The Importance of Environments

Paul Eaton

Welcome to the summer issue of Developments. One of our publications’ goals is to help bridge theory to practice, and over the next several months we will be introducing several new innovations that we hope will inspire you to utilize our articles and publication in new ways.  The first of these is for us to become more highly engaged on social media.  I encourage you to utilize our new official Developments hashtag (#ACPADev) on Twitter and Facebook as you read, think, and critique the articles in this issue.

My selected theme for this issue is “the importance of environments.”  Student affairs practitioners have always been concerned with creating positive, supporting, and engaging learning environments, but this issue of Developments appears to raise some new environmental challenges into the consciousness of our work.  I encourage you to begin with Marisa Vernon’s insightful discussion of looking beyond the immediate campus environment into the lived experiences and environments of our students.  As always, Marisa raises issues that impact practitioners not only on Community College campuses, but all of our campuses.  It is important as educators and practitioners that we do not always rush to judgment about our students – their complex lives, much like our own, requires empathy and understanding of life beyond the walls or digital architectures of our campuses.

As educators and practitioners, we also seek to ensure that our programs and initiatives will impact students in measurable ways.  Several articles in this issue address this important part of our work.  Our Series on Global Education continues by providing examples of International Service Learning and Study Abroad Experiential Learning as important to fulfilling international multicultural competence.  Alex Lange and J. Matthew Garrett help us think about intentionally using our environments on campus for student leadership development.

Members of the Pan African Network have contributed an important piece to this issue reflecting on the cases of Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, and the ongoing work of ensuring our campus environments continue to focus on issues of justice, multiculturalism, equality, equity, and connection to larger community and cultural issues, especially for Black males.

Vicki Wise and Lisa Hatfield help us think about how we can use the ACPA & NASPA Student Affairs Competencies in developing employee evaluation tools, while Jeffrey Sun helps us think about how the larger environmental influences of big data impact our campuses, particularly from the perspective of Legal responsibility.

Finally, I am happy to introduce our newest Global Affairs Columnist, Tadd Kruse.  Tadd has a wealth of experience working internationally in higher education and student affairs.  He will be writing twice a year and adds an important voice to our understanding about working with students internationally, and viewing our work from a more international perspective.  I know you will find his articles timely as well as insightful and educational, especially for those of us that have not worked outside the United States.

Stay tuned over the next several months as we continue to enhance our publication and its use in your daily work.

Quarterly Update: From One Dupont Circle

Gregory Roberts
ACPA Executive Director

Greetings from the International Office in Washington, D.C.

This bittersweet edition of “From One Dupont Circle” is bittersweet because it will be my last official communication in Developments to the membership of ACPA  as your Executive Director. There are so many opportunities and challenges in higher/tertiary education today, but I am confident you will have no problem keeping busy with the agendas impacting the educational needs of our students. As you have heard me say many times, the state of higher education in America and the world is changing and changing very fast. The train has left the station, and my question to you is: are you on it? Are you leading the train, following it, or waiting for it to stop at the next station? Think about where you are and where you want to be or need to be to educate 21st century students. The results will be life changing!

As we have discussed before, the United States Federal Government is working to increase educational attainment among United States citizens. As a result, many issues continue to impact us:

  • Affordability to higher education in the United States and challenges of cost containment
  • Access to higher education and preparation needed to ensure that access
  • Accountability is always the end result of all federal expenditure and ethical stewardship of the resources provided to move this agenda forward

In addition, Congress is working slowly to reauthorize the United States Higher Education Act (which happens every five years) and the political game playing that appears to be necessary to get this Act reauthorized. There will be many hours spent advocating for additional funding to ensure our ability in American higher education to be affordable and accessible to those that need it most: lower socioeconomic students, students of color, and students with disabilities. We cannot hold back at this time. Also, there is tremendous focus on the two-year college experience and the need to make access to these institutions as easy and welcoming as possible. Many United States military personnel will be returning from the military conflicts of the Middle East and are encouraged to take advantage of the educational benefits that have been provided as a result of their active duty service for the United States. Let’s make it a priority to do all that we can to make the veteran student experience (like all student experiences) a valuable and worthwhile endeavor. Our veterans deserve as much.

As you can see, there are many international and national issues facing our world that require more attention to the student learning process and ultimate success. Those may seem like tall orders for some, but for those of us in Student Affairs/Student Development, that is what we do and why we do what we do. I urge you as the trail blazers for our future and the future of education to make sure you are onboard advocating for the student learning process that will be more realistic and valuable for the students coming to campus (physically and virtually).

I would like to personally say thank you to the 2014 Convention team and the International Office staff who worked tirelessly to present something new, exciting and challenging to our members and colleagues who attended the “Reinvent” convention. I was most impressed with the one hundred students who participated in the Next Generation Conference, and many students remained in Indianapolis to attend the 90th Annual Convention. These students are the pipeline to the profession, and they are talented, energetic and ready to assume their position of leadership in the profession. We must continue to find ways to attract and retain educators in the field of student affairs.

Also, I want to say a special thank you to the ACPA Leadership and Staff for hosting a fabulous reception in my honor. It was truly a wonderful event. Again I express my sincere appreciation for my many friends and colleagues who were with me (and those who wanted to be there) for this event. The 2014 convention was my 38th ACPA convention, and I have enjoyed my 40 years of membership and involvement with an association that has always attempted to walk the walk and talk the talk on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion of all people. Given my own personal convictions, this has been a dream come true to be able to work passionately on behalf of the many critical issues I feel are essential for human development and more specifically, student development.

There were three initial goals that I set for the association when I assumed the leadership as Executive Director in 2003 and they were:

  1. Stabilize and grow the financial resources (accomplished with reserves in excess of $1.7 million).
  2. Upgrade technology in the International Office (accomplished with online support for convention, journal editing, career services, and a new website).
  3. Strengthen partnership with other associations focused on students (accomplished by creating Student Affairs in Higher Education Consortium, co-hosting joint conventions with NASPA in 2007 and with NIRSA in 2013 in addition to many other joint collaborations).

There has been much accomplished since these primary goals were established and much yet to be done. Eleven years later, I can honestly say it has been a journey and not a destination, and I thank you for the opportunity to serve my professional association in so many capacities over the past 40 years of membership. My most sincere best wishes for a bright and successful future and I look forward to continuing my commitment to the core values as I leave ACPA. I wish the greatest of successes for Dr. Cindi Love as she officially assumes the position of Executive Director on July 1, 2014.

Thank you to a talented and dedicated team of colleagues who have shared this journey over the past 11 years as members of the Governing Board (Executive Council) and International Office staff.

Until another book and another chapter,


A Time for Rethinking Student Affairs

A Time for Rethinking Student Affairs

Kent Porterfield
ACPA President

Image of Presidential Symposium Speakers

In 2011, ACPA Past President Heidi Levine hosted a Presidential Symposium in collaboration with the Iowa College Personnel Association. Through this single-day conference, a group of student affairs professionals came together to discuss ways to be more intentional about fostering student success. The conversation about student success continues today, but it is increasingly a conversation impacted and influenced by broader concerns about access, affordability and accountability—concerns about which the government, business and the general public are speaking loudly and critically. Our ability as a field to impact the future of higher education, our institutions’ aspirational goals and objectives, and the success of our students may require us to adapt and even to rethink some aspects of student affairs preparation, organization, and practice.

Clearly our students do not experience college in accordance with the organizational structures of our institutions. Our students are increasingly more diverse and view their college experiences through the lenses of multiple social identities and backgrounds. Accordingly, their needs vary significantly. With a greater emphasis being placed on completion rates, more and more government regulation, and increasing expectations for higher quality education and better career preparation, student affairs must be engaged in helping higher education institutions respond with solutions to these challenges. Student affairs professionals will not be able to do so by doing everything we’ve always done and continuing to add more layers or greater degrees of specialization. Like it or not, the “additive” model appears to be unsustainable. Our future success may be predicated on our willingness and ability to be more sharply focused on doing what is most critically important: the work that has the greatest impact for our institutions and on our students.

In my Presidential address, I spoke about the need for us to be willing to continuously adapt and rethink student affairs work in the academy. Student affairs must be a part of higher education reform and contribute in a collective effort to identify effective solutions for addressing the difficult issues of access, affordability, and accountability within our institutions. With these ideas in mind, I am hosting this year’s Presidential Symposium, A Time for Rethinking Student Affairs, June 11−12.

In the morning session of the Symposium, we will hear from an impressive lineup of speakers. Our lineup includes:

  • Dr. Martha Kanter, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Higher Education at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and former Undersecretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education;
  • Diana Natalicio, President of the University of Texas at El Paso, and past chair of the Board of Directors of the American Council on Education;
  • Dr. Jillian Kinzie, Associate Director for the Center for Postsecondary Research and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) Institute at Indiana University Bloomington;
  • Jeff Appel, Deputy Undersecretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education;
  • Doug Lederman, Editor and co-founder, Inside Higher Education, will serve as program moderator.

During the afternoon session, Dr. Kanter and Dr. Cindi Love, our Executive Director Designee, will lead a dialogue that examines the guiding question for the Symposium: “To what extent do we need to rethink student affairs preparation, organization, and practice to help our institutions effectively address mega-issues of access, affordability and accountability?” This will be a unique program and an opportunity for us to participate in an important conversation about the future of higher education and the role student affairs can play in helping our institutions address these critical issues.

As we talk about these imperative mega-issues facing our work, we hope you will join us in the dialogue, even if you will not be with us in St. Louis. Follow the conversation and share your thoughts using #ACPArethink June 11−12.

Inclusion in Association Data Collection

ACPA Demographic Standard Question Committee

ACPA – College Student Educators International is the comprehensive higher education and student affairs/services Association which lives out its long-held Core Values to support college student success. Two of these Core Values speak directly to our commitment to issues of social justice, equity, and inclusion:

  • Diversity, multicultural competence and human dignity; and
  • Inclusiveness in and access to Association-wide involvement and decision-making.

It is the Association’s attentiveness to issues of inclusion, opportunities to increase understanding and competence, and recognition that our own identity matters in the work that we do that brings thousands of members back to ACPA annually.  As an Association, ACPA strives to provide its members with meaningful and intentional professional development programs; knowledge grounded on best practices and research; and a nurturing environment for networking and learning opportunities. Consequently, 99.5% of respondents/members affirmed in the 2012 Membership Survey that “ACPA fulfills/supports/lives the Association values.”

In various formats (typically membership forms and assessments), ACPA asks members to self-describe a number of different professional, social and/or personal identity demographics. The Association uses this data to monitor trends over time through multiple instruments, analyze responses, opinions and satisfaction by identity area with data from a single instrument, and distribute targeted information about ACPA programs, events and services. Members can choose to provide information on their personal/social identities for ACPA to use for educational planning and event promotional purposes.

The quest for inclusiveness is considered to be a journey, rather than a destination as nomenclature, definitions, and attributions change with time and context.  In recent years, ACPA received feedback via the 2012 Membership Survey, the ACPA 2013 Convention Evaluation and the ACPA Equity & Inclusion Advisory Board that some members have experienced these surveys or forms as marginalizing. Shortly after the ACPA 2013 Convention in Las Vegas, ACPA leaders from the Multiracial Network (MRN) and Standing Committee for Multicultural Affairs (CMA) wrote “An Open Letter to the ACPA Community” to highlight the importance of question and response option wording and to offer an educational moment for ACPA members who may encounter demographic questions in their work. It is through active participation as demonstrated by the Multiracial Network and the Standing Committee for Multicultural Affairs that brings about positive and forward change in ACPA, and we are grateful for their advocacy and involvement in the pursuit of new expectations.

For the past 18 months, a small group of ACPA Governing Board and International Office staff members have consulted widely across the Association to develop new standards for demographic questions in surveys and on membership or event registration forms. In our work, we consulted with current and former directorate leaders/members of Standing Committees and Commissions, educational researchers, assessment experts, Association professionals, convention volunteers, and social justice advocates to determine the most appropriate ways to develop questions that were sound psychometrically, yet did not create unintentional micro-aggressions for members. The end result was the creation of a proposal, approved by the ACPA Governing Board in December 2013, which documents standards for collecting and analyzing personal and/or social demographic information from members and/or event participants. The approved proposal also delineates questions most appropriate to ask via the individual membership form and professional development event registration form from those most appropriate to ask via supplemental assessment instruments to eliminate these concerns about exposure and privacy.

Going forward, it is the expectation that ACPA leaders and members who distribute surveys or create event registration forms sponsored by the Association will follow these new standards explicitly. Several of the required demographic questions are intentionally listed as free response options to allow members to self-describe these aspects of their identities so that they may inform future iterations of these questions and response options. A coding guide is available to ACPA leaders as a means of pre-determining coding expectations and to increase the ease of coding for future volunteers. We recognize, however, that demographic questions should be reviewed and updated annually by the Equity & Inclusion Advisory Board and the Governing Board Director of Membership Development with respect to evolving terminology, language and definitions.

In the case where an exception to the standards is requested, the ACPA International Office will review the requested changes and consult with the appropriate Governing Board member(s) to ensure that the requested exception does not contain unintended micro-aggressions. Exception requests might include, but are not limited to: Research focus/questions using different language/terminology, data analysis does not rely on all questions in standards, or campus Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. Campus Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval supersedes ACPA policies regarding demographic questions and response options in research cases, but according to the current ACPA Research Request Policy, “Research requests must fit with the mission and purpose of ACPA, be culturally appropriate, and comply with ACPA’s statement on non-discrimination and ethical principles.”

A copy of the new ACPA Demographic Questions Standards is now available for your review and consideration for use on your campus or in your work.

As previously stated, these standards will be reviewed annually by the Equity & Inclusion Advisory Board and the Governing Board Director of Membership Development to ensure alignment with ACPA’s values, member feedback and ever-evolving nomenclature and definitions. During the drafting of this proposal the authors experienced several challenges/questions that future ACPA leaders should monitor and further evaluate. We believe those issues are worth noting as they more fully describe our journey, and not just this initial set of standards:

  • ACPA’s aspirations are global, yet its membership is overwhelmingly from the United States.  Many of the demographic questions proposed contain cultural references or terminology rooted in United States culture and history. As ACPA’s membership continues to grow outside of the United States, the individual membership form, event registration form and assessment demographic questions may need to be revised to reflect a more global set of questions and response alternatives.
  • ACPA does not currently have the capability to gather information about the relationship between a member’s country of origin, citizenship and/or country of residency. This information would be valuable in more fully understanding the global nature of student affairs/services work and the Association’s reach. Asking for this information via the membership or event registration form places members in the position of having to disclose their immigration status, which is unrelated to the goal of the information gathering. Should ACPA consider adopting demographic questions regarding citizenship in the future, it may be important to explore any possible legal implications for collecting and storing this data as well as to consider that immigration status is fluid and complex.
  • There was great discussion about whether asking members about languages spoken would build expectations of programs and services being offered in multiple languages to best meet member needs. Although not currently a component of ACPA’s principles, language accommodations are commonly cited as a component of Universal Design. Questions about the primary languages used by members has been added to the current standards, but these questions may be considered in the future as additions to the individual membership form and/or event registration form if ACPA expands its Universal Design principles to include languages used.

We would like to, once again, state our gratitude to the Multiracial Network and the Standing Committee for Multicultural Affairs for their advocacy and involvement in this significant ACPA advancement. We are also grateful to the many ACPA leaders, members and educational partners who supported this important work and we anticipate that current and future ACPA members will continue to experience the Association’s Core Values lived out in all arenas, including membership forms and experience or satisfaction surveys. If you feel that they do not, we want to hear from you to continue making positive and necessary edits to these standards. While we have reached this initial destination in the form of established standards, we continue on the journey of inclusion, individually and as an Association. That is what makes ACPA and its members so special.

ACPA Demographic Question Standard Committee

Chris Moody (American University-DC), ACPA Past-Director of Membership Development

Kathy Obear (Alliance for Change Consulting), ACPA Director of Equity and Inclusion

Heather Gasser (Michigan State University), ACPA Director of Membership Development

Tricia Fechter, ACPA-College Student Educators International

Stanton Cheah (University of Maryland at College Park)

Special acknowledgements:

ACPA Multiracial Network (MRN)

Standing Committee for Multicultural Affairs (CMA)

ACPA Equity & Inclusion Advisory Board

Commission for Spirituality, Faith, Meaning and Religion

Kathleen G. Kerr, University of Delaware

John Dugan, Loyola University Chicago

Jennifer Keup, The National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition

Global Citizenship and Tertiary Education: Exploring Experiential Education Examples

Global Citizenship and Tertiary Education: Exploring Experiential Education Examples

Gregory Roberts
ACPA – College Student Educators International
Tom Jackson, Jr.
University of Louisville
Joy L. Hart
University of Louisville
Kandi L. Walker
University of Louisville
Roger B. Ludeman
International Association of Student Affairs and Services

As the world has become more interconnected through globalization, the need for citizens with expansive views of society has increased.  Today’s problem solvers need to understand local, regional, national, and international issues—as well as the complex interrelations between such issues—to be effective.  Furthermore, tomorrow’s problem solvers will increasingly need such understandings, as well as the skills to work with diverse groups of individuals.  With such changes come increasingly expanded opportunities (and perhaps responsibilities) for universities to educate global citizens: graduates with broad perspectives and necessary skills to build and sustain a world that is just and fair.

As we argued in the initial article in this series, globalization has increased connections across the world; thus, citizens need to have expansive views in order to fully confront the complex issues and problems facing society.  Today’s students must possess multilevel understandings (i.e., local, regional, national, international) and skills to collaborate with diverse others if they are to be tomorrow’s problem solvers.  Such changes call for universities to rethink educational programs in ways that will educate students to become global citizens, who possess encompassing perspectives and necessary skills to grapple with complex issues.  In the previous article in this series, we discussed related literature and made the case for changing tertiary education toward these goals.  With this foundation, we now turn our attention to providing experiential education examples and examining how such experience may develop students’ worldviews.  In particular, we explore service learning and study abroad, though a host of other experiential education opportunities may have similar outcomes for students.  In the next and final article of the series, we conclude by assessing outcomes and describing best practices.


As many educators, strategists, business people, and politicians have suggested, changes are needed in university education to better prepare students for today’s global, interconnected world.  In particular, a focus on and experience with civic engagement is needed.  Toward advancing such educational objectives, several scholars and practitioners have described needed changes in university practice and structure (ACPA et al., 2006; Harper & Quaye, 2008; Keeling, 2004; Strange & Banning, 2001).  Integration of curricular programs and co-curricular opportunities forges more memorable results and deeper learning for students.  Through such experiences, awareness is broadened and skills are honed.  Experiential education, such as international service learning and study abroad (Lewin, 2009), frequently involve collaboration across university units and spur partnership development (Bringle & Hatcher, 2011).  Thus, we turn our attention to these two forms of experiential education, describing two examples and addressing the potential for student growth and inter-university collaborations.

Experiential Education Examples

International service learning and study abroad are two types of experiential education that have a history of providing meaningful and global experiences for students.  Recently, higher education institutions have seen a rise in the number of service learning and study abroad opportunities for students (Campus Compact, 2007).  Assessments of international service learning and study abroad programs show that participation in these types of programs increases students’ awareness of the world around them, fosters students’ ability to think critically about social and cultural issues, and develops student leaders who will embrace a global community (Bringle & Hatcher, 2011; Engberg & Fox, 2011). These positive assessments show that international service learning and study abroad provide students with learning opportunities that are relevant, meaningful, and increasingly needed in global citizenship.

Although international service learning and study abroad have the potential to provide students with many positive educational outcomes, it needs to be noted that international service learning and study abroad, while similar, are two different approaches to experiential education. As Parker and Dautoff (2007) noted, international service learning “emphasizes reciprocal learning and growth for students, faculty and community members” (p. 41) and study abroad focuses on the “personal growth” of the student (p. 41).  Bringle and Hatcher (2011) further explained international service learning as:

A structured academic experience in another country in which students (a) participate in an organized service activity that addresses identified community needs; (b) learn from direct interaction and cross-cultural dialogue with others; and (c) reflect on the experience in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a deeper understanding of global and intercultural issues, a broader appreciation of the host country and the discipline, and an enhanced sense of their own responsibilities as citizens, locally and globally. (p. 19)

This definition distinguishes service learning from study abroad by highlighting the student focus on community needs and how students can engage and help community members with such needs. Service learning also allows students time to reflect about the service experience from multiple lenses, including academic, social, and cultural.

Study abroad and service learning may approach educating students somewhat differently, but they both often make a positive impact on a student’s education and leave a lasting impression on students.  In the next section, we provide international service learning and study abroad program examples from the University of Louisville (UofL).

International Service Learning

The International Service Learning Program (ISLP) at UofL began in the mid-1990s.  From the beginning, ISLP stressed the need for service learning in order to have multiple disciplines involved both in the formal classroom at the university and in the more experiential component of the class in the international setting.  After a few years of fieldwork in Belize, Central America, the faculty and student service administrators believed that this multidisciplinary approach needed to become an interdisciplinary one.  They believed that an interdisciplinary approach, which allows students to have a “problem-centered mode of learning” (Gagdon, 1998, p. 191), better suited the goals of a quality learning experience and an enhanced international service-learning program for students.  It was clear that faculty and student service administrators wanted ISLP to align itself with an approach that would boost “critical thinking, enhance creativity, integrative thought processes, sensitivity to ethical issues, tolerance of ambiguity and humility” (Gagdon, 1998, p. 189).  As such, ISLP created “an interlinked interdisciplinary structure, ensuring that students from diverse disciplines would collaborate with each other in developing and leading service projects as well as with community members” (Jackson et al., 2012, p. 5).

In the initial years of ISLP, the primary international location was Belize, Central America.  As the faculty, administrators, and students of ISLP became more comfortable with the problem-focused interdisciplinary model, the capacity for the program to grow in more sites was evident.  At this time, ISLP takes place in five countries, using the interdisciplinary problem-focused approach in every site.  ISLP currently offers a service- learning program in Botswana, Croatia, The Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Belize.  There are one fall program (The Philippines), two spring break programs (Belize and Trinidad and Tobago), and two end-of-spring term programs (Croatia and Botswana).

Now in its 15th year, ISLP has accumulated a list of service learning activities and educational programs implemented in the five countries.  Most recently, UofL students have provided educational programs in primary or secondary schools and/or to community groups, ranging from full communities to women’s groups; led teacher training workshops; and/or setup and staffed free dental or medical clinics.  Examples of school programs include anti-bullying and healthy relationships (Justice Administration), personal resiliency (Psychology), Olympic ideals (Sport for Development), water filtration (Science Education), the cardiovascular system (Nursing), and dental clinics (Dentistry).

In each educational program, students develop their materials in their discipline-specific classes.  Then the students merge to an interdisciplinary team where they all learn the programs.  The cross-disciplinary training occurs in the required pre-departure orientations.  In addition to cross-training on the educational programs, ensuring every student is responsible for knowing all the programs, the pre-departure orientations allow students to meet each other and create group cohesiveness, with team-building units as part of each orientation; to learn more about the country, culture, and customs of their host site; to get logistical information about the trip, such as necessary paperwork, dress code, travel specifics, and significance of each service day; and to review reflection practices for different aspects of the service learning trip.

UofL’s ISLP implements essentially the same program structure at each of the locations; that is, the general travel and service itineraries are highly similar across all sites.  After many years of experimenting with multiple approaches, the current schedule includes student downtime after traveling, letting them adjust to their new surroundings, followed by several days of service learning work, and then concludes the trip with cultural activities.  This model allows students to better absorb each phase of their service learning activity and reflect on the phase in greater depth.

After students return to the university, the team reunites to reflect and celebrate their work and accomplishments.  Some students have created Facebook pages to increase contact with their new friends in the host country and also to maintain contact with their new ISLP university friends.  Student comments during the reunion, post-service survey assessments, and on Facebook concentrate on how the international service learning opportunity changed their outlook on life and often on how they want to continue in their work helping others.

Study Abroad

One successful study abroad program at UofL is the joint effort of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program and the Department of Communication.  During the month of May, UofL students and faculty travel to Panama City, Panama, where courses in Spanish, Communication, and Panamanian Culture are taught and cultural excursions are offered.  Existing for more than a decade, this program is extremely popular with students, because they have unique opportunities to take classes from UofL faculty and local Panamanian instructors, as well as to experience much that Panama has to offer (e.g., fieldtrips, cultural performances).

As part of this study abroad program’s structure, faculty and students meet before they depart for Panama.  During the first week of May, the study abroad students participate in a multi-day orientation.  At these orientation meetings, students meet the professors and each other, learn about trip expectations and policies, begin discussing some material for the courses they will take onsite, and learn about Panama.  The orientation meetings are required half-day events.

Each student participating in the Panama study abroad trip registers for six hours of course credit and is in class Monday through Friday during the month-long visit.  While in Panama, each student is required to take a Panamanian Culture course, which teaches students about the history, culture, and political, educational, social, and religious institutions of Panama.  The students then choose a three credit hour elective course.  Students can take either an upper division Communication course or an upper division Spanish course.

In addition to the six credit hours, students are offered a number of co-curricular activities and excursions to immerse themselves in the country.  The students have time to visit the Panama Canal and Panama Canal Museum, participate in a guided tour of the Presidential Palace, join in dance lessons, visit the Gamboa Rainforest, and tour the Emberá Indigenous Village.  At the Emberá Village, students have opportunities to talk with members of this indigenous group about their history, customs, and culture.  In addition to these activities, UofL students meet Panamanian college students and are guests at a dinner hosted by the President of Quality Leadership University (UofL’s affiliate campus in Panama City).

When the Panama program first began, it was housed solely in the Spanish Section of the Department of Classical and Modern Languages.  Originally, students who traveled for the month-long program were interested in enhancing their Spanish speaking abilities.  Later, in collaboration with the Department of Communication, the program broadened class offerings so non-Spanish speakers or students with more limited Spanish-speaking abilities also would have an opportunity to study in Panama.  This partnership has proved successful, and a third discipline, Political Science, will join the collaboration next May.


These two examples of experiential education have prompted many discussions about the benefits of engaging students in the global community.  From a student affairs perspective, it is our job to move higher education institutions from conversation to action and support and encourage more international programs across campuses.  When students participate in such opportunities, their outlooks broaden and their skills deepen, moving them toward greater abilities to engage with others in tackling issues and solving problems—and creating the global citizenry needed in today’s world.  In the next and final article of this series on global citizenship and tertiary education, we discuss the commitment needed for such programs and share best practices for designing and implementing international programs.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does integrating the curricular and co-curricular enhance student learning?
  2. What programs or opportunities similar to the ones described in this article exist at your institution?  What are their learning outcomes?
  3. How does your campus distinguish between service-learning and study abroad? What are considerations in developing such programs? How should such programs be evaluated? What approaches or methods do you recommend for assessing student learning?
  4. Have social media enhanced service-learning activities? If so, how? What other recent developments have influenced study abroad and service learning?


ACPA, ACUHO-I, ACUI, NACA, NACADA, NASPA, & NIRSA. (2006).  Learning reconsidered 2: A practical guide to implementing a campus-wide focus on the student experience. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (2011). International service learning. In R. G. Bringle, J. A. Hatcher, & S. G. Jones (Eds.), International service learning: Conceptual frameworks and research (pp. 3-28). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Campus Compact. (2007). 2006 service statistics: Highlights and trends of Campus Compact’s annual membership survey. Providence, RI: Author.

Engberg, M. E., & Fox, K. (2011). Service participation and the development of a global perspective. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48, 85-105.

Gagdon, P. D. (1998). Acting integrative: Interdisciplinarity and theatre pedagogy. Theatre Topics, 8, 189-204.

Harper, S. R., & Quaye, S. J. (Eds.). (2008). Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations. New York, NY:  Routledge.

Jackson, T. R., Jr., Hart, J. L., Walker, K. L., Foster, J. P., Clark, T. J., & Mercer, L. H. (2012).  Serving the world through international service learning: A partnership between academics and student services. Proceedings of the Asia Pacific Student Services Association Conference.

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

Lewin, R. (Ed.). (2009). The handbook of practice and research in study abroad: Higher education and the quest for global citizenship. New York, NY: Routledge.

Parker, B., & Dautoff, D. A. (2007). Service-learning and study abroad: Synergistic learning opportunities. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 13, 40-53.

Strange, C. C., & Banning, J. H. (2001). Educating by design: Creating campus learning environments that work. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.

About the Authors

Gregory Roberts is Executive Director of ACPA – College Student Educators International. Tom Jackson, Jr., is Vice President for Student Affairs and Joy L. Hart and Kandi L. Walker are Professors of Communication at the University of Louisville.  Roger B. Ludeman is Executive Director of the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS).  A previous version of this work was presented at the 14th General Conference of the International Association of Universities in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Please e-mail inquiries to Gregory Roberts.


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.

Parallels Between the Cases of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and the Black Male College Experience

Parallels Between the Cases of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and the Black Male College Experience

Shawna M. Patterson
University of Pennsylvania
Tonisha Lane
Michigan State University
Charles T. Stephens
Saint Louis University
Jonathan McElderry
University of Missouri
Janel Alleyne
University of Missouri

Although we, the members of the Pan African Network (PAN), respect the decision of the jurors in the Zimmerman and Dunn trials, we are concerned about the implications of these decisions for Blacks in America, members of ACPA – College Student Educators International, and students and colleagues on our campuses.  We believe a racial climate that criminalizes Blackness and stigmatizes Black males’ encounters with the judicial system plays a major role in creating an atmosphere where the mass incarceration and murder of Black men continues to be an acceptable practice.  The circumstances leading up to the altercation between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, subsequent death of Martin, and the slow response to investigate and prosecute Mr. Zimmerman were reflective of America’s perpetuated fear of Black bodies.  Lock-step with the Zimmerman case is the unfortunate death of Jordan Davis, a seventeen-year-old who was shot and killed by Michael Dunn for playing his music too loudly.  We also believe the insidious portrayals of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis in the media were racially motivated and consistent with the narrative often construed about Black men as “thugs,” “deviants,” and “degenerates.”  These conceptions about Black men are harmful and negatively impact their experiences within the American judicial and educational systems, as well as society at large.  On the heels of the Zimmerman and Dunn verdicts, we explore the implications of these rulings for Black males on college campuses across America.  Using imagery, facts from the case, and a critical lens, we examine the impact of racism on the Black male experience.  Additionally, we provide recommendations on the role that current events play on college campuses and ways to facilitate dialogue.

Race and Racism in America

In the 21st century, “the problem of the color line” (DuBois, 1903, p. 9) still prevails through the systemic treatment of Black Americans.  This was evidenced throughout the Zimmerman and Dunn trials, though many contended that race did not play a role in either case.  Yet, semblances of racialized narratives on the appearance, behaviors, and actions of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, (and other Black males) surfaced.  Martin was first targeted by Zimmerman as an outsider and “suspect” in the gated community of Sanford, Florida.  Later, he was portrayed as an assailant by the defense, and at times, by the media.  Jordan Davis was murdered by Dunn at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida after an argument ensued over loud “thug” music playing from within a parked SUV.  It took the jury over 30 hours to deliberate, wherein Dunn was charged for three counts of attempted murder and a count for firing into an occupied vehicle, but not for the actual murder of Davis.  In both situations, these young men were confronted and killed by their aggressors, who chose to involve firearms rather than the authorities.

According to Smith, Allen, and Danley (2007a), Black men living within the context of the United States are often assumed guilty of criminal offenses because of the aberrant pathologies that society has attributed to their outward appearance.  The implications of these typographies extend to the experiences of Black male collegians attending predominantly White institutions (PWIs) (Smith, et al., 2007a; Smith, Yosso, & Solórzano, 2007b; Solórzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000; Swim, Hyers, Cohen, Fitzgerald, & Bylsma, 2003).  For instance, Smith and colleagues (2007a) uncovered racialized forms of treatment initiated by law enforcement at PWIs.  The Black males in the study were asked to unnecessarily provide identification in study spaces, questioned about their whereabouts in public campus areas, and wrongfully identified for involvement in criminal activities.  These experiences are demeaning and humiliating, and they contribute to an atmosphere suggesting that Black men do not belong in educational spaces.  Some laypeople and scholars contend that we live in a post-racial, color-blind society, evidenced by the election of an African American president (Wise, 2010).  However, even President Barack Obama admits to having experienced negative racial interactions with non-Blacks (Cooper, 2013a).  Thus, the portrayal of Trayvon Martin during the Zimmerman trial and Jordan Davis during the Dunn trial remind us that much has not changed regarding stereotypical Black male imagery, where Black men are frequently depicted as deviants (Harris-Perry, 2011).

Throughout the Zimmerman trial, the predominantly White, female jury was comprised of mothers, but it appears that they found it difficult to visualize Trayvon Martin as one of their own children.  Images of his gold teeth and recreational drug use appeared in stark contrast to their children and outweighed his status as the victim.  Some suggest the defense deliberately showed these pictures of Martin to construct a narrative that distanced him and his culture from the jury.  Similarly, Davis and his three friends were painted as belligerent and violent.  While the teens’ behaviors were demeaning and disrespectful, the Dunn case ended in a mistrial because verbal accosting from Black men is widely perceived as threatening in the United States.

Such tactics have been used to perpetuate the common belief that Black men are “thugs” and are naturally deviant.  These stereotypes permeate the fabric of race relations in the academy and uphold cultural deficit theories in education literature, which result in discriminatory practices in academic settings (Hughes, 2010).  Until recently, much of the literature concerning Black college men was written from the lens of cultural deficit models (Hughes, 2010).  These publications often cite daunting statistics that provide an unfavorable, undesirable profile of Black male students in comparison to the positive attributes associated with their White male counterparts (Carey, 2004; Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Strayhorn, 2008).

Rap and Hoodies: Symbols of Deviance

Literature suggests that Davis’ preferred genre of music, Martin’s attire, and the alleged behaviors of both teens were perceived differently because of their race, and that racial profiling is a prevalent phenomenon in American culture (Smith, Allen, & Danley, 2007b).  Though people of all races and ethnicities may experience racial profiling, reports of racial profiling among Black American populations are significantly greater that other races (Alexander, 2012).  Black Americans experience a disproportionate number of traffic stops and “stop and frisk” encounters with police officers and, in many cases where a crime has not been committed, Black Americans become suspects of criminal activity solely because of their race (Alexander, 2012).  It was in this manner that Dunn confronted Davis and his friends for playing loud rap music, which symbolized their deviance and requirement for control (Kinner, 2014).  In this same vein, Zimmerman assumed Martin was “up to no good” and that Martin required monitoring within their gated community.

Factors that were used to justify the deaths of Davis and Martin were their attire and selection of music on the evenings of each respective shooting.  Martin was wearing a hoodie, and the hood covered his head to protect him from the rain.  Davis was initially confronted by Dunn for playing rap music.  Many student affairs professionals may have observed that rap and “hoodies” are often the musical and wardrobe choices of both American and international college students.  It is very common to see students on our college campuses wearing hoodies embroidered with the names, mascots, and/or symbols of our institutions.  However, in the case of Martin, this attire was perceived as “thug wear” and “gangsta style clothing,” which justified Zimmerman’s suspicion.  Rap music is often heard blaring throughout residence halls, in vehicles driving across campus, and at campus events.  However, what separates Black youth and college students choosing to consume rap music is access and privilege.  Still, even on college campuses, Black students are still perceived as threats, and are often targets of prejudicial treatment and harassment (Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002).

As a result of Martin’s death, several media outlets have engaged in dialogue surrounding the demarcation of clothing and music as a sign of deviance.  For example, Geraldo Rivera warned Black and Latino parents to prohibit their children from wearing hoodies (Fung, 2012).  Additionally, on a recent episode of Anderson Cooper 360, Christy Oglesby–a Black mother–stated that she asked her son if he wanted to be perceived as a “suspect or a prospect” when selecting his attire for the day (Cooper, 2013b).  In agreement with her comments, many of the audience members applauded.  In the face of these anecdotal snapshots of conversations on race and justice, we challenge the criminalization of the hoodie and other forms of urban attire.  It is our belief that stereotypical perceptions of Blacks influenced how Martin and Davis were represented throughout the trial, and due to their unfortunate deaths, they were unable to present a counter-narrative that could distinguish them from these stereotypes.

The Debasement of Black Males on College Campuses

Perhaps in consequence to the aforementioned studies, Black male students encounter more racially-motivated adversity than their female counterparts and other people of color (Dancey & Brown, 2008; Kunjufu, 1986).  In higher education, Black men are often the victims of racial profiling, hyper-surveillance, Black misandry, and other forms of gendered racism (Smith et al., 2007a; Smith et al., 2007b).  These encounters negatively shape the interactions Black male collegians have with faculty, staff, and students at PWIs.  For instance, Harper (2009) employed the term “niggering” to describe the diminished expectations of African American male college students.  Unfortunately, these lowered expectations shared by faculty, staff, and students position Black male collegians to be stigmatized as ‘dumb jocks’, unfit affirmative action recipients, unprepared, and ‘at-risk’ (Dancy & Brown, 2008; Harper, 2009; Smith et al., 2007a; Smith et al., 2007b; Solórzano et al., 2000).

Black males must often ‘prove themselves’ in the classroom to earn the respect of their peers and professors in ways that are dissimilar to their White counterparts (Moore, Madison-Colmore, & Smith, 2003).  Still, they may be excluded from study groups or lack access to special academic opportunities (Moore et al., 2003).  Numerous studies indicate that American colleges and universities continue to struggle with campus climate and race relations issues (Harper, 2009; Smith et al., 2007a; Solóranzo et al., 2000).  Consistent exposure to a seemingly unsafe campus environment and acts of microaggression are psychologically traumatizing, and must be addressed if we desire to create supportive environments for all students (Picca & Feagin, 2007).


The shooting deaths of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin have ignited necessary discourse and calls for political action.  As we understand the complexities associated with issues of race, equity, and social justice, we provide the following recommendations as action steps for supporting Black constituents of colleges and universities.  These recommendations outline how attention to these national incidents and our work as educators can shape the political and educational landscape of the United States.  We offer a brief listing of approaches that educators can implement in supporting students, peers, and their own individual learning.

Educate on Bias and Social Justice Issues, and Challenge Privilege as it Pertains to Various Social Identities

In capitalizing on examples of injustice and using them as teachable moments, our students and staff will be better equipped to facilitate change.  One way that educators can connect current events with the lived experiences of their students is through the use of intergroup dialogues.  Intergroup dialogues are a sustained, face-to-face facilitated learning experience, which gathers students from various social identity groups to discuss their commonalities and differences to work towards justice and equality (Lopez & Zúñiga, 2010).  Intergroup dialogues allow for a platform to hear and acknowledge counter-narratives, engage in leadership development, and challenge power and privilege.  Moreover, White students are often afforded the opportunity to explore their racial identity, enhance their knowledge of critical racial issues, and engage in the process of becoming allies (Yeung, Spanierman, & Landrum-Brown, 2013).  It is important to note that it takes a skilled, informed facilitator to successfully navigate the complexity of critical dialogue.  We encourage prospective facilitators to consider attending the Social Justice Training Institute, the Pre-Conference Institute on Diversity and Teaching Social Justice available through the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity, or reviewing Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (Adams, Bell, & Griffin, 2007) in preparation for their work as professional allies and as aids in personal and professional development.

Focus on Positive Examples of Successful Black Males to Supersede Stereotypes

These tragedies emphasized the reality that many Americans continue to perceive Black male youth as common agents of criminal activity (Alexander, 2012; Cooper, 2013b; Fung, 2012; Perry, 2011).  Unfortunately, these perceptions lead to implicit bias and low expectations among people of color in the college setting.  Educators play a major role in positively affecting Black male completion rates and in developing inclusive campus communities that undergird their success.  It is important that college student educators combat stereotyping and prevailing deficit approaches to educating and supporting Black male college students by highlighting indicators for successful matriculation.  Black males are not a monolithic group (Harper & Nichols, 2008); however, supportive relationships positively contribute to African American male success in college (Strayhorn, 2008).  By using positive psychological approaches to create individual and institutional systems of support, Black male matriculation is achievable (Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002).

Provide Platforms for Civic Engagement and Leadership for Social Change

In cities across the country, people of various ages, cultures, and backgrounds banned together in protest of the outcome of the Zimmerman trial, which gained the attention of President Obama and the Justice Department.  Many of these efforts were led by young people, demonstrating that youth have the power to influence societal change and social movements.  Youth have established a lengthy history in leading social movements, and their capacity to positively influence change has transcended into contemporary contexts.  For example, the 2008 presidential voting block saw the largest youth movement in years (CIRCLE, 2010).  Activism by young people aged 18-24 during the election and more recently, in the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial, demonstrates their ability to successfully affect change through civic engagement.

Learning Reconsidered (ACPA & NASPA, 2004) highlights civic engagement as a universal learning outcome.  College student educators are responsible for challenging and supporting students to remain civically engaged beyond the wake of tragic events or the four-year cycle of national elections.  Educators must encourage students to participate in sustained engagement with their institutions, state and local governments, and communities.  It is through sustained engagement that they will begin to see the change that they seek on and off campus.

Reconsider Institutional Practices and Policies that Negatively Impact Black Males

Most educators, administrators, governmental officials, and companies agree that the benefits of diversity (Ancis, Sedlacek, & Mohr, 2000; Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002; Harper, 2009; Hurtado, 1994).  As such, educators and administrators must pay close attention to institutional practices and policies that negatively impact people of color in order to provide a support system for student retention while changing the campus climate (Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002; Harper, 2009; Hurtado, 1994; Smith et al., 2007a).  Becoming stewards of policies and practice that work to protect and increase the diversity of our colleges and universities should be a priority among all executive administrators.  Additionally, procedures used to institute diversity, such as affirmative action, have been misrepresented as a form of ‘reverse discrimination’ when research demonstrates that these policies benefit all members of the campus community (Ancis et al., 2000; Hurtado, 1994; Solórzano et al., 2000).  Affirmative action assists colleges and universities in remaining dedicated to the ideals of equal opportunity and access for all.

As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Powell explained, we have “a compelling educational interest” to ensure that policies like affirmative action continue to influence the numerical representation of underrepresented student, staff, and faculty populations on college campuses (University of California v. Bakke, 1978).  It is important that college student educators familiarize themselves and others about the history of affirmative action policies, as well as the positive influence affirmative action has had on collegiate contexts.  Similarly, careful attention to institutional campus climate must take priority in retaining the voices of underrepresented populations.  Several bodies of research have discussed the negative impact of microaggressions on people of color in institutions of higher learning (Ancis et al., 2000; Hurtado, 1994; Solórzano et al., 2000).  While freedom of speech is a First Amendment right, bias and non-inclusiveness by students, faculty, and administrators has a damaging effect on underrepresented student populations and the academic environment as a whole.  By investigating and developing codes of conduct that provide focus on restorative practice and community education, institutions can foster learning and dialogue in a holistic educational environment.

Continue Personal Awareness and Education

Accomplishing the aforementioned recommendations may be difficult, particularly if we fail to take inventory of our own strengths (knowledge and skills) and areas of development (biases and gaps in knowledge base).  By learning about our own biases and triggers, we can develop self-awareness and become armed with the ability to make abstract concepts and anecdotes more tangible with added personal experience.  By forming a greater understanding of our limitations, we can begin to connect how they influence our decision-making, the ways we treat others, the ways we work, and how we effect students in a global community.  Educating ourselves on social justice and critical theory concepts provides us with knowledge, language, and skills necessary to combat implicit bias, non-inclusive behavior and instances of oppression that often impact campus climate and student success for underrepresented groups.


As college student educators, it is important to understand the experiences of students and how our actions influence the campus climate.  We must work tirelessly to end racial biases on our campuses and within our communities in an effort to prevent tragedies, such as the passing of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, from reoccurring.  The Pan African Network challenges the legislative and criminal justice systems to institute policies that will prevent bias from impending upon the justice of murder victims.  We also encourage faculty and staff to implement the recommendations we have set forth in shaping the political and educational landscape of our campus communities.  As members of the Pan African Network and ACPA – College Student Educators International, we are charged with changing the discourse and conceptions of Black males on college campuses and within society.  Please join us in our efforts to create safe learning environments for all college students.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do Black male collegians make meaning of, and negotiate, their racial identity within their institutional context (e.g., Predominantly White Institution, HBCU, liberal arts, highly selective)?  How do these processes and experiences impact holistic student development for students?
  2. How do the negative images and media portrayals of Black males in society complicate the racial identity development for Black male collegians?
  3. How can the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis be used to generate dialogue on college campuses about dominant narratives and counter-narratives of Black males and their role in shaping racial climate for Black male collegians?


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Adams, M., Bell, L. A., & Griffin, P. (2007). Teaching for diversity and social justice (2nd Ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Alexander, M. (2012). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York, NY: The New Press.

Ancis, J. R., Sedlacek, W. E., & Mohr, J. J. (2000). Student perceptions of campus cultural climate by race. Journal of Counseling Development, 78(2), 180-185.

Carey, K. (2004). A matter of degrees: Improving graduation rates in four year colleges and universities. Retrieved from

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Dancy, T. E. E., & Brown, M. C. (2008). Unintended consequences: African American male educational attainment and collegiate perceptions after Brown vs. Board of Education. American Behavioral Scientist, 51(7), 984-1003.

DuBois, W. E. B. (1903). The souls of Black folk. Chicago, IL: A. C. McClurg.

Fordham, S., & Ogbu, J. U. (1986). Black students’ school success: Coping with the “burden of ‘acting White.’” Urban Review, 18(3). 176-206.

Fries-Britt, S., & Turner, B. (2002). Uneven stories: Successful Black collegians at a Black and a White campus. The Review of Higher Education, 25(3), 315-330.

Fung, K. (2012, March 23). Geraldo Rivera: Trayvon Martin’s hoodie is as much responsible for [his] death as George Zimmerman [Video file]. Retrieved from

Harper, S. R. (2009). Niggers no more: A critical race counternarrative on Black male student achievement at a predominantly White colleges and universities. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 22(6), 697-712.

Harper, S. R., & Nichols, A. H. (2008). Are they not all the same? Racial heterogeneity among Black male undergraduates. Journal of College Student Development. 49(3), 199-214.

Harris-Perry, M. V. (2011). Sister citizen: Shame, stereotypes, and Black women in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Hughes, R. L. (2010, Spring). Engaging African American males for educational success. Gifted Child Today, 32(2), 55-60.

Hurtado, S. (1994). The campus racial climate: Contexts of conflict. Journal of Higher Education, 63(5), 539-569.

Kinner, D. (2014, February 15). Michael Dunn verdict: Florida man found guilty of attempted murder in loud-music trial. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from….

Kunjufu, J. (1986). Motivating and preparing Black youth for success. Chicago, IL: African-American Images.

Lopez, G. E., & Zúñiga, X. (2010). Intergroup dialogue and democratic practice in higher education. New Directions for Higher Education, 2010 (152), 35-42.

Moore, J. L., Madison-Colmore, O., & Smith, D. M. (2003). The prove-them-wrong syndrome: Voices from unheard African-American males in engineering disciplines. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 12(1), 61-73.

Picca, L. H., & Feagin, J. R. (2007). Two-faced racism: Whites in the backstage and frontstage. UK: Taylor & Francis Group.

Smith, W. A., Allen, W. R., & Danley, L. L. (2007a). “Assume the position…you fit the description:” Psychosocial experiences and racial battle fatigue among African American male college students. American Behavioral Scientist, 51(4), 551-580.

Smith, W. A., Yosso, T. J., & Solórzano, D. G. (2007b). Racial primes and Black misandry on historically White campuses: Toward critical race accountability of educational administration. Educational Administration Quarterly, 43, 60-85.

Solórzano, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and campus racial climate: The Experiences of African American college students. Journal of Negro Education, 69(1/2), 60-73.

Strayhorn, T. (2008). The role of supportive relationships in facilitating African American males’ success in college. NASPA Journal, 45(1), 26-48.

Swim, J. K., Hyers, L. L, Cohen, L. L., Fitzgerald, D. C., & Bylsma, W. H. (2003). African American college students’ experiences with everyday racism: Characteristics of and responses to these incidents. Journal of Black Psychology, 29(1), 38-67.

University of California v. Bakke (1978). Retrieved from

Wise, T. (2010). Colorblind: The rise of post-racial politics and the retreat from racial equity. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books.

Yeung, J. G., Spanierman, L. B., & Landrum-Brown, J. (2013). Being White in a multicultural society: Critical Whiteness pedagogy in a dialogue course. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 6(1), 17-32.

About the Authors

Tonisha B. Lane is a fourth year doctoral students in the Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education (HALE) program and research assistant for the Neighborhoods at Michigan State University. Her research interests include access and equity in higher education and students of color in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

Please e-mail inquiries to Tonisha B. Lane.

Charles T. Stephens, M.A. is in his third year in student affairs administration after working for three years in corporate for a Fortune 500 company.  He currently is working as a Residence Hall Coordinator for Saint Louis University and serves as a mentor for the African American Male Scholars program at his institution.  

Please e-mail inquiries to Charles T. Stephens.

Jonathan A. McElderry serves as the Director of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center at the University of Missouri.  He holds a B.S. from George Mason University, M.Ed from Ohio University, and is currently a third year doctoral student in the ELPA program at the University of Missouri.  In addition, he is the Chair of the PAN African Network for the American College Personnel Association.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jonathan A. McElderry.

Shawna M. Patterson has sustained eight years of student affairs administration experience within the functional areas of residence life and multicultural services in the Big 10 sector.  She has served multiple roles on projects centered upon improving the experiences of faculty, staff, and students of color on predominantly White campuses. Currently, Shawna is a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education at Florida State University, with a focus on critical theory, social justice, and student of color identity development.  Shawna is also a Dean in College Houses and Academic Services at the University of Pennsylvania.

Please e-mail inquiries to Shawna M. Patterson.

Janel Alleyne is a Hall Coordinator at the University of Missouri. She has been in the field for 6 years.  Originally from Brooklyn New York, Janel earned a Bachelor of Business in Technology Management from SUNY Canton and her Masters Degree in Organizational Performance and Leadership from SUNY Potsdam.

Please e-mail inquiries to Janel Alleyne.


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.

Intentionally Using Environments in Student Leadership Developments

Intentionally Using Environments in Student Leadership Developments

Alex C. Lange
University of Georgia
J. Matthew Garrett
University of Georgia

There are several leadership development frameworks and theories that student affairs practitioners use on their campuses, such as the Social Change Model of Leadership and the Leadership Identity Development theory (Higher Education Research Institute, 1996; Komives, Longerbeam, Owen, Mainella, & Osteen, 2006; Komives, Wagner, & Associates, 2009; Kouzes & Posner, 2008; Komives, Lucas, & McMahon, 2013).  As more literature emerges, practitioners must realize that leadership development does not occur in isolation from other life processes (Dugan & Komives, 2010; Jones & Abes, 2013; Renn, 2003).  As practitioners design programs to develop college students’ leadership capacity, they must keep another variable in mind: the environment.  How can practitioners who utilize the Social Change Model develop socially responsible leaders (i.e., leaders who feel an obligation to benefit society at-large) in campus environments that support or hinder social responsibility?  How can practitioners create environments that support students’ ability to learn and grow from leadership education?  How do current social forces impact the environments where leaders develop?  Essentially, students make meaning of their college experience across offices and campus departments; thus, it is important to consider how we structure environments to support student development, and more specifically, their leadership capacity (Renn, 2003).  While one may think of an environment as the immediate space or place where the leadership lesson, conference, or education takes place, environments are multifaceted and need to be thought of more critically.

Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) Process-Person-Context-Time (PPCT) model provides a way for practitioners to analyze and create intentional learning environments for their students around leadership development (Dugan & Komives, 2010).  While there are other considerations for environmental frameworks, such as the Four Frames of Strange and Banning (2001) or Astin’s (1993) Inputs-Environments-Output (I-E-O) Model, the PPCT model looks more critically at different layers of environments that extend beyond the confines of a college campus and provides a guiding framework to analyze environments.  In this article, we discuss the PPCT model and heavily focus on the context component.  Implications of the model are discussed to help practitioners structure student leadership development opportunities beyond classroom lessons or program sessions.


As leadership educators ourselves, we personally and professionally believe that higher education is an opportunity for students to develop and learn more about themselves and the world around them.  We believe leadership is where students’ purposes and passions meet.  Students with a strong commitment to a given cause (e.g., social justice, AIDS education and prevention, climate change, etc.) can augment their classroom experiences into out-of-class experiences such as leading a weekly service trip or a student organization dedicated to a collaborative cause.  As partners in the learning process, we believe leadership development is work that all parts of campus life should help promote in students and that we should not see leadership development as housed within one office or division (Keeling, 2004).  Thus, we present Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological model to help practitioners conceptualize how we develop student leaders with our current practice.

The PPCT Model

Bronfenbrenner (1979) built his environmental theory on two premises: first, human development is an evolving function of person-environment interaction; and second, this interaction must take place in the immediate setting in which the person exists (i.e., the immediacy requirement).  However, when Bronfenbrenner developed his model, technology and social media were over 20 years away from creation.  With mediums such as Facebook and Twitter widely used by college students, Bronfenbrenner’s immediacy requirement may no longer be applicable and often many of the interactions he described can be easily translated to a virtual series of interactions, such as a conversation over Skype, a series of comments on a Facebook quote, or the use of a Twitter hashtag to further a conversation about a trending topic.  While his original premises may need to be conceptualized differently, Bronfenbrenner’s framework still gives practitioners a strong model to structure developmentally supportive environments for students.

Bronfenbrenner (1979) proposed a model that allowed researchers to evaluate how development occurred “inside the interactions between individuals and their environments [and] see how and why outcomes may occur as they do” (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, & Renn, 2010).  All four levels of the Person-Process-Context-Time model are useful in broadly examining the processes and contexts of student development.  First, Person is considered to be the individual and the personal experiences and characteristics the individual brings to a given setting.  In Figure 1, the “student” in the center represents the person.  Second, the Process encompasses particular forms of ongoing, complex interaction between person and environment, as well as their reciprocal influences on one another (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006).  Process is the component that accounts for the interactions one has with the levels of context.  For instance, how does one engage with one’s classroom environment versus the student activities office?  There are differences between how one may interact within these various environments.

Figure 1. Adaptation of Renn and Arnold’s (2003) PPCT

Next, Context refers to the layers of surroundings in the ecological model – the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, and the macrosystem.  Each level of environmental analysis allows leadership educators to examine the messages students receive around leadership “developmental forces and challenges, and resources or supports for addressing those challenges” (Renn, 2003, p. 388).  An illustration of the Context dimension is located in Figure 1, adapted for college students by Renn and Arnold (2003).

Microsystems and mesosystems are easier to identify on college campuses.  The microsystem is a pattern of activities, roles, and interpersonal relationship experiences by individuals in their immediate environment (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).  Microsystems for college students can include classrooms, residence halls, friendship groups, or student organizations (Renn, 2003).  Mesosystems occur when two or more microsystems interact.  It is important to examine mesosystems because the messages a student receives about leadership in one microsystem may be “supported or challenged” by messages in another microsystem (Renn, 2003, p. 389).  For example, a student may receive different messages about how leadership is viewed at home versus in a leadership education program.  Peer cultures are created within mesosystems and have a huge effect on college student development outcomes as they send powerful messages about the “desirability and acceptability of certain identities, attitudes, and behaviors” (Renn, 2004, p. 38).

Exosystems and macrosystems are levels of context that may be more invisible on college campuses.  Exosystems are environmental influences that have a direct impact on the student but do not necessarily have the student in that environment.  Renn (2003) cited faculty decisions about curriculum and federal financial aid policies as factors that influence the environment of a college student.  Decisions about these issues impact the student’s overall development, but the student is not present in those environments when these issues move forward and are decided upon.  These factors are unaccounted for in college student development research but are important in understanding the diversity of student experiences (Evans et al., 2010).  While exosystems do not contain the person, macrosystems encompass all people in any given environment.  Macrosystems are the most abstract levels of context, consisting of historical events and trends, social forces, and cultural expectations of the time (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).  For instance, the election of President Barack Obama and the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act did not happen on our campuses but may impact how our campuses operate or how our students experience their campus environments.

Finally, Time, the final component of the PPCT model, addresses “the cumulative effects of development before college, the course of events during college, and the larger effects of sociohistorical influences” on development (Renn, 2003, p. 392).  The PPCT model explicitly accounts for the time a person goes through a given process (i.e., time in college) while also accounting for the socio-historical forces of the time (i.e. elections, social trends while one is in college).  Time is represented as the thick gray outside ring of Figure 1.  Considering all aspects of the PPCT model, especially the Context dimension, it is important for practitioners to create intentionally supportive environments for college students’ leadership development.

Applying the PPCT Model

The Context dimension of Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) model for leadership educators provides practical applications for student affairs practitioners.  Practitioners have the most influence over microsystems through the intentional design of welcoming office spaces, the use of Twitter to engage students in conversations about leadership, or the design of programs that both challenge and support students around ideas of leadership (e.g., Who owns leadership?  Who gets to be a leader?  Is leadership positional?).  While practitioners cannot determine if campus offices and departments will become components of a student’s microsystem, practitioners can work to intentionally structure what is within their grasp.  The microsystems of an institution, which include the various departments inside and outside of student affairs, should all espouse and enact the same leadership framework throughout the institution. If institutions do not have a consistent framework, messages about leadership will clash with one another.  For instance, if an institution uses the Social Change Model of Leadership (Dugan & Komives, 2010) as a guiding framework, how is the physical space of an office on campus arranged to encourage collaboration amongst individuals?  Are there tables for individuals to come together and discuss different matters?  If an institution used the Leadership Identity Development model (Komives, et al., 2006) as a guiding framework for leadership development, how is leadership training offered?  Are trainings only opened to positional leaders?  Are there trainings and programs for students who may be new or beginning their respective leadership journey?  How are these programs communicated to students when they come into our offices or approach us on social media?  How do those trainings or programs challenge students’ current notions of leadership while introducing them to new ones?  Who is considered a leader in that office?  These questions are important to consider in terms of microsystems because they allow practitioners to understand how their immediate environments are set up and give a glimpse into how students make meaning of those environments.

Mesosystems provide great opportunities for practitioners to create consistent messages about leadership across campus offices and use a consistent framework to guide all offices and the division of student affairs at a particular institution (Garrett, 2012).  For example, a participant in Garrett and Cooper’s (2013) study indicated strong cognitive dissonance in the different messages a male student received about values from his religious community and his sociology class.  There was a lack of common ground that aligned the two values.  If campus offices and departments were more aligned, this student may have made more explicit connections within the mesosystem comprised of his classroom and religious community microsystems.

In practice, an optimal mesosystem at an institution seeks to have all students reach certain intended outcomes that the institution intends for students to achieve.  However, each microsystem can achieve these shared outcomes through different programs and services.  By using the mesosystem as a guiding framework, the individual experiences of students are honored while each office or department strives to set and achieve common leadership milestones.  When considering structuring micro- and mesosystems, consider the following questions: How do leadership educators help students make meaning from one leadership experience to another?  How are the skills learned as a Resident Assistant transferrable to their leadership experiences implementing a personal vision for positive change on campus?  Practitioners must have interdepartmental conversations about leadership development to help students make more connections and meaning out of their college experiences.

Exosystems are an area of context where practitioners can also make great strides in student leadership development.  Practitioners can help dismantle students’ exosystems and shift them to their microsystems.  Recall that exosystems exist “where there is a setting not containing the individual that nevertheless exerts influence on his or her developmental possibilities” (Renn & Arnold, 2003, pp. 271-272).  Leadership education curriculum is an example of an exosystem that students experience, yet they may not be a part of the curriculum development process.  The curriculum developed by a leadership curriculum committee has broad effects on the student who goes through that designed experience.

Another example of exosystems is students’ family environments.  Depending on the level of reliance, if any, to parents and family, students’ home environments can influence their development at post-secondary institutions.  A student’s ability to remain in college may be impacted by a parent’s income or workplace (Renn & Arnold, 2003).  While this is not an environment in which the student is present, it still affects the student’s development and ability to succeed.  An on-campus example of an exosystem is free speech zones and the policies surrounding free speech on campus.  How are students affected by these policies and how do they know what these policies are?  This exosystem could be dismantled by having students serve on the committee that makes policy decisions and/or providing them with a clear protocol to submit policy grievances.

While practitioners may have less control over exosystems, it is important for them to identify students’ exosystems and dismantle them.  For instance, when developing free speech policy or leadership curriculum, whenever possible, try to include students’ input and ideas.  By putting students on committees and/or giving them more voice in committee decisions through feedback and open meetings, we dismantle their exosystems and help them make meaning in a more immediate environment.

Finally, macrosystems are often out of the control of practitioners. As legislation, such as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act moves through Congress, practitioners can use these macrosystems to create dialogue about leadership and positive social change (Dugan, Bohle, Gebhardy, Hofert, Wilk, & Cooney, 2012). Conversations can take place in specific leadership programs or through social media, such as Twitter or Facebook.  Twitter provides practitioners the ability to understand the social and historical trends affecting students’ development in real time.  When students observe and comment on these social forces (e.g., the DREAM Act, the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act, etc.), this is a prime opportunity for practitioners to engage students in discussion on how these social forces may relate back to the Social Change Model of Leadership or challenge a student’s notion of leadership.  Macrosystems may be out practitioners’ control, but using them in discussions with our students can help further the way they make meaning about these social forces.

Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) PPCT requires a great deal of intention in practice.  Institutional buy-in and adequate time are both important considerations in utilizing this framework to promote student leadership development.  It is also important that an institution has a defined model of leadership development that is accessible to students, faculty, and staff to learn about and utilize in services and programs.  Using the model, practitioners can support students (the Persons) as they navigate, learn, and make meaning of their college experience (Process) over time through intentional design and use of environments (layers of Context).  While the model can help practitioners more intentionally structure their daily practice as student affairs professionals, we believe the model is well suited for student leadership development across the institution.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can you deconstruct students’ exosystems and make them into students’ microsystems?  For instance, where can we place students in decision-making processes so they help make decisions about their experiences (e.g., free speech policies, leadership curriculum committees, etc.)?
  2. Does your office share an idea about leadership with other offices in your division?  If so, how is that idea of leadership shared with students?  If not, how can you begin to move to a common leadership framework?


Astin, A. W. (1993). Studying college impact. In What matters in college: Four critical years revisited, (pp. 1-31). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. (2006). The bioecological model of human development. In W. Damon, & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology, vol. 1: Theoretical models of human development (6th ed., pp. 793-828). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Dugan, J. P., Bohle, C. W., Gebhardt, M., Hofert, M., Wilk, E., & Cooney, M. A. (2011). Influences of leadership program participation on students’ capacities for socially responsible leadership. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48(1), 65-84.

Dugan, J. P., & Komives, S. R. (2010). Influences on college students’ capacities for socially responsible leadership. Journal of College Student Development, 51(5), 525-549.

Garrett, J.M. (Spring 2012). Common language: One institution’s leadership education journey. NASPA NetResults. Washington, D.C.: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators

Garrett, J. M., & Cooper, D. L. (2013). Integrity development in college students: Values clarification and congruence. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Higher Education Research Institute. (1996). A social change model of leadership development: Guidebook version III. College Park, MD: National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs.

Jones, S. R., & Abes, E. S. (2013). Identity development of college students: Advancing frameworks for multiple dimensions of identity. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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

Komives, S. R., Longerbeam, S., Owen, J. O., Mainella, F. C., & Osteen, L. (2006).  A leadership identity development model: Applications from a grounded theory. Journal of College Student Development, 47, 401-418.

Komives, S. R., Lucas, N., & McMahon, T. R. (2013). Exploring leadership: For college students who want to make a difference. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Komives, S. R., Wagner, W., & Associates. (2009). Leadership for a better world: Understanding the social change model of leadership development. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2008). The student leadership challenge: Five practices for exemplary leaders. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Renn, K. A. (2003). Understanding the identities of mixed-race college students through a developmental ecology lens. Journal of College Student Development, 44(3), 383.

Renn, K. A. (2004). Mixed race students in college: The ecology of race, identity, and community (1st ed.). Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Renn, K. A., & Arnold, K. D. (2003). Reconceptualizing research on college student peer culture. The Journal of Higher Education, 74(3), 261-291.

Strange, C. C., & Banning, J. H. (2001). Educating by design: Creating campus learning environments that work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

About the Authors:

Alex C. Lange, M.Ed., recently received his degree in College Student Affairs Administration from the University of Georgia.  He will begin work at Michigan State University this summer as the Assistant Director for their LBGT Resource Center.  Alex’s research interests include environmental theories of student development and using critical theory in identity development research. Alex hopes to continue as a scholar-practitioner in the field of student affairs.

Please e-mail inquiries to Alex C. Lange.

J. Matthew Garrett, Ph.D. is the Director of the Office of Student Leadership and Service and Associate Dean for Campus Life at Emory University.  Matt received his Ph.D. in Counseling and Student Personnel Services from the University of Georgia.  Matt also serves as the Vice-Chair for Research for the American College Personnel Association Commission for Student Involvement.  Matt’s research interests include socially responsible leadership and integrity development of college students. 

Please e-mail inquiries to J. Matthew Garrett.


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.

Employee Evaluation Using Professional Competencies

Employee Evaluation Using Professional Competencies

Vicki L. Wise
Portland State University
Lisa J. Hatfield
Portland State University

At many universities the office of human resources typically offers generic employee evaluation forms for various classifications of non-academic employees that broadly measure their performance. Student Affairs employees are often evaluated against a set of standards that do not directly relate to their work. Our institution’s Student Affairs professionals have shared their difficulty in using our university’s generic evaluation tool in a meaningful way. The measured areas do not align to professional standards in Student Affairs, and the scale is not well defined and difficult to understand. Finally, many employees do not consider the scale easily applicable to goal setting and professional development.

To remedy these difficulties, the Director of Student Affairs Assessment and the Director of the Learning Center developed a supplemental employee self-evaluation tool aligned with the ACPA – College Student Educators International and NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners (2010). In addition, our division of Student Affairs has used the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) in Higher Education (2012) to inform strategic planning, program development, and assessment. The new evaluation tool also aligns to the CAS Standards. It was our desire to create an evaluation tool that would inform staff regarding areas of strength and areas where they might need further training and professional development.

We developed this scale following the recommendations of DeVellis (1991; 2012), who recommended an eight-step process in scale development to produce scales that accurately and reliably measure constructs of interest, and includes:

  • Defining the construct(s) of interest to measure.
  • Creating a set of draft questions that will become the item pool.
  • Determining the format for both the items and the response scale.
  • Seeking expert opinion for item and response scale review.
  • Adding items to reduce social desirable responding.
  • Pilot-testing items with a sample of the target population.
  • Analyzing the results of the pilot test to determine item and scale quality.
  • Determining which items to keep for the final scale.


Step 1: Decide What to Measure

In beginning to develop our instrument we needed to first identify the construct(s) and aspects of employee performance to measure. This was accomplished by reviewing the Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners (ACPA & NASPA, 2010) and our Human Resource guidelines specified on the employee evaluation tool. We used these collectively to develop our scale. ACPA and NASPA address 10 competency areas, each with outcomes at the basic, intermediate, and advanced skills levels. These are (1) advising and helping, (2) assessment, evaluation, and research, (3) equity, diversity, and inclusion, (4) ethical professional practice, (5) history, philosophy, and values, (6) human and organizational resources, (7) law, policy, and governance, (8) leadership, (9) personal foundations, and (10) student learning and development. There are 335 outcomes addressed across these competency areas.

To begin the process of distilling 335 outcomes to a set of items that would represent the work of Student Affairs staff, we created an Excel workbook with 10 sheets, one for each competency area and their corresponding outcomes. Three ratings’ columns allowed for the researchers and a graduate student to independently code each skill (335 outcomes) with a keyword that reflected the essence of that skill. The two researchers met and reviewed all three ratings. For each item, we asked if the keyword(s) reflected what we thought each item meant. Where we disagreed in our interpretation of an item, we discussed until we reached agreement on meaning. In this process, we created a fourth column for our agreed upon theme.

We then combined the 335 outcomes with the agreed upon themes into one spreadsheet. We sorted themes alphabetically and combined themes that were alike. The seven themes generated from this review were communication, cultural competence, core foundations, leadership, law and ethics, management, and professionalism.

Step 2: Generate Item Pool

We still had 335 outcomes related to our seven themes, and knew that we had to reduce outcomes to a manageable list. We reviewed all 335 items to determine which items best reflected each of the seven themes. For the first draft of the scale, we extracted 34 outcomes (items) from the competency areas aligned with our seven themes. We revisited the seven themes and their corresponding items and determined that the area of law and ethics should be removed and one item from this be moved to the cultural competence theme: act in accordance with federal and state/province laws and institutional policies regarding nondiscrimination. We then decided on a measurement scale that reflected levels of performance that would be informative to employees’ self-evaluation.

Step 3: Determine Format for Measurement

Our initial scale was Proficient and Not Proficient as we reasoned that an employee either met a standard or did not. However, upon feedback from department leaders in Student Affairs, we concluded that Not Proficient did not support a developmental model. Therefore, we used the following response scale: Proficient: exemplifies practices most or all of the time; Developing: exemplifies practices on occasion and has room for growth; and not applicable: does not apply to job description and expectations. We then created a draft rubric and prepared for reviews.

Step 4: Have Item Pool Reviewed by Expert

We solicited feedback from our university’s Student Affairs Assessment Council (SAAC). The SAAC is comprised of representatives from departments across Student Affairs that are responsible for conducting assessment in their areas. The goal of the Council is to create a systemic and systematic culture of assessment where we use data, in all its forms, to inform our educational practices and to ensure student success. Based on their feedback, several items were rewritten, as they were double-barreled, confusing, or contained errors. Three items were eliminated. For example, under the Management theme, we reworded this item Model the principles of the profession and communicate the expectation of the same from colleagues and supervisees to Model the standards of your professional organization (e.g., NASPA, NACADA, etc.) Our plan was to then submit the rubric to all Student Affairs staff for more feedback. The Council recommended removing the proficiency scale for the first review and having staff use the scale applies to my work or does not apply to my work. The Council also recommended that it was best to determine if the items were relevant to the work staff do and that including the proficiency scale would be confusing for judging item relevance.

Step 5: Consider Validation Items

DeVellis (1991; 2012) recommends including validation items to reduce response bias, which occurs when individuals may be motivated to present themselves in the most positive light, known as social desirability. The higher the consequences to the employee, the more likely there is to be bias. As this self-evaluation tool is not linked to promotion and pay, it is unlikely that staff would be motivated to demonstrate bias.

Step 6: Administer Items to a Developmental Sample

We pilot-tested the items with our target population of Student Affairs personnel and included their supervisors. Pre-testing allowed us to know if items were applicable to the work in which unclassified staff engage. We administered the items online using the survey tool Qualtrics. Respondents were asked to review each item in light of their current job position and note if the item was applicable or their work. If they reported that an item was not understandable, a follow-up question asked: Please tell us why the items are not understandable. All 153 staff employed in Student Affairs were provided the opportunity to evaluate the items. A total of 53 staff members (35%) responded. The feedback received was overwhelmingly positive with 98% of respondents reporting that items were understandable.

We expected that regardless of area employed in Student Affairs almost all staff would report that the competencies were applicable to their position. That was the case, generally, although there were a few exceptions (results shown in Table 1). In terms of communication, all but one item applied across the division: Assist students in ethical decision-making, and may include making referrals to more experienced professionals when appropriate was applicable less often. This makes sense given that not all positions engage students on a regular basis. In terms of Cultural Competence, we expected that 100% of positions would apply these practices. While the ratings were quite high, we realize that the item Ensure assessment practices are culturally inclusive was not well understood. The Director for Assessment and the Director for Diversity and Multicultural Services will address cultural inclusivity in future employee trainings. In the area of Core Foundations, ratings were quite high. In terms of Leadership, ratings were also high, although for two items ratings were a bit lower: Give appropriate feedback to individuals pertaining to professional growth and development and create or participate in meaningful mentoring. Many of the student affairs staff at our institution are not in roles that require giving feedback to other staff, so in some ways this item has limited applicability. However, it is still important for those who do have the responsibility to be able to do so. As fewer staff view themselves as responsible for mentoring, this can provide an opportunity for professional development. Ratings were lowest in the area of Management, unsurprisingly given the range of unclassified position responsibilities. Again, it is still important for those who do have that responsibility. Finally, ratings were high in the area of Professionalism.

The second pilot test included our proficiency scale: Proficient– exemplifies practices most or all of the time; Developing–exemplifies practices on occasion and has room for growth; Not Applicable–does not apply to job description and expectations. The items and scale were administered online. Twenty-five staff members reviewed the scale and determined that it was understandable.

Step 7: Evaluation of Items

In this step, DeVellis (1991; 2012) recommends that once the pilot data has been collected, items need to be evaluated to determine if they function. This includes examining item-score correlations, item variances, and means. DeVellis also recommended examining internal reliability (consistency) of a scale. In this step, we veered from the protocol, as items were assessed on a dichotomous scale, there was little variability in responding. We measured six themes and included 31 items so we knew we had a multidimensional scale. We examined internal consistency applying Kuder-Richardson 20 (KR-20). KR-20 is recommended when examining scales with dichotomous measures and is comparable to Cronbach’s α used for non-dichotomous measures (DeVellis, 1991; 2012). A general rule-of-thumb is that internal consistency be greater than .70 (Nunnally & Bernstein, 1994). We had an internal consistency reliability coefficient of .85.

Step 8: Optimize scale length

Typically, the final step in scale development is factor analysis to determine the number of factors and whether the scale represents a unidimensional or multidimensional set of factors. Factor analysis was unwarranted given that the data were dichotomous and the sample size small. Moreover, given that the maximum number of staff using this form is 153, and that we will not have access to the results since the form is a self-evaluation tool, this procedure was unwarranted.


This paper presents a scale development process used in Student Affairs. The scale developed was a Student Affairs staff self-evaluation tool that can be used for personal performance review and professional goal setting. It can also be used by supervisors to assist them in setting professional development agendas. As previously mentioned, this instrument will certainly inform our professional development efforts in Student Affairs. Our next annual employee self-evaluation period is spring 2014 and all Student Affairs staff will complete this self-assessment. The Director of Assessment will work with supervisors through a series of trainings on how to use the tool efficiently to support staff in their professional development. Our university has a very active employee-development agenda. The university training schedule offers workshops to support staff skill development in management/supervision, technology, and communication, to name a few. In addition, Student Affairs has an Employee Learning Group responsible for monthly learn-at-lunch sessions related to areas represented in the CAS Standards, and directly related to this evaluation tool.

While our original intention was to develop a tool for Student Affairs staff at our institution, we recognize that this scale could be used across Student Affairs in all job positions, as the competencies addressed on this scale should have applicability to all. Moreover, it can be used to expand and improve job descriptions to include these competencies.

Discussion Questions

  1. As this scale is used for employee self-reflection, growth and development, what types of professional development might you offer that is aligned with the competencies measured?
  2. Being able to measure employee growth over time is essential. Who at your institution might help develop an instrument like this for the Student Affairs staff?
  3. How might a supervisor use this scale to develop job descriptions for new employees?


ACPA & NASPA. (2010). Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners. Retrieved from:

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

DeVellis, R. F. (1991). Scale development: Theory and application. Applied Social Research Methods Series. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

DeVellis, R. F. (2012). Scale development: Theory and application. Applied Social Research Methods Series (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Nunnally J. C. , & Bernstein I. (1994). Psychometric theory (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

About the Authors

Vicki L. Wise, PhD, serves as Director of Assessment & Research at Portland State University (PSU) where she oversees assessment, planning, and reporting for the Division of Enrollment Management & Student Affairs.  Prior to PSU, she was at James Madison University for 10 years and held the positions of Director of Assessment and Evaluation for the College of Education, Assistant Director for Institutional Research, and Assistant Professor/Research Administrator in the Center for Assessment and Research Studies. Vicki earned her PhD and MA degrees at the University of Nebraska in Psychological and Cultural Studies and Educational Psychology, respectively.

Please e-mail inquiries to Vicki L. Wise.

Lisa Hatfield is the Director of Portland State University’s Learning Center. Lisa is a member of our institution’s Student Affairs Assessment Council and has had a great deal of experience in classroom assessment (both student and instructor). Having taught in the K-12 system for several years, Lisa also has statewide experience with assessment, especially with evaluating students’ writing. She holds an MA and an MAT, and is a doctoral student in Curriculum and Instruction.

Please e-mail inquiries to Lisa Hatfield.


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

Student Data Analytics: What’s the FERPA Position?

Student Data Analytics: What’s the FERPA Position?

Jeffrey C. Sun
University of Louisville


May colleges and universities use student data to enhance educational programming and student achievement?  Generally speaking, the answer is yes.

Let us start with a basic refresher on the legal definition of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  FERPA is a federal privacy law protecting student education records.  The law requires postsecondary institutions to provide college students access to their education records and mandates privacy protections of such records.  In particular, the education records of concern are those deemed as personally identifiable information such as a student’s social security number, biometric information (e.g., fingerprints, voice prints, retina and iris patterns), and other identifying information.  The law, while aimed at protecting student privacy, is not as restrictive as some might assert (Sun, 2014).

Recently, FERPA has undergone some regulatory changes.  In 2008 and 2011, the modified regulations made it possible for several uses of student data without student consent.  These permissible uses are intended to enhance educational programming and student achievement.  In this article, I present two instructive examples of these uses: adaptive learning technologies and state longitudinal data systems.

Adaptive Learning Technologies

FERPA allows colleges and universities to use personally identifiable student information without student consent when the university or state system office is using education records for certain educational programming and operational support reasons such as adaptive learning, predictive tests, student aid programs, or instructional improvements.[i]   As more postsecondary institutions engage in efforts of creating learning technologies for instruction and educational support, the questions of privacy become heightened.

Here’s a quick overview of adaptive learning technology.  Adaptive learning technology is typically a software-based tool in which a student undergoes a series of learning modules.  The learning modules cater to the student’s response.  For instance, if an adaptive learning technology is used for math, the program conducts a diagnostic through each lesson and identifies questions or concepts that present barriers for the student to comprehend.  Based on that information, the program presents reinforcement modules or new instructional presentations to address the challenging area.  The technology is a form of artificial intelligence.  Basically, the program adapts to the individual or mediates the learning with a somewhat personalized set of educational modules.

In higher education, adaptive learning technology is a growing learning and intervention tool.  It has been applied in a variety of ways including remedial education, supplemental education, and traditional educational learning settings.  For instance, at Arizona State University, a student who enrolls in an adaptive learning class must master a set of concepts, where the student accumulates and earns badges.  An established number of badges qualify the student to sit through the final exam to demonstrate course proficiency.  As Selingo et al. (2013) report, Arizona State University plans to integrate both an adaptive learning feature and an active learning classroom approach to general education courses.  Much of the traditional lecture portion can be captured through adaptive learning technology along with reinforcement activities.  Further, the active learning classroom supports the integration with problem solving activities.  The legal issue is that the adaptive learning technology is based on a partnership with two for-profit companies, Pearson and Knewton.  These companies serve as third party vendors of Arizona State and include uses of personally identifiable information from education records.

Based on the modifications in 2008 and 2011, FERPA allows this use.  The law, however, is clear that colleges and universities (and any of their approved contractors) must comply with certain requirements on how the data will be used, protected, and eventually destroyed.  Practically speaking, it requires Arizona State University and its vendor to have a clearly written agreement addressing these terms.

State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS)

FERPA also permits colleges and universities to use personally identifiable student information without student consent when the university or state system office is using education records to establish its State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS).  Most states have moved forward on building SLDS as these data systems offer great opportunity for policymakers and educators to link information through a statewide source from a P20W perspective.  The “P20” refers to education from early childhood through graduate school, and the “W” is including the workforce.  Thus, states are moving forward to link data of its citizens from cradle to career.

For some, SLDS presents a serious concern about privacy.  Lawsuits and other challenges from groups such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) have questioned the permissibility of these large datasets – particularly questioning the compliance to FERPA (Roternberg & Barnes, 2013).  Yet, FERPA does allow the data usage for SLDS because the law permits authorized governmental representatives to access education records without student consent when such use is for an audit or evaluation of a federal or state program and for the purposes of federal compliance.[ii]   Nonetheless, in many states, the SLDS is being administered by a state agency that is independent of the higher education and public education systems.  That arrangement presents an interesting problem for some institutions.  For instance, Maryland requires all institutions of higher education that operate in Maryland to report personally identifiable information from education records to the Maryland Longitudinal Data System Center, an agency independent of the state educational institutions and systems.  The University of Massachusetts, through online education, was uncertain whether it should disclose the education records of its students in Maryland.  The U.S. Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office explained that the University of Massachusetts may disclose those education records so long as Maryland has mechanisms in place to allow this independent agency to receive the personally identifiable information from education records.  These mechanisms rest largely with the presence of an agreement between the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the Maryland Longitudinal Data System Center.  The agreement is very similar (though not identical) to the provisions discussed above when giving education records to third party vendors for adaptive learning technologies (e.g., how the data will be used, protected, and eventually destroyed).


In conclusion, FERPA is not necessarily a stifling compliance that is archaic and unworkable.  It factors emerging uses of education records such as the growing uses of student data for predictive modeling, adaptive learning technologies, and other system-wide analyses.  For more information about FERPA, please consult the Family Policy Compliance Office.

Finally, I encourage you to read a new book on big data, Building a Smarter University: Big Data, Innovation, and Ingenuity (Lane, 2014).  The book describes and analyzes the transformative use of big data in higher education.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does your institution use education records to enhance educational programming and student achievement?  Does the institution use data from the learning management system (e.g., Blackboard or Desire2Learn)?  In what ways is your institution using that data to track patterns and academically productive behaviors?  Have the data been employed for student learning assessment?
  2. How does your institution ensure privacy of education records?  While FERPA permits uses of education records without expressed consent of students, what steps or protocols are in place to ensure anonymity?  For instance, what are your institution’s disclosure avoidance techniques?  Does your institution discuss efforts of data anonymization, psuedonymization, or data sharing? How can your unit engage in these discussions with your Information Technology Division?
  3. What steps or professional growth opportunities has your institution, particularly the Division of Student Affairs, engaged in to envision how programming data (which is also an education record) and uses of technology may support the institution’s mission and comply with the law?


1.  20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1)(F) (2014); 34 C.F.R. § 99.31(a)(6)(i) (2014).

2.  20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1)(C), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g (b)(3) (2014); 34 C.F.R. § 99.31(a)(3), 34 C.F.R. § 99.35 (2014).


King, D. (2013, Nov. 22). [Letter to Dawna McIntyre]. Retrieved from

Lane, J. E. (Ed.). (2014). Building a smarter university: Big data, innovation, and ingenuity. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Rotenberg, M., & Barnes, K. (2013). Amassing student data and dissipating privacy rights. Educause Review, 48(1). Retrieved from

Selingo, J., Carey, K., Pennington, H., Fishman, R., & Palmer, I. (2013). The next generation university. Retrieved from

Sun, J. C. (2014).  Legal issues associated with big data in higher education: Ethical considerations and cautionary tales.  In J. E. Lane (Ed.), Building a smarter university: Big data, innovation, and ingenuity. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

About the Author

Jeffrey C. Sun, J.D., Ph.D. is a Professor of Higher Education at the University of Louisville.  He teaches and writes about legal issues pertaining to higher education. 

Please email inquiries to Jeffrey C. Sun.


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

Student Mobility in an Expanding Global Market: Potential Impacts on Your Campus

Student Mobility in an Expanding Global Market: Potential Impacts on Your Campus

Tadd Kruse
American University of Kuwait

Entering the new millennium and following the events of September 2001, the composition of higher education around the globe has seen significant growth and change. New opportunities for access to post-secondary learning continue to expand with the continual growth of institutions of higher learning, particularly in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.  Access for individuals to attain a quality education without leaving home is greater than ever before outside the United States, seeing increases in both foreign operated institutions and international branch campuses of universities.   The need for greater access to higher education and the means by which such access is administered have resulted in tremendous growth and unique shifts in how academic and student support services are delivered.

In the early weeks of 2014, a series of articles were reported in the University World News on the mobility of students to study internationally.  These articles highlighted some interesting data and trends that significantly impact institutions of higher education around the world. The mass movement of students will see nearly five million students around the globe pursuing coursework for degrees outside of their home country this year.  This number is staggering, especially when one notes that this figure is a 140% increase since the year 2000.  Understanding the mobility of students is important for campus communities in serving special student populations and in meeting commonplace initiatives related to multiculturalism, internationalization, and global citizenship.

It is important to recognize the top source countries as well as the top destination countries for international students as many campuses will likely have students attending from the top source countries, and students or programs in the top destination countries.  These are important factors to consider and means to acknowledge how each campus is influenced by student mobility. According to the article, and based on 2011 statistics, the top five source and destination countries are as follows:

Graph of Top 5 Source Countries

Graph of Top 5 Destination Countries

The top five destination countries hosted almost half of all international students, an important note for educators and student services professionals. The United States is still the top destination for international students since 2000, however this figure has decreased by more than 7%, illustrating one of the outcomes of higher education in a post-September 11th world.

Overall, overseas students comprise less than 4% of the 21 million students enrolled in higher education.  Despite the decrease in percentage in the United States from the global pool, and given the number of international students has doubled around the globe in the same period, the United States will see a record number of foreign students in 2014, an estimated 900,000.  The United States, as similar in many other western nations, has seen the enrollment of Chinese students significantly increase, reaching almost 30% of all international students in United States.  Students from India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia are among the most numerous source countries following China.

Conversely, last year the United States saw 285,000 students pursue academic coursework abroad, a small increase.  The top five destinations for American students in rank order were the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, and China.  Other notables were Germany, Australia, Costa Rica, Ireland and Japan.  The largest increases were seen in China and Latin American countries.

As stated previously, nearly five million international students will influence the diversity, and in a large part, the identity of college campuses globally this year.  The United States alone will be influenced by almost 1.2 million students participating in overseas studies when you combine foreign students studying in the United States and American students who study overseas.

Additionally, it is important to recognize when reviewing figures of student mobility that reports will often differ due to definitions of mobility, data completeness, lack of systematic central data collection, and most significantly the availability of data.  Understanding imbalances in reporting are important to note, and in some instances the figures can differ drastically.   Systems and definitive data are not in place to address the many complex issues surrounding mobility on a global level, but one should look at the bigger picture and make connections from the general figures and trends to one’s own institution and campus community.  Adjusting one’s scope and finding the commonalities in the data shared will provide a context for understanding and growth that may be useful and meaningful on campus.

Potential Impact and Application on your Campus

Higher education prides itself in promoting diversity, cultural awareness, and particularly in recent years, global citizenship.  The flow of students on an international scale, and changing trends impact both large and small campuses alike.  Higher education in the global market is being forced to evolve at a rate in which student services on many campuses may or may not be keeping up.  Each institution has a unique sub-culture and student population represented, impacting the overall campus environment and how student services are aligned.  As a result every institution has a varying degree of commitment to diversity or internationalization, both in vision and practice, which are effected by the institutional type, campus size, campus location, culture, and nation of origin among others.

The best means to support students is to be aware of student mobility and how both the diversity of the student body, and international programs and services may directly or indirectly impact programs and services.  These both influence the overall institution, and many times may exist in academic or other units from whom student services may not normally interact. Awareness is essential so that one can engage in opportunities and help to build bridges that enhance student services and the overall student experience.

Several factors to keep in mind when considering how student mobility may impact your institution and the preparedness of student services are listed below:

Cultural Adaptation

Recognizing the various cultural differences and challenges as well as preparing to make adjustments in both directions in order to meet institutional requirements along with reasonably accommodating international student shifts from cultural norms (Example: helping to meet special eating requirements for Muslim students, especially during the Holy Month of Ramadan).

Student Housing

Providing student housing with an understanding and preparedness to accommodate special needs regarding cultural matters pertaining to gender, hygiene, food, religious beliefs, space, etc. (Example: providing housing opportunities to support students from cultures that are more conservative than others in regards to gender).

Special Populations (Large Groups)

Catering to large populations of foreign students, especially if they come from a single country, to meet special large group or program needs but doing so without allowing the group to become isolated (Example: providing support for the needs of a large student group represented on campus, Chinese students for instance, without inherently creating/enabling a means to isolate these students from the greater campus community).

International Admissions

Understanding admission target regions or populations and the recruitment objectives related to international admission, acknowledging that objectives may shift from year to year but are often driven by existing academic programs and global markets (Example: STEM-related fields are popular among potential students in many Asian countries, thus driving admission practice)

International Programs

Recognizing the overseas programs and ways that students and faculty participate in foreign studies and research is an important component, often overlooked, of how a campus is influenced (Example: a campus has an overseas study abroad campus maintained by the institution, resulting in a significant number of faculty and students participating in that program over others).

Special Programs or Initiatives (Scholarships, exchanges, partnerships, etc.)

Identifying scholarship programs or other financial support, as well as exchange or partnership agreements, can drive the opportunities or objectives of an institution and equally impact several of the other factors listed here (Example: foreign governments establish scholarship programs to send students overseas to pursue degrees in certain countries, at partnered institutions, or in specified fields of study).

Global Events

Being aware of international, and domestic, activities and events that impact students on campus can significantly shift the short-term and long-term feasibility of special population enrollments, programs, and services (Example: natural disasters, political unrest, economic developments, etc.).


Remember that influences and impacts on campus from student mobility, diversity, and international programs can present themselves in differing forms.  Sometimes it is as simple as changing an approach or perspective towards providing a service, such as housing, from providing living quarters to making it a truly unique living/learning environment.  Equally, it may require seeking out an understanding of new or existing initiatives and finding ways to partner with other units to create a mutually beneficial opportunity.

As a new academic year approaches, now is an excellent time to reflect on your own institutional make-up, culture, and multiculturalism on campus.  Consider the driving forces behind each, the factors that impact your institution, and attempt to understand how student mobility and international programs influence your institution.

Discussion Questions

  1. How has your campus been impacted in recent years, and over the past decade, from student mobility related to international students and international programs?
  2. Has your campus adjusted programs and resources to meet the cultural needs of international and domestic students and those of the campus community at large? If not, what areas need greater attention?
  3. What opportunities exist on your campus: (a) to maximize potential impacts of student mobility and international programs? (b) to improve student services to special populations?

About the Author

Tadd Kruse serves as Assistant to the President for Institutional Planning and Effectiveness at the American University of Kuwait (AUK).  Having worked at institutions in the US, UK, and in the Middle East, Tadd has spent more than a decade of his fifteen years of experience in higher education working abroad. His global experiences include international student housing, study abroad, exchange programs, in addition to his co-founding and continued oversight of the Student Affairs Graduate Summer Internship Program at AUK.  Tadd has also served as Senior Student Affairs Officer, founded a department (Office of Student Life) 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.

“I Couldn’t Get to Campus, Buy the Book, Access the Web:” Looking Beyond the Excuses

“I Couldn’t Get to Campus, Buy the Book, Access the Web:” Looking Beyond the Excuses

Marisa Vernon
Columbus State Community College

Community Campus, Community Challenges

Open access was not a foreign concept to me when I stepped into an administrative position at a large, urban community college. Previous to my current position, I had faced challenges serving the masses at an open access regional campus of a public research institution. Through this experience, I became accustomed to motivating students with low placement scores, identifying resources for low-income students, and helping students remove the barriers that initially stood in between them and academic success. In fact, this type of challenging student affairs work was precisely the reason I zoned in on community college opportunities when the time came to take the next professional step.

Now, two years after taking that step, I find myself less and less prepared to handle the issues brought to me through the open gateway. The reason for this sense is not due to incompetence, or a lack of understanding of student barriers in open access institutions. Rather, student stories have become deeper and more complex as I have learned to ask a few more questions, and no longer settle for short, simple answers. Suddenly, the student who has been dropped for non-attendance is not just a lazy, unmotivated student in need of more academic advising. The dismissed student pleading her case to the Academic Review Board may not be just another student who did not bother to access tutoring, and the student struggling to make ends meet did not necessarily misuse his or her financial aid package.

The community college environment does not provide student support professionals the luxury of focusing conversations solely on academics, and professionals entering the two year college environment should consider this component carefully. Our students’ lives are intertwined with their educational experience in unique ways the traditional student experience may not reflect. While the traditional student joins his or her peers in rituals such as purchasing extra-long twin sheets, packing for overnight orientations, and anticipating roommate assignments, a significant number of community college students jump headfirst into their education without laying the appropriate foundation to be successful. In many ways, community college students are often extraordinary time managers, weaving class in with multiple jobs, children, and other complexities. In other ways, community college students are regularly only one misstep away from watching the carefully constructed tower come tumbling down.

Removing the Invisible Barriers

The individuals on the Academic Advising team I supervise genuinely enjoy student interactions, often stating that the conversation surrounding the structure of course planning, grade point averages, and deadlines is what keeps them motivated to continue working with a tough community college population. Often, when an Advisor has become unmotivated or overwhelmed, I find myself reminding them to take the time to really view each student as a story and to ask probing questions to find the real reason a student may be succeeding or struggling. When working with students this way, however, Advisors and other student affairs professionals need to be prepared for what may be revealed by the student.

Recently, a distressed student arrived in our office just before the end of walk-in hours. She had been dropped from classes in the fourth week of the term due to non-attendance, a routine scenario by any Advisor’s standards. Rather than launching into the steps by which the student could be re-enrolled, or referring to another office, the student was prompted for more information. Ultimately, the student revealed she had been enrolled in online course sections, though a recent change in her living situation had prevented her from accessing her online materials. Likewise, the student’s un-enrolled status would shortly impact her financial situation as well, and she feared an eviction notice would be arriving next.

While this situation may seem extreme to some, it is all too common in a community college setting where student success often hinges delicately upon fragile life circumstances. Within a setting that often serves as the first rung towards upward mobility, students’ lives are not always stabilized enough to support academic focus. However, open access to education provides students in dire life circumstances with a pathway to realistically transform hope into tangible progress.

In many community college settings, student affairs departments take on unexpected roles as basic need providers. As stories of hunger, lack of transportation, homelessness, and financial distress surface during advising appointments, financial aid interactions, and student life activities, the College is often faced with a decision to respond or turn a blind eye. Strategic student success conversations only scratch a superficial surface if these issues are not discussed.

In Ohio, the Ohio Benefits Bank provides individuals access to a network of public assistance programs and community resources. Individuals in need of food, cash, medical, or utilities assistance can apply for support programs via a central application process, and any individual in the community can obtain certification to assist individuals in navigating this process. Last academic year, our College employed an AmeriCorps VISTA, housed in Student Life, who served our student population in this role. When the VISTA service year concluded, the gap in services was apparent. Without somewhere to send a student in need, many student affairs offices and faculty struggled to connect students to resources to meet basic food, shelter, clothing, and transportation needs.

In order to attempt to build a student basic needs support network on campus, I recently helped to organize an Ohio Benefits Bank Counselor training to certify twenty-four individuals from key student affairs offices. During the two-day training, members of the campus community were introduced to federal poverty guidelines, as well as state programs that can be accessed to benefit qualified individuals. In addition, the trainees learned how to guide individuals through the Benefits Bank application process and ethical guidelines associated with providing such assistance. The trainee group was comprised of both faculty and staff, as well as selected students serving in leadership roles within the College.

While the establishment of such a network is still new on our campus, and not yet institutionalized, individual departments are beginning to utilize their Ohio Benefits Bank trained staff members in times of need. For example, on several occasions in Advising, I have connected a student with non-academic issues to an internal Benefits Bank Counselor to discuss state programs that can remove financial barriers that are complicating the student’s educational situation. Likewise, these types of referrals are also followed up with communication to Counseling Services to provide additional outreach and support.

Dismissed Students: What is Our Obligation?

A holistic approach to working with students is complicated when a student is dismissed from the institution and can no longer access the college’s support services. What, after all, is the college’s obligation to a student who has not met the standards to allow continued enrollment? Should an open enrollment college play a role in the student’s transition to his or her next step?

Within our Advising team, we began to notice this particular needs gap during our readmission process. During this process, students must petition to re-enter the College after academic dismissal, and the decision to readmit rests largely on the proactive steps the student takes to remove barriers. Students petitioning for readmission are encouraged to seek out career counseling, clarify goals, obtain mental health counseling or resolve financial problems in order to support their case for re-entry. While the college offers an extensive menu of such support services, how does the dismissed student without connections or community support access such assistance?

In response, Advising collaborated with Counseling Services on campus to compile a list of community resources broken down by category: mental health, academic assistance/literacy programs, mentorship programs, career guidance, etc. Students seeking readmission are provided with this list to help them connect to resources outside of the College that can help them strengthen their success plans and provide concrete evidence of commitment before petitioning to re-enter the institution. Likewise, this list of resources can serve as an aid for students who need to stop out due to life circumstances, but still need access to support services once provided by the community college environment.


For professionals who view education as the great socioeconomic equalizer, perhaps the most difficult student interactions are those that encourage breaks, delays, and time-outs. To the college administrator or faculty member who valiantly attempts to remove barriers of any kind, discouraging further persistence feels unnatural and defeating.

And yet as student stories unravel and professionals begin to ask the tough questions, the solutions we can offer may not be enough. One of the challenges of asking more, doing more, and providing more is that it still may not be enough. With enrollment pressure and retention rates pushing many decisions, it takes a truly student-centered individual to recommend stopping out until the student’s life and environment has stabilized. However, open enrollment institutions owe this type of respect and holistic approach to the students to which it extends enrollment. Often, a student experiencing a myriad of barriers is simply unable to allow his or her academic potential to shine until other basic needs are met. Deferring continuation, in some cases, may actually promote student success in the long run. The challenge is, of course, that helping students in this way has the potential to adversely impact institutional retention goals, and ultimately, college funding.

Additionally, nearly all colleges are often challenged by traditional academic culture, which sets expectations high and promotes independence among those enrolled. Many institutions, though expanded to include more student support services in the last several decades, expect that students have removed some of their own barriers prior to initial enrollment. With the exception of those who interact closely with students, the general population may assume that college-bound students have resolved issues of financial distress, hunger, homelessness, or transportation prior to enrollment. This assumption of privilege can prevent faculty, staff, and community members from asking students the questions that can lead them to assistance. Likewise, this bias can cloud judgment when a student indicates he or she cannot attend class, complete work on a computer, purchase materials or find a safe place to study at night. Without an awareness of the reality of such situations among the student body, many faculty or staff interactions with students may never reach a level in which help can be provided.


Based on popular research, most institutions point the finger at the expected barriers such as low college readiness, first-generation status, or socio-economic disadvantage. While these are the most identifiable (and perhaps the most measurable) correlations to a student’s ability to persist, community colleges perhaps risk overlooking deeper reasons why students drop away from their studies or withdraw all together. While nearly all college students possess some risk factors that may prevent them from completion, the open access institution cannot afford to avoid the difficult conversations or to rest entirely on popular research.

Community colleges are strategically positioned to help students attain educational levels that can improve lifetime income and employability, thus breaking generational poverty cycles. This position, however, challenges the community college environment to stretch beyond the expected student affairs landscape, and to provide a holistic approach to wraparound services.

The community college landscape continues to change at a rapid rate, and often reflects the struggles of society as a whole. Community college staff, faculty, and personnel need to feel confident in their ability to engage in conversations about real life issues that may prevent students from completing individual courses, semesters and ultimately, credentials. Unfortunately, we cannot assume that every individual who enters the community college has stabilized his or her life to support academic success, or that even the most prepared student will not face life altering challenges during his or her enrollment.

The community college, in a very real sense, truly serves and lifts the community in which it is located. In order to appropriately serve students, an understanding of the surrounding community, connection to local resources, and dialogue about social issues impacting the population are just as critical as traditional student success services. A community college is in a position of service, and any college that opens its doors to anyone willing to learn must also provide innovative support for its students to be able to do just that.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you see parallels between your campus (whether two or four year) and the basic needs barriers presented in this article? Can you think of a recent student situation that was deeper than what it appeared to be on the surface?
  2. What biases may you have about the students who attend your college? Do you generally assume that students have what they need, outside of the campus, to succeed?
  3. Do you feel as though a college has an obligation to help students access basic needs? Why or why not?
  4. If you answered “no” to question #3, how would you guide a student who discloses hunger, shelter, transportation, or financial issues impacting his or her success?

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.