complexities of the college environment. They are open to partnering with you, other colleagues, and can serve as dedicated advocates for change within an institution. Advisors see what others may not when it comes to student barriers, and witness the student experience, good and bad, firsthand. With them, they carry an astounding amount of knowledge, talent, and problem-solving abilities.

Perhaps I am biased given my experiences earning my professional stripes through academic advising. However, I owe it to those with whom I share this unique perspective to give the field a shout out and highlight who I believe to be the rock stars of higher education. I hope that you will pass this shout out along the next time you pass a frazzled Advisor in the hallway, send a stressed out student to the advising office when other referral options don’t seem quite right, or pass by a long queue of students just before the start of the semester. Behind these interactions are your college’s unsung heroes who carry a unique mix of information and care in an effort to help students find their way.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the perception of academic advising at your campus? How are Advisors viewed by various members of the campus community, such as high-level administrators, faculty, students, and staff?
  2. From your vantage point, what should be the role of a community college Academic Advisor?
  3. Academic Advisors are often challenged to improve the college’s retention rates, predict success barriers, and improve enrollment numbers. Do you think Advisors should be at the center of these initiatives, and what other areas from within the community college can advising centers partner to meet these demands?

About the Author

Marisa Vernon serves as the Assistant Director in the Center for Advising, Support and Exploration at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio, where she leads a large team of professional Academic Advisors and serves as the project co-manager for the College’s intergrated student services initiative. Marisa has seven years of higher education administrative experience at open enrollment institutions specializing in two- and four-year degree programs and transfer preparation. Before joining Columbus State Community College, she was the Assistant Director for First Year Experience at Kent State University’s Stark Campus in North Canton, Ohio, and has also worked at the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education.

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.

The Cheating Epidemic: Reducing Academically Dishonest Behaviors Amongst College Students

Overview: Student Cheating in Higher Education

In the field of higher education there are countless ethical issues that student affairs professionals encounter on a daily basis. Of these issues, student academic dishonesty is one of the most prevalent that student affairs professionals must address. While academic dishonesty can take many forms—from using a “cheat sheet” on an exam to plagiarizing an entire research paper—cheating is detrimental not only to the student who engages in the behavior, but to the field of higher education as a whole. Higher education institutions assist in students’ development in various areas, including ethical development and understanding of rigorous academic and research standards. As student cheating is at odds with this mission it is imperative that student affairs professionals make efforts to reduce the rate of cheating behaviors occurring at their institutions. To do so effectively, those working in the field must not only understand the prevalence of academic dishonesty within college settings, but also the various reasons why students choose to cheat. It is through the utilization of this knowledge that student affairs professionals can employ strategies to reduce cheating behaviors, thus fostering student development and preparing college students to become ethical and responsible members of society.

While an abundance of research has examined the prevalence of cheating in higher education, studies differ in their projection as to how much college students actually engage in cheating.  According to Wotring (2007), “[m]any studies classify students as cheaters if they acknowledge having ever cheated at any time, in any way, during their college studies,” and, based on this definition, 47.2% to 70% of college students cheat (para. 4). In a study conducted by Newstead, Franklin-Stokes, and Armstead (1996), the authors found that over half of all undergraduate students cheat, while research done by Nonis and Swift (2001) indicated that between 30% and 96% of college students engage in this behavior.

Students with low self-esteem and little confidence in their academic abilities are more likely to cheat than those who are highly confident (Moeck, 2002). Moreover, scholars have suggested that underclassmen and business majors are more likely to cheat than their peers (Gerdeman, 2000). Though several researchers have examined whether sex plays a role in cheating behavior, and some studies have indeed suggested that male college students cheat more than female students, others have not found evidence to support this possibility (Gerdeman, 2000; Jordan, 2001; Wotring, 2007). Inconsistency also exists regarding whether age plays a significant role in regards to cheating tendencies: while many studies suggest that younger students may be more likely to engage in academically dishonest behaviors than older students, at least one study has been conducted in which the opposite was found (Jordan, 2001). Interestingly, community college students may be less likely to cheat than their counterparts at four-year institutions (Wotring, 2007). It is possible that the shorter time period that students typically spend at community colleges compared to four-year institutions may at least partially impact cheating behaviors (Wotring, 2007).

Motivations for Cheating

It is important for student affairs professionals to understand why students choose to engage in cheating behaviors in the first place; for example, advances in technology have simply made it easier for students to plagiarize or purchase prewritten papers or exchange answers during exams through the use of cell phones (Boehm, Justice, & Weeks; 2009; Hensley, 2013; Moeck, 2002). For some students, the appeal of being able to secure readily available work may be too good to pass up. Moreover, the pressure to achieve high grades also serves as a motivating factor for students to cheat. Moeck (2002) explained that many students may feel the need to obtain high grades to satisfy family members or to secure beneficial opportunities for themselves, and cheating may be viewed as a way to ensure that these grades are achieved. Relatedly, students with low GPAs tend to cheat more than those with high GPAs (Gerdeman, 2000; Hensley, 2013; Moeck, 2002; Wotring, 2007). Students with low GPAs may desire to achieve academically but do not understand how to do so in a beneficial and appropriate way, thus resulting in cheating.

The inability for some students to manage their time effectively is another reason that cheating happens in college (Hensley, 2013). Many students procrastinate to the point that cheating may seem necessary in order to complete course assignments before deadlines. Others juggle so many obligations and responsibilities that the amount of time that they designate to spend on coursework does not allow them to give their work the attention it needs, and cheating allows them to get their work accomplished quicker. Of course, for students who perceive a class or assignment to be boring or unnecessary, cheating can allow them to invest relatively little effort into completing assignments (Gerdeman, 2000; Hensley, 2013). If students perceive professors as being uninterested in the courses they teach, this too increases the likelihood that cheating is utilized (Gerdeman, 2000).

An important point that must be recognized when discussing cheating in higher education is that many students enter college in order to secure degrees that they believe will lead them to secure satisfactory employment upon graduating, rather than to gain a well-rounded education (Moeck, 2002). Cheating may be viewed as a reasonable way to obtain this goal, and little importance may be placed on how new learning is gained throughout college.

It is also worth noting that peer perceptions of cheating play a large role in whether a student chooses to cheat or not. Gerdeman (2000) stated that “studies have consistently indicated that students are more likely to cheat if they observe other students cheating or if they perceive that cheating is commonplace or acceptable among peers” (p. 3). Furthermore, Jordan (2001) found that college students largely do not believe that cheating is acceptable. Student affairs professionals must keep in mind the power of peer opinions when developing initiatives that aim to reduce this behavior.

Preventing Student Cheating

Student affairs professionals can utilize various strategies in their daily practice to help reduce student cheating and promote academic honesty. Boehm et al. (2009) stated that a preventative approach to dealing with cheating is likely more effective than a punitive one. The authors explained that one of the best ways for student affairs professionals to combat student cheating is by providing faculty with training on academic honesty, as variation can exist among professors as to what practices qualify as cheating or are worthy of punishment (Boem et al., 2009). Consistent messaging regarding what constitutes cheating can allow students to recognize that their institution holistically values honesty.

While it may seem intuitive that ensuring students know their college’s policy regarding academic honesty is useful to reducing cheating, it is important that student affairs professionals communicate the policy to students through a variety of channels (Boehm et al., 2009; Gerdeman, 2000). Aside from including academic dishonesty policies in the student handbook and on the college’s website, student affairs professionals should encourage all faculty members to incorporate policies in their syllabi and talk with students about its significance. This policy should be broadcast to students throughout their college years, with emphasis of its importance first being made to new students during orientation programs (Hensley, 2013; Jordan, 2001). Boehm et al. (2009) also stated that it can be useful to have students actively contribute to the development of their institution’s academic honesty policy, as students will likely have a vested interest in adhering to rules that they helped create. As students’ perceptions of how their peers view cheating is a significant factor that contributes to their own decisions to cheat or not, this recommendation is worthy of considerable attention. Moreover, faculty and staff should work together to foster a campus climate that is conducive to discussion about the school’s academic honesty policy so students feel comfortable asking questions about it (Moeck, 2002).

Student affairs professionals should assist faculty members in providing clear examples of what constitutes cheating so students have a thorough understanding as to which practices are permissible and which are not (Boehm et al., 2009; Moeck, 2002; Wotring, 2007). Colleges serve a wide array of individuals, and first-generation college students, international students, or those from diverse racial and ethnic groups may not understand what academic honesty entails or may define cheating in dissimilar ways (Moeck, 2002). For those working in community colleges, institutions that typically “serve a student body of greater diversity” than four-year colleges, this point is particularly salient and must be addressed (Wotring, 2007, para. 3).

It is important that student affairs professionals make students aware of the various academic support services provided by their institutions (Hensley, 2013). Emphasizing the benefits associated with utilizing tutoring, academic coaching, or other services that aim to help students succeed can help students recognize that there are various alternatives to cheating in order to obtain good grades. By highlighting the success stories of students who have utilized academic support services in the past, student affairs professionals can normalize the process of seeking help when needed for first-year students or those who may be less inclined to seek assistance. Students should understand that effort rather than perfection is valued more in higher education and connect effort with the use of academic resources (Hensley, 2013). Students should also recognize that they are capable of achieving the grades that they desire through hard work and determination, and it is thus important that student affairs professionals help students develop confidence in their abilities (Hensley, 2013).

Lastly, both faculty members and student affairs professionals should work to help support students in dealing with the stressors that they face as they move forward in their college careers by providing them with information on relevant services, including counseling (Moeck, 2002). As many college students will face the pressure of juggling classes, extracurricular activities, part-time or full-time work, and family obligations, those working in higher education must teach students effective methods for dealing with stress and emphasize that cheating is not a simple way to maintain a successful academic record in the midst of a hectic semester or when taking a time-consuming course (Hensley, 2013).


While temptations to cheat during college will always exist, and will likely intensify as emerging technology further simplifies the process and the pressure on college students to obtain high grades persists, it is vital that student affairs professionals work to reduce the rates that students engage in academically dishonest behaviors. Through collaboration with faculty members and implementation of campus-wide initiatives, student affairs professionals can relay to students the seriousness and value associated with academic honesty. In doing so, they can enrich the experience that students have while attending college and indirectly illustrate how ethical behavior is an important component to a successful life.

Discussion Questions

  1. What role does campus climate play in either enticing or discouraging academically dishonest behaviors amongst college students?
  2. How can higher education institutions uphold policies against academic dishonesty while respecting diversity and differing opinions as to what constitutes cheating?


Boehm, P., Justice, M., & Weeks, S. (2009). Promoting academic integrity in higher education. The Community College Enterprise, 13(1), 45-61.

Gerdeman, R. D. (2000). Academic dishonesty and the community college. ERIC Digest, #ED447840.

Hensley, L. (2013). To cheat or not to cheat: A review with implications for practice. The Community College Enterprise, 19(2), 22-34.

Jordan, A. (2001). College student cheating: The role of motivation, perceived norms, attitudes, and knowledge of institutional policy. Ethics & Behavior, 11(3), 233-247.

Moeck, P. (2002). Academic dishonesty: Cheating among community college students. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 26(6), 479-491.

Newstead, S. E., Franklin-Stokes, A. & Armstead, D. (1996). Individual differences in student cheating. Educational Psychology, 88(2), 229-241.

Nonis, S. & Swift, C. (2001). An examination of the relationship between academic dishonesty and workplace dishonesty: A multi campus investigation. Journal of Education for Business77(2), 69-77.

Wotring, K. (2007). Cheating in the community college: Generational differences among students and implications for faculty. Inquiry, 12(1), 5-13.

About the Author

Alison Andrade earned a Bachelor of Science in Sociology from Fitchburg State University in May 2013 and a Master of Education in Student Affairs Counseling from Bridgewater State University in May 2015. During graduate school Alison served as a Graduate Assistant in Bridgewater State University’s Academic Achievement Center, as well as an intern in Bristol Community College’s Office of Disability Services. Alison is currently searching for a position in academic advising and hopes to work extensively with first-year students and those on academic probation.

Please e-mail inquiries to Alison Andrade.


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.

Digital Storytelling in Graduate Curricula: Innovation in Student Affairs Preparatory Programs


Student affairs professionals must be able to engage with technology in their pedagogy and practice (Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education [CAS], 2012; ACPA & NASPA, 2010). Faculty in student affairs graduate preparatory programs should therefore provide graduate students with knowledge, perspectives, and skills to identify and utilize appropriate technology and media resources for use in their daily practice. Digital storytelling is a pedagogical tool that can not only develop graduate students’ technological competence, but also facilitate greater understanding of student development and learning.

Digital stories are short vignettes that combine storytelling with multimedia (Rossiter & Garcia, 2010). Digital stories require students to discover and compile unique narratives using voice, image, and/or music through innovative technology (Gazarian, 2010). According to Barrett (2006), digital storytelling facilitates student engagement, reflection, project-based learning, and effective integration of technology into instruction. Digital storytelling is a social pedagogy in that it has the potential to create community and facilitate dialogue (Bass & Elmendorf, 2007). It is a powerful tool for practitioner-scholars because digital stories have the potential to change the ways others do their work (Meadows, 2003). In graduate education, digital stories enable students to understand and apply classroom knowledge in a practical manner while also developing their competence with technology.

The purpose of this article is to explore the utility of digital storytelling in graduate curricula through the experiences of one graduate preparatory program. Through this assignment, students developed technological competence, enhanced their understanding of theory and its application to practice, and fostered partnerships with student affairs professionals. This article describes the content of the course and digital story assignment, as well as lessons learned from both student and instructor perspectives.


The Higher Education program at The University of Alabama (UA) offers MA, Ed.D, and Ph.D programs for students interested in developing their knowledge and understanding of higher education. The program promotes professional development and critical thinking skills to help students identify and address problems at the institutional level as well as the field of higher education as a whole, and implement effective policies and practices based on sound research and educational theory.

Student Development Theory I (SDTI) is a required course in UA’s Higher Education program and is designed to introduce students to various families of student development theories. In fall 2013, Dr. Jason C. Garvey and Louis Shedd co-taught SDTI to help students learn and apply student development theory in their professional practice. Throughout the manuscript, both provide their perspectives and experiences through a unified instructor voice. To supplement the instructors’ perspectives, the manuscript also contains insights from former students who took SDTI in fall 2013. The student perspective is provided by Elizabeth McDonald, Kelsey Taylor, and John Tilley, representing all students’ voices to the best of their abilities.

Assignment Overview

The major assignment for SDTI was Student Reflection through Digital Storytelling. The purpose of this assignment was to learn the stories of a particular group of students and then generate student development theories grounded in these stories. SDTI students were placed in groups of two or three, and each group selected a population of students who shared similar qualities with each other, like a social identity (e.g., race or religion) or an experience (e.g., Honors College or international students). There were five components to this assignment: group contract and rubric, data collection, theory development, theory critique, and digital story. Each assigned group developed a contract and rubric that outlined general guidelines for their assignment collaboration. Groups developed a list of interview questions based upon experience and theoretical foundations learned in SDTI, and each member was required to interview at least two students who fit into the population they chose. In addition, group members each attended and observed at least one social event or organization meeting that targeted members of their chosen group.

Once students completed their interviews, each group developed a summary of information they observed and began to develop an emerging theory of development for their student population. Next, groups organized their themes into a core development story, using data to explain and support the themes they presented. Groups then considered the similarities and differences between their emerging theory and student development theories studied in class.

Groups were required to present their findings in digital story format in an interactive and creative manner. Each story was approximately 5-7 minutes and included multimedia such as video clips, images, and audio files. The project culminated in a public viewing and discussion of all digital stories, characteristic of academic and professional conferences. Several key stakeholders at UA attended the digital story premiere event, including College of Education faculty and students, Division of Student Affairs staff, interviewees, and students’ supervisors and colleagues.

Students were evaluated using a rubric across nine dimensions: achieved learning outcomes, performed data collection, learned students’ stories, demonstrated understanding of content, developed complexity of thought and creativity, generated student development theory, achieved depth of critical analysis, created digital story, and utilized teamwork. Portions of the syllabus were adopted from the Association of American Colleges and Universities VALUE Rubrics (2013) and from Dr. John Dugan (2009) at Loyola University in Chicago.

Findings and Lessons Learned

Both the students and instructors learned a great deal from the digital story assignment experience. The following section provides an overview of important lessons learned, each from a unique perspective.

Student Perspective

Students agreed that the digital story assignment helped them to delve into existing student development theories and understand how these theories apply to students on a college campus. By interviewing students on campus and comparing findings with existing student development theories, SDTI students were able to make connections between the unique experiences of their chosen student populations and the developmental trajectories outlined in existing theories. Throughout her experience, Elizabeth McDonald recalled feeling overwhelmed at the number of theories to utilize, but found clarity in brainstorming sessions with her group members and listening to participants’ narratives. Ultimately, the assignment helped breathe life into the theories learned in class and helped students reflect on ways they might use their knowledge of theory to facilitate student development in their practice.

Although a goal of the assignment was to strengthen the partnership between the Higher Education program and the Division of Student Affairs, some groups utilized departments in academic affairs or reached out to student organizations via informal networks to identify students to interview, which translated into a broader campus audience at the digital story premiere event. Students noted that the project helped them better understand classmates’ professional roles on campus. They also became more aware of campus resources and how students can utilize them more effectively. For example, throughout the assignment John Tilley learned more about Veteran and Military Affairs and the Crimson Secular Student Alliance as resources for students. In general, students were less concerned with larger goal of interdepartmental collaboration and more concerned with navigating the theory and technology pieces of the assignment.

Based on student feedback, the most difficult part of the assignment involved technological aspects of the digital stories. A majority of the class only had experience with Prezi and Microsoft PowerPoint and little experience with more advanced software. Kelsey Taylor recalled feeling slightly overwhelmed with Final Cut X, but utilized the Sanford Media Center (SMC) employees for guidance. Other students received help from staff at the SMC and they were able to quickly learn how to better use applications such as iMovie and Final Cut X. Upon completing the assignment, students felt that the required technology components were difficult but effective tools for better understanding student development theories.

Instructor Perspective

From the instructors’ perspectives, the three main objectives for the assignment were to develop technological competency, enhance students’ understanding of student development theory, and facilitate stronger partnerships with the Division of Student Affairs. Neither instructor had a strong understanding of digital media production, which presented a number of challenges. The most notable challenges included creating a realistic set of assignment requirements and goals, clearly articulating requirements and expectations of the assignment, and being prepared to address questions and concerns in an informed and helpful manner. Fortunately, the instructors were able to partner with the Director of the SMC to expand their knowledge of digital storytelling, learn about resources at the university for students, create realistic expectations for students, and develop a general timeframe for how long the different aspects of the assignment might take. Following advice from the SMC Director and reflecting upon prior experiences, the instructors embedded the digital story assignment with multiple, modular components to provide a framework for timeliness and frequent feedback.

Technological skills were the main hindrance to students’ successes throughout the assignment. Few students had any multimedia experience and although the instructors actively tried placing at least one student with multimedia experience in each group, some students felt overwhelmed with the technology components. Although the technological aspects of the assignment were difficult, the instructors felt that it was important to challenge students to broaden their multimedia skills in order to prepare them for entry-level jobs in student affairs and higher education. The instructors envisioned these skills as not only beneficial to their job candidacy, but as an increasingly imperative skill for all student affairs practitioners.

Additionally, students had difficulty translating components of a standard research assignment into a 5-7 minute digital story. The digital story assignment was significantly different than the types of assignments to which the students were accustomed. For first-year master’s students, the scope and depth of the assignment was much greater than what they had experienced as undergraduates but they were enthused with the potential creativity of the project. Doctoral students struggled with understanding how the digital story could enhance their academic writing and were therefore reluctant to pursue a final project that did not adhere to the typical doctoral-level course research assignment for the program.

In particular, students had trouble beginning the assignment, understanding the role and expectations of traditional research, and envisioning the final product. At the beginning of the semester, some groups were slow to make serious efforts on the assignment due to their unfamiliarity with creating a digital story and a mild sense of intimidation. Many of the students’ questions and concerns were addressed by an in-class presentation from the SMC Director and examples of digital stories shared by the instructors. However, students still felt overwhelmed by the projected time required to create and edit the video. As students moved on to the editing phase of the digital story, groups struggled to find a compelling way to visually represent the information outside of their interview portions, particularly their emerging theory, within the video. The instructors attempted to assist groups during class discussions, but ultimately the groups who utilized the SMC lab and staff found greater success than groups that chose to work outside of the SMC lab.

Pedagogically, the instructors recognized the opportunity for the digital story assignment to have impact on the graduate students and the campus community beyond the SDTI classroom experience. As such, they created a movie premiere night to invite College of Education faculty and staff from the Division of Student Affairs, including students’ supervisors and senior administrators. The movie premiere opened new opportunities for collaborations with the Division of Student Affairs and the Higher Education program. Sharing intimate undergraduate student narratives facilitated an openness and commonality between movie premiere attendees and the graduate student creators. In creating the digital stories, students became more aware of the processes and complexity of student development. Upon viewing the digital stories, attendees became intrinsically connected to the digital story participants and creators. The narratives also enabled practitioners to view student learning and development from a unique vantage point, possibly shifting perceptions on their collective work in student affairs.


From student and instructor perspectives, the digital story assignment was an innovative and pedagogically interesting approach to learning student development theory. Much of the assignment directly addressed both CAS (2012) standards for Masters-Level Student Affairs Professional Preparation Programs and the ACPA & NASPA (2010) Student Learning and Development professional competencies. By demonstrating the utility of digital storytelling, the instructors provided graduate students with additional technological skills to design and implement unique tools in their future professional practice in an applied and contextualized way (ACPA & NASPA, 2010).

CAS (2012) standards and ACPA & NASPA (2010) professional competencies encourage interaction with student affairs functional areas in order to gain an understanding of institutional cultures and develop effective practice. Through both the digital story interviews and public movie premiere, the digital story assignment actively facilitated partnerships with student affairs professionals on campus. Bass and Elmendorf (2007) describe digital storytelling as a social pedagogy that builds community. Students sharing their digital story narratives initiated a “process of bonding and cross-cultural alliance” (Benmayor, 2008, p. 199) between Division of Student Affairs staff, faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students. The audiovisual narratives facilitated an empowering and relatable space whereby all attendees felt affirmed and connected to the social realities of undergraduate student experiences. Digital storytelling audiences are viewed not only as viewers but also as learners who can interact and shape the narrative and creative space (Dorner, Grimm, & Abawi, 2002). In their essence, digital stories spark creativity and innovations with practice (Meadows, 2003), thereby potentially impacting the cultural perceptions of divisional staff.

It is critical for future student affairs practitioners to be competent and confident with multimedia technology for their work in promoting student learning and development. Digital storytelling is a unique approach that not only enhances students’ learning and development, but also helps foster an appreciation for technology among student affairs practitioners.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can faculty best use digital storytelling to promote effective professional practice among graduate students?
  2. In what ways can digital storytelling be used to facilitate graduate student learning and development outside of the classroom context?
  3. In what other ways might digital storytelling be used to facilitate partnerships between academic departments and student affairs departments, or between multiple student affairs departments?
  4. How might digital storytelling be used in student affairs beyond the realm of graduate student development?


ACPA: College Student Educators International & NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (2010). Professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Retrieved from

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2013). VALUE: Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education. Retrieved from

Barrett, H. (2006). Researching and evaluating digital storytelling as a deep learning tool. In C. Crawford, et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2006 (pp. 647–654). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Bass, R., & Elmendorf, H. (2007). Social pedagogies framework. Retrieved from…

Benmayor, R. (2008). Digital storytelling as a signature pedagogy for the new humanities. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 7, 188-204.

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

Dorner, R., Grimm, P., & Abawi, D. (2002). Synergies between interactive training simulations and digital storytelling: A component-based framework. Computers & Graphics, 26, 45-55.

Dugan, J. (2009). ELPS 433 (001): Student Development in Higher Education. Retrieved from

Gazarian, P. K. (2010). Digital stories: Incorporating narrative pedagogy. Journal of Nursing Education, 49(5), 287-290.

Meadows, D. (2003). Digital storytelling; Research-based practice in new media. Visual Communication, 2, 189-193.

Rossiter, M., & Garcia, P. A. (2010). Digital storytelling: A new player on the narrative field. In M. Rossiter & C. Clark (Eds.), New directions for adult and continuing education: Narrative perspectives on adult education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

About the Authors

Dr. Jason C. Garvey is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Technology Studies at The University of Alabama. Jay’s research examines the experiences of diverse individuals in higher education and student affairs primarily through the use of quantitative methodologies, with specific focus on LGBTQ students, faculty, and alumni. Jay’s teaching philosophy emphasizes social justice reflection and action through relationship development and student self-discovery, utilizing technology and assessment purposefully and innovatively. He has taught both graduate and undergraduate courses in student development theory, assessment and evaluation, counseling, research methods, diversity and social justice, and student affairs, among others. Jay’s national service is primarily within ACPA: College Student Educators International where he served as Director of Education for the Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness and is on the Commission for Professional Preparation Directorate.

Louis Shedd is a Ph.D. student in the Higher Education program at The University of Alabama. He serves as a Research Associate for The University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center.

Elizabeth McDonald is a Graduate Community Director in Housing and Residential Communities at The University of Alabama. She is a second year master’s student in The University of Alabama’s Higher Education program.

Kelsey Taylor is a Graduate Community Director in Housing and Residential Communities at The University of Alabama. She is a second year master’s student in The University of Alabama’s Higher Education program.

John Tilley is a Community Director at Clemson University. He is a recent graduate of The University of Alabama’s Higher Education master’s program.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jason C. Garvey.


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.

Risk and Reward: How Financial Decisions Impact Community College Populations

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Risk and Reward: How Financial Decisions Impact Community College Populations

Marisa Vernon, Lauren Merante, Stephanie Pfeifer, Beth Stanley
Columbus State Community College


The landscape of financial management within the context of higher education is continually evolving as a result of tuition increases and changing federal regulations.  As an example, according to the College Board, the tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year institutions increased by 2.9% for the 2013-14 school year, following a 4.5% jump the year before (Buschman Vasel, 2014).  Financial aid and student indebtedness continues to be a prominent part of conversation in the political realm as well.  Higher education issues do not often figure prominently in campaign advertisements.  But there are some indications that it may be getting some greater play during this cycle (Stratford, 2014).

It is vital that students have a good understanding of what it means to both apply for and accept financial aid as they begin their college careers.  Jason Comfort, age 23, graduated from Michigan State in 2013 with a degree in Civil Engineering and is living back at home.  He is now working a steady, full-time job, but with $160,000 in student loans. He reports, “My student-loan debt is enormous; I can’t make it happen.  I had no idea when I was applying to college how this was going to impact my future.  I feel like I am being left behind as all my friends move out on their own” (Buschman Vasel, 2014).

Accepting financial aid does not have the tangible feel of a transaction the way the acceptance of a product does when completing a purchase at a store, or even online.  Unlike some retail purchases, the financial aid consumer is making an agreement to purchase a service rather than a good.  Students are receiving an education in return for their money, which is a very valuable asset.  However, such an asset or credential differs in that it might not reap full benefits immediately.  In order to fully value this type of investment, students must understand that the education received equates to an increased skill level, and therefore, a heightened sense of employability and the quest to become more marketable.

As first-generation, low-income students enter today’s community colleges, student affairs professionals from areas such as orientation, financial aid, academic advising, and career counseling are charged with not only helping students to succeed academically, but fully understanding the financial decisions supporting their educational pursuits.

Short- and Long-Term Mindsets

Long-term versus short-term planning becomes a factor when students begin to make educational decisions, as degree completion and wise usage of funds are key.  While attaining knowledge along the way is valuable, it is important that the student completes the journey as well. All too often, we sadly see students start on their developmental education, or even general education, requirements and stop out before completion of a certificate, degree or other credential.  While students might have created a foundation for themselves, they may have very well spent funds towards classes that are not going to contribute to the original goal of becoming more marketable.

Extending beyond the completion of the FAFSA, low-income students often encounter significant hurdles in reconciling the need to further education with the intent of more secure employment and the immediate need to generate funds to address current financial needs.  It is the unfortunate reality that even with financial aid awards, the average financial gap between award and need for a low-income student is $5,277 (The Institute for College Access & Success, 2009).

With such outstanding need, there is little option for low-income students to forego work.  Despite on-campus federal work-study positions, opportunities in this category are limited on community college campuses, leaving many students seeking outside employment.  Grappling with these difficult choices, full-time enrollment is often not a viable option, leaving many students attending part-time at best, starting and stopping prior to reaching degree completion.

As student affairs professionals, we often witness students employing short-term strategies rather than focusing on the long-term return on investment education can provide.  For example, students may choose to utilize available funding for living and other non-academic related expenses, though fail to successfully complete classes.  This strategy can present both academic and financial implications that can be harmful to their forward progress, as discussed later in this article.

Often, if students focus too intently on immediate financial need, and they are not thinking long-term, student loan balances and the cost of additional semesters can balloon.  Students can be alarmed by the debt they have taken on, especially if they have not drawn a realistic picture related to their expected income and the ratio of their income to debt payments.

According to Stratford and Fain (2014), some 2.6 million federal loan borrowers across the country are in default on their loans, and another 2.87 million borrowers are behind on their payments.  Of these borrowers, community colleges and for-profits see the highest rates of default among their borrowers.  Cheng, Freeman, and Leopold (2013) suggest student-friendly approaches to net price calculators (NPCs) and financial aid award letters, which can make an enormous difference in helping students and families understand college costs and their options for meeting them at all stages of the process, and could lessen the number of students who default on their student loans.

Understanding Financial Aid Eligibility Requirements

The financial aid process, which consists of many factors, can often be confusing to students.  Of the numerous eligibility requirements to which a student must adhere in order to be awarded federal financial aid, one topic in particular may be fairly abstruse.

Students that receive federal aid funds to pay for tuition, fees and books are monitored through a process known as Standards of Academic Progress (SAP).  Every institution must have these standards set in place, and institutions normally generate reports either at the end of each semester or annually.  This process ensures federal aid receiving students are meeting certain grades and completion rates for their classes.  SAP standards are based on formulas that focus on percentages rather than exact credit hour requirements.  Materials designed to guide financial aid professionals explain as follows: “Checking a student’s pace of completion allows for variations of enrollment status since you look at the percentage of classes successfully completed rather than the number” (U.S. Department of Education, 2014).  Students who fail, withdraw, or drop their classes are particularly at risk of losing federal aid eligibility for the subsequent semester.

SAP standards include a qualitative as well as a quantitative component.  For the qualitative component, one law specifies that by the end of the second academic year, regardless of how many credits the student has accrued, the student must have a C average or its equivalent or have an academic standing consistent with the requirement for graduation from the program.  For the quantitative component, an institution must set a maximum time frame in which a student is expected to complete the program.  For an undergraduate program, the time frame cannot exceed 150% of the published length of the program measured in academic years or terms, credit hours attempted, or clock hours completed, as determined by the institution (Code of Federal Regulations 668.34 SAP).

For students that are low-income, first-generation, or of color, these standards of academic progress can be especially impactful.  Community college students often face significant financial and socioeconomic constraints. In many cases, first generation college students  may have little external support when working through the financial aid process, leading to confusion about the options available to them. In addition, students may also come from families who speak languages other than English at home or from cultures outside the United States with different education systems.

Goldrick-Rab (2013) argues that with a far greater number of students entering higher education without the support of college-educated parents, facing more significant constraints and higher costs, an effective financial aid office must do more than distribute financial aid and apply rules and regulations.  It is the shared responsibility of the college as a whole to make sure these students understand the rules and regulations of the financial aid process that could ultimately affect whether or not the student registers for class the following semester.

As college professionals, it is important to educate students facing financial restrictions of what actions to take to increase their grades.  It is of paramount importance that students recognize potential repercussions of their actions when it comes to dropping, failing and withdrawing from their classes and the disbursement of their financial aid.  Without the help of a professional, a student might make the wrong choice of taking too many or too few classes.  These decisions could academically jeopardize the student even more, or could impact the amount of grant/loan money received.  For example, a student withdraws from their classes for the semester in hopes to salvage their grade point average, but now faces an academic restriction for not meeting satisfactory academic progress for the semester.  Even though the student withdrew, the financial aid office looks at credit hours attempted versus credit hours completed.  Occasionally, unbeknownst to the student, they will need to provide evidence of mitigating circumstances to explain the withdrawal from those classes.

A concern regarding the 150% completion rate rule arises when students choose to take classes outside their major.  As practitioners, we tend to see this happen when a student is looking to receive full financial aid money, needing full-time status, but has only been advised to take certain classes.  While taking classes outside their major seemed relatively profitable initially, sooner or later students may run into the problem of exhausting their available financial aid funds because too many classes were taken outside of their major.  In order to continue receiving federal financial aid, students must complete their first associate degree or certificate program within 150% of the published length of the program, as measured by credit hours attempted.  Once a student reaches the 150% maximum time frame limit, federal financial aid eligibility will be terminated (Columbus State Community College, 2013).  It is important to note that this policy is not just limited to associate degrees.

In addition to adhering to the satisfactory academic policies of an institution, a student is responsible for the regular attendance of classes.  Federal regulations are in place stating that attendance data must be regularly collected, and faculty members are now required to take attendance on each day the class meets.  Institutions that are required to take attendance are expected to have a procedure in place for routinely monitoring attendance records to immediately identify when a student withdraws (U.S. Department of Education, 2013).  Again, for students who already face many obstacles, this is just another topic of which to be cognizant.

How Community Colleges Are Helping

Increasingly, community colleges have begun to promote responsible borrowing and timely degree completion, as well as to help students understand eligibility requirements related to federal financial aid.  However, shifting the mindset from short- to long-term thinking is often difficult to attain among first-generation, low-income populations.  Without exposure to family members, friends, and mentors for whom education has returned an investment, students may struggle to see how today’s financial sacrifice can promote future security.

In many instances, community colleges are challenged to anticipate the needs of prospective students before they even enroll.  One strategy includes partnering with local school districts and companies to forge both academic and career partnerships.  These pathway programs provide many low-income students an opportunity to earn free college credit prior to graduating from high school.  As many as seven percent of all community college students are currently under the age of 18 and earning college credit in dual-enrollment programs while still enrolled in high school (Mullin, 2012).  Through community college partnerships with major corporations, such as the Honda Corporation, high achieving students are introduced to co-op educational opportunities prior to high school graduation.  These programs offer low-income students the opportunity to attend college via scholarship, but offer highly sought after job security upon graduation.  These tangible results help reinforce the idea that an investment in education can lead to tangible long-term goal attainment.

Studies have also shown that a lack of financial understanding represents a significant problem among low-income, first-generation students’ completion of the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  Additionally, a 2005 Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance study indicated that invasive questions often confuse families, leading to a general aversion to completing the form.  With these statistics in mind, FAFSA workshops offered by community colleges provide a guided environment in which students can complete the form with the assistance of a college employee.  These sessions not only provide reassurance to the student, but also allow an opportunity for students to learn and understand eligibility requirements and deadlines at an earlier juncture.

Recognizing the need to fill the gap between financial aid and the cost of attendance, Columbus State Community College has partnered with Ohio Benefit Bank to provide training to staff and student advocates.  Once trained and certified by Ohio Benefit Bank, student advocates are able to begin the process of enrolling qualified students in public aid programs, assist in obtaining free tax completion waivers, utilities assistance, and other types of assistance to ease the gap. These services external to the college help to ease the burden while students endure a short-term financial sacrifice to obtain an education.

Even in combination with public assistance, the general need to work while enrolled in courses leaves many low-income students enrolled on a part-time basis, able to dedicate less time to studying. Mortenson’s (2011) study analyzing the American Time Use Survey found that students aged 18 to 24 in the lowest income bracket dedicated only twenty-four to thirty-six minutes each day to homework or scholarly activity.  These figures represent a drastic difference from the study time of students in much higher income brackets.  Such little time spent towards studying could potentially lead to slower completion rates, which conflict with current legislation focused on timely completion of two-year degree programs, now calculated in the Standards of Satisfactory Academic Progress.

Achieving a balance between satisfactory and timely completion of a degree and the financial needs of the student presents yet another challenge.  Various objectives are utilized at Columbus State Community College in an effort to present well-rounded assistance beginning with flexible scheduling options.  By offering classes in more accessible mediums (hybrid and web) combined with evening, weekend and term in-class options, working students have the availability to schedule courses around work schedules instead of choosing between furthering their education and earning an income.  Furthermore, anticipating student difficulty in a variety of content areas can be addressed through no-cost Blueprint Student Success Workshops, offering practical advice on topics pertinent to student needs.

Despite the fact that as many as 62 percent of these students will not attend courses in consecutive semesters, often needing to “stop-out,” 55 percent of students earn a career and technical credential or degree, while eight percent return to complete a bachelor’s degree at a later date (American Association of Community Colleges, 2011).  Through the utilization of transfer agreements with partner institutions known as the Preferred Pathway, students are presented with a clearly organized roadmap, leading from the associate degree through completion of the bachelor’s degree.  Combined with state agreements, such as the Ohio Transfer Module, students can more easily map the best pathway to complete both an associate and bachelor’s degree in a personalized and concise manner.

Through the use of personalized approaches, community colleges can not only achieve the standard of satisfactory academic completion, but also provide a comprehensive approach that is truly reflective of the community and the needs of the student population.

Discussion Questions

1. What do you see as the financial advantages of beginning at a community college? Are there any disadvantages? Why or why not?

2. In your experience working with students, have you noticed variations in attitudes towards student loan debt among diverse socioeconomic groups?

3. What is a college’s obligation, role, and scope related to educating students on financial literacy?


Buschman Vasel, K. (2014, February 5). Why students have no idea how much college costs. Fox Business. Retrieved from…

Cheng ,D., Freeman, H., & Leopold, D. (2013, November 23). Helping students make cents of college cost, financial aid and net price. National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Retrieved from…

Columbus State Community College. (2013). High finance: A guide to financing your education at Columbus State Community College. Retrieved from

Goldrick-Rab, S. (2013, September 21). Rethinking financial aid’s role in student retention. The education optimists. Retrieved from…

The Institute for College Access & Success. (2009). Quick facts about financial aid and community colleges, 2007-08. Retrieved from

Mortenson, T. (2011) Time use of full-time college students ages 18 to 24 years 2003 to 2009. Postsecondary Education Opportunity. Retrieved from

Mullin, C. M. (2012). It’s a matter of time: Low-income students and community colleges. American Association of Community Colleges. Retrieved from

Stratford, M. (2014, October 21). Student loans and political ads. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from…

Stratford, M., & Fain, P. (2014, September 25). Default rates dip (slightly). Inside Higher Ed, Retrieved from…

U.S. Department of Education. (2013). Federal student aid handbook, 2013–2014. Washington, DC: Information for Financial Aid Professionals. Retrieved from…

About the Authors

Lauren Merante joined Columbus State Community College in 2011 after relocating from New York.  She has nine years of higher education experience including admissions, institutional research, and academic advising.  Her most recent position is as an Advisor in the Financial Aid department at Columbus State Community College.

Beth Stanley serves as an Academic Advisor at Columbus State Community College, where she has the opportunity to connect with a diverse student population and utilize her skills to assist students in achieving their goals. Beth has been working in higher education for nine years and one of her main areas of passion is around financial literacy and money management for students. Before coming to Columbus State, Beth worked in Housing and Residence Life at Ohio Dominican University.

Stephanie Pfeifer serves as an Academic Advisor in the Center for Advising, Support and Exploration at Columbus State Community College in Columbus Ohio. Stephanie has four years of higher education experience at open enrollment institutions specializing in new student enrollment and transfer programming. Before joining Columbus State Community College, she worked with the University of Toledo in the Department of History and Athletics.

Marisa Vernon serves as the Assistant Director in the Center for Advising, Support and Exploration at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio, where she leads a large team of professional Academic Advisors and serves as the project co-manager for the College’s intergrated student services initiative. Marisa has seven years of higher education administrative experience at open enrollment institutions specializing in two- and four-year degree programs and transfer preparation. Before joining Columbus State Community College, she was the Assistant Director for First Year Experience at Kent State University’s Stark Campus in North Canton, Ohio, and has also worked at the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education.

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.

Establishing an Inclusive Environment for Students with Autism


Students entering college today have diverse abilities and learning styles.  Through implementing universal design within higher education settings, professionals can enhance educational opportunities for all students.  In this paper, we show how to implement Higbee’s (2008) universal design principles into student development programs in order to support college students who have autism.

Students with Autism in Higher Education

Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the nation.  In 2012, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that one in every 88 individuals had autism or a related disorder.  There is also an increase of students with autism entering higher education (Adreon & Durocher, 2007).  Government legislation has supported access to higher education for students with autism, as well as with other disabilities.  For example, the 1973 Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) banned discrimination of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that received federal assistance (Evans, 2008).

Section 504 mandated that colleges that receive federal funding provide equal access for individuals with disabilities (Hall & Belch, 2000).  Higher education institutions have removed some barriers to education for students with disabilities.  College admission processes can no longer inquire whether an individual has a disability.  Section 504 also mandated that buildings must address architectural barriers that prohibit mobility for individuals with disabilities.  Therefore, many colleges removed physical barriers that impede mobility on campuses for those with disabilities.  For example, campuses have added ramps and automatically opening doors.  Though colleges have removed some challenges involved in gaining admission to college as well as navigating campuses, students with disabilities are still less likely to engage in the college experience and gain a diploma (Hall & Belch, 2000).  Focus is needed on how institutions can create inclusive learning environments for all students, including students with disabilities.

Understanding Neurodiversity and Autism


People with autism have differences in cognitive processes; these neurological varieties are often referred to as neurodiversity (Blume, 1998).  In the 1990s, people with autism developed the term neurodiversity, in order to assert that those with atypical brain wiring deserve respect.  Advocates stressed that anyone can be placed on a variety of spectrums (Pollak, 2009).  Neurodiversity notes learning differences, rather than difficulties.  It is intended to be a positive statement of differentiation; though individuals have differences, they are not dysfunctional (Grant, 2009).  People with difference do not need to be cured; rather, they need help and accommodations (Robison, 2013).

People with neurodiversity conditions may experience challenges completing everyday tasks, which are dependent on neurocognitive processing of information.  These include social interaction, attention span, and time management (Grant, 2009).  In addition to autism, neurodiversity conditions include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and Tourette syndrome (National Symposium on Neurodiversity at Syracuse University, n.d.).


Autism is a neurodevelopment disorder that affects growth in areas of social interaction and behavior (Adreon & Durocher, 2007).  Autism Speaks (2014) defines autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism as, “characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors… ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues” (para. 1-3).

What Challenges Do College Students with Autism Typically Encounter?

Social Challenges

Students with autism may have difficulty forming relationships due to misinterpretations of social cues or conventions (Adreon & Durocher, 2007).  They may interpret information in an overly literal way, causing them to misunderstand others’ attempts at humor (Adreon & Durocher, 2007).  Consequently, they may become isolated or exploited because of their perceived naiveté (Welkowitz & Baker, 2005).  Students with autism may experience difficulty establishing trusting relationships in a new environment, such as the college campus.

Adaptation Challenges

One of the challenges that students with autism encounter when entering college is that they transition from a centralized support system into an environment where they must advocate for themselves (Higbee & Kalivoda, 2008).  Their centralized support system includes their families, which understand and embrace their differences.  Students with autism may struggle with advocating for themselves and clearly communicating their challenges.  Acclimating to college life is a process that often involves navigating a range of college offices and personnel.

Learning Differences

Students with autism may have differences in how they learn.  When information is provided too quickly, they may not fully grasp all of the information dictated.  This experience may lead to them feeling overwhelmed and anxious.  In addition, individuals with autism may use unusual mannerisms, such as rocking, as a means of self-soothing.

How Universal Design Can Support Students with Autism

The theory of universal design is inclusive for all populations, in all environments.  According to the Center for Universal Design (1997), the principle of universal design promotes the design of products to be usable for all people, without the need to be adapted.  Universal design stemmed from Accessible Design, which was supportive design to be used by individuals with disabilities (Universal Design, n.d.).  Universal design is usable by the widest range of people to the greatest extent possible.  It considers humans to have diverse abilities, making spaces and products easier to use for all people.

It is no longer the sole responsibility of disability services to create inclusive environments on college campuses.  All professionals must foster a community where everyone has an equal opportunity to learn.  Using universal design throughout all parts of college campuses, as well as during instruction, enables higher education professionals to support students with diverse abilities.  The universal design framework is influential in helping professionals create environments where all students can thrive.

It has been the foundation of the student affairs profession to support and embrace diversity (Nuss, 1996).  Just as professionals have led in promoting diversity of religion, race, and sexuality in higher education, it is also vital that student development professionals promote acceptance of neurodiversity.  By implementing universal design principles, student affairs professionals can nurture students’ intellectual and social development.

Universal Design Principles for Student Development Programs and Services

It is vital for student development professionals to implement universal design principles into their daily practices in order to support the success of students with autism.  Higbee (2008) presented nine principles for universal instruction design in student development programs:

  • Create welcoming spaces;
  • Develop, implement, and evaluate pathways for communication among students, staff, and faculty;
  • Promote interaction among students and between staff and students;
  • Ensure that each student and staff member has an equal opportunity to learn and grow;
  • Communicate clear expectations to students, supervisees, and other professional colleagues utilizing multiple formats and taking into consideration diverse learning communication styles;
  • Use methods and strategies that consider diverse learning styles, abilities, ways of knowing and previous experience and background knowledge, while recognizing each student’s and staff member’s unique identity and contributions;
  • Provide natural supports for learning and working to enhance opportunities for all students and staff;
  • Ensure confidentiality; and
  • Define service quality, establish benchmarks for best practices, and collaborate to evaluate services regularly (pp. 196-200).

Here we share examples of how professionals can incorporate universal design into campus programs and services to better support students with autism.

Create Welcoming Spaces

Higbee’s (2008) first principle is to create welcoming spaces (p. 196).  Students with autism may experience difficulty understanding others’ perspectives, and this challenge can lead to feelings of isolation.  When student development professionals create warm atmospheres in their offices and student meeting places, they help students feel valued.  Welcoming environments include staff and student workers greeting guests, offering genuine support, and fostering a sense of community.

Professionals must also use inclusive language that is welcoming to all.  They can train student workers and student leaders to use supportive, first-person language.  First-person language shows that workers appreciate diversity and honor individual identity. For example, professionals should use the term, “students with autism,” instead of “autistic students.”  According to Hall and Belch (2000), first-person language emphasizes the person over the disability.

Support Pathways for Communication

The next principle is to develop, implement, and evaluate pathways for communication among students, staff, and faculty (Higbee, 2008, p. 196).  Student development professionals must be cognizant of their communication practices and share directions in a clear and straightforward manner.  Sometimes, students with autism struggle to follow directions with multiple steps (Adreon & Durocher, 2007).  When introducing activities with several steps, such as during icebreakers, campus activities professionals should clearly state the rules and repeat them.  At large-scale events, such as orientations, professionals should also provide information in multiple methods, such as oral and written forms of communication.  In addition, professionals can communicate both in large group and small group formats.  Providing communication in multiple methods supports diverse learning styles and enhances educational experiences for all individuals involved.

Promote Interaction

Higbee’s (2008) third principle is to promote interaction among students and between staff and students (p. 197).  Student development professionals can serve as point persons for students with autism.  For some students with autism, it can be helpful to identify a point person to visit when they feel anxious (Myles & Adreon, 2001).  This person can be key in assisting the student in problem solving (Jekel & Loo, 2002).  For example, at Keene State College, a program exists where peer mentors are trained to offer support to students with autism (Welkowitz & Baker, 2005).

Offer Equal Opportunities for Learning and Growth

The next universal design principle for student development professionals is to ensure that each student and staff member has an equal opportunity to learn and grow (Higbee, 2008, p. 197).  Student affairs departments must develop services that improve opportunities for all students, but specifically reflect on the accessibility of resources to marginalized groups.  Student activities offices can offer leadership retreats that consider the diverse needs and abilities of all student attendees.  They can develop activities that are supportive to an array of unique learners.

Communicate Clear Expectations and Consider Diverse Communication Styles

Higbee’s (2008) fifth principle is to communicate clear expectations to students, supervisees, and other professional colleagues utilizing multiple formats and taking into consideration diverse learning communication styles (p. 198).  Students with autism tend to desire predictability and clear expectations; however, at times, this inclination may result in inflexible behavior (Adreon & Durocher, 2007).

Students with autism may become anxious when others do not adhere to rules, such as violating quiet hour rules in a residence hall.  It is important that student development professionals clearly explain living options so that students may make the optimal choice.  If students decides to live with a roommate, they must make efforts to understand the in’s and out’s of communal spaces.  If conflicts occur, professionals should help students negotiate through them, while maintaining appropriate boundaries and preventing dependency.

Consider Diverse Backgrounds and Recognize Students’ Strengths

The next principle is to use methods and strategies that consider diverse learning styles, abilities, ways of knowing and previous experience and background knowledge, while recognizing each student’s and staff member’s unique identity and contributions (Higbee, 2008, p. 198).  Professionals must take into consideration each student’s multiple intelligences.  Students with autism have various strengths, including their tendency to be reliable, as well as their tendency to pay great attention to detail (Adreon & Durocher, 2007).  Professionals can assist students by guiding them in further developing these strengths.  For example, professionals can help the student determine how their interests align with organizations, learning communities, or employment opportunities.

Provide Natural Learning Supports

Another universal design principle is to provide natural supports for learning and working to enhance opportunities for all students and staff (Higbee, 2008, p. 198).  Typically, students with autism have difficulty with academic content and organizational skills.  Student development professionals can aid students in managing their challenges by providing natural learning supports.  For example, written supports include meeting minutes and handouts.  Professionals can also scaffold concepts during instruction.  Most importantly, professionals must reinforce that mistakes are opportunities for learning.

Ensure Confidentiality

A very important principle in universal design within student development programs it to ensure confidentiality (Higbee, 2008, p. 199).  Students with autism have a right to confidentiality.  However, when services are not universally designed, confidentiality can be breached.  This is because such environments may distinguish the student as different (Higbee, 2008).  Professionals must honor students’ trust by allowing the student to decide whether to disclose and how to disclose.  Professionals must recognize that students with autism may encounter negative attitudes from others concerning their abilities (Kroeger & Schuck, 1993).  This may lead students to be reluctant to disclose their disability with staff and their peers.

Identify Service Quality and Evaluate Services

Higbee’s (2008) final principle is to define service quality, establish benchmarks for best practices, and collaborate to evaluate services regularly (p. 200)It is essential that student development professionals seek out ongoing professional development on how to be a resource for students with autism.  By providing training, supervisors can hold staff accountable in promoting an inclusive environment.  If properly implemented, these trainings will result in a culture that values differences.  Furthermore, training should not be restricted to employees, but be provided to students as well.  For example, offices can educate student leaders, such as club presidents, on how to incorporate universal design into their activities.  Not only is training essential, but evaluation is also important.  Evaluation allows professionals to learn how they can improve and better serve all students.


Fostering the feeling of community continues to be a challenge as colleges diversify (Hall & Belch, 2000).  Through implementing universal design principles, student affairs professionals can create a sense of community for all.  Use of universal design principles can enable colleges and universities to create inclusive environments that are able to appropriately support students with autism.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do student affairs professionals at your institution promote acceptance in regards to students with neurodiversity, and specifically students with autism?
  2. How can your campus better incorporate universal design throughout the various functional areas of student affairs (campus involvement, residence life, orientation, etc…)?
  3. How can you help your students learn the importance of creating an inclusive environment and acceptance of neurodiversity?


Adreon, D., & Durocher, J. S. (2007). Evaluating the college transition needs of individuals with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders. Intervention in School & Clinic, 42(5), 271-279.

Autism Speaks, (2014). What is autism? Retrieved from

Blume, H. (1998, Sept. 30). Neurodiversity. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Center for Universal Design. (1997). What is Universal Design? Retrieved from…

Evans, N. (2008). Theoretical foundations of universal instructional design. In J.L. Higbee & E. Goff (Eds.). Pedagogy and Student Services for Institutional Transformation: Implementing Universal Design in Higher Education (pp. 11-24). Minneapolis, MN: Regents of the University of Minnesota.

Grant, D. (2009). The psychological assessment of neurodiversity. In D. Pollak (Ed.), Neurodiversity in higher education: Positive responses to specific learning differences (pp. 33-61). West Sussex, UK: Wiley & Sons.

Hall, L.M., & Belch, H.A. (2000). Setting the context: Reconsidering the principles of full participation and meaningful access for students with disabilities. New Direction for Student Services, 91, Fall 2000, 5-17.

Higbee, J. L. (2008). Universal design principles for student development programs and services. In J. L. Higbee & E. Goff (Eds.), Pedagogy and Student Services for Institutional Transformation: Implementing universal design in higher education (pp. 195-203). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy.

Higbee, J. L., & Kalivoda, K. S. (2008). The first-year experience. In J. L. Higbee & E. Goff (Eds.), Pedagogy and student services for institutional transformation: Implementing universal design in higher education (pp. 245-253). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy.

Kroeger, S., & Schuck, J. (1993). Moving ahead: Issues, recommendations, and conclusions. New Directions for Student Services, 64, Winter 1993, 103-110.

Jekel, D., & Loo, S. (2002). So you want to go to college: Recommendations, helpful tips, and suggestions for success at college. Watertown, MA: Asperger’s Association of New England.

Myles, B. S., & Adreon, D. (2001). Asperger syndrome and adolescence: Practical solutions for school success. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing.

National Symposium on Neurodiversity at Syracuse University (n.d.). What is neurodiversity? Retrieved from

Nuss, E. (1996). The development of student affairs. In S. R. Komives & D. B. Woodard, (Eds.), Student services: A handbook for the profession (pp. 22-42). West Sussex, UK: Wiley & Sons.

Pollak, D. (2009). Introduction. In D. Pollak (Ed.), Neurodiversity in higher education: Positive responses to specific learning differences (pp. 9-11). West Sussex, UK: Wiley & Sons.

Robison, J. (2013). My life with Asperger’s: How to live a high functioning life with Asperger’s. Psychology today. Retrieved from…

Universal Design: The Resource for Universal Design News (n.d.). What is universal design? Retrieved from  &view=article&id=327:what-is-universal-design&catid=2196:universal-design&Itemid=113

U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 14 Sites, United States, 2008. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from:

Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders. Autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 14 sites, United States, 2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summaries, 61(3), 1-19. Atlanta, GA: Author

Welkowitz, L., & Baker, L. (2005). Supporting college students with Asperger Syndrome. In J. L. Baker, & L. A. Welkowitz (Eds.), Asperger Syndrome: Intervening in schools, clinics, and communities. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

About the Authors

Dale O’Neill, M.A., serves as the Coordinator of Leadership and Community Service Programs and the Interim Greek Life Advisor at the University of New Orleans.  She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Education Administration from the University of New Orleans (LA).  She is an active member in ACPA – College Student Educators International, having served as the Newsletter Editor for two years for the Standing Committee for Graduate Students & New Professionals as well as the Convention Program Chair and Newsletter Chair for the Standing Committee on Disability. 

Rory O’Neill Schmitt, Ph.D., is an educational researcher and has earned her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction Studies.  Currently, she serves as a Faculty Associate in the University College of Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ.  She is a peer reviewer for the Current Issues in Education journal.  In addition, she volunteers on the board of the Arizona Art Therapy Association as its president.

Please email inquiries to Dale O’Neill.


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.

What the Articles About Administrative Bloat did not Mention

It made for great copy between the stories about the record snowfalls and the bitter cold of the winter of 2014. Articles written for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, and USA Today included headlines such as “Administrator Hiring Drove 28% Boom in Higher-Ed Work Force” (Carlson, 2014); “College Work Forces Grew, But Not as Fast as Enrollment” (Rivard, 2014); and “College Hiring: Helping Students or Padding Payrolls?”  (Marklein, 2014). So began another spate of articles on the high cost of higher education.

According to Carlson (2014), college is expensive because new administrative staff positions drove a 28% expansion of the higher-education workforce from 2000 to 2012.  Several authors seem to accept this statement at face value, advancing the notion that administrative staff positions are superfluous, do not add value to institutions, and do not support student learning and development (Ginsberg, 2011).  Very little has been included or written to indicate that there may be valid reasons for the increase in administrative staff positions—causes that mostly emanate from outside of the academy.

Administrative Bloat?

‘Administrative bloat’ is a term often used to describe the reported phenomenon—a term both catchy enough to draw attention and convincing enough to limit a more complex, nuanced analysis of this issue.  The same week several articles were published about administrative staff bloat in higher education, other articles were published that shed evidence into the reasons behind increases in administrative staff positions. For example, DeSantis (2014) reported that the University of Connecticut’s response to sexual assaults and other campus crimes included hiring staff specifically designated to work with victims of sexual assault as part of their duties.

Campus Safety

The federal government’s interest in preventing sexual assault on college and university campuses has been in the news for the better part of three years since the release of the now infamous ‘Dear Colleague’ letter in April 2011 (Ali, 2011).  The impact of this letter, played out at the University of Connecticut and elsewhere, has included the creation of new administrative staff positions related to student safety. However, this type of growth in student services positions was not concurrently published alongside the articles regarding administrative bloat.

The federal government’s interest in sexual assault prevention is but one example of increased government involvement in how colleges and universities are expected to manage the student experience.  The phrase ‘unfunded mandate’ has come to define the spate of government regulations that have in part fueled the need for new administrative staff.  Mettler (2014) described in-depth the impact of changes in public policy on the higher education landscape—changes that have reshaped how 21st century colleges and universities are perceived, funded, and run.

Federal Laws

Examples of federal government initiatives that have resulted in additions to college and university administrative staffs include the Americans with Disabilities Act and the new G.I. Bill.  Educational theorists have written extensively that increased access to higher education requires expanded support services and a level of student assistance that goes beyond that which faculty members have traditionally been able to provide.  New federal government programs lead to increases in administrative staff not because colleges and universities can add to their administrative ranks, but because it is a prerequisite to meeting the spirit and letter of new laws and directives intended to promote student access, persistence, and achievement.

Rise of Adjunct Faculty

Even faculty members can no longer be expected to provide the direct level of student support they traditionally provided.  Among the differences between the colleges and universities of the last generation and today is the transformation of what used to be a full-time professoriate to the part-time, adjunct, and contingent faculty of the current era.  The connection between the consequences of this trend and so-called administrative bloat seem to have eluded both the journalists who report on higher education and the self-appointed crusaders who yearn for a return to earlier visions of higher education.

Authors in both the higher education and mainstream media outlets have failed to connect the dots that, when institutions hire part-time faculty members instead of full-time faculty members, they also have to hire administrative staff members to do the things that full-time faculty do besides teach, such as advise students.  It is not a criticism of the adjunct teaching professional to state that they do not provide the same level of student support that full-time faculty do—it is just not humanly possible, as they scurry from course to course or campus to campus, piecing together a barely livable wage.  In fact, adjunct staffing has grown from 20% of all higher education faculty in 1970 to almost 50% today (The Democratic Staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, 2014).  How could it be that the connection between the replacement of full-time teachers with part-time teachers and the subsequent growth in the number of administrators did not enter into the news accounts of the trend of increased numbers of administrators?

Mental Health Concerns

The increased prevalence of mental health concerns on college and university campuses, and high profile incidents of campus violence are further evidence of the connection between campus trends and the legitimate need for colleges and universities to hire more student support and campus safety personnel.  Journalists have been quick to write about the campus amenities race that has led to the sprouting of recreational climbing walls and other perquisites and have linked this phenomenon to increased college costs (Rubin, 2014).  Neglected for the most part by the media is the fact that colleges and universities have been compelled to add staff members to help manage campus mental health challenges, and that, even with these additions, campuses have for the most part failed to meet this increasing demand.

Increasing Campus Diversity

Even the most casual observer of higher education is aware of the increasing diversity of our college and university campuses, and in the United States overall.  On most campuses, increasing student diversity has resulted in the addition of staff to support a multicultural student body.  There is ample research that shows the contributions that the persons in these positions provide in terms of student retention and success.  It is likely, however, that the addition of these administrative staff positions has also contributed to the growth of the number of administrative staff hires in recent years.

Decreased Financial Support

And then there are the dramatic cuts in state support for higher education that have played havoc with college and university budgets in the 21st century.  With reduced state support (Lederman, 2014), colleges and universities have increasingly looked elsewhere for revenue, by sponsoring conferences, camps, institutes, and other income generators intended to offset declines in state funding.  These programs require coordination and oversight from administrative staff, and I would venture that there is a connection between this trend and increases in administrative staffing in higher education.


All of this adds up to what seems to be at least six valid reasons for the expansion of administrative staff positions in higher education:  increasing federal involvement in higher education; the proliferation of the part-time professoriate; the heightened concern about campus violence, sexual and otherwise; the demand for mental health services on campuses; increasing diversity of college and university students; and declining state support for higher education.  The term bloat conveys excessiveness.  Are institutional responses to the demand for student mental health services, support services for veterans, campus safety, and increasing federal intervention alongside decreasing state support for higher education truly excessive?  Or are they in line with societal expectations for safeguarding the student welfare?

Perhaps it is expectations for support that have grown, rather than our penchant for administrating, counseling, and mentoring.  It is unlikely that those who are sounding the alarm about administrative bloat are longing for campuses that do not support students in need, or veterans, or do not want campuses that are actively combatting sexual violence.  Colleges and universities need full-time faculty to fulfill their basic mission, and college and university students and their parents need and expect the support services overseen by administrators to promote students’ academic and personal development and their success in college and beyond.  Students of today do not expect fewer student support personnel than the students of yesteryear:  they expect more.

It should be noted that the student voice was noticeably missing from all of the news reports on the increasing number of administrators.  I suspect that students and their parents have many stories about their encounters with student services administrative staff, and could earnestly speak to why they exist, why they think they have grown in number, and the value they add on college and university campuses, especially in times of personal crisis or when students are in need.  These stories would portray a more complete picture of the college and university of today, which includes administrators providing critical support services to students in need on a daily basis, and a diminished number of full-time faculty to assist in that process.

Discussion Questions

  1. Are there other reasons for the expansion of administrative staff positions in higher education that were not mentioned in the article?
  2. How can those of us in the field of student development better convey greater understanding of our role in the educational enterprise to policy makers, the mass media and the general public?


Ali, R.  (2011, April 4).  Dear colleague letter.  Washington, D.C.  United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.  Retrieved from

Carlson, S.  (2014, February 5).  Administrator hiring drove 28% boom in higher-ed work force. The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Retrieved from

DeSantis, N.  (2014, February 7).  UConn bolsters efforts against sex assaults and other campus crimes.  The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Retrieved from

Ginsberg, B. (2011). The fall of the faculty:  The rise of the all-administrative university and why it matters.  New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democratic Staff (January, 2014).  The just-in-time professor:  A staff report summarizing e-forum responses on the working conditions of contingent faculty in higher education.  Retrieved from

Lederman, D.  (October 27, 2014).  The states’ “great retreat.” Inside Higher Education. Retrieved from

Marklein, M.  (2014, February 5).  College hiring:  Helping students or padding payrolls?  USA Today.  Retrieved from

Mettler, S. (2014). Degrees of inequality:  How the politics of higher education sabotaged the American dream.  New York, NY: Basic Books.

Rivard, R.  (2014, February 5).  College work forces grew, but not as fast as enrollment. Inside Higher Education. Retrieved from

Rubin, C.  (2014, September 19).  Making a splash on campus:  College recreation now includes pool parties and river rides. The New York Times.  Retrieved from -pool-parties-and-river-rides.html?_r=0

About the Author

Robert A. Bonfiglio is Vice President for Student and Campus Life at SUNY Geneseo and has been recognized by ACPA – College Student Educators International with its 2013 Excellence in Practice award.  

Please e-mail inquiries to Robert A. Bonfiglio.


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

Diversity in America and on Campus

by Tadd Kruse, American University of Kuwait

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

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

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

Diversity on Campus: A Reflection of the Global Population

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Five Source Cities

1. Seoul, South Korea             56,503 students

2. Beijing, China                       49,946 students

3. Shanghai, China                    29,145 students

4. Hyderabad, India                26,220 students

5. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia          17,361 students

Top Five Destination Metropolitan Areas

1. New York, NY                    101,586 students

2. Los Angeles, CA                   68,271 students

3. Boston, MA                                     53,486 students

4. San Francisco, CA                37,610 students

5. Washington D.C.                  35,459 students

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

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


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

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


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

Discussion Questions

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

About the Author

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Tadd Kruse.


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

General Education Requirements in Technical Degree Programs: Do They Close or Open Doors?

Marisa Vernon, Columbus State Community College

Community colleges seek to provide education pathways to the masses, with missions focused on access. Given this focus, American community colleges have always served as the most natural home for technical education programs designed to provide occupational training. During the community college growth period in the 1950s, popular programs included automotive technology, skilled trades, book keeping, and construction.

Today’s community colleges remain committed to workforce needs and training students who select to pursue practical education over a liberal arts experience. Generally resulting in a certificate or associate degree credential, such programs provide a direct route to highly skilled career opportunities. While many community colleges have established articulation or completion agreements with area universities, applied associate degree programs essentially “flip” the traditional pathway to a bachelors degree by frontloading applied training coursework. This model attracts many students to community colleges. However, as community colleges seek to increase academic rigor, technical certificate and associate degree programs are often outliers in the discussion. Can a community college offer skill training programs without holding students to minimum standards in English composition, reading, and mathematics? Do students pursuing technical programs need the same general education foundation as their peers who utilize the community college to complete arts and sciences degrees?

Perhaps the most valuable and yet contradicting value expressed by community college missions is the lack of a one size fits all approach. This approach to education has helped community colleges to fit a niche in the American higher education marketplace and to respond quickly to gaps in the regional and national workforce. By offering both liberal arts and technical coursework, the community college can welcome students with any number of educational goals. Without an awareness of these two concurrent missions, however, community colleges can easily deter students from certain programs and thus suffer a negative impact to enrollment. Consider, for example, the implication of a minimum reading level on a program designed to cater to applied learners (such as automotive technology, welding, or other skilled trades). These programs offer excellent career pathways for individuals seeking immediate employability and a specialized skillset. They also fill a gap within the American workforce as more individuals enroll in universities and obtain a more general educational foundation.

While several career development theories are widely referenced in student affairs and workforce development discussions, most theories detail a subset of the population that possesses strong physical, applied, and kinesthetic preferences. While the K-12 classroom may not cater to these preferences, technical degree programs offer a learning environment where individuals who prefer applied learning can thrive and obtain valuable career skills that are needed within our society. Some areas of general or liberal education can be perceived as disconnected to a student who is pursuing technical training, and thus may even be seen as a barrier to career preparation.

The Pressure to Articulate

While many Americans immediately associate community colleges with technical training, some states have begun to hold all state institutions to the same level of accountability, or grouped them together in the public debate on degree completion. With much of the focus on creating a more educated workforce, the bar continues to rise as states engage in an education arms race. Community colleges are under pressure to create completion agreements with universities, and to not only train employable graduates but to facilitate their eventual transfer as well. With an increased focus on bachelor degree attainment, applied technical degree programs are faced with the challenge of managing enrollment while still folding in the general education coursework that prepares a student for further education later on.

In the early 1980s, three distinct degrees were established among American community colleges. This determination, led by the American Association of Community Colleges, ultimately created the Associate of Arts and Sciences degrees which were designed to create pathways to four-year degree completion, and the Associate of Applied Science which was intended to support vocational training. This distinction still exists at most community colleges almost thirty years later, and serves as the most basic filtering systems for providing students with education options that best fit their academic ability. However, state achievement goals and a changing workforce have created gray areas between these seemingly simplistic degree options. While the Associate of Applied Science degree focuses on technical training, additional general education requirements have begun to pile up in the degree plans (Chase, 2011).

Even with these efforts, however, Chase (2011) finds that only about half of a technical program’s credits transfer to four-year universities. Of the credits accepted by universities, technical credits are generally not accepted outside of specific and identified articulation agreements. Students are often set back by this upon entering the university, and many need to begin at the first-year level even after earning an associates’ degree. While the general education courses in the technical degree help students who transfer, many students are still held back at their future universities due to the low number of credits accepted anyhow. Is this system truly promoting degree completion, or is it creating barriers for students who seek immediate and applied workforce training?

While general education coursework has certainly elevated the academic level of technical and applied degree programs, one unintended consequence is the impact on students beginning in developmental education levels. Such developmental reading, writing and math sequences require underprepared students to maintain high levels of motivation in order to persist towards the vocational coursework they desire to take. Without support, a clear career goal in mind, and a healthy dose of willpower, many students will exit the community college system before discovering the programs that facilitate the hands-on and applied coursework they desire.

The debate over entry points to technical education coursework is a delicate one that includes the voices of many unique stakeholders. While college administrators seek to improve the academic success of the student body, many technical program faculty are passionate about keeping the doors to their programs open to all. Still another stakeholder group among faculty may argue the need for basic reading, writing, and math competency in fields such as automotive technology, skilled trades, photography, and the like. State and national government entities also enter the debate as pressure to both fill workforce needs and promote degree attainment collide. These voices and competing priorities all add additional depth to this discussion.

Impact of Additional Courses on Motivation

ACT (2012) reports that roughly half of new students leave community colleges prior to the completion of the first year. Bers and Schuetz (2014) sought to dig beneath this rate to determine the reasons why so many students stop out while attending community colleges, and revealed several factors. While their research outlined known reasons such as financial constraints, heavy external responsibilities, and transferring prior to degree, the writers also addressed reasons that pertained specifically to frustration with institutional requirements and structure. Community colleges enroll high percentages of first-generation students who enter the college seeking pathways to specific careers. As Bers and Schuetz (2014) indicate, many students are not aware of how their credits will apply to credentials, the benefit of general or preparatory coursework, and the requirements of specialized degree programs. External demands such as family responsibilities, work, or finances also compile and create a sense of skepticism among students with regards to taking classes that are perceived as “extra”. As the authors indicate, community college students, often under pressure, want to avoid wasting time, money, or effort on extra steps to their career goals.

This mentality, while not necessarily found among all community college students, does help administrators and faculty members understand why general or developmental education foundation coursework can quickly deflate individuals seeking vocational or applied science credentials.

The Math Barrier

For nearly every first-year community college student, one of the first steps in the enrollment process includes a placement process by which Advisors determine reading, writing, and math starting points. While developmental reading and writing placements can often delay a student’s entrance into technical program coursework, mathematics remediation creates perhaps the largest barrier to degree completion.

Two-thirds of students entering community college students require developmental education in the area of mathematics, and the majority of these students do not achieve college-level math at any point in their college experience. While many community colleges offer certificates and technical degrees that do not require high levels of math proficiency, Bahr (2012) finds that struggling students do not necessarily shift their efforts to these programs before simply stopping out all together, and that the large majority will exit the institution without earning any credential.

Math continues to prevent many community college students from earning degrees. While many colleges have employed strategies to support students through developmental math levels, the average community college student spends about three to five semesters working through developmental math sequences (Bahr, 2012). Depending on pre-admission criteria or course pre-requisites, many Associate of Applied Science degree-seekers may not receive exposure to his or her field of study until several semesters into his or her community college experience. This gap, while enhancing the technical degree with general education coursework, can present a barrier to a first-generation student who is eager to earn an employable and applied credential.

Employable Certificates

Many community colleges have begun to develop workforce certificates that either prepare students for licensing exams or lead to specialized, entry-level technical work. The certificate programs are designed to offer alternative routes to students who choose not to pursue an associates’ degree, or, ideally, can be used as an entry point to specific careers. In addition, such certificates offer another credential alternative to students struggling through developmental or general education coursework, but who have the skills necessary to succeed in technical coursework.

While many applied certificates take only a few courses to complete, these training programs are in fact seen as valuable to employers, according to Dadgar and Weiss (2012). Many community colleges, however, struggle to both create and recruit students to certificate programs, as students often cannot utilize some forms of financial aid to pursue this credential. In Ohio, for example, colleges must not only develop certificate programs, but prove their employability in order to qualify for student aid. One alternative to this, however, is creating certificates that lead to degrees. While challenging in terms of course sequencing and pre-requisite coursework, this approach may be a viable option for some students who are eager to jump into training, but are apprehensive about pursuing all coursework for a degree.


Technical education is, by nature, an evolving component within many community colleges. In an effort to respond to workforce demands, technical departments create strong programs that are designed to offer specialized training at the associate degree level. This level of education, to many students, provides a desirable opportunity for quick training in high-growth areas.

However, as community colleges are also asked to take on a bigger role in bachelor degree completion, promote transfer, and increase academic rigor, these programs often find themselves at the center of the debate between access and success. For decades, community college technical programs have opened the doors for many individuals to receive valuable skills training. As higher education has grown to fit new facets of the workforce and serve a wider net of students, the landscape of these “front door” programs has changed in response. As community college faculty and administrators employ success strategies that raise the qualifications of their students, these potential impacts to technical program enrollment should be considered. While general education coursework embedded within technical curriculum helps to improve the transferability and academic perception of these programs, unintended consequences may surface. As institutions add qualifying layers to previously accessible programs, the access mission on which community colleges were built may begin to diminish. Likewise, student achievement may begin to decrease as well, as additional barriers can decrease a student’s desire to pursue a seemingly unreachable goal.

Discussion Questions

  1. Community colleges are often viewed as the solution to issues of unemployment, underemployment, and regional economic development challenges. Does this role place additional pressure on community colleges to ensure students leave with a credential or degree? Why or why not? What are the other options open to students if they are not academically successful in a technical degree program?
  2. Do you feel as though technical degree programs should include college-level general education classes? Why or why not?
  3. In your opinion, what can be done in order to change the general perception of career/ technical degrees? What information is important for parents, families, and students to consider when reviewing various educational/career routes?


Bahr, P. R. (2013). The aftermath of remedial math: investigating the low rate of certificate completion among remedial math Students. Research in higher education, 54(2), 171-200.

Bers, T., & Schuetz, P. (2014). Nearbies: a missing piece of the college completion conundrum. Community College Review, 42(3), 167-183.

Chase, M. M. (2011). Benchmarking equity in transfer policies for career and technical associate’s degrees. Community College Review, 39(4), 376-404.

Dadgar, M. & Weiss, M.J. (2012). Labor market returns to sub-baccalaureate credentials: How much does a community college certificate or degree pay? (CRCC Working Paper 45). New York, NY. Retrieved from:

Packard, B. W., & Jeffers, K. C. (2013). Advising and progress in the community college STEM transfer pathway. NACADA Journal, 33(2), 65-76.

About the Author

Marisa Vernon serves as the Assistant Director of Advising Services at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio, where she leads a large team of professional Academic Advisors and coordinates the community college’s mandatory First Year Experience Seminar. Marisa has seven years of higher education administrative experience at open enrollment institutions specializing in two- and four-year degree programs and transfer preparation. Before joining Columbus State Community College, she was the Assistant Director for First Year Experience at Kent State University’s Stark Campus in North Canton, Ohio, and has also worked at the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education.

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.