Message from the Editors

Hello, ACPA Members.

Here we are in August and it is time to start a new academic year. Whether programs, classes, and move-in have begun on your campus or those events are still a bit around the corner, now is a busy time for many of us. This issue of Developments has some great resources regardless of your work in student affairs.

We have great information for supporting your team in our articles on inclusive supervision and supporting graduate and professional students. If you work on the academic side of your college or university you might also find some good insights in the articles on retaining first-generation college students in honors programs and advising online graduate students. If you are in the midst of change and transition, the article on program revision may speak to you. Finally, for the faculty, a great article on incorporating diversity topics into the classroom.

While we hope you each had a chance for some rest and rejuvenation over the past few months, please continue to take care of yourselves in the coming weeks. There is a lot of positive energy coming our way. There can also be some anxiety and stress. Be good to yourselves so you can be good for students, colleagues, and other partners in your work.

Have a wonderful academic year, everyone.

Michelle Boettcher & Reyes Luna


Message from the Executive Director

Dear ACPA Members,

I am writing this article from the 2022 NINLHE (National Institute for Native Leadership in Higher Education) Institute, in a new partnership between NINLHE, ACPA, NAIC (ACPA’s Native, Aboriginal, and Indigenous Coalition) and ISAN (ACPA’s Indigenous Student Affairs Network) in sunny and humid Wilmington, NC on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington on the traditional territory of the Catawba people. Nearly 60 folks have committed time and resources to be present in this beautiful community together this week. I am grateful to be included in the return of the NINLHE Institute after several years of not being able to gather.

This morning, the Institute’s keynote speaker Dr. Amy Locklear Hertel, Executive Vice Provost at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, called us all to remember and engage with the 4 Rs of Indigeneity: Relationships, Responsibility, Reciprocity, and Redistribution (Harris & Wasilewski, 2004). As we prepare to begin new academic years on our campuses, I cannot imagine a more perfect time to collectively remind and recommit ourselves adjusting our worldviews and the ways in which we approach and prioritize our work with students and with each other. The easy way would be to continue to approach our work transactionally, but I know you have deeper aspirations of being transformational in your support of students and in challenging higher education. It is my hope that in the coming academic year, we will focus our attention towards:

Relationships – Isn’t this why most of us entered a career in student affairs or higher education? Our “to do” lists, supervisor demands, crisis du jour, and so many other things pull our time, energy, and attention away from focusing on our hearts. Rather than jumping from one meeting to the next, let’s spend a few minutes lingering after the meeting to cultivate existing relationships or to form connections with new colleagues. If you’re setting the meeting agendas, construct the goals of the meeting to primarily be relationship building as the business of the meeting. Imagine a higher education in which we always prioritize people over profit and people over policies. It is possible by making the extra effort to center humanity one person at a time.

Responsibility – This value is about embracing the agency that we each have within our spheres. Although it can sometimes be difficult to recognizes the privileges and power that we do possess, but I hope this start of the new academic year will remind us to continually use our voices, our positionality, our experiences, and our identities to create or advocate for the environments we need and want for our students, our colleagues, and ourselves. Responsibility begins with active participation, recognizing opportunities to influence, and building allies who support our intentions and efforts. Change may take time, but your activism in small and big ways will be a part of transforming higher education. Remind yourself that you do have agency in some areas and dialogue with trusted others on how and when to exercise that agency in ways that are healthy and beneficial to our own livelihood and experiences.

Reciprocity – When talking about reciprocity, today’s keynote recalled the saying, “to whom much is given, much is expected.” The service that she was asking from us was to identify those ways in which we want to enhance the world and to lean into opportunities that place you at the right place at the best time. For students, staff, and faculty with marginalized identities, this does not mean having to provide service in the form of educating others on your history, ancestry, cultures, or identities. The idea of reciprocity connected to indigeneity is to find ways to apply your passions through service. This could be on your campus, in your community, in associations, or in some other space that fully embraces your gifts and presence. I hope in this new year that we will find connections in ways that refill our hearts, minds, and souls, instead of depleting our spirit or humanity.

Redistribution – Whether dealing with time, money, or other forms of capital, we regularly make choices about what needs, or opportunities, get addressed or our attention. Although it helps to have positional power, one does not always need to be a senior-level campus decision-maker to make determinations for how these resources get distributed. When we think of resources, our instinct is to focus on how much (or little) funding is available. Time, energy, and relationships are also resources that are allocated as investments in different priorities. Along with this Institute’s keynote, I invite us to embrace our opportunities in this new academic year to reimagine and reallocate how we distribute all our available forms of capital to achieve greater social equality on campus, in higher education, and ultimately, in society. The keys to success with this “R” will likely be to intentionally unlearn old habits, to communicate and build allies who support our efforts to redistribute available resources, and to embrace new ways of working and living.

If you are like me, the start of a new academic year typically means an impossibly long list of things that need to get achieved before the first day of classes. While all of that will likely still need to get done, I hope you will join me by giving yourself a few moments of pause for reflection and a few additional moments to set your own intentions for how you intend to frame your worldview and your perspectives on your work before jumping into the usual “busy.” If we show up in the new year in harmony with our intentions, we will show up more authentically in our relationships and in our work.

Best wishes to you all at the start of this new academic year,

Chris Moody, Ed.D.
ACPA Executive Director


Harris, L. D., & Wasilewski, J. (2004). Indigeneity, an alternative worldview: Four R’s (relationship, responsibility, reciprocity, redistribution) vs. two P’s (power and profit). Sharing the journey towards conscious evolution. Systems Research and Behavioral Science: The Official Journal of the International Federation for Systems Research, 21(5), 489-503.

Coming Soon from ACPA Books!

written by: Mimi Benjamin and Jody Jessup-Anger, ACPA Books Co-Editors

As co-editors of ACPA Books, we are thrilled to announce the forthcoming publication of Identity Interconnections: Pursuing Poststructural Possibilities in Student Affairs Praxis, edited by Aeriel A. Ashlee and Lisa Delacruz Combs (Identity Interconnections []), co-published by Stylus Publishing and ACPA: College Student Educators International.  Ashlee and Combs provide framing to consider how exploration of interconnected identities can foster greater understanding of issues of privilege and oppression.  The editors weave together contributions from chapter authors that offer explorations of interconnections between multiracial and interfaith identities, gender and ability, and masculinity and whiteness, to name a few. With a foreword by Marc Johnston-Guerrero and afterword by Elisa S. Abes, this book offers a theoretical framework as well as application for socially just student affairs application.

Although the process for publishing with ACPA Books is outlined (Publications | ACPA (, ACPA members may wonder what the experience is really like. We asked Identity Interconnections editors Aeriel A. Ashlee and Lisa Delcruz Combs about their experience working with ACPA Books. Below are their thoughts on this experience.

Why did you choose to publish through ACPA Books?

“There were several reasons we chose to publish through ACPA Books. First and foremost was that this was our first time publishing a book and so we were looking for mentorship in the process. Mimi and Jody (the ACPA Books co-editors) provided invaluable guidance at every stage of the process, which was incredibly helpful. Additionally, our previous involvement with APAN (Asian Pacific American Network) and MRN (Multiracial Network) informed our decision to publish through ACPA Books, as we’ve found ACPA to be a supportive professional association as womxn of color scholars and practitioners committed to pursuing the healing and liberatory potential of critical and poststructural theoretical frameworks in college student development.”

How was the process for you? What was helpful and what was challenging about it? If you would choose to publish again with ACPA Books, why would you make that choice?

“The process was largely positive. Most helpful was the mentorship we received from Mimi and Jody. The most challenging aspect of the process was the time it took (just over two years from proposal to publication), which was likely not a reflection of ACPA Books or Stylus, but rather the nature of an edited book project.”

What suggestions do you have for authors/editors who want to publish with ACPA Books?

“Be thoughtful in the proposal process, use the proposal as an opportunity to really clarify your vision for the project. Also, if editing a book, give contributing authors as much information up front as you can (e.g., theoretical framework, expectations for about chapter structure, length, etc.). If you plan to write an introduction for your edited volume, do so early in the process and share it with contributing authors so they have common language and a strong foundation and framework for their respective chapters.” 

If you are interested in publishing with ACPA Books, please contact us ([email protected] or [email protected]). We are happy to meet with potential authors/editors to discuss and assist with the process. As we will be completing our term as ACPA Books co-editors in March 2023, we also invite anyone interested in serving in this role to contact Flo Guido, ACPA Director of Research and Scholarship ([email protected]) for information about applying to be the next editor/co-editors of ACPA Books.


ACPA is seeking an editor or co-editors for ACPA Books, beginning March 2023. Please contact Flo Guido, ACPA Director of Research and Scholarship ([email protected]) for information about applying.

Studying the Retention of First-Generation College Students in a Public University Honors Program | Abukar

written by: Zayd Abukar, Ed.D.

Introduction to the Study

Collegiate honors programs provide high-ability students rigorous academic experiences and increased access to co-curricular opportunities compared to traditional paths of study. Despite their numerous academic and social benefits to student success, honors programs typically lack student diversity, enrolling lower proportions of underrepresented minority (URM), first-generation college students (FGCS), and low-income college students relative to their general institutional populations (Brimeyer et al., 2014; Cognard-Black & Spisak, 2019; Rinn & Plucker, 2019). As collegegoers increasingly belong to one or more of these groups, campus leaders must consider how they can create conditions that better promote their achievement in honors.

In 2021, I conducted an independent dissertation in practice study examining FGCS retention in the honors program of a large public research institution in the Midwest. The goal was to help the research site begin to understand these students’ experiences with constructs researchers associate with retention. This was done as part of the research site’s broader effort to ameliorate FGCS’ and other populations’ disproportionate underrepresentation in the honors program relative to their enrollment across the institution. This article presents a concise overview of my research and its implications for practice.

Study Objective

This exploratory study examined factors associated with program retention of FGCS via the central research question of “what retention factor differences exist between retained FGCS and retained continuing-generation college students (CGCS) in the [research site’s] honors program?” CGCS were used as the comparison group from whom I drew broader insights about the primary population of interest.

Numerous research studies established that FGCS are more likely than CGCS to experience challenges that impede their retention and success in cocurricular programs and college altogether (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2018; Strayhorn, 2006; Terenzini et al., 1996). In contrast to the deficit-based lens often applied to studying this population, I elected to use an asset-based approach by studying a successful subset of FGCS: those who have persisted in this institution’s honors program. Identifying the forces that helped or hindered FGCS who have successfully navigated this academically demanding environment, where their marginalized social identities were magnified, not only challenged traditional narratives around their experiences, but yielded critical insight for the leaders tasked with supporting them through policies, practices, procedures, and programming.


This study adopted the federal government’s definition of FGCS: neither parent has completed a bachelor’s degree (NCES, 2018). A CGCS is regarded as a student with at least one parent who has earned a bachelor’s degree (NCES, 2018).

Retention in the context of this study primarily refers to a student’s on-going participation in the honors program during their third year of college or beyond. This distinction was decided in consultation with the research site, as this point in a student’s honors career marks the threshold by which they will have achieved several key programmatic milestones that indicate a high likelihood of program completion and honors graduation.

Relevant Literature

How Honors Programs Impact Students

Honors programs are powerful student success vehicles (Bowman & Culver, 2018; Brimeyer et al., 2014; Cognard-Black & Spisak, 2019; Cuevas et al., 2017; Miller & Dumford, 2018). They positively influence students’ academic measures, such as GPA (Bowman & Culver, 2018), as well as affective measures, such as self-concept (Plominski & Burns, 2018). From a social integration perspective, honors programs cultivate robust student–faculty and student–peer interactions throughout the student’s career—a benefit non-honors students do not realize to the same extent (Cuevas et al., 2017; Jarzombek et al., 2017; Wawrzynski et al., 2012).

Honors Impact and Retention are Relative to Certain Conditions

Despite several advantages to honors programs, students benefit from pursuing an honors pathway only so much as it aligns with the student’s goals (Miller & Dumford, 2018). For one, it is not the fastest route to degree completion. This renders honors programs less appealing to students aspiring to graduate as soon as possible, or to those who cannot afford a longer time to degree.

In addition to goals, program characteristics—such as cocurricular experiences, networking opportunities, and quality of academic advising—also influence whether a student decides they will continue in honors (Kampfe et al., 2016). Some academic majors have more intensive honors requirements than others (Savage et al., 2014), suggesting the challenge of pursuing an honors pathway is not equally felt by all students, which may have implications for honors student persistence.

Lastly, some students simply struggle with the heightened demands of an honors curriculum (Cuevas et al., 2017). First-year honors students tend to overestimate their academic skills upon entering college (Clark et al., 2018). Mid-program check-ins or regular advising meetings can support honors persistence (Clark et al., 2018), but depending on program practices, these engagements may not occur.

Barriers to Honors FGCS Retention and Success

The Academic Adjustment to Honors Can be Challenging

The academic adjustment to college is a frequently cited challenge for FGCS. Decades of research present FGCS as more likely to academically struggle than their (CGCS) counterparts (Strayhorn, 2006; Terenzini et al., 1996; Vuong et al., 2010). However, simultaneously, honors students tend to be academically high performing (Miller & Dumford, 2018). The inference is that preparation and ability are less likely to be the primary causes of academic obstacles faced by FGCS in honors programs.

Pedagogical practices that value lived experiences, encourage classroom community, or provide explicit tools for navigating academia have been associated with FGCS academic success (Ives & Castillo-Montoya, 2020). As noted earlier, some honors majors are simply more demanding (Savage et al., 2014). Moreover, some majors tend to produce competitive environments, which have been shown to hinder FGCS’ learning (Canning et al., 2020). These realities indicate environmental and structural factors should be considered when assessing FGCS’ academic outcomes. Individual-level factors unrelated to ability or preparation weigh on this population as well. Stress (Garriott & Nisle, 2017; House et al., 2020), pressure (Rinn & Plucker, 2019), low self-efficacy (Elliott, 2014; Vuong et al., 2010), and over-self-dependence (Chang et al., 2020) are prevalent among FGCS, and especially in honors environments. 

Issues Related to Finance Can Hinder Honors Engagement

FGCS are more likely to come from lower-income families, and more likely to have to work during college (Adams & McBrayer, 2020; Havlik et al., 2020; House et al., 2020). Working during college can afford FGCS opportunities to foster human, social, and cultural capital they otherwise may not be able to (Núñez & Sansone, 2016; Salisbury et al., 2012). For these benefits to be realized, however, work obligations must be flexible, meaningful, and accommodating to the other demands the student may have (Núñez & Sansone, 2016), such as participating in an honors program. Unfortunately, not all FGCS who work during college have jobs that meet these criteria. Work obligations restrict the extent to which FGCS can engage with honors services or develop meaningful relationships with honors peers (Garriott et al., 2017; Gibbons et al., 2019; House et al., 2020; Stebleton & Soria, 2013).

The Honors Climate Can Be Unwelcoming for FGCS

FGCS can develop feelings of not belonging or being subordinate to peers as early as when they first matriculate to campus (Havlik et al., 2020). These feelings are compounded by the subtle instances of discrimination FGCS often face, also known as “microaggressions” (Ellis et al., 2019; Havlik et al., 2020; Sarcedo et al., 2015). Microaggressions from CGCS peers, faculty, and staff affect all FGCS, but especially those who are also low-income and/or URM (Ellis et al., 2019; Havlik et al., 2020; House et al., 2020; Sarcedo et al., 2015). When honors program environments lack cultural sensitivity, FGCS, low-income, and URM students are more likely to feel stressed and isolated (Rinn & Plucker, 2019).

Factors that Promote Retention and Success

Targeted Initiatives Disproportionately Benefit Honors FGCS

One of the most effective ways to promote FGCS retention and success in honors programs is by tailoring outreach initiatives and services to the unique needs of this population (Adams & McBrayer, 2020; Elliott, 2014; Garriott & Nisle, 2017; Gibbons et al., 2019; Sarcedo et al., 2015; Stebleton & Soria, 2013). Honors programs are already known for providing services specific to honors students, as well as organizing opportunities for them to participate in high-impact activities (Cognard-Black & Spisak, 2019; Bowman et al., 2019). A challenge, however, is that FGCS tend to underutilize campus services and resources for reasons ranging from external obligations (as discussed earlier with work), to unawareness, to fear of burdening others (Chang et al., 2020; Phillips et al., 2020). Therefore, programs that both develop FGCS-specific support mechanisms and simplify those students’ ability to engage with them are more likely to foster this population’s retention and success.

Positive Campus Relationships Can Mitigate Barriers to Success

Honors students are advantaged by the relationship-building opportunities built into their programs (Jarzombek et al., 2017; Rinn & Plucker, 2019). Relationships with more experienced collegiate peers can alleviate FGCS’ stress by providing them insight into the norms and behaviors needed to be successful in honors programs (Azmitia et al., 2018; Elliott, 2014; Garriott & Nisle, 2017; McCallen & Johnson, 2020). Mentorship programs are hailed as a best practice for fostering peer relationships (Garriott et al., 2017), but peer relationships that naturally develop can be effective as well (Demetriou et al., 2017). For FGCS who experience microaggressions, positive faculty or staff affirmations can disrupt negative internalized messages from the campus environment (Elliott, 2014; Ellis et al., 2019; Ives & Castillo-Montoya, 2020). As FGCS tend to be more racially and culturally diverse, cultivating an environment where they feel they can thrive and belong is key, and this starts with relationships.


Study Design

I adopted a descriptive web-based survey design to achieve the purpose of my study and address its research question. As the research site has never systematically explored FGCS retention in their honors program, data collected via this method will enable leaders at this site to begin to understand potential relationships between FGCS and various factors researchers associate with collegiate program retention.


The instrument used to collect data was an adapted version of the College Persistence Questionnaire (CPQ) (Davidson et al., 2009; Davidson et al., 2015). The CPQ is a widely used and validated instrument developed to predict the likelihood of a student’s future retention or attrition in collegiate programs or college altogether. For this study, I modified original CPQ items in two ways. First, I changed item language to direct respondents to reflect on their cumulative experiences leading up to the point in time of taking the survey, as opposed to reflecting solely on the present moment. As participants will have already achieved the construct of retention as it is defined in this study, modifying item language in this manner helped assess the influences of different retention factors throughout the honors career of a given respondent. The second modification I made was to specify the names of the honors program and institution in item language.

The final instrument contained 53 items which measured the following retention factors: academic integration, financial strain, social integration, degree commitment, collegiate stress, advising effectiveness, scholastic conscientiousness, institutional commitment, academic motivation, and academic efficacy. Additional demographic items inquired about respondents’ college generational status, gender, race/ethnicity, and college of enrollment. There was also one item for voluntary participation in the study incentive. Average completion time was estimated to be less than 15 minutes.


Total population random sampling was used for this study. Although retained FGCS are the primary population of interest, the study compared retained FGCS to retained CGCS, hence, all autumn 2021-enrolled honors program participants undertaking at least their third year of enrollment were sampled. A total of 1,740 students (165 FGCS and 1,575 CGCS) met this criterion.

Data Collection

Prior to administering the survey, I pretested my instrument by conducting a 60-minute cognitive interview with an individual who identified as a retained FGCS in the honors program of interest. The respondent provided substantive feedback on the clarity of items, design layout of the survey, navigational experience, and completion time. The respondent was compensated for their time and consultation and did not participate in the present study.

After addressing the feedback raised during pretesting, I administered the official study survey via an email sent to all 1,740 retained students in the honors program. Those who consented to participation were taken to the survey, those who did not were free to exit the webpage. Participant recruitment and data collection occurred over a three-week period in September 2021-October 2021.

Data Analysis

The nature of the research question led me to explore factors significantly associated with program retention of retained FGCS by comparing them to retained CGCS. To do this, I performed independent samples t-test and chi-square test means comparison analyses for normal and non-normally distributed data, respectively. These procedures allowed me to statistically compare the mean of a variable in one group to the mean of a variable in another group. As both groups in the study achieved the construct of retention, these analyses highlighted differences in student’s cumulative experiences in the honors program up to the point of survey completion. In addition to means comparison analyses, I explored other trends in the descriptive data to identify what may need to be further studied by the research site in the future, namely, identifying which retention factor elicited the highest mean responses. Next, I share results and implications based on the outcomes of these procedures and analyses.

Results and Implications

Participant Characteristics

After the data collection period concluded I received 316 completed surveys from unique respondents (18.16% of the total population of FGCS and CGCS). Within the sample, 11.40% identified as FGCS, which was proportionate to the 9.43% share of FGCS in the overall population of retained honors students. The 36 FGCS participants in this study also made up 21.95% of all retained FGCS honors students. Refer to Table 1.1 for breakdown of final sample by college generational status.

Table 1.1

Breakdown of Study Participants by College Generational Status

Participants’ reported gender and race/ethnicity are displayed in Tables 1.2 and 1.3 respectively.

Table 1.2

Breakdown of Study Participants by Gender

Note. Unlisted gender categories did not have any study participants.

Table 1.3

Breakdown of study participants by race/ethnicity

Note. Unlisted racial/ethnic categories did not have any study participants.


Participant responses to the 53 nondemographic CPQ items were composited in SPSS according to alignment with the 10 retention factor variables. Histograms and quantile-quantile plots (QQ plots) were used to determine data normality of the responses of each of these 10 retention factor composites. Three contained normally distributed data (social integration, collegiate stress, and academic motivation) and seven contained nonnormally distributed data (academic integration, financial strain, degree commitment, advising effectiveness, scholastic conscientiousness, institutional commitment, and academic efficacy). Two sets of tests were performed to identify significant differences between the means of FGCS and CGCS participant responses: independent-samples t-test for normally distributed factors and chi-square test for non-normally distributed factors. Both sets of analyses adopted a 95% confidence level, indicating significance would be reached when p < .05.

Of the 10 retention factor variables measured, financial strain (p = .006) and advising effectiveness (p = .038), at a .05 significance threshold, were the only factors to reject the null hypothesis that there is not a difference between FGCS and CGCS. Eight retention factors measured in the CPQ did not achieve statistical significance at the p < .05 level. These factors were: academic integration, social integration, degree commitment, collegiate stress, scholastic conscientiousness, institutional commitment, academic motivation, and academic efficacy. These findings suggest FGCS and CGCS who participated in the study reported significantly different experiences related to financial strain and academic advising during their time enrolled in the honors program. A review of descriptive statistics also revealed the highest mean and median responses from all participants were in social integration. In other words, both groups rated their sense of belonging, shared values, similarity to others, and involvement behaviors during their time enrolled in the honors program most positively compared to their experiences across all other retention factors. Social integration differences between FGCS and CGCS were not statistically significant.


Financial Strain Was Felt More by FGCS than CGCS

The results of this study revealed retained FGCS endured greater financial strain during their time in the honors program than did their CGCS peers. They worried more about having enough money to support themselves, and it was more difficult for them to handle the costs of college during their time in honors. FGCS also struggled to purchase resources, such as books and supplies, and felt less able to engage in the same activities (e.g., honors-sponsored education abroad opportunities) as their peers due to finances.

The FGCS in this study weathered financial challenges while staying in honors because they found the program to fit with their undergraduate and postgraduation career goals (Miller & Dumford, 2018). The fact that honors degree pathways can sometimes lengthen a student’s degree completion timeline, which often has financial implications, reinforces this presumption of why the FGCS in this study persisted despite greater financial strain. Based on the review of literature on FGCS, many of the FGCS participants in this study likely worked during their time in the Honors Program (Adams & McBrayer, 2020; House et al., 2020), even though it may have limited their interactions with honors services, activities, and peers (Garriott et al., 2017; Gibbons et al., 2019; House et al., 2020; Stebleton & Soria, 2013). Essentially, retained FGCS persisted despite experiencing greater financial strain and the related challenges that come with it. This finding also calls attention to the effect of finances on prospective, current, and dropped out honors FGCS.

Access to Information and Quality Advising were Challenges for FGCS

The results of this study revealed retained honors program FGCS reported significantly less favorable experiences with academic advising than their CGCS counterparts. They expressed greater difficulty receiving vital information, and more challenge getting answers to questions related to the honors program throughout their careers. FGCS also reported lower satisfaction with the overall advising they received during their time in the program, and indicated they felt significantly less involved or considered in decision-making of processes such as course offering options.

Renewed Focus on Advising Practices Could Enhance FGCS’ Honors Success

The extant literature emphasized population-specific services and positive campus relationships as promoters of FGCS retention and success. On one hand, services or resources designed with FGCS’ unique characteristics and needs in mind increased the likelihood they will be used (Chang et al., 2020; Elliott, 2014). On the other hand, positive interactions with peers, faculty, and staff increases FGCS’ sense of belonging (Diehl, 2020; Ellis et al., 2019). Honors academic advising has the potential to combine both elements, and therefore could play an integral role in promoting the retention and success of FGCS in the honors program that is the subject of this research. In the context of honors students, academic advising quality can play a key role in whether a student decides to stay or leave a program (Kampfe et al., 2016; Swecker et al., 2013).

The results of this study demonstrated retained FGCS in the honors program remained in honors despite unideal advising experiences. FGCS often do not have the advantage of parents or guardians who can counsel them on how to navigate college bureaucracies to accomplish tasks or maximize campus resources—especially if their parents do not have any college-going experience (Havlik et al., 2020; Stebleton & Soria, 2013). With some honors majors being historically more challenging (Savage et al., 2014), and some majors fostering competitive rather than collaborative climates (Canning et al., 2020), advisors can be a point of support for those FGCS who struggle to successfully navigate these dynamics independently. According to the results of this study, addressing honors academic advising practices was another worthwhile area for the research site to address.

FGCS Felt Socially Connected to the Honors Program

The retention factor with the highest mean and median figures from both FGCS and CGCS was social integration. This connotes study participants found their social integration experiences to be most positive during their time enrolled in the honors program. Items in the social integration factor related to respondents’ sense of connectedness to honors program peers, faculty, and staff, and satisfaction with one’s social life in the program. Campus climates can be unwelcoming for FGCS (Azmitia et al., 2018; Rinn & Plucker, 2019), but positive campus relationships can counteract this experience by invalidating harmful messages (Elliott, 2014; Ellis et al., 2019; Ives & Castillo-Montoya, 2020). It is encouraging that FGCS in this study, who have remained in the program for three years or longer, benefited from the research site’s deliberate efforts to help students build relationships among themselves, faculty, and staff. Even though FGCS’ social integration experiences did not statistically differ from CGCS,’ this finding provided insight into what has been consequential with this population during their retention.

Study Limitations

As with most studies, the present study is subject to several limitations. First, the data analyses were successful in revealing which retention factors FGCS and CGCS differed or did not differ across, but they were limited in conveying the underlying reasons. This limitation was to be expected, as most exploratory quantitative research designs concentrate on discovering macro-level patterns and associations rather than specific causal relationships (Creswell & Creswell, 2018). The review of literature provided some explanation for participants’ responses in this study, but the methodology precluded me from gaining richer qualitative insight.

Another limitation of this study was that retained FGCS were only compared to retained CGCS to achieve the study objective. Comparing retained FGCS to unretained FGCS could have provided a more thorough understanding of what distinguishes the former from other comparable populations in the program. Unretained honors FGCS at this institution were a complicated population to engage. Students often pause honors participation with plans to rejoin later; therefore, it is difficult to track those who have permanently dropped out versus temporarily. Further, some unretained FGCS left the institution altogether, making it challenging to locate them and incentivize participation in this study. Comparisons to retained CGCS produced helpful, actionable information for the research site, but an accessible third comparison group could have resulted in more robust findings.

Finally, the small sample size and targeted context of the collected data means the implications of this study cannot be dependably extrapolated to honors FGCS outside of the research site. The information gathered from 21.88% of all retained FGCS will enhance the decision-making of this research site’s leaders, but definitive conclusions from this study regarding FGCS in other collegiate honors settings should be done carefully and sparingly.

Research Site Recommendations

The present study illuminated the roles of financial strain, academic advising, and social integration on retained FGCS in the honors program of a large public institution. Informed by scholarly literature and the study’s implications, I proposed five recommendations for the research site to support their efforts to better promote the retention and success of FGCS. Specifically, I advised that program leaders should:

  • create flexible and low-cost alternatives to major Honors activities and programming;
  • implement initiatives and resources that address student finances;
  • examine and address honors advising practices;
  • develop accessible repository of critical honors academic affairs information; and
  • bolster efforts to foster social integration among honors FGCS.

The following sections briefly review of each of these recommendations.

Create Flexible and Low-Cost Alternatives to Major Honors Activities and Programming

FGCS are more likely than CGCS to have to work during college (Adams & McBrayer, 2020; Havlik et al., 2020; House et al., 2020). Work obligations may restrict the extent to which FGCS can engage with campus support services and activities (Garriott et al., 2017; Stebleton & Soria, 2013). Research on honors student persistence supports simplifying the ways in which students can utilize program services or resources (Nichols et al., 2013). The research site’s ability to provide alternative time offerings or formats for key services and activities can significantly benefit their FGCS, especially those with unobliging work or personal obligations.

Relatedly, as FGCS are more likely than CGCS to be lower income, participation in cost-associated honors activities can be challenging, regardless of how impactful they may be. Evidence-based high-impact practices the research site’s honors program offers—such as education abroad, service-learning, or honors-designed housing—all require economic capital. The research site can disrupt some of these disparities in opportunity by providing flexible and more cost-effective alternatives to these transformative experiences.

Implement Initiatives and Resources Addressing Student Finances

A multi-institutional study with responses from 12,295 students enrolled in four-year institutions found FGCS to report significantly lower financial knowledge and financial self-efficacy (Rehr et al., 2022). Partnering with campus units that specialize in financial wellness and financial aid to provide resources and information at key touchpoint moments, such as orientation or first-year seminar, can provide yet another option for supporting financially strained students in the research site’s honors program. Certainly, more direct forms of financial assistance, such as grants and scholarships, can immediately reduce students’ financial strain and free up more time for them to participate in honors or other campus opportunities (Garriott & Nisle, 2017; Gibbons et al., 2019). Directly or indirectly, acknowledging issues related to finance for FGCS enhances the likelihood of program persistence.

Examine and Address Honors Advising Practices

The FGCS in this study rated their academic advising experiences as honors students significantly less positively than did their CGCS counterparts. This finding also raised questions regarding the experiences of FGCS who did not persist in the research site’s honors program, and the role advising could have had in either promoting or preventing their attrition. The research site does not have dominion over academic advising; each sub-college at the institution designates advisors to work with honors populations. This decentralized structure carries many benefits but can also complicate efforts to implement uniform standards across disparate units and staff members. I provided the research site a couple of suggestions for addressing this issue: first, identify the specific problems points for FGCS by conducting focus groups, and second, take leadership in equipping honors advisors with concrete tools to improve interactions with FGCS, such as workshops and professional development. The research site’s institution boasts a host of resources the site can draw from to enact these measures.

Develop Accessible Repository of Critical Honors Academic Affairs Information

FGCS in this study reported lower satisfaction with how the honors program communicated key information, such as academic rules, degree requirements, campus opportunities compared to CGCS. They also reported that it was difficult to receive answers to advising-related questions. To address this issue, I recommended the research site develop a “one-stop-shop” central repository for advising and other academic affairs information relevant to honors students. First, they can take inventory of all the current outlets, formats, and frequencies of any honors communications currently disseminated to honors students. This will help the research site to establish a baseline for how students currently receive or can access this kind of information. Next, they can determine what types of information they deem most critical for honors students and compile it onto one central platform. This can take the form of a new page on their main website, or one central Blackboard page. As FGCS may be less inclined to use campus resources for fear of burdening others (Chang et al., 2020), providing a low barrier means to independently access essential information or answers to frequently asked questions is a simple solution with high payoff.

Bolster Efforts to Foster Social Integration Amongst Honors FGCS

A predominant reason for honors students’ superior collegiate outcomes relative to non-honors students is the peer and faculty relationship-building opportunities characteristic of honors programs (Cuevas et al., 2017; Jarzombek et al., 2017; Miller & Dumford, 2018; Rinn & Plucker, 2019). The retained FGCS who participated in this study reported strong connectedness to honors peers, faculty, and staff throughout their time in the program. This suggests, at least on some level, social integration has and may continue to play a role in the retention and success of past, current, and future FGCS in the honors program at the focus of this study.

Based on the results of this study, I advised the research site to consider ways to strengthen social integration amongst FGCS in their honors program. A consistently cited practice in FGCS retention literature is peer mentorship. FGCS who develop these relationships early on are more likely to learn and mimic the norms and behaviors needed to be successful in college (Azmitia et al., 2018; Elliott, 2014; McCallen & Johnson, 2020). Formal mentorship programs (Garriott et al., 2017) and mentorship relationships that naturally occur (Demetriou et al., 2017) can respectively be effective, so long as opportunities for mentorship-type relationships to develop are being intentionally cultivated. Supporting this recommendation, I provided the research site suggestions on how they could pilot a peer mentorship experience connecting new incoming honors FGCS to upper-class-ranked FGCS in their honors program.

Recommendations for Future Research and Assessment

To build on the present research, future studies on this topic can investigate the precise reasons financial strain and academic advising experiences were significantly different between retained FGCS and CGCS. A qualitative study can illuminate more details around those and other aspects related to FGCS’ experiences in the program. As social integration was rated most favorably among FGCS, a future study can similarly probe into which aspects of it were most influential in their ability to persist as an honors student.

The methodology and accompanying analyses performed in this study can be applied to other demographic groups participating in honors programs. Should the research site or another similarly situated entity find interest in examining factors associated with the retention of a certain demographic of students, the present study may provide a helpful initial framework.


The goal of this study was to explore factors associated with the retention of FGCS in the honors program of a large public research institution. The results of the study concluded that two out of 10 factors measured through the adapted CPQ instrument, financial strain and academic advising effectiveness, featured significantly different responses between FGCS and CGCS counterparts. Further, all FGCS and CGCS study participants rated their social integration experiences the highest out of all other retention factors. Based on these findings, I discussed implications, provided recommendations to the research site, and highlighted opportunities for future research and assessment.

The results of this study supported recent scholarly literature on collegiate honors programs and FGCS retention and success by revealing that efforts tied to finances, academic affairs (i.e., academic advising), and belonging can make significant inroads towards the success of this population. Most of all, this study illuminated the barriers that retained FGCS in research site’s honors program have been enduring, and overcoming, relative to their CGCS peers. The findings generated through this study will not only benefit the efficacy of the research site’s honors program operations, but hopefully lends some insight to practitioners tasked with supporting this population on their campus.



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Author Bio

Zayd Abukar, Ed.D. (he/him/his) serves as the Assistant Director for Scholarship and Supplemental Academic Services within the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) at The Ohio State University. He provides strategic leadership and management of a student services unit that provides academic and financial aid support services to students in ODI programs. Dr. Abukar’s research interests span the intersections of leadership, organizational behavior, and underrepresented college student success.

Recommendation of Two Resources to Build Inclusive Supervision Practices | Cilluffo

written by: Gene Cilluffo

A common gap in many student affairs graduate preparation programs is supervision training. Graduate students may complete their program often without any formal training or extensive coursework in supervision, yet soon after, they may take on full-time roles that require them to serve as supervisors. These graduates are not set up for success to support their supervisees in personal and professional growth. Additionally, with continued commitment from ACPA, NASPA, and other organizations within the field to provide training and development opportunities to increase multicultural competence, supervision across diverse identities should be highlighted as a key element in supervision.

Fortunately, there are several resources available that can assist graduate students and new professionals in addressing this gap. This piece provides a brief overview of two such resources, Inclusive Supervision in Student Affairs by Amy B. Wilson, Carmen M. McCallum, and Matthew R. Shupp (2020) and Identity-Conscious Supervision in Student Affairs by Robert Brown, Shruti Desai, and Craig Elliot (2020). I provide suggested uses for each and conclude with reflection questions that can be used to kickstart inclusive supervision practice.

Brief Overview of the Texts

Inclusive Supervision in Student Affairs dives into the authors’ research on supervisors who are perceived as multiculturally competent by supervisees. This research was used to create the Inclusive Supervision Model. This model consists of four tenets which represent practices that inclusive supervisors employ: creating safe spaces, cultivating holistic development, demonstrating vulnerability, and building capacity in others.

The first three chapters of this text lay the foundation for the model by defining the need, introducing the model, and providing model development and validation information. The following four chapters are each devoted to one of the tenets, providing actionable suggestions in furthering competency in each. Each of these chapters end with suggestions of how to apply these concepts to all levels of supervision, reflection questions, and a chapter summary.

The text closes with two chapters of case study examples and reflection prompts to apply the text to daily practice. The text also includes several inventories and activities in the appendix to guide individual and group reflection. These activities include guided discussions around creating safe spaces, values, assumptions, and goals (Wilson et al., 2020).

Identity-Conscious Supervision in Student Affairs dives deeper into incorporating critical consciousness, “building an understanding of our social identities and the role of these identities in continuing oppressive norms” (Brown et al., 2020, p. 8) into supervision practices. Brown et al. (2020) introduce the Identity-Conscious Supervision Model (2020) and organize the text around analyzing different areas of the model.

The model is broken up into three areas: Individual Level, Supervision Level, and Organizational Level. The text is also organized in three main sections, mirroring the three levels of the model. The model contains action phrases in each section and is designed to show how actions work across each level individually, but also connect individual, supervision, and organizational work, as well. The model then represents that supervision and organizational change begins with and is sustained by continued self-work. Each action phrase on the model has a dedicated chapter with more detail.

Find more detailed summaries of each text here:

Suggested Uses for Each Text

While both texts have similar goals of encouraging more thoughtful and equitable supervision practices, the potential uses and audiences of each text differ. Inclusive Supervision in Student Affairs (Wilson et al., 2020) reads at times like a workbook, with space to write in the book and track progress. This text provides suggested action steps and reflection questions. This text would be a great fit for graduate students or newer professionals scratching the surface in multicultural competent supervision knowledge. The case studies and activities included in the appendix (also available online here) can be utilized to practice applying the skills learned in the main chapters. For example, a case study could be used as a development exercise at a staff meeting to practice utilizing critical thinking and applying the Inclusive Supervision Model (Wilson et al., 2020).

Identity-Conscious Supervision (Brown et al., 2020) is a valuable resource for someone who already has some familiarity with or are in the process of formal learning about systems of oppression. This text is less action item driven and more reflection based. The book emphasizes the important role of self-work in reflecting on socialization, unpacking internalized oppression and dominance, and identifying defensive reactions within yourself. This self-work paves the way for continued resilience to pursue action at the supervisory and organizational levels. This text would be a strong addition to a social justice or diversity course, or a great read for supervisors at any level looking for guidance on self-work, building relationships across difference, and fostering resilience to influence institutional change.


Both texts are valuable resources to increase multicultural competence as a supervisor. Each text should be read with enough time and space to engage in critical reflection. Reading the texts is only the first step; the work comes from engaging in self-reflection, developing and utilizing community to hold oneself accountable, and continually reflecting on and prioritizing one’s values in their work. Inclusive supervision is not a checklist or an arrival point—it is a commitment and a relationship. One may never feel like they “know enough” to call themselves an inclusive supervisor; incorporate the practice of reflection, relationship building, and advocacy into your work and get started from where you are at.

Reflection Questions

Both of these texts are extremely beneficial; every graduate student and new professional will grow from the reflection they support and action items they suggest. One major takeaway from both texts is the importance of a sustained reflective view. To encourage your own reflection related to your supervisory multicultural competence, consider the following:

  1. What identities are most salient to you? How do your identities show up in the workplace?
  2. In regard to your privileged identities, what advantages have you received from institutions or your workplace because of those identities? How do you navigate issues of your own power and privilege with a focus on encouraging an equitable workplace? How do you check in with your team to receive feedback on whether your practices are effective?
  3. How do you incorporate identity conversations with new supervisees in the onboarding process? How can you continue this work in a collaborative way?
  4. How can you facilitate trust, effective communication, and commitment within a supervisory relationship?

Find additional guided reflection questions here:


Brown, R., Desai, S., Elliott, C. (2020). Identity-conscious supervision in student affairs: Building relationships and transforming systems. Routledge.

Cilluffo, G. (2022, May 4). Inclusive supervision. Google sites.

Wilson, A. B., McCallum, C. M., Shupp, M. R. (2020). Inclusive supervision in student affairs: A mode for professional practice. Routledge.

About the Author

Gene Cilluffo is the Engagement and Outreach Coordinator for Sustainable Campus at Florida State University. Prior to starting at FSU, he graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelor of General Studies and Clemson University with a Master of Education in Student Affairs. In his work, he is passionate about empowering students to advocate for sustainable changes and consider the environmental, social, and economic effects of their personal and professional lives. Outside of work, he loves to get outside, watch college marching band, and spend time with his pup, Dasher.

The Evolution of an Established Academic Support Unit | Knight

written by: Graham R. Knight, Ph.D


Programmatic change on a college campus is often hard to come by. Using my story of evolving an established academic support unit I hope to provide general guidelines that can be used by others who also hope to effect change on their campuses regardless of the type of program they lead. I begin by introducing myself and the campus context followed by the process of the change itself. I then include considerations about next steps for a changed program, acknowledge the influence of campus context on one’s ability to create change, and finally a few takeaways.

The Practitioner

My entry into student affairs came as a Graduate Assistant for the University of South Carolina’s Student Success Center. The next year and a half working for the nationally recognized, College Reading & Learning Association (CRLA) – certified learning center would arguably be the most formative experience of my professional journey. In my next role at the Ohio State University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion I grew ODI’s Supplemental Instruction (SI) program and led it through 14 months of COVID-impacted delivery. While there I introduced the structures for assessment, evaluation, and data-informed decision-making that supported sustained programmatic success after my departure in May of 2021. My next position, and the one of interest here, was at Dartmouth College’s Academic Skills Center (ASC) as an Assistant Director where I began in week four of Dartmouth’s 10-week fall term quickly learning new things and meeting new people. By week six I began to take ownership of the program, and the following story conveys some of what I did, and much of what I learned.

The Center

Dartmouth’s ASC has existed in some form since the 1960s and has continually evolved. Since its inception, the ASC included the Tutor Clearinghouse, which sought to match all students who made a request with a tutor. In the mid 1980s the ASC added study groups to support larger, introductory courses via a group delivery format. This basic formula changed little until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. COVID catalyzed the closing of the Tutor Clearinghouse and the study group program in favor of the newly created Peer Tutoring Program which focuses on group tutoring supplemented by individual tutoring – a reversal from the prior structure.

In addition to the programmatic change, three staff members departed in the wake of COVID, taking with them over 45 years combined experience with the ASC. The Associate Director then became the Interim Director until the interim title was removed. The new Director and the Program Coordinator alone piloted the ASC until the three open staff positions could be filled. I became the first of these hires and was handed the keys to the Peer Tutoring Program. My understanding upon my hire was that the ASC wanted me to consider every aspect of the program and had given me the license to make whatever changes I deemed necessary. As I began learning about the program I wanted to consider ways I could operate more efficiently, meet student demand, stay within budget, and provide expanded opportunities for program staff – all of which were aspects that emerged as potential avenues for improvement.

The Impact of Potential Change

COVID-induced understaffing meant that much of the program’s functionality had been paused. As such, the time was ripe to consider what could be changed, but also what should remain. As I became acquainted with each programmatic aspect, I had to consider the needs of those who would be impacted by the decisions I made. The primary stakeholders are always our students, including the student-staff. The primary constraint was the programmatic budget. With this in mind, I compiled a number of questions to consider: how many classes can/should we support? How many tutors would we need? How many tutor hours can we afford? How should those hours be structured and allocated?

Although the ASC is the college’s central academic support unit, many of the academic departments provide their own tutoring services. Therefore, I also had to consider the other learning support units across campus and potential sources of collaboration or contention with services offered through the other learning support units . Our faculty are primarily responsible for fulfilling the academic mission of the institution, and it is their courses I was working to support, so gathering their insight and feedback was also vital.

The Process of Retooling the Previous Model

My initial tasks were to listen and learn. The tutors who were working when I began had been hired under a specific set of expectations which I felt obliged to uphold through the fall term. Waiting gave me time to run a series of budgetary scenarios and to be able to make more informed decisions. I was able to factor in compensation for preparation time and other factors related to the future of the program.

One change I was able to make during the fall term was the removal of the groups’ cap sizes, Previously, groups had been capped at five students. There were group waitlists so if a student was removed from the group (For unexcused absences) only then could a waitlist student be added.  I also eliminated the attendance requirement because I felt that it reinforced compliance rather than encouraging attendance for the sake of learning.

With no more cap sizes, we were able to do away with waitlists. The rationale behind these tweaks was that I had come from two large public institutions whose group tutoring models were often open to 100+ students, and I knew that tutors could expect anywhere from two to five regular attendees even from a large pool of students. I also knew that there would be increased attendance prior to exams that we could easily account for with appropriate planning.

Rather than relying on the existing model of course selection that was primarily informed by ASC’s historical usage data, I prioritized institutional data regarding student grades supplemented by the historical data. I wanted to know about student performance in courses with enrollment of 30 or more as evidenced by final grades so I looked at the number of students who received C’s, D’s, failed, or withdrew from each course. What emerged was a list of fewer than 50 courses.

I was off to a good start because fewer courses and no cap sizes meant I could contract the size of the staff. Tutors are hired on a termly basis so when we transitioned into my first full term I reduced the staff size to a third of what it had been. With that change, I could afford to raise the pay of tutors and pay them for three hours each week rather than 90 minutes. Instead of one session, I had them hold two, one-hour sessions and was able to allocate one hour of paid prep time per week because pay for prep time was among the first, and loudest, demands I heard from the staff. Sessions would initially be offered on Zoom with the opportunity to move in-person following college COVID policy and tutors’ own comfort level. These sessions were scheduled such that they did not conflict with other learning support programs on campus and staggered such that students would hopefully be able to make at least one session per week.

I also constructed a new two-hour training for the beginning of each term, compulsory for all new and returning staff. I wanted to meet the staff and wanted them to meet me. With the way I was retooling the program everyone was effectively a new tutor and had to be introduced to the new systems, expectations, and philosophy of the program. Training began with introductions among the staff as well as to the program. In addition to the programmatic mission we also covered what it means to be a peer educator. I made sure to stress the importance of making students feel welcome and empowered as prerequisites to learning the material itself, and then how to implement active and collaborative learning within a shared space. We concluded by covering the administrative tasks and expectations and discussing how to approach their first sessions.

Finally, in week three, the remodeled program was up and running and it was time to begin assessing how things were going. There are several forms of assessment that I currently have in place, a few of which I retained from the previous model while others I introduced. On the administrative side for the tutors, the staff and I reviewed prep time submissions not only to verify work hours claimed, but also to hold them accountable to a standard of preparation. We also continued to collect attendance information, and now I use that information, once final grades have been posted, to get a sense for the efficacy of the program. In terms of service delivery, I strive to observe every tutor’s session at least once a term and provide constructive feedback. I also ask the tutors to perform midterm self-evaluations, and I solicit evaluations about the tutors from their tutees. Both of these evaluations can serve as topics of conversation for the tutors’ continued development, and for the development of the program; I am adamant in reminding the tutors that they are the ones who are doing the work and so I need their feedback to continue improving the program.

The Next Steps for the Program

I am always focused on what still needs to be improved, so keep a mind towards structural changes that improve how the program functions. The work involves sustained attention and commitment to cross-campus relationship building and is necessary for the optimal functioning of an academic support program.

Most major changes happened in the first two terms as we were beginning the process. Since then, I have been collaborating with other units to create training materials that can be shared among our staffs. I have also noticed that the initial budget scenarios I ran were conservative estimates of actual spending and that I could afford to pay the tutors for two hours of prep time and two hours of sessions. Similarly, by beginning my hiring and recruitment process earlier I was able to begin Group Tutoring in the second rather than third week of the term which is especially important given Dartmouth’s terms are 10 weeks long. Over time, I hope to plot the actual versus expected budget numbers so that I can maximize service delivery based on usage data rather than projections.

Looking ahead, I must address perceptions about the legitimacy of the program. I have learned from faculty, staff, students, and tutors that many faculty are skeptical of the tutoring offered through the ASC. Some faculty go so far as to advise students against using our services. I believe the main reason for this is that our Group Tutors are not embedded in the courses they support. Much of the success of the program depends on how engaged and communicative faculty are, and whether or not they encourage students to attend tutoring. Given the ASC is within the Division of Student Affairs, I must build relationships with those in academic affairs so tutors can develop closer relationships with faculty. This will help tutors and the students they serve in supporting student learning.

The Influence of Campus Context

I quickly discovered the powerful pull of tradition on Dartmouth’s campus. I was bold enough to make extensive changes simply because I did not know any differently, and I was supported by my director. Just as I learned “the way things are done,” I was also reminded that reputation matters considerably. This insight reminded me to move with caution and diplomacy, but it also meant that if correctly done the weight of a good reputation could work in my program’s favor, and by extension the students’.

I recognize those factors because of the way they frame what I have been able to do. Yes, I used my prior experiences to update the program by using data- and experience-informed decisions. However, my unique context inspired me to make those decisions. By learning the history of the program I established where it was and created a vision of where I wanted it to go. Since then I have been able to chart the way forward by meeting and developing relationships with cross-campus colleagues, sharing my vision for the program, asking follow-up questions, and communicating about the changes that I have made.


While this is from the perspective of an academic support unit, much of what I learned throughout the process can be useful for various academic and student affairs units. My steps for recreating the program were as follows.

  1. I began with considering the program’s needs, constraints, and stakeholders to compile a list of questions to address.
  2. I then listened to and learned from those impacted because they were in the best position to provide feedback.
  3. I respected the campus and environmental context to create and sustain mutually beneficial relationships.
  4. I strive to adapt expectations and behaviors based upon actual experience and data.

As you seek to address your own situation, listen to and learn from students, faculty, data, other practitioners, books, and other resources. Consider the feasibility, benefits, and potential drawbacks to your decisions. Build a case for what you want to do and why, and then share your case with your supervisor. Take data-informed risks. The changes I have made were informed by my personal experience, peer-reviewed research, avenues for staff development, and budgetary considerations including appropriate compensation for staff.

I hope my experience changing an established program serves as a useful reminder of what is possible within the realm of academic and student affairs. Yes, there are hard constraints like budgets, but there are also soft constraints like what we, and sometimes our colleagues, think is possible. I had the advantage of stepping into a new role at a new institution, both of which allowed me to focus on what I would do rather than what others thought I could do. There is always a learning curve, but do not get discouraged and continue asking questions. Think outside the box (of your institution) and, where possible, take ownership over your program.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What are some of the programmatic possibilities you have been considering? Which ones have you assumed were not achievable? Why?
  2. What elements of your campus context can you capitalize on to make your program more effective? Who are the key stakeholders who can help you achieve your goals?
  3. What advice would you give a successor to your role in their first few days on the job? Have you been following that advice yourself? Why or why not?


Graham R. Knight, Ph.D., is currently the Assistant Director for Academic Enrichment & Learning at Dartmouth College. Graham received his B.A. (’14) and M.Ed. (’17) from the University of South Carolina. Having majored in history, he gave historical carriage tours in Charleston, SC before returning for a Master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs. He transitioned straight into Ohio State where he completed his Ph.D. in the same field in May 2021. His professional work centers on creating conditions for active and collaborative learning environments where students feel comfortable, cared for, and like they matter at the institution, as he firmly believes that those are prerequisites for learning most effectively.

A Word About Our Times: Uncovering, Holding Tight, and Pulling Back the Veil | Laker

written by: Jason Laker, Ph.D.

To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing. – Raymond Williams

As educators, we know this time of year comes with great intensity.  As our K-12 colleagues prepare classroom decorations, advising schedules, parent and family nights, and so forth, Student Affairs practitioners are opening residence halls, running orientation and welcome events, wrapping up staff training, and launching other start of year activities and events.  Of course, for the last few years many of these activities and events have been held virtually, either live or asynchronously—often based on regional politics rather than determined by scientifically-based risk assessments.

The 2022-23 academic year will be my 30th working in higher education, the first 19 of which were in Student Affairs administration starting as a very optimistic and driven 22-year old residence hall director in 1992 and ending in my second CSAO position as a somewhat jaded, tired, but still hopeful 41-year old vice president for student affairs in 2011 when I transitioned to my current role as a professor in a graduate preparation program at that same institution.  I’ve worked at six quite different universities in the U.S. and Canada, varying in size, mission, and classification (e.g., regional, public, private, religious, research, land grant, etc.).  This eclectic professional history along with my graduate training in mental health counseling and a Ph.D. in the study of Higher Education lulled me into thinking I had things figured out and could move forward wisely and comfortably.  I believed I was well past being naïve about education and life more generally, which now seems both foolish and charming to me, but I’ll get into all that shortly.

My faculty colleagues elected me to serve as department chair for the second time this Fall, 10 years after my prior election to the post.  Our department is quite large, enrolling nearly 200 graduate students studying to become either K-12 school counselors or to work in higher education as advisors, counselors, or other student services practitioners.  While serving as an academic department chair is obviously an administrative leadership role, it nonetheless makes me feel even more distance from my professional roots in Student Affairs as if it were in another life altogether even though my own graduate students are preparing to work in the field or already do so.

Groundhog Day

For most of my career so far, working in education has reminded me of the film, Groundhog Day.  For those who haven’t seen it, the protagonist played by Bill Murray finds himself in a seemingly endless loop in which he keeps waking up on the same day.  He remembers what happened and how he responded to people and situations on the same day the last time, and in his efforts to find a way to break the cycle and move on to the next day, tries to do things a bit more effectively each time.  Eventually he seems to master the lessons that were repeatedly presented to him, evidenced by waking up and finding that it is finally the next day.  He also seems to now understand that the seemingly tedious repetition fostered patience, curiosity, and wisdom that will guide how he navigates the days ahead.

Likewise, we in education seem to do much the same thing every year while hopefully learning to do it better with each successive iteration, or at least it used to feel that way to me.  After all, I would argue that Student Affairs is a persistently optimistic field, populated by colleagues who are given to faith in the future, evidenced by our investments in development.  We espouse with certainty that students’ identities, learning, and success can advance; that groups and communities can be accessible, diverse, and cohesive; and we enact that belief by applying our knowledge, skills, and commitments to enable or accelerate them.

COVID and Mental Health

With that said, let’s be frank about the situation in which we find ourselves.  The last several years have felt like a bizarro version of Groundhog Day in which each year is darker and more precarious than the last.  When talking about how we are feeling and how life came to this, conversations typically focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and its lingering and still unfolding consequences, which is understandable.  After all, it is an all-pervading event that affects most if not all people around the world.  However, while there are some difficulties that are specifically connected to the pandemic such as the rush to develop and provide access to vaccines, it would be more accurate to say that many social problems were made worse rather than starting during this period.  For example, a recent report on the state of mental health in America (Reinert et al., 2021) reported several distressing findings about how people in the U.S. are faring during this precarious time:

  • Suicidal thoughts among adults have increased annually for the past 10 years, to 4.5%.
  • Nearly 50 million (19.86%) adults in the U.S. experienced a mental illness in 2019—before the pandemic began, of which nearly a quarter of those with mental illnesses had unmet treatment needs.
  • Over 15% of youth experienced a major depressive episode in the prior year.
  • Over 2.5 million (10.6% of the youth population) have severe and major depression, with the highest rates experienced by youth identifying with more than one race.
  • Over 60% of youth experiencing severe depression go without any mental health treatment.

A national survey of Canadian Student Affairs leaders at nearly 70 campuses across Canada (Rashid & Di Genova, 2022) found similar trends affecting students at their institutions.  Over the 18 months between the start of the pandemic in March 2020 through August of 2021, 90% of respondents indicated their students were experiencing pandemic fatigue, defined as “feeling tired of following public health directives (e.g., social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands),” (p. 1).  These findings were significantly associated with such burdens as social isolation, increased academic loads, financial stress, and anxiety.  How many of us are experiencing some form of compassion fatigue and/or secondary trauma while managing our own stressors and health risks or challenges while trying to show up and be present—whether virtually or in-person—with and for students?

Social problems are interconnected, as are the cascading impacts on them by the pandemic, so here again it is understandable that we rhetorically center the latter in conversation.  After all, we were precipitously forced to transition to virtual environments regardless of whether we and/or our students were comfortable or skilled in such modalities; and/or have access to high-speed internet connections and the typically expensive devices to utilize them.  Socioeconomic stratification has always impacted education in both obvious and invisible ways, from access, to retention, to academic performance, among other aspects.

Per my point about the relationship between issues and events, it is upsetting yet unsurprising that food insecurity has escalated since the beginning of the pandemic.  Dennon (2021) notes that the percentage of college students contending with food insecurity and its associated shame and stigma—which was already higher among college students than the general population before the pandemic—has nearly doubled in some states since 2020.  This comes in part due to closures that included loss of access to food pantries and meal services.  Dennon (2021) further explains that “food insecurity among college students relates to financial need, which intersects with minority status.  As such, Black and brown students are significantly more likely to experience food insecurity than white students,” (para. 11) and dropout rates are even steeper for these students.  Pursuing employment that provides a livable wage becomes that much more difficult without a degree, and in many cases with required student loan repayment.  These related struggles were immense before the pandemic, and now they are even more so.

Phrases such as “in COVID times” have bracketed our discourse about any number of issues, as has the aspirational notion of living “in a post-COVID world” been bandied about from the start.  We pepper this turn with idioms such as “Zoom fatigue” or “you’re muted” and often deliberate about when it might be safe to return to in-person while political interests overtake scientific expertise in making such determinations.  That isn’t new either, but as with other things it seems to have gotten worse.  However, the rhetorical lens of the pandemic obscures the fact that we have been experiencing collective trauma for a much longer time than we’re discussing.  In short, our trauma has been happening for much longer than the past two years and it’s not just a result of the pandemic.

Longer-Term Trauma

Articles such as this, whether published in Developments or elsewhere in venues associated with our field typically turn toward positive, affirming, and motivational tones and topics sooner than I’m doing here.  I certainly prefer that myself and realize with great clarity (as I’m sure you do as well) how dwelling on painful experiences can and often does make them worse at a time when we need and eagerly seek ways to turn the corner toward better days.  Be assured that this article will shift in that direction toward the end, but I hope you will agree that the way a problem is framed in conversation and planning efforts has significant impacts on whether and when solutions can be identified and pursued successfully.  In my view we must have the criticality and integrity—and in this case I would add, the courage—to accurately name and describe what is happening within a broader historical context.  I believe much of our conversation has not done this, primarily situating things in terms of the ongoing pandemic.  We must not minimize the countless deaths and debilitating effects of COVID, but its onset, development, and magnitude are nested in a broader context that is worthy of examination if we are to avoid or at least mitigate the next one.

So, let me preface this discussion of trauma by clarifying that I am not writing from a partisan viewpoint. One can have a reasonable position and thoughtful debate on such topics as whether or how to impose regulations on markets, the environment, defense budgets, etc.  What we experienced in the years leading up to this pandemic and what impacted the rest of the world in various ways was something different. We saw, felt, and experienced—with varying levels of impact depending on who or where we were—what happens when someone with the basest and most cynical urges has unparalleled authority and influence over so many people.

Six years ago, in 2016, American voters elected a person who has always been a malignant narcissist, essentially a walking Id who—along with his appointed, elected, and associated ilk, including many who should or did know better—indulged his fetish for bigotry and subjugation and amplified it with the powers of his office.  He and they systematically terrorized the already marginalized and oppressed communities of which so many of us and our students are a part.

As the pandemic unfolded, the former U.S. President made it worse by responding to it—and everything else for that matter—in terms of political advantage and retribution. Rather than stewardship associated with his powerful position, he chose to weaponize withhold the distribution of public health information, intervention, and resources.  Of course, some supported this approach because of a notion that the U.S. should not be a multicultural democracy and that it was at risk of becoming one unless an aggressive countering effort was made, and here we are.

I am an educational and social scientist.  As I ascended the much more intimate organizational charts of single institutions as an administrator and executive, I contended with the tension between my belief that all hierarchies are violent alongside the fact that I became well-placed within them.  I landed at what may be a rationalization but was arguably prescient: Better me than some ***hole.

I retained a critical and introspective lens while continuously espousing and seeking to enact humanistic values of equity and social justice in exercising the authority associated with my administrative and academic positions.  I see leadership as more an art than a science, and the work of leadership is certainly complicated.  While my trust in institutions of all types has further declined over the past 10 years, I do still believe that they can do incredible things with and for people if good and skilled people occupy leadership positions and prioritize values over careerist interests.  Don’t get me wrong… ambition is a fine thing, just not the most important thing in my work.  I have seen honorable people in leadership roles, and I’ve seen the alternative within and beyond higher education institutions.  There is a clear and often massive difference between good, bad, excellent, or horrible leaders in terms of the impact on those in their sphere of influence and authority.  Simply put, leaders who are compassionate, knowledgeable, reflective, and multiculturally skilled exercise their authority over resources and people in ways that have much better outcomes than those who do not possess those qualities.

Context, Identity, and Decisions

Again, looking beyond collegiate contexts, page eight of the aforementioned report on U.S. mental health (Reinert, et. al, 2021) has an interesting infographic ranking the nexus between prevalence of mental illness and rates of access to care.  Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Vermont occupy the top five rankings, meaning they have the lowest rates of mental illness and highest rates of access to care.  Alaska, Wyoming, Arizona, Idaho, and Nevada are ranked 47th to 51st respectively (the District of Columbia, which ranks 16th, is included along with the 50 U.S. States).  One doesn’t need to be a political scientist to see a relationship between these rankings and the people legislating and allocating resources. There is a connection between where funding goes and how legislators talk about their constituents.  Institutions big and small have a similar dynamic.  Colleagues reading this from different locations across and beyond the U.S. can see how their context and those running things there make a difference in policies and resource allocation.

The coded and overt bigotry in the former President’s words found a nexus and amplification through remarks about Mexico and Mexicans (and by extension, Latinx people in general and anyone mistaken to be one), with anti-Asian racist assertions about the pandemic’s origins, referencing particular nations as “shithole countries” when prioritizing international aid,  Islamophobic and antisemitic remarks and actions, and exponential increases in anti-Black racism and violence, among many other injustices.  Many unarmed Black people were hurt or killed by police and by civilians, cheered on with rationalizations and marches by hordes of White Supremacist organization members who often did so without feeling any need to conceal their identities, referred to as “very fine people” by the former President.

As a Jewish person and the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, and as a person of conscience, I was increasingly anxious, upset, and angry for an extended period of time while feeling even more constrained in looking for ways to confront and change what was happening.  Even before all this, the racist backlash in response to former President Obama’s election in 2009 continued well after he completed his second term in 2017.  His successor amplified and leveraged that backlash, constantly adding Obama’s middle name, Hussein, when referring to him, questioning his birth certificate, and suggesting he was secretly a Muslim agent at every opportunity.

In short, our collective and multifaceted trauma has been activated and escalating for over a decade at this point, with the last few years in particular arguably being the worst of it so far.  The pandemic—with the necessity and mandate to wear masks and keep a distance from each other—increased the already precarious hesitations to be in community with others.  This separation and isolation was exploited by many political leaders since our distance from one another made it even easier to assert that certain others were coming to get “their people.”

Connections in the Eye of the Storm 

At same time, the last couple of years in particular—as painful and ruinous as they have been with various levels of intensity depending on people’s geography and social identities—have also called important existential questions and revealed new forms of solidarity and resilience.  Even as social bonds and fabrics frayed and unraveled, for some it has tightened solidarity, political organizing, activism, and revealed hidden capabilities and possibilities.  For example, many people’s “bottom lines” were tested and recast, causing some to change jobs or professions, including within and from the student affairs field.

I mentioned earlier that my trust in institutions has further declined over the past decade.  This has been influenced not only by witnessing national and international events, but also by some of the failures I saw in a variety of institutions across civil society, including those that at the one I work in currently.  Rather than elaborating on the particulars of this or other institutions, I want to propose another analogy.

Readers who have been working with college students for 15 years or more will recall the emergence of research articles and discussions about how institutions have increasingly claimed interest in spirituality while simultaneously moving away from organized religion.  For instance, Sharon Daloz Parks’ (2000) engaging book, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Young Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith discussed this distinction, noting

Faith is often linked exclusively to belief, particularly religious belief. But faith goes far beyond religious belief, narrowly understood. Faith is more adequately recognized as the activity of seeking and discovering meaning in the most comprehensive dimensions of our experience — that is, faith is as much a verb as a noun…to be human is to dwell in an ongoing process of meaning-making, to dwell in the sense one makes out of the whole of life—what is perceived as ultimately true and trustworthy about self, world, and cosmos… (p. 9-10). 

This analogy resonates with me in terms of how I’ve progressively viewed education and its institutions.  As I begin my 30th year in the academy, I find that my belief in “small e” education (referring to our vocation and its practice) and its possibilities has grown even stronger than the already substantial prospects I saw when I started my career in 1992 even as I have become increasingly cynical and suspicious of the contextual “big E,” our educational institutions.  My interest in returning to administration has been shaken by witnessing and/or directly experiencing corruption and other failures by several administrative and executive leaders. Further, I have questions about so-called work-life balance raised by working virtually from home in sweat shorts and t-shirts and seeing my spouse and children far more often while doing so.

There is no question that privilege has played a big part in this process.  For instance, beyond what could be said about my particular social identities, working as a faculty member affords more flexibility than that of my colleagues in administrative and staff positions. My location in California is privileged, as well. I am not living in one of the states where elected leaders barely conceal their disdain for workers interested in reasonable wages, a safe working environment, a sustainable roof over their heads, or an enjoyable life more generally.  With that said, agency is not a zero-sum game.  Regardless of who or where one is while reading this, we each have some agency.  I have often used the phrases, “exceptional spaces” and “pockets of justice” to describe the physical and metaphorical spaces where we can create and have gracious community with others in defiance of the coldness and chaos beyond.  We can create that in the intimacy of an office or department, or through our presence and attention.  We are—in ourselves—the instrument of practice.

I am currently 52 years old.  During the past six years or so I have found myself stunned by the intensity of national and world events, and at times have felt that the wisdom and skills I have developed and relied upon successfully over my lifetime and career are of little use in navigating or intervening to change the direction of things.  I have worried quite a lot about youth—including my own children who are now young adults—and young colleagues in early days of their careers. I am troubled by the thought that they are facing insurmountable threats and challenges to the prospect of a good, healthy, and affordable life.  This has generated a lot of anxiety and periods of frustration, fear, and sadness.  My gregarious personality has often been shuttered and I’ve stayed at home more than any other time in my life.


Here I can finally turn to the positivity I promised earlier.  My optimism has been slowly rekindled by witnessing resilience in people and communities.  Undoubtedly, resilience should be understood as a reaction to injustice rather than simply a personal quality in itself without that important context.  I have paid more attention to the mundane forms of kindness: opening doors for people, waving other drivers to go first through an intersection, light banter in a checkout line, the smiles evident in eyes of people above their N95 masks, and the obliviously unbothered happiness of babies, toddlers, and pets.  I am inspired by my students both in groups and classes and within the intimacy of one-on-one conversations in video calls and in person.

Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure of interacting with early-career colleagues in various professional settings online and increasingly in person.  The majority of ACPA members are in their first several years of professional work in our field, and I have been so heartened by the creativity, kindness, and social justice activism displayed by this generation of professionals, my students included.  My research involves interviewing current college students and more recently those in peer educator roles.  Here again, I’m astonished by the thoughtfulness and determination I’ve been seeing in them as they share their views and experiences with me and my colleagues.  My own institution is in the Bay Area of California, one of the most diverse places in the U.S.  The students in my classes preparing to be school and college counselors and advisors are incredibly kind and community-oriented and committed to supporting people even as—and often motivated by the fact that—so many of them did not receive such support on their own educational journey.  When I conduct site visits to schools and colleges in my fieldwork course, many of my current students’ supervisors are graduates of our program as well, and the generativity and commitments to pay it forward are on clear display.

Considering the strains (or worse) that each of us and/or others have endured along with the little and larger gracious acts of people who reject the cynicism and cruelty of way too many elected and appointed leaders, I am reminded of a saying credited to Adrienne Maree Brown and the inspiration for the title of this essay: “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered.  We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.”

We—each of us—are the instruments of practice.  If history can be our guide, we can remember that the pendulum can and likely will swing the other way if we can put our faith in that possibility into action.  We can individually and collectively create exceptional spaces and pockets of justice that provide grace, healing, and alternatives to isolation, mistrust, and injustice while working together to support the good and interfere with the bad.  Perhaps my realization will resonate with you: I am actually not naïve; I’m just tired.

The last however many years (depending on how you conceptualize events) have caused my exhaustion in partnership with beliefs and practices I had been uncritically keeping that no longer serve me.  How many times do we hear that we must first take care of ourselves before we can do that for other people, and how often have we misunderstood this as a call to indulgence and selfishness rather than as acts of clearing and growth?  I invite you to reflect on the affordances of this incredibly difficult period.  What have you taken on or continued to carry during this time that wasn’t yours in the first place or that no longer serves you? Perhaps the first exceptional space and pocket of justice that arrives for us will be our own, enabling us to invite others into that gracious space where we can do our best thinking and strategizing together to enact justice in both small and massive ways.


Daloz Parks, S. (2000).  Big questions, worthy dreams: Mentoring young adults in their search for meaning, purpose, and faith.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dennon, A. (2021, November 10).  COVID-19 worsens food insecurity among college students.  Best Colleges.

Rashid, T. & Di Genova, L. (2022). Campus mental health across Canada in 2020-21: The ongoing impact of COVID-19. Perspectives from campus mental health professionals and student affairs leaders. Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC). The Canadian Association of Colleges and University Student Services (CACUSS): Toronto, Ontario & Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC).

Reinert, M, Fritze, D. & Nguyen, T. (October 2021). The State of Mental Health in America 2022.  Mental Health America, Alexandria VA.

About the Author

Dr. Jason Laker currently serves as Professor of Higher Education, Student Affairs, and Community Development and Chair of the Department of Counselor Education at San José State University (SJSU) in California, USA, where he previously served as Vice President for Student Affairs.  Prior to SJSU, Jason served as AVP/Dean of Student Affairs and Faculty of Gender Studies at Queen’s University (Canada), and before that as Dean of Campus Life and faculty of Gender Studies at Saint John’s University in Minnesota, one of the few men’s colleges in the U.S.  His current research focuses on sexual consent communication, negotiation, and agency among college students.

Reading Guide for A Practitioner’s Guide to Supporting Graduate and Professional Students (Routledge, 2022) | Perry & Shepard

written by: Dr. April L. Perry & Dr. Valerie A. Shepard

Graduate and professional (G&P) education in its current (and continually-evolving) form in the United States was established during Generation Six (1850-1890): New Departures (Geiger, 2016). Despite the vast number of G&P students in the United States, who represent more than 15% of the total U.S. higher education enrollments and over 25% of all awarded degrees (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2020), we surprisingly do not have a lot of research on graduate student development, the G&P student experience, and how practitioners can best support these students outside of the classroom. Furthermore, the limited amount of research that is available on the graduate student experience has primarily been for and by faculty in discipline-specific contexts, and mostly focused on doctoral students (Hall-Hertel et al., 2022). There continues to be a need for research, resources, community building, and professional development specifically for student affairs practitioners who work with and support G&P students.

Although ACPA and NASPA have largely viewed student affairs through an undergraduate student-centered lens, these two organizations began paying more attention to G&P students starting in 1998, the year when the first informal meetings of graduate student services practitioners took place at each organization’s annual meeting. Currently, APCA is home to the Commission on Graduate and Professional Student Affairs (CGPSA); its counterpart in NASPA is the Administrators in Graduate and Professional Student Services Knowledge Community (AGAPSS KC). Both serve as sources of community and support for practitioners who work with graduate and professional students. Beyond the vital conversations taking place within these organizations, practitioners have identified a need for more accessible training and resources for those who serve in the vast range of professional roles that support G&P students. In 2016, members of the AGAPSS KC initiated a curriculum project designed to build modules that could be implemented in already-existing higher education graduate courses. They also began to envision a project that would gather resources in a way that would make them easily available to practitioners at all levels, as well as improve communication among professionals and faculty who support graduate student thriving. This project that began as supportive discussions at conferences grew to become a book: A Practitioner’s Guide to Supporting Graduate and Professional Students (2022).

In this article, we will present a brief overview of the current graduate and professional education landscape, an overview of the book, and a call to action for practitioners. We conclude with a list of important resources and a reading guide of reflective questions specific for graduate students, new professionals, staff/administrators, and faculty who work with G&P students. 

Overview of G&P Education

In the Fall of 2020, there was nearly a 40% decrease in international graduate students (mostly related to the COVID-19 pandemic), but there was an increase in enrollment for first-time racial minority students (16% increase in Black students; 20% increase in LatinX students; 8% increase in Native American students) (Zhou & Gao, 2021). In Fall 2020, overall G&P student enrollment went up by 1.8%, but that was mostly masters students (but 40% are now part-time), and PhD enrollments decreased (Zhou & Gao, 2021). Additionally, it was found that 80% of undergraduate students say they are less likely to go straight to graduate school (increase in gap year) (Zhou & Gao, 2021). 1/3 of students identify coming into graduate school with significant stress showing similar symptoms to PTSD, and the stress is affecting students from marginalized populations disproportionately (Ogilvie et al., 2021, as cited in Council of Graduate Schools & the Jed Foundation, 2021). Furthermore, existing inequities accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including structural racism in the United States, continue to negatively affect G&P students’ mental health and wellbeing, student experience, and academic success (Council of Graduate Schools & The Jed Foundation, 2021)

Literature highlighting a variety of aspects of graduate education has been published since the 1800s (Access and download our extensive annotated bibliography here). The available research, however, is not written from a developmental perspective which would guide practitioner’s approaches to working with this student population. There are two primary misconceptions about G&P students: 1.) that they are just older versions of undergraduate students and do not have unique developmental processes and needs, and 2.) that they already have experience as undergraduate students, so they no longer need institutional support services. Because of these misconceptions, there has been limited research on G&P student experiences, needs, and thus support offered by institutions (Hall-Hertel et al., 2022).

The first documented publication highlighting G&P students as a unique student subgroup who need support and attention by student affairs practitioners was in 1995 (Pruitt-Logan & Isaac). Although it was brought to light in the 1990s that we needed more research and resources from a student affairs perspective, other than some references in Learning Reconsidered (2004; 2006) and in Guentzel and Nesheim (2006), as well as Pontius and Harper’s (2006) work on guiding questions for inquiry to address G&P specific needs, there have been very few formal responses to the limited research. Therefore, A Practitioner’s Guide seeks to fill this gap by curating available research, theory, and promising practices.

About the Book

A Practitioner’s Guide to Supporting Graduate and Professional Students aims to help practitioners understand how to support the academic and professional socialization process for graduate and professional students, regardless of their degree level or discipline. It is organized in three parts: Part I provides a general overview of both G&P student services and graduate education in the US, including a focused chapter on G&P student needs. Part II describes successful strategies for G&P student affairs practitioners, including information on transitioning into graduate school, advising, mentorship, engagement, belonging, and assessment. Each of the chapters in Part II include multiple case studies to complement the topic. While discussions of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are infused throughout the book, there is a specific chapter on DEI approaches to graduate student success. Part III of the book forecasts what might be next and the training needed for future practitioners. It includes a chapter on the AGAPSS curriculum project, in which modules on G&P topics were developed and implemented into current graduate courses in higher education student affairs and now are available for all practitioners (more details below).

The book is organized so that it may be read from start to finish, as each chapter builds on the previous one; at the same time, for readers who are looking for information on a specific topic, each chapter and case study may stand alone. Additionally, the case studies in chapters 4-9 describe actionable, practical examples that practitioners can apply and adapt to address localized needs on their campuses. As a general handbook, A Practitioner’s Guide does not include all topics; we intend that it will function as a catalyst for further research to inform practice, as well as community building among those who support G&P student success.

Call to Action

Our situation has obviously changed, our students have changed and are changing, and we have limited research available to guide our practice…So what now? Our practices must adapt. We believe our success as institutions, and particularly our success in serving G&P students, is contingent on forward-thinking as we transition out of the pandemic, not back to business-as-usual. In adapting our practices, we believe there are a few overarching items (the what) that should guide our thinking:

  1. Redefine student success from transactional to transformational. We must shift our approach from services provided to developmentally minded, and from segmented support to holistic student development.
  2. Create diverse pathways for enrollment and completion. We must think creatively about how to recruit G&P students and support them through their academic pursuits.
  3. Shift our culture from competitive to supportive. We must identify ways to help G&P students of all identities succeed using innovative metrics instead of the traditional metrics, which have been created through white, hegemonic, and colonialist perspectives.
  4. Make career connections. We must help G&P students gain transferable skills, access professional development opportunities, and develop interdisciplinary networks for the multitude of career transitions they will face.
  5. Prioritize holistic wellbeing. We must recognize the foundational role wellbeing plays in G&P student success: when G&P students do not have equitable access to health promoting environments, they cannot engage at the highest levels in their academic pursuits. When practitioners and faculty do not have equitable access to health promoting environments, they cannot engage at the highest levels either.
  6. Wrap our minds around the inequitable, long-term effects of trauma and fatigue from COVID-19. Although we may be eager to move through and past the global pandemic, we must not be naïve about the effect it has (and will continue to have) on our mental health and overall capacity. We must recognize how this will not only affect student engagement and performance, but also our own ability to do this important work. Navigating a global pandemic has propelled us years into the future, particularly with regard to using technology in our practice. Reflective questions:
    • How do we use what we have learned moving forward, broadly defined?
    • How has what we have learned from recent events allowed us to evaluate our work and thus redetermine essential practices?
    • Have we reexamined quality of services versus quantity?

Using a transformational (versus transactional) mindset should not only inform what services we can and should offer, but also should be our baseline for how we engage with students. We must meet students where they are (which is different from before the pandemic), acknowledging G&P students’ dynamic, unique, and localized needs. We must come back to the essentials of student support and success, considering, for example:

  • Basic Needs (i.e., Maslow, 1987)
  • Sense of Belonging (affinity groups; space & place, faculty affirmation, etc.).
  • Community-Building (engagement, involvement, peer-support, faculty support)
  • Mentoring, Coaching, and Advising
  • Transferable skill development (communication, resiliency, adaptability, collaboration, etc.).

We often define student success by retention and completion, but those are outcomes of success. The support efforts and innovative approaches are the drivers that get us to those desired outcomes. Practitioners and faculty need support networks and knowledge of promising practices specific to G&P student success to advocate for appropriate institutional structures, programs, and resources that foster it. 

Resources to Guide Action

In this article, we have presented general information about G&P students, the limited research we have on supporting this student population, and the gap our book has aimed to fill. We then presented a call to action for practitioners who work with G&P students to reframe the what and the how of our work. In order to meet this challenge, we would like to guide readers to some important resources.

  1. The Book – A Practitioner’s Guide to Supporting Graduate and Professional Students is an essential starting point for understanding the history and context of our work, the unique needs of G&P students, and a plethora of promising practices. With 50 contributors, this is an important collection of G&P work presented in an easy-to-read, grab-and-go kind of way. Link to book here (use code FLA22 for a 20% discount).
  2. The Appendix (free download here) – This is a collection of G&P-focused publications and presentations since the 1800s. If you want to know more about the history of this work, organized categorically and chronologically, this annotated bibliography is a great starting point.
  3. In Part III of the book, we present an initiative from the NASPA AGAPSS KC, in which a series of training modules on various G&P topics/sub-populations have been developed. We have now created a website where these modules can be accessed by the public. We encourage you to:
    • Access and use the modules. These are great within graduate curriculum, as well as for self-education and staff training (link).
    • Write a module. If you have deeper knowledge and experience with a specific G&P population or entity of G&P work, please consider developing a module to contribute to the advancement of our field. There are module instructions and templates online (link).
  4. Since the publication of the book in February 2022, we have done a series of conference presentations and webinars. During these presentations, we invite participants to share their innovative practices to a JamBoard. Click here to access the board and share/gather additional strategies and contacts to support G&P students.
  5. Finding a community of practice is essential. Consider joining G&P functional groups in professional associations, including ACPA’s CGPSA, NASPA’s AGAPSS KC, as well as other organizations specific to your role in supporting G&P students (examples include the Graduate Career Consortium and NAGAP, the Association for Graduate Enrollment Management). All of these organizations include opportunities to connect both in-person and via social media. A more comprehensive list is available in the Appendix of the book (free download here).

Reading Guide/Reflection Questions:

Graduate Students studying Higher Education:

  • Think about how your own graduate student experience (right now) is different from your undergraduate experience. Based on that, reflect on what you may need now from the institution (different types of student life programs and services, academic support, affinity groups, etc.).
  • Think about where you are in your life now (developmentally, financially, level of responsibilities, etc.) and how that might be different from when you were an undergrad. What support/resources could help you? (access to additional mental health support, childcare, professional development, etc.).
  • What are some things your current institution is doing well to support G&P students? How can you replicate them if/when you are a professional who works to support G&P student success?
  • What are some things your current institution is not doing to support G&P student success that you wished they did? How can you take your relevant, lived experience as a graduate student to help inform and support future graduate students whom you make work with and/or supervise?
  • Do you know where to gain additional knowledge and resources about supporting graduate and professional students? (See resources listed above).

New Professionals:

  • Are you finding that you work (directly or indirectly) with graduate students in your role? If directly, do you know where to access a community of practitioners doing similar work? (see communities of practice listed above). If indirectly, do you know where to learn more about specialized G&P populations and topics? (see training modules linked above).
  • If you work in a centralized campus unit primarily serving undergraduate students (i.e., career services, financial aid, campus life, etc.), how can you begin to expand your support/services to include G&P students?
  • When building programs and events, do you consider graduate students? How can you expand your offerings to include graduate student development in your work?
  • Have you considered partnering with the graduate school or other campus units that support graduate students? Can you use your knowledge of student development and particular functional area(s) to collaborate with campus units who work directly with graduate students?
  • Do you supervise graduate students? If so, do you know appropriate resources on your campus to refer them to in order to support their own professional development, wellbeing, and student success? If you do not know about appropriate resources, who can you talk with on your campus or within a community of practice to inform your knowledge in this area? (See communities of practice listed above).

Staff/Administrators who work with G&P Students:

  • If you work at a campus that serves undergraduate and G&P students, to what extent do the G&P students understand that services “for students” are available to and relevant for them?
  • What are some successful strategies you use to center G&P student voices in designing programs and services for them?
  • What is your level of familiarity with the CAS Standards for Graduate and Professional Student Programs and Services (2019)? Do you utilize it in your strategic planning and design of programs and services for G&P students? If so, reflect on what are some specific elements of it that are the most useful to your work, and why they are useful.
  • What institutional data do you have available that informs your knowledge of localized G&P student needs? Who can you partner with at your institution to get and disseminate this information? What are some specific ways you can incorporate it into 1.) your design of programs and services 2.) your cross-campus partnerships with staff, faculty and students, and 3.) your advocacy to support G&P student success?
  • Who supports your professional development on your campus, and in professional associations? What are some specific actions you can take to connect with and build your professional community? (See communities of practice listed above).

Faculty who teach G&P Students:

  • How do you support G&P students outside of the classroom? And outside of discipline-specific items? How can you re-center holistic development and wellbeing regardless of discipline?
  • How do the faculty in your academic unit approach G&P student needs? How can you explore (on a local level, formally or informally) G&P student experiences to understand their needs and thus how to meet those needs?
  • Reflect on what services you can offer to G&P students (i.e., advising and supporting), and make yourself (and colleagues) aware of campus resources to direct students to (i.e., mental health support, career support, emergency financial support, food pantries, childcare, etc.).
  • Faculty teaching Higher Education: How are you incorporating G&P student experiences, concepts, and development into your curriculum as you prepare future practitioners who are likely to work with G&P students in their career? (See resources listed above).


American College Personnel Association (ACPA), & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). (2004). Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. NASPA/ACPA. focus-on-the-student-experience

Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. (2019). Standards for graduate and professional student programs and services [Revised 2017]. CAS professional standards for higher education (10th ed.). Author.

Council of Graduate Schools & The Jed Foundation. (2021). Supporting graduate student mental health and well-being: Evidence-informed recommendations for the graduate community. The Authors. Retrieved July 22, 2022 from

Geiger, R. L. (2016). The ten generations of American higher education. In M. N. Bastedo, P. G. Altbach, & P. J. Gumport (Eds.), American higher education in the twenty-first century: Social, political, and economic challenges (4th ed., pp. 3-34). Johns Hopkins University Press.

Guentzel, M. J., & Nesheim, B. E. (Eds.) (2006, Fall). Supporting graduate & professional students: The role of student affairs. New Directions for Student Services. Jossey-Bass.

Hall-Hertel, K., Brandes, L. C. O., & Shepard, V. A. (2022). Introduction: Context, Research, and Applications. In V. A. Shepard & A. L. Perry (Eds.), A Practitioner’s Guide to Supporting Graduate and Professional Students (pp. 3-16). Routledge.

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (n.d.). NCES fast facts tool.

Pontius, J., & Harper, S. R. (2006, Fall). Principles for good practice in graduate and professional student engagement. In M. J. Guentzel & B. E. Nesheim (Eds.), Supporting graduate & professional students: The role of student affairs (pp. 47–58). New Directions in Student Services. Jossey-Bass.

Pruitt-Logan, A. S., & Isaac, P. D. (Eds.) (1995, Winter). Student services for the changing graduate student population. New Directions for Student Services, 42. Jossey-Bass.

Zhou, E., & Gao, J. (2021). Graduate enrollment and degrees: 2010 to 2020. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools. Retrieved from

Author Bios:

Dr. April L. Perry (she/her) is an Associate Professor in the M.Ed. Higher Education Student Affairs program at Western Carolina University and currently serves as the Department Head for Human Services. Her research is primarily on student identity development, career development, student transitions, and institutional initiatives for student success. As a practitioner, April has worked in graduate school administration, student leadership programs, parent & family programs, fundraising & marketing, and academic tutoring services. She lives by the motto that the only thing better than watching someone grow is helping them grow. For more information about April, visit

Dr. Valerie A. Shepard (she/her) is a Senior Writer at UCLA Recreation. She has been a Student Affairs practitioner for over 10 years, and has held regional and national leadership positions in the NASPA Administrators in Graduate and Professional Student Services (AGAPSS) Knowledge Community. Prior to her current role, she was the Assistant Director of the UCLA Graduate Student Resource Center. She also worked on the development of ImaginePhD (a collaborative project of the Graduate Career Consortium: She has a Ph.D. in English Literature from UCLA.

Graduate Student Advising | Roth-Saks


As higher education professionals and professors, we often supervise graduate students and new professionals and teach in student affairs programs. Yet, how often do we think about advising graduate students? In the wake of the pandemic, we all had to adjust to online engagement for at least a semester if not more. While we may all feel like experts in using Zoom with colleagues and students now, we don’t know what the impact of the pandemic will be long term. Given these considerations, how often do we think about how to successfully advise online? Considering the increasing number of online graduate students, advisors and faculty need to think about how they are advising graduate students online whether their students are online or on-campus. While the pandemic has obviously impacted higher education as much as the rest of society, it also offers opportunities to connect with students in new ways that may have started as necessities but can now lead to greater student success and engagement.

Relevant Literature

Although graduate students are not homogenous, they do exhibit characteristics that help define them as a student population for academic advising purposes. An estimated one million graduate students took at least one distance or online course in the 2015-16 academic year (Seaman et al., 2018). In fall 2018, that number was about 1.2 million and over 900,000 of those students took only online courses (NCES, 2020). Given this growth, it is essential that faculty and advisors not only consider how to advise students online, but how to do it well.

Online Learning and Graduate Students

Online students have lower retention rates than face-to-face students, so academic advising is especially important to mitigate that attrition (Kimball & Campbell, 2013; Varney, 2009; Waldner et al., 2011). Since lower retention rates are connected to online students’ feelings of isolation (Ohrablo, 2016) sense of belonging and socialization are two student development theories that can help academic advisors address those feelings to better serve their students and prevent withdrawals.

Graduate students who take some or all their courses online are a growing population among higher education institutions (Seaman et al., 2018). They are generally adult learners often with full-time jobs and families and are returning to school after a pause in higher education—sometimes for several years (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2019). Given their non-traditional characteristics and the increasing likelihood they may be studying at a distance from their institutions, faculty and staff teaching and advising need to consider socialization and sense of belonging as important student development theories for their professional and personal growth (Gansemer-Topf et al., 2006; Strayhorn, 2016). Depending on the flexibility of their institutions and their own preferred schedules, faculty and advisors may consider adjusting working hours to meet with students who may be online in different time zones or who may not keep to traditional schedules.

Faculty and advisors might also consider proactive advising and self-directed advising. These approaches connect socialization and sense of belonging theories to strategies around communication and technology for helping graduate students succeed whether they are on-campus or online. In considering these theories and approaches to advising, faculty and advisors should ask themselves how they are connecting to their students, how are they helping their students connect to each other and their institution, and what approaches work best for their students.

Despite the growing number of online graduate students, there is a dearth of advising research focused on graduate learners and distance learners, let alone research on the two populations combined (Gupta, 2018). While research is lacking, the characteristics of who is studying online in graduate programs can provide a sense of appropriate theories and approaches to support student success. In the 2015-16 academic year, about 52% of online graduate students were married, almost 53% had dependents, just under 53% owned a home or paid a mortgage, almost 83% held a job while studying, and almost 80% attended school part-time (NCES, 2019). Although the majority of students taking only online graduate courses were White (55%) and female (63%), almost 24% were Black, 11% were Hispanic, almost six percent were Asian, and almost four percent indicated they were other or two or more races (NCES, 2019). The average age for online graduate students was about 37 years old and on average it had been almost eight years between when they earned their bachelor’s degree and started graduate school (NCES, 2019). Of course, no student is a collection of statistics, but the fact that online graduate students are often working professionals who have families and outside commitments as compared to direct-from-undergrad students impacts to their participation in education and their advising needs.

Graduate Student Development Theories

Student development theories often focus on traditional, on-campus, undergraduate students, but they can be applicable to non-traditional, online, graduate students (Gupta, 2018). Sense of belonging is one theoretical concept to consider in advising online graduate students. The theory asserts that students need to feel part of and cared for by an institution, a program, and their fellow students (Strayhorn, 2016), which is especially important to consider for online graduate students who may feel a greater physical disconnect from an institution. Strayhorn (2016) also argued that belonging is not static and changes for students based on what they are going through. Changes in connection and belonging may be true for graduate students whose outside lives often take priority over their education.

Belonging also plays a role in how students’ identities intersect with their lived experiences (Strayhorn, 2016). Intersectionality is important to consider for online graduate students who are majority women and/or from diverse backgrounds economically and ethnically (NCES, 2019).  Intersectionality posits that individual experiences interact in more complicated ways than just a person being the sum of their identities (Strayhorn, 2013; 2016).

Socialization theory is another important student development consideration for online graduate students. Socialization theory asserts that graduate students move through a process to learn, grow, and develop values through graduate education to enter their intended profession (Gansemer-Topf et al., 2006; Preisman, 2019). The stages of socialization (anticipatory, formal, informal, and personal) connect to belonging as well and should be carefully considered for online graduate students.

The anticipatory stage happens while students are applying to programs and often comes with preconceived notions of a profession and specific programs; it is also the most hierarchical stage, happening almost exclusively before the others. The formal stage happens when students are accepted, enroll in courses, and interact with faculty and students. It is especially important in building connections to professors to develop specialized skills and knowledge in a field (Gansemer-Topf et al., 2006; Preisman, 2019).

In the informal stage, students build connections with their fellow students outside of class especially in social settings. It happens throughout a program and contributes to a sense of belonging. Making these connections can be especially challenging for online students who may not meet their fellow students in traditional social settings. During the personal stage students establish or reestablish an identity in their personal and professional lives (Gansemer-Topf et al., 2006; Preisman, 2019). Interacting with faculty, building informal connections with peers, and reevaluating an identity based on educational experiences can be especially challenging for online students who do not feel as connected to an institution and may not interact with fellow students as often outside the classroom (Gansemer-Topf et al., 2006; Ohrablo, 2016). Considering the importance of connection for sense of belonging and in socialization theory, proactive and self-directed advising approaches are useful to help students feel connected to their institutions.

Graduate Student Advising Strategies

Proactive advising, although usually associated with supporting at-risk students, can be used in graduate programs to help an institution intentionally reach out to online and on-campus students to show students that faculty, staff, and the institution care about them even if they do not see them on-campus (Cross, 2018; Varney, 2009, 2013). Specific approaches of proactive graduate student advising  both online and on-campus include identifying strategies and skills to support them, ensuring a feeling of belonging, using direct contact to identify challenges they are facing, and communicating resources to help them be successful (Varney, 2013). Elements of proactive advising to support these approaches include relationship building similar to counseling while acknowledging advisors are not counselors; crafting not just professional, but personal advising to show care; and reaching out to students often by phone, e-mail, video, and social media to demonstrate accessibility (Ohrablo, 2016; Varney, 2009, 2013).

In addition to proactive approaches, self-directed advising is an approach that can be designed specifically for online graduate students to support connections to fellow students, faculty, and the institution (Gupta, 2018). Gupta (2018) found that online advising at the master’s level runs the risk of becoming transactional instead of holistic due to the amount of information available through technology, however the self-directed approach when implemented successfully can use technology to create a greater connection to advisors. Although self-advising can lead to problems for online graduate students not meeting requirements, self-directed advising does not mean advisors are disengaged from their students (Cross, 2018; Gupta, 2018).

Self-directed advising is a self-determined approach to allow for student autonomy while also building professional competencies for career development (Gupta, 2018). The approach requires advisors to build learning with students, support them throughout their program, and especially to be available to students. Students develop their own goals, evaluate the progress they are making towards those goals, and develop competencies they have identified as important in their careers (Gupta, 2018). Students are empowered by advisors to direct their own learning, plan their own path, support their fellow students, and complete regular self-assessments (Gupta, 2018). The support of fellow students and the accessibility of advisors connect to theories of belonging and socialization among graduate students studying online and on-campus while still providing self-sufficiency for adult learners (Gansemer-Topf et al., 2006; Strayhorn, 2016).

Considering student belonging and socialization theories and proactive and self-directed advising approaches, there are three strategies that advisors can use to help online graduate students succeed. The first strategy is early, often, and consistent communication by an advisor across multiple platforms (Cross, 2018; Ohrablo, 2016; Varney, 2009; Waldner et al., 2011). The second is the creation and use of a robust Learning Management System (LMS) to connect students to the university as well as provide resources and tools (Gansemer-Topf, 2006; Gupta, 2018; Preisman, 2019; Waldner et al., 2011). The final strategy is the use of predictive analytics to identify students before they feel disconnected from the institution (Burke et al., 2017; Varney, 2009).


A strong advisor communication strategy for online graduate students should start early, be advisor-initiated, and meet the students where they are. It can start as early as the admissions process to give even prospective students a connection to the institution and program (Varney, 2009). In addition to happening early, the advisor may have to reach out to the student first, as proactive advising recommends (Varney, 2013).

Even with students that were not at-risk, Cross (2018) found that they preferred proactive communication by advisors especially in regard to students adjusting to online learning for the first time. Communication should also be available and timely across multiple platforms including email, phone, social media apps, and video conferencing (Cross, 2018; Ohrablo, 2016). Ohrablo (2016) recommends considering email communication for online students not as an administrative task, but as a chance to offer comprehensive advising including open-ended questions and warm greetings. Phone calls, whether scheduled or impromptu, should also mirror advising in a face-to-face meeting (Ohrablo, 2016). Video conferencing presents a tool that can be as effective as in-person advising, although as with any technology advisors need to be well-trained to use it (Waldner et al., 2011).

Learning Management Systems

As with communication, a strong LMS can be used in online graduate programs even before students start classes as an orientation tool (Gansemer-Topf et al., 2006; Preisman, 2019; Varney, 2009; Waldner et al., 2011). Online graduate orientations should follow the same best practices as they do for on-campus undergraduates but should also consider adult student needs like childcare resources, a transition back to school after time away, and technology training (Gansemer-Topf et al., 2006; Waldner et al., 2011). The LMS can also include pre-recorded orientation videos from resource centers on-campus; links to forms, tools, and resources; and active discussion boards where students can connect with each other and faculty for socialization (Preisman, 2019; Waldner et al., 2011).

The LMS can be used beyond orientation as a continued space for students to connect, self-assess, and adjust their plans and goals similar to academic coursework (Gansemer-Topf et al., 2006; Gupta, 2018; Preisman, 2019). In order for it to be successful, it has to be well-organized and accessible so that students can navigate to sections long after orientation is over; find resources when they need them; and easily connect with students, staff, and faculty throughout their programs (Gupta, 2018; Preisman, 2019; Waldner et al., 2011). A robust LMS also offers an opportunity in the final strategy for advising online graduate students through predictive analytics (Burke et al., 2017).

Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics can be used in advising to collect and understand data to proactively reach out to online graduate students who may not be engaging fully with the institution (Burke et al., 2017; Varney, 2013). Because engagement and connection to the institution is so important for graduate students online and on-campus, data available in the LMS including activity not just in classes, but also in a non-academic online space during a program can help advisors know which students need outreach (Cross, 2018; Ohrablo, 2016). Currently, higher education predictive analytics are mostly focused on academic data, but in a graduate program, it could also focus on student engagement with resources centers, participation in non-academic discussion boards, or internal social media platforms; however any expansion of data usage, must come with careful considerations of data privacy (Burke et al., 2017).


Comprehensive communication, deliberate use of an LMS, and predictive analytics are three strategies to better engage online graduate students before and during their programs. These strategies fit well with a modified proactive advising approach that focuses on all students and the self-directed advising approach that creates a partnership between students and advisors to allow for autonomy and connection. That connection is so important for online graduate students who balance multiple priorities in life and may never set foot on campus. Strategies and approaches to create connections should be informed by sense of belonging and socialization student development theories to ensure student success in graduate school and beyond.

Case Studies

Kira Jones

As an advisor and administrator for an online graduate program, Dr. Matthew Smith (he/him) emails you to let you know that Kira Jones (she/her) has been attending the synchronous sessions of their class, but her video is always off, she almost never speaks during the class, and she often signs on late and leaves early. She has been submitting assignments on time and is getting good grades on them, but the professor is concerned about her participation as that is an important component of the class grade. You know Kira has two young children that she watches at the same time as the class, has a full-time job, and has been out of school for almost a decade. In reviewing her activity in the learning management system, you notice that she watches all of the asynchronous videos, often more than once, responds to discussion posts, and sometimes rewatches the synchronous sessions when they are recorded. How would you respond to Professor Smith? What would you say to Kira?

Franklin Thompson

Franklin Thompson (they/them) is one of your advisees in an on-campus graduate program. They work full-time, are married, and care for their aging father. They have said that they are completing the program to advance their career and earn more money so that they can pay for additional support for their father and have children. They live about an hour from campus and often drive to campus to attend class. They have struggled to find classes that fit their schedule and have missed some class sessions due to personal commitments. Your program also offers an online format, but Franklin has said they do not learn well in online classes. How could you connect Franklin to appropriate courses to help them consider if online courses might be an option? What tools are already being used in on-campus courses that might make Franklin more open to different learning modalities? What would you advise Franklin to do?

Professor Sarah Brown

Professor Brown (she/her) teaches in an on-campus graduate program that has launched an online format. She is interested in online learning but has almost no experience in it outside of remote emergency teaching during the pandemic. She is an engaged professor who holds lively debates in class, invites her students to group lunches, and encourages office hour attendance. While her on-campus course evaluations were excellent again this past semester, her online evaluations were poor. Her students complained that synchronous sessions were uninteresting and dry, she was inaccessible outside of class time, and she did not engage students in the course content. How would you support her? What strategies would you suggest to the instructor to engage her students? What ways can they mirror her successful on-campus engagement practices to the online format?

Reflection Questions:

  1. How can faculty make sure their students feel connected to their institution beyond the classroom whether online or on-campus?
  2. How can advisors create programming that builds connections for graduate students in the anticipatory, formal, information, and personal stages of socialization?
  3. How can faculty and advisors build connections for graduate students across online and on-campus programs?
  4. How can faculty and advisors help graduate students develop their own goals and evaluate their progress toward their goals?
  5. What tools are students, faculty, and advisors already using that can be repurposed to build better and deeper connections

About the Author

Adam Roth-Saks is the Administrative Director of the Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership at the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to joining Penn, he worked in international education arranging experiential opportunities for university students and faculty with nonprofits and social enterprises in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Adam received his BA from Brown University, his MSEd in International Educational Development at the Graduate School of Education at Penn and is currently pursuing his EdD with a concentration in Higher Education at Penn.


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Preisman, K. A. (2019). Online graduate advising: It’s much more than what class comes next. Academic Advising Today, 42(4).

Seaman, J.E., Allen, E., & Seaman, J. (2018). Grade increase: Tracking distance education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group.

Strayhorn, T.L. (Ed.). (2013). Living at the intersections: Social identities and Black collegians. Charlotte, NC: Information Age.

Strayhorn, T.L. (2016). An overview of relevant theories and models of practice. In G. S. McClellan, J. Stringer, & Associates (Eds.), The handbook of student affairs administration (4th ed., pp. 135-156). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Varney, J. (2009). Strategies for success in distance advising. NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources. Retrieved July 27, 2020 from

Varney, J. (2013). Proactive advising. In J. K. Drake, P. Jordan, M. Miller, A. W. Astin, & H. S. Astin (Eds.), Academic advising approaches: Strategies that teach students to make the most of college (pp. 137-154). San Francisco, CA: Jossey- Bass.

Waldner, L., McDaniel, D., & Widener, M. (2011). E-advising excellence: The new frontier in faculty advising. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 7(4), 551-561.

Incorporating Diversity Topics in the Higher Education/Student Affairs (HESA) Classroom | Shelton & French

written by: Leslie Jo (LJ) Shelton, Ph.D. & Amy French, Ph.D.

Recently, LJ’s teaching and faculty support center asked her to write an informal blurb for a new faculty newsletter on the topic of incorporating diversity topics into the classroom, which is a topic that she and Amy noted often arises in professional association spaces such as ACPA and NASPA faculty groups. This topic connects to our ongoing efforts as we grow as educators and lifelong learners, and we hope these reflection points and examples are helpful to others who are also engaged in this process. Below we offer some joint thoughts on how we conceptualize diversity within an evolving teaching philosophy. We then both share some practices we use regarding our syllabi and in-class, as well as a shared note on lifelong learning. We close by posing a few reflection questions. Although the focus of our reflections centers our experiences with classroom teaching, as former student affairs practitioners, we hope HESA practitioners might also find this useful in co-curricular spaces ranging from facilitating trainings to programming and staff development. We hope you find our reflections interesting and useful as you continue in the important work serving as HESA educators!

Conceptualizing Diversity within an Evolving Teaching Philosophy

We enter this praxis by conceptualizing what we mean by diversity in the classroom, which draws from our field of higher education/student affairs (HESA) regarding social identities as situated within a matrix of power, privilege, and oppression, particularly at the systemic level (for more information, see the ACPA document “A Bold Vision Forward: A Framework for the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization” and the ACPA/NASPA Competencies—Social Justice and Inclusion). Before incorporating this work into the classroom, we start with ongoing intentional reflections on our positionality and reflexivity regarding our social identities and how these identities shape who we are as people and educators. These reflections are embedded in our teaching philosophies that reflect learning from thinkers like Drs. bell hooks, Bettina Love, Paulo Freire, and Eve Tuck who highlight the potential for critical education to be liberatory. We also remain attentive to knowing that how we show up in a classroom space, especially regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, is influenced by our own salient social identities and this will be different for others (ex: see work on the cultural taxation faced by Women of Color faculty such as the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity and Rockquemore & Laszloffy, 2008). Engaging in meaningful reflection and critical dialogue with our colleagues allows us to remain mindful of how our privileged and minoritized identities shape our work as educators, especially as we work to incorporate productive DEI-related learning in the classroom. In addition to this ongoing personal and professional development, some practices we incorporate include the following:


LJ: I most frequently teach master’s level students in Introduction to HESA, Student Development Theory, Research in HESA, and Reflective Practice (Internship). My syllabi are working documents that provide opportunities for students to reflect on their own social identities as an avenue to understand issues of systemic oppression and what that means for their work as HESA educators. In addition to in-class activities that explicitly explore these areas, I also strive to create inclusive syllabus language and learning opportunities via readings and assignments. Through my own ongoing professional development, I work to employ anti-oppression pedagogy and to update syllabi that include materials from traditionally underrepresented groups such as trans* individuals and Women of Color, and historically excluded topics such as Indigenous ways of knowing.

Syllabus content also includes inclusive information such as using trans* inclusive language related to student names and pronouns. For example, I provide information on how to officially change these via university records and to let students know that is not required for them to update me for our course. I also list locations of inclusive restroom options closest to our classroom and give an in-class break long enough for students to visit another building as needed. I am also working to update a statement on resources for the food pantry to serve food insecure students. These are examples of how I strive to center a humanizing approach to education and to reflect on how it is difficult to learn and thrive if our foundational needs are not met.

I also aim to make expectations clear in syllabi to provide insight into the “hidden curriculum” of graduate school, which can be particularly exclusionary for first-generation college students who may not have the capital to know how to navigate this experience. For example, I outline what I mean by effective, active participation in class (which students can be surprised means more than quantity of times speaking in a large group!) and provide opportunities for participation in multiple ways ranging from individual, small group, and large group work and some online work via the learning management system (Blackboard).

Amy: I regularly teach master’s level HESA students Introduction to Student Affairs, Leadership and Administration, Student Development Theory, and Practicum. I also have the opportunity to teach the doctoral students Student Development Theory. I conceptualize my syllabi as living documents intended to accomplish a few distinct tasks, the first of which is to clearly articulate the intended inclusive environment designed for all of us (student and instructor) to learn and grow together. This constructivist approach to learning is intended to invite scholars to bring their ideas, experiences, and knowledge into each of our classroom discussions. I am drawn to the dialogic approach to teaching and am committed to fostering a classroom environment where my students exist in their full embodiments and identities and are encouraged to engage in classroom discussions, challenge course content, and develop as individuals to prepare them for the field of student affairs.

Second, my syllabi are designed to offer a roadmap for the course. This roadmap starts with my name, contact information and office hours. There’s an additional note added to the office hours section inviting students to reconceptualize office hours with me. Smith et al.’s (2017) research highlighted the way students perceived office hours to be “weird” (p. 14) and used by students only for specific instances, often out of emergent need rather than the intended purpose of facilitating student engagement. I provide a link to a scheduling app called Calendly on my syllabus to assist students with scheduling meetings, and we unpack the stigma associated with office hours on the first day of class and occasionally throughout the semester as needed.

Lastly, I develop my syllabi with a keen eye toward authentic representation and ensuring that I assign materials from traditionally underrepresented groups in a manner that fosters growth and awareness without tokenizing authors or students. In terms of supporting students with (dis)abilities, I go beyond the university required accommodation language to include examples of ways that (dis)abilities may positively contribute to our learning environment. For example, “wiggle breaks” are encouraged and defined in my syllabi as opportunities for all of us to listen to our bodies and move about as needed to expend necessary energy and/or resituate our bodies to stimulate our brains and learning.


LJ: Building a classroom community is also central to effectively grappling with challenging subjects together, including DEI-related learning. I start the semester with students submitting a “personal notecard” that is private with me so they can share their name, pronouns (optional), and information such as any challenges they foresee in the semester (students may report caregiving concerns, health issues, etc.). Also, on the first day of class, we all create nametags that allow students to share the name they use in class (versus what may be in university systems), and the option to share pronouns if they would like to do so. I role model this in my own introduction and sharing as we create a classroom community together. We also add personal touches to nametags by putting “doodles” that reflect our experiences with the class topics. When students share these on the first day of class, they often reflect their own experiences, including those related to social identities, which helps build class community as a springboard for connection during challenging conversations. Once I get to know students, I am also able to update lesson plans that are responsive to who is in the space.

On the first day of class, we co-create classroom expectations with a working classroom contract, including guidelines around how we will communicate together and how to navigate difficult conversations. Throughout the semester, we also engage in identity-based activities and hold space for our thoughts and feelings in response to DEI-related current events that impact us personally and professionally. We also work on a “choose your own learning adventure” assignment that provides students with the opportunity to select assignments that are most meaningful to them, and reflects multiple ways of demonstrating knowing, such as storytelling, which can be a powerful way of learning and connecting for students from various cultural backgrounds. In addition, to allow students to see themselves in current HESA professionals, I collect short videos from generous colleagues around the world who share their educational and career paths and talk about their salient social identities, along with any advice for the students. I also seek feedback from students in various ways, including anonymous-optional mid-term formative assessments, to assist in responsive teaching related to DEI efforts. Overall, I try to demonstrate an ethic of care so students know they belong and can take creative intellectual risks in a supportive space.


Amy: I do many of the activities LJ mentioned above on the first day of class, too. Considering that the program I teach in uses a cohort model, I seek new ways to build upon first day activities in unique ways at the beginning of each semester. For example, in my Leadership in Student Affairs course, I orchestrate a paper airplane contest on the first day of class. The students go through a series of prompts and make a total of four airplanes: the first they create on their own with no resources available, the last they make in a small group with ample resources. If all goes as planned, the last airplane goes farther than the first prototype. This is a fun activity to demonstrate teamwork, the power of the cohort, and the need to utilize available resources.

I do my best to remain attentive to who is in the space each semester in terms of our identities and in terms of student interests. I encourage students to participate in various reflective activities throughout my courses. I also seek ways to validate minoritized identities while challenging majoritized ones. As a storyteller, I routinely weave in vignettes from my professional and graduate school experiences. Usually these are rather comical in nature but have a point that connects to the material assigned that week. I do my best to humanize the course and to extend my care and concern for student growth and development.

I bring my whole self to the classroom environment and try to remain abreast of what is happening in the world. For example, in spring 2021, I assigned readings on Asian American college students for a Current Trends course. That same week the Atlanta spa shootings occurred, where eight people were killed, six of whom were Asian American women. We held an open discussion in class to process, share, and from that class session we created an action plan. We worked with the division of student affairs to plan a vigil and became active in the Stop Asian Hate movement. I have also sent emails responding to national and global crises and made myself available to talk and be in community together (often over food of some kind). I find that when I am at a loss on how to respond or do not know what to do in certain moments, it is best to name that with the students. I try to be honest and transparent and seek ways to move forward together.

Additionally, I do my best to employ universal design in my classroom. Some of my practices include intentionally arranging the tables and chairs weekly, infusing certain media into classroom lectures, assigning small groups, leading in-class activities, presenting material using multi-modalities, utilizing the accessibility tool in MS Office for all communication, and ensuring the learning management system (Canvas) is organized and operating in an accessible manner. The more that I can do as an instructor to implement universal design in spaces, the more inclusive the space becomes for all students.

Lifelong Learning

Overall, our goal is to create a space that invites people into conversation as we learn together. Being a part of a learning community is a special opportunity and responsibility that allows for creativity and connection, which leads to a dynamic space to explore DEI-related learning. We certainly make “bloopers” along the way, and we aim to role model learning from these moments, so students feel empowered to embrace the messiness of this process as well. We enjoyed learning from one another about this ongoing journey and believe that lifelong learning is richer and more enjoyable when in community together. We would love to continue this conversation with others, and offer some final reflection questions:

Reflection Questions

  1. How can we continue to encourage open and honest discourse that centers humanity instead of perpetuating the colonized educational practices rooted in silencing and oppression?
  2. How do we champion efforts of inclusion for underrepresented and minoritized communities within our HESA work?
  3. How can we teach HESA students to navigate a balance between incorporating a critical, liberatory philosophy in their daily practice while also negotiating the realities of current higher education systems?
  4. As an educator, how might you continue to focus your efforts on diversity, equity, and inclusion?  How do your social identities contribute to your response? And, who might you be in community with as you grow in this area?

References and Suggested Readings

ACPA-College Student Educators International & NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. (2015). ACPA/NASPA professional competency areas for student affairs educators.

National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity (NCFDD).  

Quaye, S. J., Aho, R. E., Jacob, M. B., Domingue, A. D., Guido, F. M., Lange, A. C., Squire, D., & Stewart, D-L. (2019). ACPA College Student Educators International – A Bold Vision Forward: A Framework for the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization.

 Rockquemore, K., & Laszloffy, T. (2008). The Black academic’s guide to winning tenure–without losing your soul. Lynne Rienner Publisherss.

Smith, M., Chen, Y., Berndtson, R., Burson, K. M., & Griffin, W. (2017). “Office hours are kindof weird”: Reclaiming a resource to foster student-faculty interaction. InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching. 12, 14-29.

Tuck, E. & Wayne Yang, K. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization:

Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), 1-40.


Leslie Jo (LJ) Shelton, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Program Coordinator for the Higher Education Master’s program at the University of Arkansas. She is a qualitative researcher who primarily studies college student learning and development. Her main research areas focus on how HESA educators can better serve students with minoritized social identities, as well as exploring the student experiences and learning outcomes of HESA graduate preparation programs. 

Amy French, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Department of Higher Education and Student Affairs at Bowling Green State University. Her scholarship is rooted in social justice. Specifically, her work focuses on college student development including understanding the experiences of college students with minoritized social identities, emerging professionals with (dis)abilities, BIPOC faculty experiences, and assessment of higher education and student affairs graduate preparation programs.