Retaining International Students: Understanding Student Dissatisfaction

A hot topic at the 2014 annual meeting of NASFA: Association of International Educators was how to retain international students. For more than a decade, most colleges and universities in the United States have been actively working to grow the number of international students that they enroll.  Broadly speaking, these efforts have been working. According to data from the Open Doors report from the Institute for International Education, in 1992-1993 about 450,000 international students were studying in the United States.  Twenty years later, in 2012-2013 that number had grown to nearly 800,000.  In fact, in the five-year period following 2007-2008, the number of new international students enrolling for the first time grew by 44%, with more than a quarter of a million new international students entering the United States higher education system in 2012-2013.

As I have written about previously in this column, this growth in international student enrollments was not accompanied by corresponding investment in support services to help these students become successful in their academic pursuits.  While international students experience some of the same challenges as domestic students, these issues can be confounded by such things as language barriers, different cultural expectations, and family pressure to succeed..  This combination of institutions’ increasing the number of international students and not providing many support structures may negatively affect international student satisfaction and ultimately lead to lower retention rates.

There is no entity that collects data on the retention rates of international students nationally, so it is difficult to understand the bigger picture. And, at many campuses, international students still tend to have higher persistence rates than their domestic peers. With that said, however, a growing body of evidence from campuses has begun to suggest that there is reason for concern.  Take, for example, the University of West Florida (UWF).  An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that their retention rate for international students dropped from 95% to 83% between 2008 and 2011.  While the retention rates of international students at UWF have decreased somewhat, a body of anecdotal evidence suggests that there is growing dissatisfaction among international students about their experience in the United States.

So, what are the sources of dissatisfaction?

A recent study from NASFA: Association of International Educators, indicates that the reasons may not be what you think.  A survey of nearly 500 educators and 500 students at more than 100 colleges revealed that “there may be a gap in understanding about what students want and what they’re getting,” according to Rahul Choudaha, the principal investigator headlining the project.  The author went on to note that, “students may not understand what institutions want and what they’re getting.”

The top three reasons institutional leaders stated for why they believe that international students leave before graduating are:

  • Transferred to “better fit” institution
  • Financial Reasons
  • Academic Difficulties

The top five issues with which international students report the greatest dissatisfaction were:

  • Lack of access to jobs or internships
  • Affordability
  • Lack of availability of scholarships
  • Dissatisfaction with the food
  • Residence hall accommodations

These results are only perceptions and likely only loosely reflect why an international student may leave an institution.  The reality is much more complicated and the survey data revealed the possibility of deeper levels of dissatisfaction than may be represented by attrition rates.  Of those international students who responded to the survey that they did not plan to leave their institution prior to graduation, only 60% indicated that they were satisfied with their experience.

There are some important takeaways from this survey for student affairs administrators to consider.

Check Assumptions at the Door

Setting aside the actual issues revealed in the survey for a moment, the findings indicated that international educators and international students may have differing assumptions about what affects international student satisfaction.  This is why it is important to talk directly with international students (or conduct regular surveys) to gain a more accurate understanding of what they believe are the major issues with which they are dissatisfied.  Even if students may leave because they are struggling academically, it may be difficult to address those issues if they do not feel financially secure or comfortable with their living arrangements.  So, it is important to understand what international students see as their most pressing concerns.

Beyond Finances, International Student Satisfaction is Tied to Living Arrangements 

While there has been some movement to provide additional academic support for international students on some campuses, some of the areas that students appear to be the least satisfied fall under the traditional umbrella of student affairs.  The survey findings revealed two of the top five issues of concern for international students are housing and food.   Students also indicated concern about their inability to locate internships and jobs, functions often performed by career services offices.  These finding reinforce the important role of student affairs professionals in supporting the success of international students.  We all know that what happens outside of the classroom has an important effect on what happens in the classroom and this data further supports that linkage.  While it is not possible from this data to understand the particular concerns students face related to their housing or eating, the findings do support the need for student affairs professionals to explore the needs of international students in these areas on their campus.

Make Sure International Students have an Accurate Understanding of the Financial Opportunities Available when they Arrive

Much of the growing interest among colleges and universities in recruiting more international students is that these students tend to be full fee paying, an important consideration during a time when there are increasing constraints on institutional revenue.  While many students come from affluent families and can afford to pay the full tuition and fees, there are also a number of such students who are financially strapped.  In some cases, international students are being funded by multiple family members or even entire communities.

What this data suggests is that many international students are as concerned about the cost of education as their domestic peers.  Yet, international students often do not have the same opportunities for supplemental funding as other students.  Sometimes the full cost of the educational experience is not evident to international students.  Federal financial aid is limited to students from the United States and international students are often prohibited from working off campus, particularly during their first year of study.  So, it is important for international educators and staff, particularly those recruiting such students, to be up front about the costs of the entire educational experience and about what financing, if any, is available to students.  One of the simplest ways to address student dissatisfaction about affordability is to be clear at the very beginning about financial expectations.


National surveys such as the one discussed here are important for highlighting areas of further investigation.  However, they tend to be generalized across a broad population of individuals and are not always accurate representation of what is happening on specific campuses.  For example, the survey did not include international students who are pursuing graduate education or those that transferred to a four-year institution from a community college or pathway program.

Further, it is very possible that the perceptions of students at your institution deviate from those reported here.  In fact, among the respondents there were variations based on institutional type. Students at baccalaureate institutions appeared to become more concerned about affordability than students at other institutions; but they were also more satisfied with the availability of scholarships. As student affairs practitioners, it is important that we engage in active assessment of all students, including international students.  This study serves to underscore the disconnect that can occur between students and administrators when data is lacking.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is the retention of international students a problem on your campus? Why or why not?
  2. How satisfied are international students with their experience on your campus?  What are they most satisfied about? Least satisfied?
  3. What assumptions have you made about why international students leave your campus prior to graduation? What evidence do you have to support these assumptions?
  4. How might you go about gathering information about why international students leave your campus before graduation?
  5. What issues may arise when there is a disconnect between the dissatisfaction that students have and the reasons why administrators believe a student may not complete their academic program?

About the Author

Jason E. Lane is Senior Associate Vice Chancellor and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs for the State University of New York as well as associate professor (on leave) of educational administration and policy studies, and Co-Director of the Cross-Border Education Research Team (C-BERT) at the State University of New York, Albany.  He has been a member of the governing boards of the Comparative and International Education Society and the Council for International Higher Education and is an Associate of the International Association of Universities. He is currently a member of the governing board of SUNY Korea. His most recent books include Multi-National Colleges and Universities: Leading, Governing, and Managing International Branch Campuses (2010, Jossey-Bass); Universities and Colleges as Economic Drivers (2012, SUNY Press) and Academic Governance and Leadership in Higher Education (2013, Stylus Press).  

Please e-mail inquires to Jason E. Lane.

Follow him on Twitter at @ProfJasonLane


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

The National Labor Relations Board set to Review Decision Involving Northwestern University Football Players

In an action that could alter the landscape of intercollegiate athletics—and with potential implications well beyond sports—a regional director for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided in March 2014 that football players at Northwestern University could hold a union election.  Specifically, the regional director determined that football players at the university qualified as employees under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  This designation entitled the players to vote on whether to form a collective bargaining unit and be represented by a union.  For now, the status of unionization rights for student-athletes is on hold, as the full NLRB has decided to review the decision.  This column discusses the Northwestern decision and more generally looks at the legal status of collective bargaining rights for higher education students, specifically in regards to graduate student workers.

Overview of Collective Bargaining Rights in Higher Education for Students

In discussing collective bargaining rights in higher education, an important distinction to keep in mind deals with legal standards that apply to public colleges and universities and those for private institutions.  For public colleges and universities, the availability or lack of collective bargaining rights for particular classes of students (e.g., graduate students or student-athletes) is subject to state law.  That is, collective bargaining rights at public colleges and universities are a matter of state law.  Private higher education institutions are subject to federal law, specifically the provisions of the NLRA.

States differ in their treatment of student employees in relation to collective bargaining rights and for letting public employees in general engage in union activities (or prohibiting them from doing so).  A select number of states (e.g., California and Florida) grant collective bargaining rights to graduate student employees at public colleges and universities.  Other states do not permit the formation of collective bargaining units by student workers at public colleges and universities.

For states that consider students workers at public colleges and universities as employees for purposes of collective bargaining, students working in various graduate employment contexts are eligible to negotiate collectively with the institution on such items as wages and benefits (e.g., healthcare coverage).  The availability of such rights does not mean that a collective bargaining group must exist.  Instead, the student employees vote on whether to form a collective bargaining unit to negotiate on their behalf.  In addition, which particular groups of students (e.g., graduate workers or student-athletes) are eligible to engage in such activity is a matter of state law.

At private colleges and universities, such as Northwestern University, federal law, through the NLRA, governs collective bargaining rights.  While the Northwestern case deals with the emerging issue of collective bargaining rights for student-athletes, questions over the collective bargaining rights for various groups in higher education under the NLRA is not a novel issue.  A key legal determination under the law involves whether a group of employees is eligible to engage in collective bargaining activities.  For instance, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 1980 decision (NLRB v. Yeshiva University) that full-time faculty members at private colleges and universities typically held managerial responsibilities that made them ineligible to engage in collective bargaining activities protected by the NLRA.

In the student context, an ongoing issue of dispute has involved the status of graduate workers under the NLRA.  In a 2004 decision (Brown University), the NLRB ruled that graduate student assistants were not covered under the NLRA.  This determination reversed a 2000 decision where the NLRB had determined that graduate student workers qualify as employees under the NLRA (New York University).  In 2013, the NLRB appeared ready to revisit the status of graduate workers under the NLRA in a case involving New York University, but the parties in the case agreed to withdraw the action after reaching an agreement to permit graduate students at the university to vote on forming a collective bargaining unit (Jaschik, 2013).  When the NLRB reviews the decision involving Northwestern University, it might take the opportunity to revisit the Brown decision and to consider if graduate workers should be eligible to engage in collective bargaining activities protected by the NLRA.

The Northwestern University Decision

In the decision pending for review by the NLRB, a regional director determined that scholarship football players at Northwestern University constituted employees for purposes of the NLRA.  This ruling meant that football players at the institution could vote on whether to form a collective bargaining unit.  In determining that scholarship football players at Northwestern are employees for purposes of the NLRA, the regional director considered the responsibilities and conditions placed on football players at the university.

The regional director discussed in the opinion that conditions imposed on football players and not on the regular student population included a requirement for first and second year scholarship football players to live on campus.  All scholarship football players were required to satisfy rules that included gaining permission to hold outside employment, providing information to the coaching staff about the vehicle they drive, and prohibiting players from swearing in public.  Football players also had to agree to rules related to travel and to their academic performance.  Players had to agree not to make money off their image or reputation during their time as a student-athlete at Northwestern, while also agreeing to permit the university and the Big Ten Conference to use their name, likeness, or image for any purpose.  Scholarship football players also had to abide by social media regulations.  These included restrictions on information and content the student-athletes could post on social media.  Football players also were required to “friend” designated coaches on their social media pages as part of the monitoring of players’ social media activities.  The regional director also discussed the substantial time commitment made by the players to team activities.  In sum, the decision provides an overview of the heavily regulated life of football players at Northwestern University.

The kinds of requirements and conditions placed on football players at Northwestern are not unusual in the context of intercollegiate athletics.  A prime reason for such rules is that Northwestern, along with a number of other colleges and universities, must make sure to adhere to the rules set by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).  The NCAA represents a major force in intercollegiate athletics, comprising a voluntary membership organization that, among its activities, sets standards for participation in intercollegiate athletics for its member schools.  The outcome of the Northwestern case may have important ramifications for how the NCAA regulates the institutions and athletic conferences under its supervision.  One of the complicating factors with the Northwestern case, mentioned previously, is that collective bargaining at private higher education institutions is subject to the NLRA but public colleges and universities fall under state law.  Thus, depending on what the NLRB decides, the NCAA could face an intercollegiate athletics landscape where some athletes are able to engage in collective bargaining and others are not.

While the regional director determined that Northwestern’s scholarship football players should be considered employees under the NLRA, the full NLRB has decided to review the decision.  This means that a vote already taken by football players on whether to form a collective bargaining unit has not been released.  The NLRB could decide to uphold the initial decision, which would open the possibility for other collective bargaining efforts by student-athletes at other institutions.  As pointed out, the NLRB might also decide to revisit the 2004 decision involving Brown University and recognize graduate student workers as employees under the NLRA.  Alternatively, the NLRB could decide to exclude student-athletes as workers under the NLRA and to continue the legal status quo with graduate student workers announced in Brown (2004).


The outcome of the NLRB’s review of the Northwestern University decision is important for intercollegiate athletics and for higher education in general.  If the decision is upheld, other intercollegiate athletics programs, at least at private institutions, will have to navigate issues related to collective bargaining and student-athletes.  As a result, the NCAA might need to revisit its standards and rules related to such issues as compensation for student-athletes.  Beyond athletics, the NLRB decision could also signal new movement regarding the status of collective bargaining rights for student workers in higher education, notably in the context of graduate student assistants.  Given that numerous private colleges and universities employ graduate student assistants in their student affairs divisions, the outcome in the Northwestern case may have direct implications for student affairs.  The collective bargaining story unfolding at Northwestern University highlights important issues related to the role of intercollegiate athletics in higher education and the treatment of student-athletes.  More broadly, the case touches upon matters dealing with the equitable treatment of student employees, including those working in student affairs offices.

Discussion Questions

1. What is the status of collective bargaining rights for graduate student employees at your institution?  In your state?  Should graduate student workers be able to join unions?

2. What might be some of the possible implications for intercollegiate athletics and for higher education if the Northwestern University decision is upheld by the NLRB?

3. Apart from the outcome of the NLRB’s review of the Northwestern decision, should the NCAA amend its policies to allow colleges and universities to compensate student-athletes?  What about placing limits over the ways in which institutions exert control over student-athletes in such areas as social media policies?


Brown University, 342 NLRB 483 (2004).

Jaschik, S. (2013, November 27). NYU and UAW agree to terms of election for teaching assistant union. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from – sthash.FJDgjjbO.dpbs

NLRB v. Yeshiva University, 444 U.S. 672 (1980).

Northwestern University v. College Athletes Players Association, No. 13-RC-121359, 2014 WL 1922054 (N.L.R.B) (March 26, 2014).

About the Author

Neal H. Hutchens is an associate professor in the Higher Education Program in the Department of Education Policy Studies at Penn State.

Please e-mail inquiries to Neal H. Hutchens.


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

Community Colleges: Why you Should Consider Joining our Team

Almost a decade ago, I was nearing completion of my master’s degree in higher education administration.  Like most students facing an exit from college and into the career world, I was panicked about finding a job in my field.  I can recall experiencing a collective panic as our graduate school cohort flooded the national market with fresh resumes and swapped battlefield stories about on-campus interviews.

I had two on-campus interviews scheduled in one week.  One was for a position much higher than I thought I could land fresh out of graduate school, situated within the Career Services office at a large, rival public four-year university.  I thought I was a perfect fit for the position, as I had just completed a two-year internship at a local higher education non-profit focused on internship program development and had built a friendly rapport with the hiring director.

The second interview was for an academic advisor position at a regional campus within the university system that would soon be granting my master’s degree.  The position was posted for the 11:00 AM- 7:00 PM shift, which immediately placed it at the bottom of my list.  In addition to the awful schedule, I could not picture myself working at a commuter campus.  As an undergraduate, I had experienced what I thought all college students should experience: two years in an on-campus residence hall, followed by two years living among friends in a dark and dingy townhouse in the neighborhood known for great parties every Thursday night.

I poured all of my energy into preparing my presentation and interview responses for the career services position, convinced I belonged in the type of environment from which I had been educated.  To prepare for the regional campus position (which I had convinced myself I would only take out of desperation), I compiled a quick presentation and barely reviewed the job description.

In an unexpected twist of fate, I did not feel an immediate sense of belonging while interviewing for the career services position at the rival four-year university.  I left the interview not entirely sure what had made me feel this way and questioning whether or not the position was actually where I wanted to begin my career.

The next day, somewhat unprepared and rather apathetically, I showed up to interview for the academic advisor position at the regional commuter campus.  Even as I entered the building, I was sure I would never accept a job offer for this position: I was simply a soon-to-be graduate practicing her interview skills.

For those of you who have read the short bio attached to this column, you already know how this story ends.  Within the first 20 minutes of my interview that day, everything I thought I knew about open-access higher education was turned upside down.  I fell in love with the possibility of working at a college campus without residence halls or high admission standards, and with a commuter population.  The interview felt completely right, and the team I later joined upon accepting the job offer remains the most significant influence on my career to date.

My 11:00-7:00 shift ended several months later when the department hired another wave of advisors, and I moved to the earlier shift due to seniority; however, despite the less-than-ideal schedule, I never for a moment regretted taking my first professional step onto a regional campus that offers access to so many students.

Whatever misconceptions you might have about the landscape and environment of open-access colleges, put them aside for a moment.  If you have only ever imagined yourself working at a traditional four-year institution, try to remember the primary reason you were drawn to a career in higher education in the first place.

Chances are, that reason may be fulfilled in a whole new way by a community college, regional campus, or technical college experience.

Growth in the Two-Year Sector

While many four-year colleges and universities have been experiencing a decline in enrollment, two-year colleges and regional campuses are offering students an alternative to the traditional post-secondary path.  As residential colleges add amenities such as renovated residence halls, spacious wellness centers, and infinite food options, many students and their families have begun to search for simpler, less expensive alternatives.

The community college landscape is changing as traditional students, some with the means and academic ability to thrive at premier institutions, select to begin their education on a flexible and less-expensive path.  With media coverage on rising student loan debt and the crippling effect such debt has on recent college graduates, many opt to return to alternative options that either decrease or eliminate long-term financial obligations.  Within an academic advising unit, my team and I regularly encounter students who pay tuition out-of-pocket in an effort to earn a credential without debt.  The two-year environment makes this choice accessible to a larger net of students, not just those from the highest socioeconomic rungs.

National Public Radio (NPR) features a series titled “Paying for College,” and a May 2014 installment focused on the number of students accepted to their first choice colleges who select to attend alternative institutions.  The feature highlighted the 2013 National Freshman Survey, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California Los Angeles.  While the survey results reflected a positive trend related to the number of students both applying and receiving acceptance to colleges, they are offset by the percentage of students who ultimately do not enroll at their first choice institutions.  When surveyed, the majority of students indicated that cost was the primary reason for declining offers to attend their first choice institutions (61.2%).  In addition, 60% of first-generation college students stated cost or financial aid offers as a primary concern when selecting a college, compared to 46% of continuing generation students asked the same question.  Community colleges by their very nature are an obvious choice for many first-generation college students, and this survey indicates that overall cost is a large concern for many students, regardless of background.

While cost is obviously an important factor for many students, students still need to consider whether or not a two-year college can deliver a quality product that will provide a return on investment.  As partnerships and pathways between two-year colleges, regional campuses, and four-year universities become stronger and more defined, students are presented with more options to build and complete their educational experiences.  For example, the community college at which I currently work has established formal partnerships with eight major colleges and universities in the state, many of which begin to meet with our students within their first year of their associate degree curriculum.  Some partners have become such a regular presence on our campus that students are often more connected to university advisors, admissions representatives, and student life professionals than the students who began at the four-year institution from day one.  These strong pathways help students see how their community college education can lead to advanced degrees without the burden of shopping for completion programs on their own after graduation day.

A Shift towards Technical and Applied Education

The regional campus where I first worked as a professional academic advisor was situated on a shared campus.  Our campus neighbor was a technical college, and students regularly moved between the institutions due to physical proximity and career indecision.

When the local economy took a downturn, both institutions saw an influx of unemployed individuals seeking alternative career paths.  As state and local programs emerged to assist displaced workers, many recipients came through our doors seeking baccalaureate degrees; however, when faced with four- to five-year education plans, many ultimately determined that a technical associate’s degree from our neighboring institution may be a better option in order to quickly retool in a new field and return to the workforce.

This mentality may still be lingering, and perhaps even increasing, as securing employment immediately following a bachelor’s degree still proves competitive and often challenging.  Technical associate’s degrees offered by community colleges, on the other hand, are often already linked with employers, in order to serve local workforce development needs. For example, the community college at which I am currently employed has several degree programs that were created at the demand of major area employers who are in need of graduates with technical expertise in areas such as mechanical engineering, surgical sterilization, insurance, and computer science.  Likewise, the community college also provides direct pathways to meaningful employment in the public sector through partnerships with local fire, emergency response, and police academy training.  At our community college, Commencement Day is filled with stories of graduates who are walking into lucrative employment positions paying close to or equal to those secured by university graduates who have yet to gain technical experience and expertise.

Unfortunately, many high school students still receive societal pressure to complete college preparatory coursework and pursue bachelor’s degrees upon graduation.  Career and technical training provides a strong and viable option, however, and delivers promising returns for high school students.  In Ohio, for example, only 22% of students grades 9-12 are enrolled in career and technical training programs; however, these students boast a 98% high school graduation rate with over 60% opting to further their education past high school.  Many of these programs are perhaps even more challenging than traditional secondary school curriculum, often including between 450-900 hours of applied training in key workforce areas (Ohio Department of Education, 2014).

As states work to address employment needs, high school graduation rates, and degree attainment numbers, technical education programs and their community college partners hold covetable seats at the discussion table.

Professionally Challenging Environment

Open-access education environments, such as regional campuses and community colleges, present unique challenges for student affairs professionals and faculty who work to meet state and federal student success and completion standards.  While selective institutions can adjust admissions criteria to yield those most likely to meet their academic standards, this practice defies the very mission of this country’s community colleges and regional campuses.  Today’s community college population includes many academically prepared students; yet, open access draws a significant population of underprepared individuals as well.

As a leader working on student success initiatives, this population challenges me when adopting even the most accepted best practices in the field.  Nearly every research article, conference presentation, and listserv topic must be analyzed further with questions like, “How would this apply to a curriculum condensed to two years?” or, “How would this look in an environment that accepts all, regardless of academic record?”  While education, by its very nature, demands continuous learning, the community college environment energizes this learning in a whole new way.

For individuals who are passionate about making a difference in students’ lives, professional positions within community colleges will not disappoint.  All student interactions are unique, and student backgrounds are diverse, which continually reinforces a commitment to the work and mission of the college.

Perhaps one of the most powerful ongoing lessons I have learned through working in this sector of education is compassion and the subsequent ability to avoid judgment.  The student populations with whom I interact have challenged me to eliminate subconscious biases and truly listen to each student’s story.  While fast-paced environments often promote a problem/solution approach to service, this model cannot apply to a population that reflects such a breadth of needs.

Likewise, each student has a very different reason for being present at the college, most of which are not apparent at first impression.  My assumptions about students’ backgrounds, educational history, previous degree attainment, and socioeconomic status are proven incorrect so often that I have simply eliminated assumption from my practice and focused solely on listening to students’ individual stories.  Without this daily challenge, and at such a rich and intense level, this type of mental training would take nearly a lifetime to fully develop.


Many myths, and perhaps some truths, about two-year colleges remain prevalent in our field.  I believe nearly every sector of the working world, as in society as a whole, holds biases about certain work environments, organizations, or professional affiliations.  We all hold misconceptions about what impact certain career choices may have on our professional, financial, or personal goals.  In challenging these biases and examining our own values as educators, we may either confirm or question where our personal energy is being spent.

Working at a two-year institution has helped me to truly “walk the talk” as an educator.   Early on and perhaps rather unconsciously throughout my profession training, I developed the belief that any individual can be elevated through education, and that one’s circumstances are always within a few steps of change.  Upon examining our education and workforce needs, I also believe there is space in society for all individuals to grow to their fullest potential and give back, contribute, and thrive.  Working in an environment that meets students where they are academically, economically, and socially helps to feed the passion that led me to become an educator in the first place.

I encourage you to imagine yourself working in the two-year college environment and challenge the voice in your head that pushes you to pursue employment at other institutions.  Take the time to examine the philosophies that drive your work in this field and also the biases that may keep you from responding to the challenge of open access.

Many of us love this work, and we are always looking for the best and brightest to join us on the path less traveled.

Would you be up for both the challenge and the reward?

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some of the biases associated with working at a two-year college or regional campus?
  2. Do you ever work with students who you feel would succeed in a career or technical program?  How do you work with these students?  Do you believe any biases exist about career and technical education?
  3. Many students focus on cost when considering options for college.  Do you believe cost should play a role in students’ decision if they are accepted to a first-choice college?  Why or why not?
  4. What excites you about the possibility of working at a two-year college?  What do you perceive as your personal challenges in doing so?  How does the mission of open-access align with your beliefs about education?


Eagan, K., Lozano, J., Hurtado, S., & Case, M. (2014, February 1). The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2013. . Retrieved May 29, 2014, from

Ohio Department of Education. (2014). Preparing Students for College and Careers. Retrieved May 29, 2014, from

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.

Unpacking the Ethics of Dual and Multiple Relationships Across the Student Affairs Profession

In student affairs it is not difficult to find college personnel navigating dual or multiple relationships: as faculty, professionals, and students in graduate preparation programs. These relationships are complex and require a higher level of moral reasoning to navigate and manage. Student affairs literature has offered general guidance regarding appropriate relationships. However, the field of counseling offers more depth in exploring these complex issues.  Although the student affairs literature delves into this issue on the surface, it lacks the depth found in the mental health fields.

Much of the literature for this column and the decision-making model used to frame the questions are grounded in the counseling literature. This column will explore the multiple relationships we find ourselves in depending on our role at our institution. I will focus on non-sexual relationships, as I feel that ethical and professional codes offer more clarity regarding the unethical nature of those relationships. I will explore dual relationships through an ethical lens and offer some ideas for resolution and management. The intent of the column is to develop strategies that identify when a relationship has crossed ethical boundaries and how to develop solutions to manage and renegotiate boundaries.

Make it Cool to Care – Relationships in Student Affairs

The role of education at the ground level is about building relationships to facilitate student success. These relationships are critical to the success of each student. As professionals we often need to consult with students or refer students to offices across campus. The relationships we have across our campuses are cultivated by establishing partnerships generated out of trust and respect. The professional responsibility that student affairs professionals have varies greatly depending on the role and position on campus, however few would argue against developing a collaborative campus culture where professionals trust one another and often consult across units to support students.

Complex Faculty Relationships

The number one role of faculty on campus is to execute the academic mission of the institution. Within student affairs and higher education programs, graduate students tend to be in direct contact with the faculty. The complexity of working primarily with adult learners changes the nature of the relationship from the onset. Students who are of similar age or older may feel more of a connection and lose sight of the power differential that is part of this dynamic. Faculty who work with both master and doctoral level students must set expectations and learn to negotiate boundaries early in the socialization process.

Working with master level students as a faculty member offers a bit more clarity in regards to setting the boundaries. In many student affairs and higher education programs, but not all, the master level students tend to be more traditionally aged, entering programs shortly after graduation from their undergraduate programs. Age difference is often cited as a major catalyst in unhealthy dual relationships (Kitchener, 1986). Working with students tends to be collaborative in nature and from time to time seems casual and is often misinterpreted.  In such referenced cases, oftentimes students view the relationship as a friendship and do not understand clear work-personal boundaries (Pope & Vasquez, 2011). It is important for faculty to set these boundaries and be clear about expectations and behavior.

The relationship faculty have with doctoral students is generally much more complex than at the master level. Doctoral students work very closely with faculty and developing a friendship outside a supervisory relationship is not uncommon. The complexity is grounded in the fact that doctoral students become colleagues and peers upon graduation.  The faculty member to doctoral student role is also complex because it transcends a supervisory role and is grounded in mentoring, teaching, and role modeling. There are inherent expectations when the roles change (Kitchener, 1986) and for some faculty it is difficult to move beyond the faculty student role, yet it is essentially important for the vitality and growth of the profession. Departments are often reluctant to hire doctoral graduates as faculty members because some faculty members can never elevate the professional to a peer: once a student, always a student.

Complex Student Affairs Professional Relationships

Student affairs professional relationships are also wrought with unclear boundaries and potentially harmful dual relationships. Examples often found on campuses are social friendships between supervisors and supervisees. This situation can exist with no issues. However, the friendship can become problematic if the supervisor ever shows any hint of favoritism as a result of the friendship. Even worse is if the supervisee begins to question the authority of the supervisor because of the friendship. This can become even more complex when roles change, as they often do, in this line of work. When individuals in student affairs positions are promoted into supervisory positions or are promoted to a management level, pre-existing dual relationships are difficult to navigate.  Student affairs professionals are often promoted within, creating even more multifaceted, dual relationships.  The existing relationship now needs to be renegotiated and boundaries made very clear.

The other questionable relationships often found in student affairs work are classroom environments where supervisees are in class with supervisors. Many student affairs offices will employ graduate assistants that are pursuing degrees in student affairs or higher education. Additionally, there are professional staff members that are students in master or doctoral programs on the same campus where they are employed. It is not uncommon to have a supervisor and a supervisee in the same course together. As a faculty member, I once had a director level professional in a class as a doctoral student with four master’s level students who directly reported to her. I had to work on the front end to establish confidentiality, build rapport among the group, and ensure that what was spoken in the context of the class remained part of the class. I also checked in with the students periodically to make sure they felt safe and that they had a voice in the class discussions. From my perspective, establishing group rules early in the course mitigated the power differential and encouraged full participation.

Decision-Making Model

ACPA – College Student Educators International offers a Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards (2006) providing general guidelines about professional behavior related to appropriate relationships. Unfortunately these standards and many others are not adequate for practical decision-making. Most professionals understand and honor inappropriate sexual relationships when there is a power differential. What is most unclear to many professionals is when a dual relationship is unhealthy and crossing the ethical line.  Here, I offer a decision-making framework (Younggren, 2002) that could be used as a guide in determining when a dual relationship may cause more harm than benefit. The model is grounded in the counseling literature so it is based on a therapeutic relationship and does not fully fit all the situations faced in student affairs, but offers a great starting point for analysis. The language embedded in this model has been changed to reflect the field of student affairs and higher education as opposed to counseling and psychology.

The questions are complex and involve higher order moral and ethical scrutiny.

Is the Dual Relationship Necessary?

This is an important question to ask. It is difficult enough to be a good mentor. Adding other factors that challenge the power differential can be confusing and compromise the working relationship. For example, friendships that involve social settings where alcohol is involved can be difficult to manage. It is not uncommon for faculty and students to interact socially outside the work environment. Additionally, student affairs professionals oftentimes live where they work and work where they live. This can make having a social life difficult. It is important to weigh out the pros and cons of the dual relationship and make a judgment based on that. These relationships can be fraught with unnecessary risk to the healthy work relationship. The best interests of your students, peers, and supervisees need to be considered. Ultimately, is the relationship necessary?

Is the Dual Relationship Exploitative?

When faculty members collaborate with doctoral students and fail to give credit to the graduate student, the faculty member exploits the relationship.  In this case, this should be an easy question to answer. If in fact a faculty member fails to acknowledge significant work on the part of a graduate student, the relationship is unacceptable and needs to be ended. Avoiding exploitative dual relationships is an ethical principle that is non-negotiable for professionals.

Who Does the Dual Relationship Benefit?

This is often a more problematic dilemma for faculty and student affairs professionals at small institutions where individuals serve in multiple roles and relationships cross personal and professional boundaries. For example, having your graduate student take care of your children outside of their work at the institution is not unethical as a practice. This arrangement works if the student is being paid a fair wage and the work does not interfere with what the student does on campus. The arrangement could quickly become problematic if the faculty member begins to assume that the graduate assistant is always available to do childcare.  What needs to be discussed between the faculty member and the graduate assistant is that the care of the children is in addition to their role on campus and that it will not influence their work on campus. When identifying who is benefitting, it is important to ask: is one person benefitting more than the other? If the answer is yes, and the individual benefitting has more power in the relationship, you may want to consider terminating the relationship, or at least that part of the relationship. Renegotiating the terms of the relationship can be a proactive solution to avoid unhealthy dual relationships.

Is There a Risk That the Dual Relationship Could Cause Damage to One Member?

This can be a difficult question to address because it calls for an objective assessment of the relationship and oftentimes those involved lack that ability. In an aspirational world we would always avoid dual relationships; however, as stated before, many in higher education work where we live and live where we work. Separating work time from personal time can be quite challenging. Within this question, the dimensions that should be evaluated are risk of harm and how a power differential (if applicable) influences the relationship. These need to be minimized and every attempt to prevent risk needs to be taken. Where damage to one or more stakeholders is possible, terminating the relationship may be an appropriate option.

Is There a Risk That the Dual Relationship Could Disrupt the Working Relationship?

This question should be seriously considered prior to entering into the secondary dual relationship. If you have an existing relationship with an individual and the roles are changing where it cannot be managed, serious consideration should be taken to avoid the change. An example that addresses this dimension is, you are a supervisor and find that you are developing romantic feelings for one of your supervisees. You are contemplating asking this individual out for coffee.  You need to seriously weigh out the consequences of that question, along with the costs to the working relationship. Failing to take a proactive approach to working collaboratively with someone where romantic feelings could develop jeopardizes more than the two individuals involved in the relationship, but could impact the chemistry across several departments.  Do not do it!

Am I Being Objective in my Evaluation of this Matter?

This question is extremely difficult to answer as we could argue that no one is really objective. The most ethical course of action in determining objectivity in evaluating a dual relationship is consulting with a trusted colleague. It is difficult to assess objectively personal needs versus professional needs. Yet it is important in assessing the risk of the relationship and potentially unintended consequences. If you need to ask the trusted colleague, you are likely struggling internally with an unhealthy dual relationship.

Have I Adequately Documented the Decision-Making Process in my Notes?

Documentation is an extremely important task.  This task is more challenging for student affairs professionals because they are not required to keep case notes, as is the case in a therapeutic relationship. However, it is a good professional practice to keep documentation regarding performance and evaluation as a supervisor. Additionally, it is important as a faculty supervisor to keep documentation regarding student performance as part of the mentoring relationship.  Without good notes the past can be manipulated and could meld into a case where harmful distortions of a minor issue could surface.

Was the Risk of the Dual Relationship Fully Discussed?

This is an important conversation to have prior to entering into the relationship. Some relationships develop slowly over time and it is important that the individual with more power be aware of the changes in the relationship. The most important way to manage dual relationships is through open discussions. It is also the responsibility of the individual with more power to recognize and renegotiate the terms and boundaries of the relationship.


Dual relationships are a normal part of professional relationships. A dual relationship exists when an individual simultaneously participates in two role categories (Kitchener, 1986). It is important to critically explore the risks and unintended consequences to participants. The decision-making framework offered here is a good place to begin exploring the relationship and impact of risk, if any.  Keep in mind that open communication and a willingness to renegotiate the terms of the relationship are critical.

Discussion Questions

1. Identify two or three dual relationships that you are involved in. Are there power differences in the relationships? Do any of the relationships pose a risk to those involved? If so, how can you renegotiate the boundaries?

2.  Discuss and define strategies to manage dual relationships in your work. Identify whose responsibility it is for management and care of these relationships.

3. How do you develop strategies to avoid dual relationships? Is that realistic in your work?


ACPA. (2006). Statement of ethical principles and standards. Retrieved May 15, 2014 from

Kitchener, K. S. (1986), Teaching applied ethics in counselor education: An integration of psychological processes and philosophical analysis. Journal of Counseling & Development, 64, 306–310.

Pope K. S., & Vasquez, M. J. T. (2011). Ethics in Psychotherapy and Counseling: A Practical Guide. (4th Ed.). New York, NY: John Wiley.

Younggren, J. N. (2002). Ethical decision-making and dual relationships. Retrieved May 15, 2014 from

About the Author

Anne M. Hornak is an Associate Professor and Chairperson of Educational Leadership at Central Michigan University. She teaches courses in student affairs and higher education administration, ethics, and social justice. Her research interests include ethical decision-making, transformational learning and international education, and community college students. She has been involved with ACPA as a Directorate member of the Professional Preparation Commission, where she coordinated with the ethics committee. Her most recent book is entitled, “A Day in the Life of a Student Affairs Educator: Competencies and Case Studies for Early Career Professionals” [Stylus, 2014] co-authored with Sarah Marshall.

Please e-mail inquiries to Anne M. Hornak


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

New Faculty Guilt: Transitioning from Practitioner to Professor

Faculty of student affairs preparation programs represent a unique path to the professoriate in that most, if not all, have worked full-time as practitioners in various student affairs roles prior to moving into full-time faculty roles (McCluskey-Titus & Cawthon, 2004).   In other fields, such as English or History, it may be acceptable to progress through graduate school directly into faculty roles without gaining professional work experience outside the classroom.   Student affairs professionals collaborate daily across various functional areas on campus and do not work in isolation.   They help countless students every day.  Their work is intense, essential, and working from home is not usually a realistic option.  To become a faculty member in higher education, an individual must have a doctoral degree, teaching and research experience, and solid understanding and experience in student affairs functional areas.  However, going from practitioner to professor holds both expected and unexpected transitions.

What is Guilt?

Guilt is defined by Merriam-Websters Dictionary as “feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy.”  Survivor’s guilt was first observed among Holocaust survivors from those who survived while others perished.  Since then, survivor’s guilt has been attributed to other situations, though usually to less horrific circumstances.  In the employment world, survivor’s guilt can be understood to mean “a guilt that results from one’s awareness that so many qualified individuals are experiencing working conditions so much worse than one’s own” (Austen, 2011).  There is scant literature on employee guilt in higher education.  However, Faflak (2006) described the concept of academic guilt, which can be the feelings experienced when a professor in a department earns tenure while others in the same department are denied tenure.  Though less academic, doctoral students or those who have left academia have written blogs relating to academic guilt. One example of this was when a newly minted doctoral student was offered a tenure track position at the debatable expense of former cohort members (J.J., 2012).

Though little is known concerning faculty or staff guilt in higher education, guilt may impact students in certain ways.  For example, first-generation students can experience the guilt of leaving their families behind as they pursue education.  Guilt may also present itself when these students struggle to live simultaneously in two worlds (the academic and family of origin), not quite feeling at home in either (Lubrano, 2004; Navarrete, 1993; Rendón, 1996; Rodriguez, 1974).  First-generation students who eventually move into faculty roles (Rodriguez, 1974) or white collar positions (Lubrano, 2004) may continue to struggle with the guilt the gift of education has bestowed upon them—a belief that others express, including family members and friends back home, who may see them as haughty, self-important, and having abandoned their roots.

New Faculty Literature

Developments, in Volume 7, sponsored a five-part series to help new faculty learn more about their roles.  Two of the series’ contributions (Marshall, 2009; Owen, 2009) are particularly helpful in informing this article, but unfortunately, as a student affairs practitioner considering a faculty role, I was unfamiliar with Developments.  More literature is needed to assist student affairs practitioners who aspire to move into faculty roles (McCluskey-Titus & Cawthon, 2004).  As Marshall (2009) aptly stated, “there is no ‘guidebook’ for making the transition and those who want to do so often have limited information.”

An internet search for “administrator to faculty” assumed I erred and recommended, “Did you mean faculty to administrator?” Curiously, more has been written about faculty moving into administrative roles, including a volume of New Directions for Higher Education (Henry, 2006).  These articles and books are often written by senior level administrators who began in faculty roles, and are replete with advice and cautions as to what one should expect in the transition.  New faculty books (Boice, 2000; Menges, 1999) offer useful advice on how faculty might establish themselves in terms of teaching, scholarship, and service in addition to the very important and practical skill of learning an institution’s culture.  Boice (2000) also cautioned new faculty members regarding negative thinking and self-doubt.  However, these publications do not address feelings of guilt.

My Experience

Prior to my current position I had worked the better part of a decade in different student services capacities, Monday through Friday, 8:00 A.M.  to 5:00 P.M..  Problem solving, helping students, working with parents, understanding and interpreting campus policies, and collaborating with departments across campus, among other things, were both expectations and daily occurrences.  As a faculty member, the expectations changed considerably to where my physical presence was only required for classes, meetings, and office hours.  I am certain my jaw dropped when I was told I only needed to be present for 10 office hours per week.  It seemed as though there were no rules on campus.  I was unleashed to a new world of ideas, autonomy, and independence.  I was, as Jacobe (2013), also a faculty member, so fittingly stated, “free to go about my business as I saw fit.”

Guilt manifested itself in four ways.  First, I felt guilty for leaving former colleagues with increased burden, stress, and workloads just before the new semester began.  My overworked colleagues at my last institution were still scrambling to help students adjust their schedules well into the second week of the semester with hardly a lunch break, while undoubtedly cursing Admissions for continuing to admit new students when there so few classes available.  Hardly established at my new position, my knowledge and talent were not nearly as worthwhile as they had been a short time ago.  Meanwhile, I might have had one student email in my inbox.  Sometimes I would email myself to make sure it still worked.

Second, guilt became apparent at my new institution when I worked with our department secretary.  I could come and go as I pleased, but she could not, and walking by her as I left before 5:00 P. M.  was a constant reminder.  There was one day when I was in the office for two hours due to child care issues and a doctor’s appointment.  It ate me up inside when I explained my day to our department secretary, both of us knowing that I did not need to worry or bother completing any sick or vacation leave sheets for the day’s cameo appearance.  It is disappointing that our administrative staff members work so hard and are so committed, but what is their reward? Are they recognized enough? Some work harder than faculty, but with abysmal wages and without the possibility of a lifetime appointment.  More guilt set in when I spent the winter break at home with my children when I knew other coworkers had to remain in the office.

Thirdly, realizing much of my work could be done from anywhere with an internet connection and that no one was keeping track of where I was, more guilt set in.  I felt I had to let everyone know I was still working, so I might announce my schedule, such as, “I’ll be in the library a couple of hours before going home,” in case my work ethic was questioned.  I worried rumors would spread.  I wondered if I appeared to be working enough.  Do they think I am working if I am not there? Sure I had other things I could do, but once my class preparations were in order, nothing was ‘due.’ I felt guilty that I should be doing more.  Focusing more on teaching and service (over scholarship) come naturally to new student affairs faculty (Owen, 2009).  The mindset that became ingrained by working for years from 8:00 A. M. to 5:00 P. M. and being required to let others know my whereabouts on my Outlook calendar was suddenly interrupted.  “What do you mean I don’t have to be here right now?” was the constant voice in my head.  I thought I knew what less structure for faculty (Owen, 2009; Underwood & Cawthon, 1999) meant, but I was mistaken.  “What if I am caught buying groceries at 2:00 P. M. ?” was another perpetual thought.  Faculty life was slower (Griffith, 2006).  Guilt intensified.  Impostor syndrome and self-doubt (Roche, 2013) also set in.  Did I deserve to be a professor?

A fourth way that guilt became unmistakable was when I completed a workshop for our residential life staff.  As student affairs practitioners, that is just a typical part of what we do.  But faculty have a special name for it: service. Things I normally did a semester before, like collaborating with other offices on campus, serving on search committees, speaking to student groups, or presenting at conferences gives me points now.  Seasoned colleagues instruct, “Add that to your portfolio!” I felt like a student who was trying too hard to pad his résumé.


Now that I have completed my second year, I no longer feel the same degree of guilt as I have adjusted better into my new role.  These issues were mostly temporary.  Some of my research interests continue in the same functional area that I worked in before becoming a faculty member.  I have kept in touch with the friends I left at my old institution and that has helped through my transition.  New collaborative efforts on my new campus continue to help establish my role, in addition to developing more courses and having more students to advise.  I work odd hours and weekends but feel fine that no one is keeping track and that no one really cares how I go about my work; I just need to do it well.  My experience with guilt may not apply to all new faculty, but hearing multiple perspectives on new faculty adjustment should be reassuring.

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you experienced guilt after beginning a new position?
  2. How do you think others perceive your work?
  3. What are some things you can do now to facilitate forming realistic expectations for your next career transition?


Austen, V. J. (2011). Haven’t we heard this all before? Contingent faculty and the unchanging times. English studies in Canada, 37(1), 13-16.

Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Faflak, J. (2006). Whose guilt? English studies in Canada, 32(1), 1-10.

Griffith, J. G. (2006). Transition from faculty to administrator and transition back to the faculty. In R. J. Henry (Ed.) Transitions between faculty and administrative careers (pp. 67-77).  (New Directions for Higher Education, No. 134). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Henry, R. J. (Ed.) (2006). Transitions between faculty and administrative careers.  (New Directions for Higher Education, No.134). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

J. J. (2012, July 31). On guilt, self-blame, or magical thinking in academia [Web log comment].Retrieved from

Jacobe, M. F. (2013, April 12). Think like an administrator. Inside Higher Ed.  Retrieved from

Lubrano, A. (2004). Limbo: Blue-collar roots, white-collar dreams. New York, NY: Wiley.

Marshall, S. M. (2009, Spring). Student affairs pathways to the professoriate: Perspectives on the transition. Developments, 7(1). Retrieved from

McCluskey-Titus, P. , & Cawthon, T. W. (2004). The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence: Making a transition from student affairs administrator to full-time faculty. NASPA Journal, 41, 317-335.

Menges, R. J. (Ed.) (1999). Faculty in new jobs. San Francisco, CA. Jossey Bass.

Navarrette, R. (1993). A darker shade of crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Owen, J. E. (2009, Fall). Student affairs pathways to the professoriate: Perspectives on teaching. Developments, 7(3), Retrieved from

Rendón, L. I. (1996, November/December). Life on the border. About Campus, 1, 14-19.

Roche, J. (2013).The empress has no clothes: Conquering self-doubt to embrace success. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Rodriguez, R. (1974). Going home again: The new American scholarship boy. American Scholar, 44, 15-28.

Underwood, S. J., & Cawthon, T. W. (1999). Moving from administrator to faculty member: Look before you leap. College Student Affairs Journal, 19, 88-96.

About the Author

Rene Couture is an Assistant Professor of College Student Personnel at Arkansas Tech University.  His research interests include first-generation college students, academic advising issues, and transfer students.

Please e-mail inquiries to Rene Couture.


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

Muslim Students in Higher Education

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

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

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

Review of the Literature

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

Challenges for Muslim Students in Higher Education

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

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

Muslim Student Experiences in Higher Education Institutions

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

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

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

Unique Needs of Muslim Students in Higher Education

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

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

Methodologies and Theoretical Frameworks Employed in the Study of Muslim Students

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

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

Recommendations for Practice

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

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

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

Implications for Future Research

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

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

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

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


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

Discussion Questions

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Kate Mazal.


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

Global Citizenship and Tertiary Education: Looking to the Future

With increased connections and complexities in today’s globalized world, new understandings and skill sets are needed to understand issues and address problems.  The students of today will be the problem solvers of tomorrow, and they will need to rely on broad views of the world and abilities to collaborate with diverse teams and specialties. Our changing global world requires parallel changes in our educational institutions, especially tertiary ones.  In the two previous articles in this series, we discussed changes needed in today’s universities and outlined two experiential approaches for educating students to become global citizens.  In this concluding article of the series, we examine best practices and associated recommendations for developing similar programs.  Through internationalizing the curriculum, developing and enhancing cross-unit collaborations, and implementing meaningful global programs, students will advance their classroom knowledge and widen the lens with which they see the world.


In our previous two articles in this series, we explained the need for changes in higher education.  In particular, in the first article of the series, we called for expanding educational opportunities that enhance students’ global understandings and build associated skills.  Toward this goal, in the second article, we described two experiential education examples, international service learning and study abroad, and how such experiences provide ‘real world,’ tangible outcomes for students.  In this final article of the series, we discuss best practices for creating and improving such programming for university students.

Best Practices

Many colleges and universities seek to be more supportive of international education, study abroad, and international service learning with the intention of improving students’ global perspectives (Musil, 2006). A number of higher education institutions have been underprepared to effectively implement international initiatives, in part because of cost and institutional mission.  Campuses typically rely upon past history and institutional knowledge when forging new initiatives, such as international programming. Because service learning has a positive effect on student learning and development (Chesbrough, 2011) and international programs appear to be increasing, the desire to address international education has become an attractive consideration for some student services administrators and departmental faculty.  In the remainder of this article, we discuss several best practice recommendations when developing and implementing international programming.  These recommendations are divided into the following areas: examining the campus mission, fiscal considerations, securing resources and staffing, using the strengths of the campus, collaboration, developing trust as a team, being true to the academy, respecting different cultures, and respecting faculty contributions.

Examining the Campus Mission

Institutional leaders and senior administrators often make decisions about international programs. In general, these groups may be ambivalent toward the establishment of and support for international programs because of mission and costs.  We argue that international programs support educational ideals and allow students to be more prepared to engage a global community. Certainly, institutional leaders and administrators have an obligation to adhere to the campus mission and serve the greater community (Lyons, 1993).  Further, these leaders also have an obligation to advance the college and to educate students. Thus, the decision to develop international programs on a college or university campus seems a relatively easy one as well as one the institutional leadership must approach deliberately, ensuring a mesh with the overall mission. Next, we examine fiscal considerations in moving toward or enhancing such programming.

Fiscal Considerations

Often the question of international programs is seen through the lens of whether campuses can afford to support the programs financially and whether faculty are available to develop the international initiatives. The more strategic lens to approach these questions is not whether the campuses could support the programs, but whether they want to have a stronger international culture to inspire students toward an international agenda. If students are given more opportunities to interact with people from different countries and cultures then they will have a better chance of having a global perspective once they graduate.  In this section, we examine both single- and multi-university endeavors as well as partnerships between academic units and student services.

Many campuses have some international focus, but not all are suited for in-depth programs and financial support. It simply may not be cost effective within current budgets. One solution is to take a more collaborative approach among geographically close institutions. One domestic example of a successful partnership is the Regional Academic Collaborative in California (RAC).  The

RAC initiatives promote a college-going culture and increase eligibility and enrollment at post-secondary institutions for students. RAC’s two comprehensive efforts–the College Going Initiative (CGI) and the Summer Algebra Academies (SAA)–focus on high schools within rural and remote regions of California (UC Regents, 2008).

Institutions in Texas are entering partnerships and collaborative relationships as well.  Their programs allow “institutions to leverage existing resources to achieve greater efficiencies. Programmatic partnerships are especially important, as they increase student access to degree programs” (Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 2008, p. 1).

Taking these examples and looking creatively at ways to enhance international programs across more campuses, one idea would be to have one institution in the partnership provide programs in a specific location, perhaps with students and faculty from across several institutions participating, whereas another institution might offer support or courses in another location. This approach would satisfy the needs of the students and maintain the integrity of each institution while eliminating or greatly reducing the overhead for each school to cover these services on each campus.  This type of collaborative effort is already in place in the Claremont Colleges Consortium (Pomona College, 2011).

If the decision is to develop in-depth international programs solely on one’s own campus, institutional leaders should approach the policy decision strategically and with an eye toward the mission of the college and best practices (Lyons, 1993).  Commonly, institutional leaders and administrators may look toward academic departments to first address these programs because such work often involves faculty.  Although this approach may be successful, an alternative one is having student services address international program initiatives. Student services professionals can work collaboratively with academic leaders and faculty to help with details beyond the curriculum.  This approach allows faculty to concentrate on the academic rigor of the international programs as well as creates a fruitful inter-unit collaboration.

Securing Resources and Staffing

Developing international programs does not necessarily require additional resources and staff. In this section, we examine ways of realigning monetary resources and staff, faculty, and administrator time. When such initiatives become an institutional priority, campus leaders can shift resources to strategically align with priorities.  For example, an initial instinct of institutions may be to create a separate department to promote international programs or support international students and study. If the need is to create a department to primarily develop international programs, then institutions may find resources throughout several areas, including: redirecting resources, a student fee, legislative funding, course fees, department reallocation, campus/metropolitan government partnerships, business partnerships, campus giving, or international partnerships.

Redirecting resources is simply shifting resources and personnel from one department or unit to another or evolving/shifting the emphasis of the personnel or department to provide this type of service for international programs. Many campuses are familiar with the attributes of raising tuition when state or other funding is reduced. If such programming is a priority, implementing a small fee charged to all students is one additional method for obtaining additional resources for a new department or program. Certainly this option could draw criticism. However, with the current wave of support for international education, primarily by students, these concerns may be few. But institutional leaders should at least be cognizant of this potential problem. Legislative funding and student tuition are commonly used to finance public colleges and universities in the United States. Of course, obtaining additional funding from one’s state would require this programming become a significant institutional priority. Many legislators may view support for international education less favorably because the primary purpose of local or area colleges or universities is to support the educational needs of the citizens of that community or state.

Course fees are simply a student fee applied to specific courses in a particular unit or department. This approach could be implemented by charging a small fee for each course in all departments to help fund programs. Department reallocation is similar to redirecting resources. Colleges or universities could encourage a specific department(s) to provide programs or phase out segments of unit offerings to create funding to establish international education. Lastly, creating partnerships with international governments and businesses may be options that enable campuses to obtain grants, gifts, or other funding-in-kind to support these new initiatives.

A pitfall to avoid is the belief that whomever advances the institution’s international agenda must be a foreign national. Although many foreign nationals may be skilled at advancing such programs, it is important not to overlook other campus resources.  For example, student affairs personnel as well as many academics are often trained to work with a wide array of students and understand the processes throughout a campus. It is inefficient to believe that only someone from another country will most effectively advance international programs. What is most important is that the work can be performed and the professional have expertise in maneuvering through campus systems.

Using the Strengths of the Campus

International programs should utilize the strengths of the entire campus, including faculty and academic departments as well as student services and other support areas. This approach ensures all aspects of the program are addressed beyond the curriculum.  Transportation, out-of-classroom opportunities, cultural activities, governmental relations, and intergroup dynamics are often elements addressed after some of the academic components are in place. However, these areas are ones often first discussed, as well as logistics and program planning, by units such as student services. Utilizing these common strengths within a campus enables international programs to potentially develop with a stronger foundation and broader institutional support. This support may also influence available resources and access to a wider range of faculty and students for international initiatives.

There are also strengths found beyond campus departments.  Each individual member of a campus department (academic and nonacademic) brings skill sets that should be considered. Naturally, some individuals are stronger writers, some are better orators, and some are better planners. Some individuals are outstanding at relating to multiple individuals. These individuals may be the ones best capable of engaging governments in a more deliberate and intentional manner.  Some individuals are outstanding at anticipating logistical challenges, developing cultural or student engagement activities that complement a curriculum, and forming professional relationships.  Finding individuals with strengths that complement an academically rigorous program enriches the international program emphasis and adds greater value to the learning outcomes and experiences of the student participants.


Like shared governance, collaboration does indeed work.  Faculty are often collaborators, as are student services practitioners. When designing and developing international programs each group can and should be utilized in a collaborative fashion to shape the total student experience. Each entity approaches program development differently, but both have the students’ learning outcomes as an end objective.  Both want students to have a quality learning experience, and this common goal positively shapes a student’s perspectives of culture, countries, and people. Students are great storytellers, and, when listened to, provide insights into what they are learning or want to learn from specific opportunities throughout a campus and in international sites. Utilizing students, faculty, and student services practitioners to provide a well-rounded international program draws on the skill sets and knowledge of all those vested in the success of such programming.

Developing Trust as a Team

Research about group dynamics clearly emphasizes the importance of teamwork. More practically, the intimacy and time intensity of international travel and remote learning likely require greater team development than some other projects. As institutions develop intentional programs that involve international travel, faculty, staff, and students will be exposed to elements not experienced on campus including different cultural expectations, differing foods, and shared space. Also, international travel may bring an awareness of extreme poverty and balancing perspectives on one’s relative level of privilege.  The role of the team and the trust developed within that team are very important in helping individuals add meaning to what they experience.

Being True to the Academy

As institutions develop international programs, there must remain a strong commitment to academic excellence through incredible teaching, student learning, scholarship, service, and research. Certainly each campus may view this tenet differently, however, with each program effort, curriculum content depth must remain and be balanced by service and research. To simply teach the course without the out-of-classroom experience or clear objectives to the service requirements undermines the academic integrity of the program. International programs do not have to be built around the research agendas of specific faculty. Certainly research agendas may be complementary to program objectives, but emphasis should be on the desired learning outcomes that are identified through collaborative efforts with other faculty and community members in the participating locations.

Respecting Different Cultures

USA-based programs where students, faculty, and staff travel to another country should be cognizant of the environment the group may visit. As international programs are developed, effort should be devoted to being culturally sensitive in the country visited and with the people with whom students and faculty will be interacting. International programs are a conduit for faculty, staff, and students to serve as ambassadors of their college or university to a different region or country. The opportunity for students to learn from the community they are visiting is most critical in the development of the experience. Care should be taken not to impose USA-based symbols and cultures upon another community, but rather to embrace the community visited and learn from how it is enhancing the student experience.

Respecting Faculty Contributions

Campuses are rich in tradition and often state the value of faculty. However, not all campuses are outstanding at recognizing faculty.  International programs are relatively new to many campuses in the United States, and faculty who have devoted efforts to develop and design international opportunities for students may not have been recognized for these efforts. Establishing an acknowledgment process or reward system for faculty contributions to an international agenda is a worthy cause.


In summary, we believe specific strategies enacted by colleges and universities ensure desired learning outcomes for students in international settings. Across this series of articles, we have asserted our belief that integrating and internationalizing the curriculum, creating new and enhancing cross-unit partnerships, and designing and implementing meaningful global experiences for students are necessary for a quality education. These experiences provide students opportunities to better understand and operationalize concepts about the world around them. We posit that experiential education, specifically international service learning and study abroad, offer students a more thorough education and help prepare them for life in a global community. We conclude that college and university campuses must begin conversations about how they can best incorporate international programs and that best practices for increasing and implementing international programs should be taken into consideration.

Discussion Questions

1.  What opportunities exist on your campus for cross-unit collaboration on international programming?  What obstacles might inhibit such partnerships?

2.  Which of the best practices above seem especially important to consider at your institution?

3.  Imagine that you enter the elevator with someone in upper administration who you have been hoping to talk with about creating international opportunities for students.  What is your 30-60 second “elevator speech” to get this issue on the person’s agenda?


Chesbrough, R. D. (2011). College students and service: A mixed methods exploration of motivations, choices, and learning outcomes. Journal of College Student Development, 52, 687-705.

Lyons, J. W. (1993). The importance of institutional mission. In M. Barr, M. Desler, & Associates (Eds.), The handbook of student affairs administration (2nd ed., pp. 3-15). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Musil, C. M. (2006). Assessing global learning: Matching good intentions with good practice. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Pomona College. (2011). The benefits of the Claremont College Consortium. Retrieved from

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. (2008). Joint partnerships among Texas institutions of higher education. Retrieved from

UC Regents. (2008). Regional academic collaboratives. Retrieved from

About the Authors

Kandi L. Walker is Professor of Communication at the University of Louisville.  Tom Jackson, Jr., is President of Black Hills State University.  Gregory Roberts is former Executive Director of ACPA – College Student Educators International.  Joy L. Hart is Professor 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 email inquiries to Kandi L. Walker.


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.

From the President

Like on many of our campuses, summer is no longer a ‘slow’ time for ACPA – College Student Educators International. We began the summer months with the ACPA Presidential Symposium, “A Time for Rethinking Student Affairs,” hosted at Saint Louis University. The program examined issues of affordability, access, and accountability in higher education through the lens of student affairs. I am pleased to tell you that 92 people attended the Symposium and 186 tuned in to our live stream. Additionally, 147 people contributed on Twitter.

As a follow-up to the Symposium, Tony Cawthon and Mary Howard Hamilton are working on a thought piece that will be released to ACPA members in the near future. It is our hope that this thought piece and the videos we have posted on the ACPA website will continue to foster further dialogue and action on these issues. You can access the videos of Dr. Martha Kanter, Dr. Jillian Kinzie, and Dr. Diana Natalicio on the ACPA website. I encourage you to take some time to explore the content and consider how it can apply to your own work on your campuses. Additional programming on this topic is planned for the 2015 Convention in Tampa, and I encourage you to attend and participate.

In a recent blog post, Reflections on Intent and Impact, I wrote that ACPA must take some concrete steps to create positive changes for greater equity and inclusion within the Association. One idea for change I shared in my post was to create a community dialogue forum in a visible place on the ACPA website. At this time, I am excited to tell you the community forum on ACPA’s website has gone live! I extend a special thanks to the ACPA staff for making this happen. The forum is easily accessible on the front page of the website by clicking “TELL US.” Executive Director Cindi Love has posted an introductory statement and made the first contribution to the forum. I hope ACPA members will see this as one positive step forward and a demonstration of our commitment as ACPA leaders to ongoing, sustainable dialogue and interactions within the Association. Together, I believe we can move ACPA forward in ways that will change us for the better. I encourage ACPA members to use the forum to share ideas, concerns, advice, and recommendations. I also want to take this opportunity to share that four “face-to-face” community gatherings (listening posts) are being planned around the United States between December 1 and early March. At the 2015 Convention, a fifth session will be offered as part of the Town Hall meeting.

The Presidential Task Force on Digital Technology in Student Affairs and the Presidential Task Force on Sexual Violence in Higher Education Task Force both met this summer at the International Office in Washington, D.C. The #ACPAdigital group is exploring holistic experiential learning in a digital and social age with an emphasis on better preparing digital educators to embrace digital students. The sexual violence group is examining ACPA’s role in addressing issues of sexual violence in higher education and recommending strategies. I am excited about the excellent work I know these task forces will produce in the coming year.

Our vision for ACPA is bold. It challenges us to Lead, Amplify, Mobilize, and Partner, and it calls us to be thought leaders in higher education. Working together to advance ACPA’s ambitious goals, ACPA leaders enjoyed a productive few days together in Tampa at the July Leadership meeting. We discussed and activated strategic opportunities, participated in professional development activities, and engaged in professional networking. It was truly an inspiring and energizing time. Our future is bright.

With a new academic year upon us, I want to close by wishing each and every one of you a successful and prosperous year. Thank you for what you do for your students, your institutions, higher education, and our world.

L.A.M.P. – From One Dupont Circle

From March 1-July 1, 2014, the ACPA Leadership Team asked me to review ACPA’s Strategic Plan for 2013-2016, complete an Organizational Audit and meet ACPA members around the world.

As you can imagine, the ‘meet people’ assignment was the most fun.  I’ve spoken to more than 1000 ACPA members now.  What did I learn and discover?

You care.  You commit.  You challenge.  You connect.

I am so proud to be included in the sharing, deep thinking, highly professional, rigorously evaluating, ‘all in,’ advocating and optimistic community we call ACPA – College Student Educators International.  Your core values are ‘bone deep.’  You challenge yourselves to do better every day and feel genuine remorse when you fail.  You are always looking for ways to reconcile and restore relationships.  I have found a new professional home.  Thank you for welcoming me so warmly.

I have looked at the outcomes of each strategic initiative in terms of investment of time, talent and money.  I have used a method of assessment called Project Sieve on each goal to determine alignment with mission, vision and core values.  Think of this as a way of ‘forcing’ each goal through a sieve composed of mission, vision and core values as well as benefit to members, to the field of higher education and civil society.  The priorities that ‘survive’ the sieve should have high correlation in all areas.

We’ve completed 61 percent of the goals originally set.  We are at the mid-point of the 2013-2016 time frame for the current strategic plan.  It is a great time to review and recalibrate as needed.  Times change and we have to change with them to remain relevant and authentic to our community.  For example, we have added an area of focus on digital competency, innovation and implementation.  We signed a strategic agreement with Erik Qualman to catalyze this work and President Kent Porterfield assembled a Digital Task Force that is already deeply engaged.

Sexual assault and violence have moved to the forefront in higher education prevention planning along with the mega-issues of accountability, affordability and accessibility.  We signed a strategic agreement with WE END VIOLENCE to partner in a research project nationwide on prevention training.  Again, President Porterfield issued a call for membership to a Task Force on Sexual Violence. More than 160 people applied for or were nominated to be a part of this important work and are engaged in some way .

In June, we gathered people from throughout the United States in a Presidential Symposium on the mega-issues and a white paper is under development for those proceedings.

I encourage you to check in at the ACPA Website at least once each week.  Something new is happening every day at ACPA.  Follow us on Twitter @ACPA and Facebook and use our new community forum “Tell Us” on our home page.  We want and need to hear your wisdom, constructive criticism and concerns for one another and for our work together.

Here are my thoughts on the strategic priorities for the next 16 months.  Think of the acronym L.A.M.P.

Lead. Amplify. Mobilize. Partner. (L.A.M.P.)

  • We must invest in brand development and differentiation in order to effectively and rapidly amplify the voices of our thought leaders and, by extension, our Association.  We must disseminate this leadership digitally and in face-to-face experiences, activities and events.
  • We must participate proactively in policy discussions and recommendations for development in Washington D.C. and at the state level, engaging our task forces quickly and effectively as well as our broad membership for input and specifically with our entities for thought leadership.  Ultimately, we must engage in a global context for the emerging issues of concern for students everywhere.
  • We must partner deeply and widely with peer and functional associations as well as new allies, sponsors and donors.
  • We must authentically represent ourselves based on our unique strengths rather than our weaknesses
  • We must look for the concentrations of relevance at the intersections of our activities.  These are the places that have the deepest positive impact for members and allies.

We have a great team at the International Office, the majority of whom have only worked at ACPA for a year or less.   I’ve asked them to take on new roles and responsibilities and to organize into two teams:  Team Global Community Interchange and Team Belong.  Tricia Fechter is now the Deputy Executive Director.  Chris McRoberts leads Team Global Community Interchange.  I am currently leading Team Belong while we conduct a search for that Team Leader. They have done yeoman’s work in a very short period of time.  Much more to come!

From the Editor

Happy autumn, and welcome to the Fall Issue of Developments.  There are many intriguing and thought-provoking articles in this Issue. I hope you will take time to engage with the scholarship, reflect on the Discussion Questions within each article, and  connect with other scholars and practitioners in the field about the important and broad topics traversed in this Issue. Developments has always worked to ensure that we live up to our mission: Stimulate your thinking. Enhance your work.

To better accomplish this task, and reach a wider audience, we are jumping into the 21st century this week.  Our first Twitter Chat with Scholars who have published in Developments will be this Friday, September 19, 2014 beginning at 12PM EST.  Kate Mazal, author of “Muslim Students in Higher Education,” which appears in the Research and Assessment section of this Issue, will be available to answer questions, highlight her scholarship, and challenge us to enhance our work on campuses in the United States and around the world.  Those interested in particpating can follow the hashtag #ACPADevChat starting at 12PM EST this Friday.  Effectively using technology to engage, connect, and stimulate our thinking and practice will be one of several new initiatives our publication pushes this year. Look for the dates and times of future chats this fall, and engage regularly with others using the hashtag #ACPADev.

Our publication editorial board is undergoing some transition this Fall as the terms of a few individuals come to an end.  I would like to personally thank Amanda Suniti Niskode-Dossett who will be cycling off as Associate Editor of Series next month.  Amanda is also the former Editor of Developments and has dedicated many years of professional service to enhancing the status and quality of this publication.  For some of us, it is hard to imagine Developments without her: Thank you Amanda for your many years of dedication, your always thoughtful and engaging questions and feedback, and your guidance, mentorship, and professionalism.  We will miss you greatly.  I would also like to thank our outgoing copy editors: Elizabeth Jach, Scott Wojciechowski, and Sarah Laux.  Each of these individuals has committed countless hours to ensuring the success of our publication.

After a short transitional hiatus, we are happy to once again have our Ethical Issues column back in print.  I would like to welcome to our Featured Columnist team Dr. Anne Hornak of Central Michigan University and Dr. Jonathan O’Brien of California State University Long Beach.  Drs. Hornak and O’Brien will be rotating in their writing of the column. Each brings to this column different theoretical and empirical approaches to understanding ethical professional practice.  In this Issue, Dr. Hornak challenges us to think through the many “dual relationships” inherent in the profession of student affairs, while also providing a pragmatic decision-making model regarding ethicality in personal and professional relationships that often cross boundaries.

As always, our other featured columnists do not disappoint in their wide range of important topics.  Neal Hutchens’ piece on the Legal Background surrounding Student Athlete unionization provides practitioners in the field with important insights not only on the current issues unfolding at Nortwestern University in Chicago, but also the history of the legal movement for unionization on college campuses.  It is important reading for all practitioners seeking to understand university-employee relationships and legal obligations, and importantly, how the legal system defines employee.  Marisa Vernon explores the possibilities of working at a community or two-year college, encouraging professionals who may not have considered this option to join the teams of these important and growing institutions in the United States.  Jason Lane questions how we think of retention regarding international students, highlighting some empirical research that may assist colleges and universities in ensuring their international student populations are being served educationally and socially while also being retained.

We conclude our Series on Internationalization and Tertiary Education with the third installment focused on implementation of International Education efforts on campus.  In our Perspectives section, Dr. Rene Couture highlights the guilt associated with the transition from practitioner to faculty member.  We do not have much scholarship that focuses on the role of faculty, so I hope this piece will assist some of our new faculty colleagues in the field as they work through their transitions this fall.

Best wishes for a successful Autumn semester on your campus!