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.

ACPA and the Role of Technology: Technology Then and Now: From Telephone Trees to Social Media

Danielle J. Alsandor
Louisiana State University

Over the past two decades higher education has undergone multiple changes. Some undesirable ones have occurred, such as decreased state funding and stagnant federal financial aid rates for grants and the loss of work-study for summer enrollment. However, some positive changes have occurred as well, including increased student enrollment and greater access and communication. The latter is due primarily to changes in technology and institutions making financial and time investments to outreach to the public and share what they do. Previously, institutions’ professional staff relied mostly on Pre-SAT and ACT/SAT score results to send postcards and letters to prospective students via the United States Postal Service. There were also college fairs for recruiters to interact with potential students and provide admissions information. While both of these practices are beneficial and are still done today, times have changed. Websites, social media, hashtags, online chatting, webinars, virtual tours, and more are now available to all. Today, people with an interest in our institutions are not just “future students,” but rather they are current “friends.” Student affairs professionals are able to maintain constant contact with potential students by using a variety of technologies. At times seen as great, other times it can be all consuming. However, this is how the world and our profession are changing. The simple and complex are all changing, which leads one to ask the question, “why change?”

Kezar (2014) poses this very question in the first chapter of How Colleges Change: Understanding, Leading, and Enacting Change. Besides the obvious response and even a song titled, “everything must change,” Kezar (2014) delves deeper and provides eight key reasons why change is needed and why things are different today than in decades past. Technology is one of the reasons offered due to its impact on student learning and information sharing. So how has communication changed as a result of technology? I reflected on a situation that can and does occur fairly often. Imagine it is late in the evening and an important message must be communicated to members of the student organization you advise. Just 15 years ago you likely would have called the president of the organization via a landline telephone and that person would call the other officers. Someone would pull the membership roster and quite likely a telephone tree from a drawer and the officers would divide the “branches” so that calling organization members can commence and the important message would be communicated within an hour. Now, the likely communication media are a laptop computer and mobile telephone. Respectively, one e-mail is sent and one text message created and then forwarded to others, which is simultaneously posted to Facebook, tweeted on Twitter, and shared on other social media platforms and smartphone apps like GroupMe and Campus Connect—all within a few minutes by one person. Clearly, the passage of time and invention of new technology (hardware and software) has impacted the way people communicate. As higher education professionals, we communicate with students, colleagues, parents, media personnel, and the public more efficiently and arguably more effectively. This article details the technological and tech usage changes currently facing student affairs professionals. It provides some of the benefits as well as some of the challenges for professionals as we work to build not only well-rounded successful students, but also to and communicate with all stakeholders.

Today’s college students are diverse with varied needs and our approach to working with them should be holistic (Bonner, Marbley, & Howard-Hamilton, 2011). The traditional-aged college students of today—millennials—require varied approaches to maintain attention and disseminate important information, with succinctness being key. Generational research (Howe & Strauss, 2000; Myers, 2012; Underwood, 2007)—which details the changes in people based on their birth year, national events, and to some degree their environment—provides some insight into how the changes in technology impact professionals. Presently there are five generations coexisting on our campuses that serve as important stakeholders. The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millenials all interact and with different technological and communication preferences (Bonner, 2011; Porterfield & Carnes, 2012). The largest group of students is identified by such descriptors as digital natives, techies, millennials, tech-savvy adults—each of these words describes people who are allegedly knowledgeable about and comfortable with technology. As higher education and student affairs practitioners and educators it is imperative to know the different generations and understand how technology continues to change the work we do and how we do that work.

“Technology has fundamentally altered access to information…We need to focus on helping students build the skills that will be essential to navigate access to unlimited sources of data” (Bowen, 2011, p. 130). With student success and college completion as our major goals, educating and encouraging students on ways to access reputable information and data safely makes logical sense. Moreover, the ability to think critically and identify what information is lacking and how and why to obtain or create that data is important. Employers increasingly want an educated workforce capable of utilizing technology not only efficiently, but effectively, to solve problems and make reasonable inferences. While the degree—be it a baccalaureate, master’s, doctorate, or professional degree—is one of our greatest products, it is second to an educated and well-rounded college graduate who can contribute to a greater educated and more connected, global-minded citizenry. Globalization and internalization mandate the use of technology to communicate and share resources and work collaboratively. This is where the greatest changes in technology can be seen, especially in the change to using social media.

To tweet, tumble, or Facebook are serious decisions, complicated by whether to use them for educational purposes only or also for social and non-educational purposes. Porterfield and Carnes (2012) creates a compelling case as to why educators should use social media and use it for multiples purposes and reasons. Ten realities are listed including what I feel are three important reasons, “1) communication is no longer about you; it’s about your customers, 2) if you don’t tell your story, someone else will, and 3) social media helps you build community and a sense of ownership among your stakeholders” (Porterfield and Carnes, 2012, p. 19-21). Long gone are days where campuses, offices, departments, and programs control the message and personnel determine what to address and how much to release. Now, students and their families demand and deserve to know what is occurring and what is occurring in real time—not on the 6:oo pm evening news or local nightly news. This means working around the clock and staying abreast to everything, while being able to communicate carefully and honestly what is happening. Professionals must now work to create a climate where information flows freely among all stakeholders. This remains true as institutions continue to offer more online course options and increase offerings for entire online degree programs as well as hybrid courses.

Online classes and online student services—such as advising, registering new student organizations, dropping a class with an e-form, which is automatically routed to the professor and advisor for e-signatures—are becoming more mainstream and are setting the bar higher. Convenience, efficiency, and effectiveness are most important when one considers communication. Gone are the telephone trees and multiple people to rely a single message. Mass communication and information sharing by one person is the best method employed using technology. This is because as Joosten (2012) states, “Social media has the potential to enhance learning and meet pedagogical needs thanks to the array of media characteristics and functionality…interactivity and engagement on student learning…Social media has the potential to enhance these good practices” (p. 1).

Amid the convenience, efficiency, and communication effectiveness (presumed and real), there are challenges that lay ahead for us as educators and professionals. Joosten (2012) acknowledges many of them including the need for a campus social media policy, support from academic affairs administration and faculty on innovative initiatives to teaching with technology and social media, determining the need for professional costs associated with establishing and maintaining infrastructure, and collaboration with existing Information Technology and Public Relations services. I would add assessing the need and use of technology and social media. For example: Is the targeted audience reached? Are people connecting to the posted information? Can increased attendance or community be attributed to technology usage, marketing and promotion?

It is important to note that simply using technology for “technology’s sake” is empty. Thought should be put into what social media will be used to communicate, who will make posts, and how many posts to create across different programs and social media applications. Staff members can conduct a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats Analysis (SWOT) of their individual programs, centers, or functional area staff to garner information and determine how best to proceed with social media. Strategic and thoughtful planning can yield better and more meaningful communication. Manning, Kinzie, & Schuh (2014) state staff must stay up to date and be “fresh and contemporary” (p. 207). This suggests using the latest technology and social media, be it an avatar in Second Life or Voki or sending out tweets and posting notices on Tumblr. The reality is “technology can deliver content in better and more varied ways than we do live…[Moreover, students] will search for information online before they even consider heading to a library [or office]” (Bowen, 2012, p. 104). So to revisit Kezar’s (2014) question, “Why change?” Frankly, there is no choice for professionals seeking to remain current, engage students, and provide a story and visuals of their organizations. In many ways, one must change or be left behind.


Bonner, F. A. Marbley, A. F. & Howard-Hamilton, M. F. (2011). Diverse millennial students in

college: Implications for faculty and student affairs. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Bates, A. W., & Sangra, A. (2011).  Managing technology: Strategies for transforming teaching and learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bowen, J. A. (2012). Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your college classroom

will improve student learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Joosten, T. (2012). Social media for educators: Strategies and best practices. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kezar, A. (2014). How colleges change: Understanding, leading, and enacting change. New York, NY: Routledge.

Manning, K., Kinzie, J., & Schuh, J. H. (2014). One size does not fit all: Traditional and innovative models of student affairs practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Porterfield, K., & Carnes, M. (2012). Why social media matters: School communication in the digital age. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Quinn, M. (2012). The mobile academy: mlearning for higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Weigel, V. B. (2002). Deep learning for a digital age: Technology’s untapped potential to enrich higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

About the Author

Dr. Danielle Alsandor serves as an assistant professor at Louisiana State University educating current and aspiring student affairs professionals on competencies and skills needed to provide effective services to diverse student populations. She earned her Ph.D. and M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Texas at Austin, and her undergraduate degree in Mass Communications from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Her research interests are focused on understanding the experiences of diverse college populations and identifying ways higher education institutions can enhance student success (e.g. access, recruitment, enrollment, retention, and completion).

Please e-mail inquiries to Danielle J. Alsandor.


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.

Managing the Explosion of Technology: Recommendations for Student Affairs Administrators

Managing the Explosion of Technology: Recommendations for Student Affairs Administrators

Matthew R. Shupp
Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
Jan Harris
Community College of Philadelphia & St. John’s University

Why does it seem like so few students are bothered by the all-too common ringing or vibrating of a cell phone? Or, perhaps even more perplexing, why those same students answer the phone during class? A fellow student affairs professional shared a story where a student responded to a text message during a job interview. Our students’ constant need for connectedness has become commonplace. Many seasoned student affairs professionals have wandered into a whole new technological generation.

What we face, as educators, is the realization that this “tech-savvy student”—the digital native—is the typical student on our college and university campuses across the country. Digital natives have grown up in a world full of technology. Turkle (2011) described digital natives as “growing up tethered” (p. 171), where technology is an extension of their human spirit. Essentially, technology has become a part of their identity.

Technology use, especially by digital natives, allows students to multi-task both inside and outside of the classroom much to the chagrin of instructors and administration. Researchers (Rosen, 2012; Visco, 2008) remind us that younger generations have been raised with constant stimulation. Being alone or focusing on one task at a time is not part of their skill set; rather, it is second nature to text friends and surf the net while actively participating in the activity at hand. Consider the following quotes that Visco (2008) acquired from digital native students that illustrate this point:

  • “If I didn’t have my phone, I would probably feel like I didn’t have my pants on or something like that” (Visco 2008).
  • “I just need it…it’s certainly a preferred method of communication for some people. We feel naked without [our cell phones]” (Visco, 2008).

Campbell (2006) conducted a survey of 176 student and faculty participants at a university in the western United States and discovered that a general sentiment existed among the respondents that mobile phones in college classrooms could be a serious problem. However, younger participants—who are more involved than their older counterparts (digital immigrants) in using cell phones—reported more tolerance for this practice. Campbell’s finding is consistent with other research confirming that technology has become a particularly important social resource in the everyday lives of young college students (Bauerlein, 2008; Hadhazy, 2010, Rosen, 2012; Wadley, 2006).

The Technology “Explosion”

In 2012, reported sales of smartphones totaled 1.75 billion units (Hansegard, 2013). Roughly one billion text messages were sent every day in 1998. Digital natives are using technology ad nauseam, often at inappropriate times and in inappropriate settings (Visco, 2008). Digital natives’ increase in texts per month has nearly doubled each year since 2008. The number of text messages sent monthly exploded from 14 billion in 2000 to 188 billion in 2010 (Kluger, 2013). Facebook™, launched in 2004, now has 750 million unique users per month and has emerged as the social network giant (Taraci, 2012). Ninety-seven percent of all college students are on Facebook™ where a staggering 70 million pictures are uploaded daily (Nauert, 2010). Bauerlein’s (2008) research supports this social media trend. Over a 10 year period (from 2003-2013), Americans increased their online usage by 14 million minutes. Clearly, the rapid advancement of technology is something that is here to stay, and both digital natives and digital immigrants are impacted by it.

The digital age has “transformed our lives” (Bauerlein, 2011, p. ix) and has drastically changed how we communicate, conduct business, teach courses, and interact with students. Today’s “smart” classrooms are equipped with smart screens and the capability of streaming videos. Online discussion boards and virtual learning networks have augmented, if not completely replaced, the traditional classroom environment. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are rapidly becoming the norm for many of our students as well as professionals seeking additional certifications. Likewise, student affairs administrators are able to conduct long-distance meetings over a virtual bridge while student clubs and organizations utilize social networking sites to advertise upcoming programs and connect with eligible participants.

While advances in technology give institutions of higher education the opportunity to provide classroom instruction in new and exciting ways and extends our reach to students beyond the classroom walls, it also exposes our students to an environment where online bullying and cyber stalking are prevalent. Using technology in this manner often creates immense concern for students’ safety and well-being (Alexy, Burgess, Baker, & Smoyak, 2005; National White Collar Crime Center, 2013). Likewise, careless online posts and inappropriate comments often have unintended negative consequences for our students (Nycyk, n.d.; Zupek, 2009). Zupek (2009) reminded us that a greater number of employers use potential employees’ online presence as a criterion for whether or not they are employable.

The Conundrum We Face

The conundrum comes into play in a few areas: the seeming disconnect of students when they are using technology, most notably text messaging during class lectures or club meetings, and the disconnect between digital immigrants’ and digital natives’ view regarding when it is most appropriate to use technology. What should be done when someone is present in body, but is not mentally tuned in during a group meeting because of a technological preoccupation?

Although we, as educators, are excited for the potential benefit technology brings to the college environment, we are equally alarmed at the detriment that it is causing to our students. Many of our students are quite careless in their communication (Nauert, 2012). Lack of proofreading papers, truthfulness of sources, poor writing and communication skills, lack of attention to detail, and multi-tasking to a fault are all a result, we believe, of the liberties students take with new technology. The authors once received a journal entry from a student that read, “had a gr8 nite. good 2 c my friends tks 4 asking.” Roughly translated, it was supposed to read, “I had a great night. It was good to see my friends. Thank you for asking.” We then faced the dilemma of how to appropriately grade this student. She completed the assignment, but not addressing the glaring grammatical mistakes in punctuation and spelling would have been a detriment to her learning.

Recommendations for Practice

What types of proactive solutions exist with regards to the technology conundrum on the 21st century college campus? We share with you now our recommendations.

Be Specific on Expectations Regarding Use of Communication Devices. Do Not Waiver in Expectations

Explicitly state the expectations and group norms when it comes to the use of technology. Is there a creative way to use new technology when working with students? Or is it simply an annoyance digital immigrants must now endure? Do you encourage the use of hand-held devices to post quotes and pictures on Facebook as a means of advertising past and upcoming student programs? Do you want students to tweet about their outside-the-classroom involvement?

Hand-held devices such as iPhones™ often have technology such as calculators, internet connections, and streaming video functions that meeting rooms may lack. These are potential legitimate uses for allowing the use of such devices (Shaw, 2007). Meeting with students takes on a completely different meaning when such technology is utilized. Yet, drawbacks of using hand-held communication devices during student interactions may outweigh the benefits and distract from the task at hand. So, what is your expectation with the use of these devices? Once identified, do not waiver from the stated expectation.

Have Stated Consequences if Students Fail to Meet the Expectations

In specific instances, ban technology devices during student meetings. Inside the classroom, prohibit the use of hand-held devices during exams by having students leave them in backpacks or depositing them in a pre-determined area of the classroom. Clearly stating these policies and expectations may act as a useful deterrent. For example, a faculty member now bans laptops in her large lecture courses and has a clause in her syllabus about the inappropriate use of technology. Because of this expectation she has observed increases in attention and better performance on exams (Bugeja, 2007).

Work to Have Your Colleagues Adopt Similar Expectations

A united stance on the expected use of hand-held communication devices removes the frustration from any one faculty or staff member and forces all students to realize that all members of a particular department enforce this expectation. For example, after receiving numerous emails without any greeting or punctuation, staff members in an Office of Student Affairs decided to use these moments as teaching opportunities. Whenever an email of this nature is received, a canned response is sent stating the following:

Thank you for contacting the Office of Student Affairs. We are unsure if our office is the intended recipient as there is no greeting nor is your email directly addressed to any staff person in particular. We are happy to help answer any     questions you might have. However, in the future, please be sure your correspondence includes a greeting (i.e. Hello!), your name, the reason you are writing, and a closing (i.e. Thank you.). Please be sure to include appropriate capitalization and punctuation.

The email then goes on to address the question asked in the original email. As a result, the Office of Student Affairs has observed a positive increase in students’ writing skills as well as an increase in their verbal articulation of questions.

Fish Where the Fish are

Many of our students have an online presence in cyberspace (Facebook™, Twitter™, etc.). Find creative ways to interact with digital natives in the spaces they are most comfortable. Do they think creating Facebook groups for a new club will attract new membership? Is there a creative way for students to tweet about their experiences at a leadership conference? Encourage your students to embrace technology as a part of their co-curricular involvement.

What Happens in Vegas…

Today, moments where our students lack clarity and make irresponsible decisions now end up residing on social networking sites. These risqué photos of questionable behavior often create difficulty for students when applying for professional positions. As student affairs educators, create teachable moments for students regarding how to manage their online footprint. What consequences might occur for inappropriate online posts? Encourage students to conduct a Google™ search of themselves to see what already exists in cyberspace. Empower students to create online portfolios or a LinkedIn™ profile as a means for potential employers to view their leadership experiences outside of the classroom. Creating a positive online impression will only enhance their ability for future professional opportunities.

Have the Same Expectations of Yourself that You do for Your Students. Model the Way

You should hold yourself to the same expectation that you hold your students. Model appropriate behavior for your students when it comes to the utilization of technology. Provide support for victims of cyber stalking and online bullying. Create a safe space where students feel heard and supported. Refer students to appropriate campus offices for additional resources.

Concluding Thoughts

It is hard to predict what the future holds and what technological advances have yet to be developed. What we do know is that this predicament is not going away. We would bet that once new technology comes out it will continue to “explode” in the community much faster than it has over the past 10 to 20 years. In some respects, we are behind the eight ball because higher education is not prepared to handle and utilize (due to lack of training, fear of new technology and new social media/software/equipment reaching students before college administrators) the type of technology available for student learning. One can only speculate and imagine the realm of technological possibilities that will be discovered in the next 10 years. But the fact remains that technology is not going away and student affairs professionals across the country need to find creative and innovative ways to use this technology for the students’ benefit. We still have a hard time understanding how a student can listen to an iPod™, talk on the phone, and actually sit in a classroom and absorb any part of the lecture. Perhaps these two digital immigrants are just getting old.

Discussion Questions

  1. How has technology influenced your interactions – both positively and negatively – with students?
  2. What new and creative ways might you utilize technology as a student affairs professional when working with and supporting students?
  3. What expectations exist within your department regarding student use of technology when communicating with you?


Alexy, E. M., Burgess, A. W., Baker, T. & Smoyak, S.A. (2005). Perceptions of cyberstalking among college students. Journal of Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention 5(3), 279-289. doi:10.1093/brief-treatment/mhi020

Bauerlein, M. (2008). The dumbest generation: How the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Bauerlein, M. (Ed.) (2011) The digital divide: Arguments for and against Facebook, Google, texting, and the age of social networking. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Bugeja, M. J. (January 26, 2007). Distractions in the wireless classroom. The Chronicle of Higher Education: Chronicle Careers. Retrieved on May 19, 2008 at

Campbell, S. W. (July, 2006). Perceptions of mobile phones in college classrooms: Ringing, cheating, and classroom policies. Communication Education, 55(3), 280-294.

Hadhazy, A. (April, 2010). Teens prefer texting vs. calling…except to parents. TechNews Daily.

Hansegard, J. (February, 2013). Global mobile phone sales fell in 2012. Retrieved on May 21, 2013 from

Kluger, J. (September, 2012). We never talk any more: The problem with text messaging. Time Magazine online.

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Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Visco, F. (March 16, 2008). Time for a text etiquette. Take this message: Texting is everywhere, texting can be rude. And we’ve yet to figure out a code of conduct for addicts who click, click, click.. Philadelphia Inquirer Online. Retrieved from

Wadley, J. (July 10, 2006). With this ring: No bliss from cell phone noises in college classes. The University Record Online. University of Michigan News Service. Retrieved on May 19, 2008 at

Zupek, R. (August, 2009). How social media can hurt your career. Retrieved from

About the Authors

Matthew R. Shupp is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling & College Student Personnel, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.

Please email inquiries to Matthew R. Shupp.

Jan Harris is director of the Career Services Center at Community College of Philadelphia and adjunct faculty at Haub School of Business, St. Joseph’s University and The Art Institute of Philadelphia.

Please email inquiries to Jan Harris.


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.

Five Innovative Technologies for Student Affairs Assessment

Five Innovative Technologies for Student Affairs Assessment

Nathan K. Lindsay
University of Missouri-Kansas City
Jesse A. Riggs
Calvary Baptist College

Conducting assessment in student affairs can be a challenging and inefficient process, making it imperative for student affairs professionals to use appropriate methods and technologies. When student affairs professionals use an overabundance of paper and pencil surveys, survey fatigue among respondents and data entry errors can cause significant problems. To combat these challenges, a number of innovative technological options are available for collecting data from students, parents, faculty, and staff. These include clicker technology, personal digital assistants (PDAs), digital recorders, optimal mark read (OMR) scanners, and online surveys. Each technology has its own specific purposes and strengths, and those in student affairs can be more effective by combining these tools in more strategic and intentional ways. As demonstrated by several examples that have been used at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), traditional paper-based survey instruments can be supplemented and enriched by each of these other data collection methods.

As outlined in Higher Education and the Digital Divide by Duderstadt, Atkins, and Van Houweling (2002), it is hard to overestimate the impact that technology has had on colleges and universities. In response to demands to create more diverse learning experiences, including online and distance learning opportunities, more faculty and staff are using technologies to connect to students and to one another in innovative ways. Likewise, as higher education experiences a shift toward technology-based learning, “the use of technology will be increasingly common in the development of assessment projects in the future” (Schuh, 2009, p. 244). Methods for assessment need to be planned and communicated clearly as technology integration shapes the road ahead. As Bresciani, Zelna, and Anderson (2004) point out, “Carefully considering your options by reflecting on what it is that you want to measure and how you can gather the best evidence is vital to the success of your work” (p. 25).

With the integration of technology that allows for multiple forms of data gathering across departments and divisions, the overall picture that is painted can be expanded; what may begin as wallet-size snapshots can become a full-scale, 360-degree view of the overall campus climate.

The need to increase the clarity of higher education’s vision as it pertains to assessment is, according to Keeling, Underhile, and Dungy (2008), “driven by two forces: external demands for accountability and internal commitments to improvement” (p. 1). These driving forces demand a more holistic and efficient approach to assessment that can be facilitated by the creative use of technology. By using several types of technology to gather data, assessment initiatives can reach audiences and events that were otherwise inaccessible. Such technologies also help student affairs professionals get out of the rut of always doing the same types of assessments.

The first innovative technology we will mention are clickers, which are becoming popular on many campuses across the country. The immediate feedback possible with clickers enhances the learning experience in workshops and classrooms by fostering more interaction, humor, and student inquiries, and the data and responses generated can be saved at the end of the session for later analysis. Several companies provide clicker technology and services, although the company, TurningPoint Technologies, seems to be gaining market share due to its seamless interaction with PowerPoint. Clickers have been effective in several student-based programs at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), including new student orientation and student staff training. They have been used, also, for various division-wide meetings to familiarize staff with the ease of use of this technology.

There is a fairly large initial cost for acquiring the clickers (approximately $30-40/clicker) and the receivers (approximately $100/receiver), with clickers obviously being the larger expense because one is needed for each attendant. Other drawbacks for clickers are that clicker use can require more time than paper and pencil surveys, and individual clickers can disappear over time as a result of theft or carelessness. Some colleges and universities have begun to require that students purchase their own clickers, which can be used in all of their classes and workshops at the institution.

As a second option, Personal Digital Assessments (PDAs), such as iPods, iPhones, or other smartphones, are convenient tools for gathering student and attendee feedback immediately following events. PDAs essentially take an electronic survey and make it mobile, allowing for their use at any location, whether from the lobby outside an event to a busy sidewalk or intersection on campus. At UNCW, we have used iPods to conduct “60-second surveys” for the Career Center and to solicit feedback regarding numerous campus workshops and events. Students like iPods and sometimes even think that we are handing them out, but when they find out that we are just conducting surveys they are still willing to participate.

Depending on the software platform, data can be accessed immediately after the PDA is synced with a computer. PDAs are relatively inexpensive (approximately $70-$300), easily portable, and widely compatible with computer survey software. Some computer expertise may be needed to ensure optimum performance, and the qualitative data that can be acquired are limited, though this limitation can be augmented through the use of digital recorders. Other challenges that can arise are short battery life and the small screen size, making it important to purchase PDAs that are accessible for students with disabilities.

As a third versatile and mobile option for collecting data, digital voice recorders allow one to capture open-ended responses in focus groups around campus. Digital voice recorders provide an ability to concentrate on interviews or focus groups without having to worry about recording all comments and allow for direct quotations for reports, presentations, and articles. These recorders have been very useful at UNCW as we have listened to student veterans on campus explain their needs, challenges, and ideas for improvement. The recorders cost $50-$200, typically, and the recordings can be directly uploaded to a computer. Other options on the devices include adjustable listening speeds and index marks that can be placed in the recordings. The challenge with recordings is that transcribing the full text can require extensive time, and the voice quality and clarity sometimes result in missed data.

In situations where extensive quantitative data are desired, the OMR scanner is a good approach to collecting data from bubble sheets. Particularly useful when asking multiple choice/answer questions of participants, the scanners are fast and accurate, eliminating errors and time spent on data entry. Disadvantages include the high costs for OMR hardware, software, and forms, as well as limited customization options. It is also difficult to collect qualitative data on such surveys. Scanner prices vary according to specific features, such as whether they read forms that are one or two sided or whether they can recognize both pencil and pen. At UNCW, the OMR scanner has been very useful in collecting bubble sheet data that examined issues regarding our students’ substance abuse.

The fifth technological option, online surveys, is perhaps the most common technological method for assessment, whether they are sent via home-grown systems, Survey Monkey, or other purchased systems. At UNCW, web surveys conducted through Campus Labs (formerly StudentVoice) software have enabled the widespread collection of student participation trends, satisfaction, benchmarking, and learning outcomes data across campus. By using CampusLabs, links to web surveys are easy to send out to large numbers of recipients all at once via email, and the data are typically available in real-time once a survey is submitted. The software also keeps track of who has responded to the survey, reduces number crunching, and allows for easy cross-tab analyses and cut-and-paste tables and graphs. The cost for online platforms, such as Campus Labs, varies by institutional size. Though easy to use, web surveys can suffer from low response rates and self-selection biases. These can be offset by offering incentives for completing surveys, such as gift cards or drawings for prizes. Efforts to show how data are being used to make improvements on campus (e.g., “We’ve Heard Your Voice” initiative) can enhance student motivation as well.

The benefits of using these five technologies in tandem with one another are extensive. By using a combination of these tools, both quantitative and qualitative data can be solicited from students in a variety of locations and methods. By capturing rich student data that are reliable and valid, staff and administrators can be more attuned to the opinions and needs of the student population. Also, time spent on manual data entry can be reduced, removing both entry errors and staff fatigue.

Using these technologies has been crucial in the development of a “culture of learning” and a “culture of assessment” at UNCW. To facilitate greater technology use, staff training has been conducted both individually and collectively. Through widespread staff participation, technologies have been used to gather significant data at UNCW on such areas as community standards, family events, summer programming, and student veterans, in particular. By using a combination of online quantitative assessment and digitally recorded qualitative assessment, services and programs offered to military students at UNCW have been significantly enhanced. Such assessments are being used to provide a seamless transition for active duty and student veterans, allowing their time at UNCW to be one of academic achievement and immersion into the campus culture.

In summary, assessment is an ongoing process vital to the growth and improvement of any university. Through various technologies, the satisfaction, needs and learning outcomes of students can be assessed easily and accurately, allowing administrators to make the most of tight budgets by delivering targeted responses to university concerns and goals. Although these tools can often be expensive, funding for technology can be solicited from across the division/university and through available grants. Given their many potential positive outcomes, we have found that they are well worth the investment.


Bresciani, M. J., Zelna, C. L., & Anderson, J. A. (2004). Assessing student learning and development: A handbook for practitioners. Washington, D.C.: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

Duderstadt, J., Atkins, D., & Van Houweling, D. (2002). Higher education in the digital age. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Keeling, R., Wall, A., Underhile, R., & Dungy, G. (2008). Assessment reconsidered. USA: ICSSIA.

Schuh, J. (2009). Assessment methods for student affairs. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Discussion Questions

  • How does the use of technology enhance assessment initiatives in student affairs?
  • In what situations would each of the five technologies be most appropriate?
  • What are some of the pros and cons associated with the use of each of these technologies?

About the Authors

Nathan K. Lindsay, PhD, is the Assistant Vice Provost for Assessment at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is also the former Director of Student Life Assessment at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Please e-mail inquiries to Nathan K. Lindsay.

Jesse A. Riggs is the Director of Institutional Research at Calvary Bible College.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jesse A. Riggs.


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 Overview of Uses and Limitations in Judicial Cases

Jason E. Lane
Assistant Professor
University of North Dakota

You walk out of your office to grab a file and notice your student worker quickly minimize a screen on his computer.  Curious, you ask him about it and he simply replies that he is “facebooking.”  Curiosity piqued, you inquire more.  Looking over his shoulder he describes to you a website that allows students to connect with each over the internet.  Interesting, but it sounds like only a new iteration of e-mail and instant messaging.  Later that day on the way to a meeting, you observe that students in the lounge, computer labs, coffee shop are all “facebooking.”  Research about Facebook is very limited; however, it should come as no surprise that a recent study by two students at MIT on Facebook usage reported that 60% of users in the study log into the site at least four times a week (Jones & Solten, 2005). (In fact, many of the undergraduates with whom I have discussed Facebook indicate that they log on to the site several times a day).  The study reported that usage was so prevalent that on campuses such as Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University the percentage of students possessing a account surpassed 90%.

Facebook ( belongs to a cadre of new internet ventures known as social networking sites.  The sites exist for a range of purposes.  Consider this: by exploring the profile of other members, one can quickly find out such personal information as dating status (i.e., “single”, “in a relationship”, “in an open relationship”, “engaged”, “married”, or “its complicated”), sexual preferences, political views, movie and music interests, and favorite quotes.  Assuredly, some of the information available is quite provocative and a bit disturbing. While shocking to some, these reported behaviors are not new (although, some may argue that the structure of the site works to promote such activities or at least normalize them).  The site makes publicly available information about what college students have been doing in private for years.  This public access to traditionally private information is raising a number of questions regarding the relationship between postsecondary institutions and their students.

Toward the beginning of this semester while toying with writing this column, I was chatting with my graduate assistant about Facebook and she convinced me that the only way to understand the phenomenon was to log on to the site and explore.  After some trepidation about joining this group of mostly undergrads, I consented. With a few clicks and the entry of minimal personal information, I joined the community of 12.4 million college students, alumni, and a few faculty and staff.  Within two days of joining, I reconnected with friends from both my undergraduate and graduate institutions, read about the current trends in music and movies both on my campus and nationally, and discovered more about my undergraduate and graduate students and their friends than I either wanted or needed.  From the six people who I added to my “friends” list in those first few days, the site let me know that I was then connected to 289 other people.  I could investigate my friends’ friends to see if there were any who I want to list as my friends and add them to my list.

The site does not belong to the university nor is it a formal official extension of the campus environment.  Unlike many of the online social networking sites, Facebook is based on its members participating in a shared setting: a college campus (whether they area taking classes on campus or are distance learners).  For the most part, users can only access a particular college or university Facebook site if they possess the corresponding e-mail address. Thus, the members of each individual site are also members of a broader campus community tied together through common courses, academic programs, cultural norms and values, and daily events that take place on and around campus.  In some ways, this sense of a quasi-exclusive community creates a sense of privacy and safety for many users who post pictures and stories about illegal and ethically-questionable activities.

One of the most egregious examples of the boasting of illegal activity centers on the recent burning of nine churches in Alabama.  Newsweek (Skip & Kim, 2006) reported that the culprits, three college students, chronicled some of their other criminal activity on Facebook. The magazine revealed that the students used Facebook to exchange messages about “alcohol, drunken driving, illegal hunts, guns, and vandalism and feckless law-enforcement officers” (p. 8).  While little data exists about the extent to which students reveal criminal activity on the site, significant anecdotal evidence suggests that students often willingly share information about such behaviors as sexual activity and alcohol and drug use.  For example, when a New York Times reporter was working on a story about abuse of the drug Adderall at Columbia University, he interviewed more than 20 students because of their membership in the Facebook group, “Adderall, You’re Breaking My Heart”.

With all of this information available, college and university officials in public safety and judicial affairs offices are increasingly turning to the site to gather evidence about violations of the law and the institution’s code of conduct.   At Penn State, campus officials used pictures on the Facebook group I rushed the Field After the OSU Game (And Lived!) to identify and discipline more than 50 students who had rushed the football field after PSU defeated Ohio State last fall.  In November 2005, The Northerner reported that Northern Kentucky University fined four students for posting pictures of a drinking party in a residence hall on Facebook. In another example, according to Ohio University’s student newspaper, The Post, a student Resident Assistant was terminated for posting photographs of underage drinking in the residence halls.

Unsurprisingly, such actions by college and university administrators cause a great deal of consternation among college students who repeatedly claim violations of privacy.  While efforts to collect evidence via Facebook may be viewed as an invasion of private space, there is nothing illegal about college officials using the site to collect evidence about student behavior.  A judicial affairs officer has the same opportunity and access as a fraternity brother to browse the site, peruse pictures, and read postings. In many ways, posting information to Facebook is no different than posting the information on a public bulletin board.  Once posted, there exists no expectation of privacy — who reads the information cannot be controlled.  This situation raises questions about a university’s obligation to provide students with a certain level of internet literacy.

As universities venture into the regulation of online behavior, they do need to be cautious of their own activities.  Some campuses no longer simply use Facebook to collect evidence about reported code violations, but actually assign a student or public safety officer to monitor activity on the site.  When an institution begins actively monitoring the site, it may begin to assume a responsibility (and legal liability) for activities that occur on Facebook.  (Some readers may recall a similar issue in the late 1990s when the National Panhellenic Conference asked the institutional Panhellenic Councils to stop actively monitoring sorority social events because of the potential liability involved with assuming responsibility for monitoring student behavior).  On Facebook, institutions may create an expectation that the university is obligated to provide them with a safe and harassment free environment – when in fact the university is really only looking for alcohol violations such as underage drinking or drinking in a “dry” residence hall.

Keep in mind that collecting evidence may be legal, but the evidence collected may not always be legitimate. Pictures do not always prove action or intent.  Merely holding a red plastic cup does not mean alcohol was being consumed.  Further, what if after punishing a student for drinking in his residence hall room you discover on Facebook a picture of the same student clearly drinking in the hall?  One should be cautious of such evidence. Is this a picture of the same event, for which the student was already sanctioned, or a different violation? If a student posts a caption suggesting a student with a funny look in the picture is stoned in a residence hall, does this mean the student was smoking marijuana on campus? Not necessarily, the person may never have smoked pot and the caption may only be an attempt at humor.

As a still emerging phenomenon, the legal concerns of Facebook and other social networking sites remain ambiguous.  Issues such as harassment and the posting of threatening speech are likely to be some of the major legal issues to arise in the future; particularly when both public and private universities seek to manage the speech of their students and other community members on Facebook.

With millions of college students now using the Facebook site, student affairs administrators need to be aware of the site and understand its role on college campuses.  In many ways, the site serves a very valuable function of creating a campus community (albeit a mostly unregulated one).  However, it can also be a useful tool for campus administrators to investigate potential violations of the law or student code of conduct.  These administrators need to remember, however, that the same protections and freedoms granted students in the physical world also apply in the virtual one.

Summary Points for Administrative Consideration

  • Even though each Facebook site restricts access to members based on their .edu web address, the information provided on the site is available for public consumption.  College and university administrators can use the site to collect evidence about possible violations to the student code of conduct or the law.
  • There is a difference between using the site to collect evidence and actively monitoring the site for potential code violations. When universities actively monitor student activity on Facebook they may begin to assume responsibility (and thus liability) for activities conducted on the site.
  • Public institutions must respect student’s freedom of speech rights. So long as students not in engage in unprotected speech such as that which is libelous or threatens the health and safety of another, students have a right to say (or post) whatever they choose – even if an institution does not like it.
  • Institutions must be judicious in how they use evidence collected on Facebook.  Simply holding a red cup does not prove alcohol consumption by a minor.  Sometimes it may be best to simply use the evidence to have a conversation with the student about appropriate behavior, rather than trying to use it to determine responsibility for a code violation.


  • Jones, H. & Soltren, J. H. (2005). Facebook: Threats to privacy.  Unpublished
    Manuscript, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.
  • Skip C. & Kim, T. (2006, March 20).  Church burnings: What we did last night.
    Newsweek, p. 8.

Technology in Student Affairs

Technology in Student Affairs

In every aspect of student affairs, technological events influence change. Almost every staff member uses a computer to improve communication, provide more effective management, gain knowledge, or provide information. Over the past several years websites have evolved from an “add-on” to an essential element for providing information and interacting with students. Today, websites are used to seek information, assess, and strategically evaluate and enhance programs and services. They are used as interactive tools for students and their parents/guardians. In 2004, campuses responded to the downloading of commercial music and videos, and in 2005 professional are reacting to “”. The need to explore the role and responsibility that student affairs professionals have in preparing students for acceptable online behavior in the classroom and workplace arises. New questions continue to emerge. Clarity and professional development is needed for those in our profession and institutions regarding issues related to technological topics such as ethics and online behavior, judicial sanction tracking, confidentiality and privacy, student clubs and organization support, and health and wellness information.

As time passes, the influence of technology within student affairs becomes clearer. Each of us sees, feels, and experiences this impact. However, the effect of this ever-changing technology on the transformation of our profession does not appear to be a paramount issue for many. Too many student affairs staff demonstrate a limited interest and minimal knowledge base for guiding how technology can best be used. Will we seize the opportunity to lead the future direction of our profession or will we allow others to make these important decisions for us? We are at a crossroad to determine if we will take the lead or be led. Action is essential during this crucial time.

Over the past several years, topics related to technology sporadically appeared at conferences and in discussions while an organized focus on the subject remained minimal. In January 2004, the Electronic Student Services Task Force (ESSTF) was established in ACPA to address issues related to technology. In spring 2004, professionals who attended selected sessions at the NASPA and ACPA annual conventions were asked about technology experiences on their campuses. The information was organized and included in a report to the ACPA Executive Board in July 2004. The ESS Task Force reported on the following trends and challenges: Online access to services overwhelmingly emerged as the most prominent topic about the use of technology within student affairs. The trends indicate that technology is being used to build community, for assessment, and improved communication. More advanced and blended technologies improve processes. Online information has become more dynamic and engaging, thus requiring more student and staff interaction. Student affairs professionals acknowledge several benefits from using technology, including the increased ability to get students involved and being able to provide more accurate and consistent information available at all times (American College Personnel Association, 2004, p. 2).

While most trends that were expressed by professionals promoted a positive reaction to technology, challenges incorporated a more negative response from the impact of technology. “The need for resources, improved staff technology skills, resistance to change, and fear were entwined with new concerns such as innovative methods for cheating, illegal downloading, and the loss of the personal touch [through face-to face meetings]. Professionals focused on the need for staff to use the technology available, to focus on student learning and development, and for administration support” (American College Personnel Association, 2004, p.2).

The ESSTF turned to ACPA, “as a vital organization that supports the student affairs profession, to develop and implement an effective plan to bring together experts and leaders in the field and to address, educate, and guide the path for innovative uses of technology” (American College Personnel Association, 2004, p.2). Understanding that the “findings showed that little was being accomplished to provide direction, planning, and sustainability for best practices and successful models for using and integrating technology within student affairs” (American College Personnel Association, 2005, p.1), the Executive Board responded favorably to the ESSTF report. A second report was presented to the Executive Board in January 2005 which focused on several recommendations and strategies to address technology issues.

At the 2005 ACPA conference, the Executive Board passed a motion to continue the ESSTF for another year in collaboration with the Commission on Administrative Leadership Technology Committee. Together, these two groups will work to establish effective means for professionals to discuss student affair trends, prioritize and categorize technology issues, discover educational opportunities related to these technology topics and issues, encourage research related to technology within student affairs, and report findings to the ACPA Executive Board.

To begin, professionals must move beyond their personal fears and phobias about technology. We are the “human element” that is driving technological change. We must begin to accept technology not only as a as “compelling force instigating movement and change” but also as “a mechanism humans use to move forward making ideas a reality” (Kleinglass, 2000, p.13). By understanding the role and the impact technology has on the actions, expectations, and behaviors of students, we can begin to guide the role of technology within student affairs and to influence the future path of the profession.

Today, technology-driven change impacts university activities including the development of community, sharing of experiences and learning (Duderstadt, Atkins, & Van Houweling, 2002). When professionals within student affairs accept the responsibility to act, they will become the leaders of the profession. Together, professionals on the task force and in the field can establish a meaningful foundation on which to build the future. Discussion on the impact and role of technology in student affairs can continue with a purposeful direction that benefits and strengthens the role of student affairs within educational institutions. Through this demonstration, administrators, faculty, and other members of the higher education community will increasingly be able to understand the important role of student affairs professionals to enhance student development, contribute to student learning, build upon the student experience, and suggest guidelines for training of new professionals.

Student affairs professionals are in an excellent position to lead, to take action, and to understand what is at stake. “[The] tools necessary for managing change might just lie somewhere in sociology, social psychology, cultural anthropology, economics, and organization theory” (Curry, 2002, p.128). Many student affairs professionals hold degrees in the humanities or social sciences and develop expertise in working with student populations. As experts in student and community development, student services, student communication, and student learning, we in student affairs must recognize our responsibility to advocate and to be a resource to understand, translate, guide, and incorporate the direction of technological change within the field, for today and for the future. Our responsibility to lead change becomes logical and necessary. We must face the questions about how to use technology to benefit students, incorporate the values of higher education, meet institutional goals, and enhance learning. We have to establish collaborative partnerships while advocating for student technological needs and expectations. We have a responsibility to ourselves, our profession and to students.

In the coming year, the Electronic Student Services Task Force will take steps to implement goals that provide venues for conversation on the impact of technology, now and in the future. How can we as professional increase our understanding of technological demands, functions, tools, and effectiveness? How can we seize educational moments and opportunities to use technology to improve student learning? How can we discover an effective balance between traditional face-to face communities and virtual communities? What are the professional competencies needed for students, staff, and new professionals? What do we need to know in order to build meaningful partnerships with administrators, faculty, and outside vendors? How can we take the lead for the destiny and direction of the profession?

Please join your ACPA colleagues; be proactive not reactive. Join the conversations and opportunities coming this year. Together, with guidance, commitment, and action from many of the experts in the field, we can affect the outcomes for the future. If you are interested in participating in the conversations or online meetings, or have suggestions, please send an email to [email protected].


  • American College Personnel Association. (2004, July). Report to the Executive Board from the Electronic Student Services Task Force. Washington DC: Author.
  • American College Personnel Association. (2005, January). Report to the Executive Board from the Electronic Student Services Task Force. Washington DC: Author.
  • Curry, J.R. (2002). The organizational challenge: IT and revolution in higher education. In R.N Katz & Associates (Eds.). Web portals and higher education: Technologies to make IT personal. (pp.125-138). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Duderstad, J. J., Atkins, D. E., & Van Houweling, D., (2002). Higher education in the digital age: Technology issues and strategies for American colleges and universities. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
  • Kleinglass, N. K. (2000). Addressing the reality of technology skills and competencies freshmen students use in their first year of higher education. D issertation Abstracts International (UMI No. 1042-7279).