Preparing New Professionals in Student Affairs: A Supervisory Model to Maximize Graduate Student Success


Preparing New Professionals in Student Affairs: A Supervisory Model to Maximize Graduate Student Success
Katelyn Romsa
Bryan Romsa
South Dakota State University

Effective preparation for graduate students pursuing work in the field of college student affairs most often includes both a formal classroom experience as well as a supervised practical experience, such as internships or graduate assistantships (Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, 2012). A formal classroom experience typically consists of specific learning outcomes, regular and structured class meetings, and educational experiences designed by the instructor. This experience is vital to graduate student growth and development but is insufficient in preparing them for the real-world experiences they will soon face. Although supervised experiences have historically been a required component of preparation programs’ curricula (McEwen & Talbot, 1977), strategically designed and executed supervised experiences are vital in preparing new professionals to thrive within the rapidly changing landscape of higher education.

With the constant pace and complexity of changes occurring at higher education institutions student affairs professionals will be required to manage more ambiguous contexts in environments demanding a greater degree of responsiveness (Levine & Dean, 2012; Selingo, 2013). Although the learning that occurs in a classroom is important, researchers have found that having a supervised internship experience in addition to classroom instruction is more effective for student learning and development (CAS, 2012). The effect of intentional design in internship, which includes purposeful actions, often leads to successful outcomes (Bruening, Peachey, Evanovich, Fuller, Murty, Percy, & Chung, 2015).

Given the fast change and complexity of higher education contexts, graduate students will need to develop increasingly complex thinking and intuitive problem solving skills during their practical experiences (graduate assistantships or internships), which will likely generalize to new situations that they may encounter during their first professional position (Reber, 1993; Sheckley & Keeton, 2001). Faculty and site supervisors can serve a critical role in helping graduate students achieve these necessary skills prior to graduation through the development of strategic assistantship/internship experiences.

As faculty members who have had experience teaching graduate students involved in an assistantship/internship experience, we want to provide insights to other faculty supervisors and site supervisors as to the manner and design of a strategic supervised assistantship/internship experience to maximize graduate student success. In this article we provide a supervisory model for supervisors to help them create and design effective supervised experiences to best prepare graduate students preparing to transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs. The intended audience of this article are faculty and site supervisors at all levels, both seasoned and novice, who are supervising graduate students preparing to transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs.

Why is Strategic Supervision Important?
In order for faculty and site supervisors to best prepare graduate students for work in the field of college student affairs, they will need to be strategic in their supervision approach. A relevant question to answer then is, “why is strategic supervision important”? Strategic supervision can be important because it provides supervisors with a road map of how to help their supervisees achieve specific learning outcomes and work responsibilities (Bruening et al., 2015).

Strategic planning was first introduced in the business world in the 1950s and has led to the success of many businesses, and many of its characteristics can be transferred to the field of college student affairs when supervising graduate students (Steiner, 2010). Strategic planning is a mindset or a way of life. It is having a macro level mindset of specific aims or goals as well as a micro level mindset of clearly defined strategies to achieve those goals. It provides both supervisors and graduate students an opportunity to decide goals in advance while simultaneously allowing room for flexibility of those goals (Steiner, 2010).

In our supervisory model, we have essentially created a strategic plan to help supervisors become more intentional in their supervision with graduate students. Our model consists of attitudes, strategies, and practical ideas that supervisors can implement to maximize graduate student success. Our supervisory model is inspired from the work of Janosik, Cooper, Saunders, and Hirt (2014) and consists of five components: (a) conducting a personal skills assessment, (b) setting realistic expectations, (c) developing a contract for the experience, (d) understanding the roles of each person, and (e) assisting graduate students in achieving life-school-work balance.

Conducting a personal skills assessment
A great place to start when beginning a supervised assistantship/internship experience with graduate students is with assessment. Conducting a thorough assessment of the skills graduate students bring to an internship site as well as the skills students need to improve upon is an excellent tool for developing goals and responsibilities for the experience. By completing an assessment, students create a profile of their (a) current skill level and (b) necessary skill level that must be developed prior to graduation. This will allow students to determine ways in which their internship can be a vehicle for them to meet the appropriate skill levels.

How do graduate students know what skills they should be striving to work towards during their internship to best prepare themselves for the field of college student affairs? ACPA and NASPA leaders of the student affairs profession have created a document of 10 competency areas such as advising and helping and assessment (ACPA & NASPA, 2010) that are essential to student affairs practice. A major purpose for the document is to inform the design of professional development opportunities for student affairs professionals by providing outcomes that can be incorporated into student affairs curriculum and training opportunities. In our classes with graduate students, we created a handout that lists these 10 competency areas where students rank their current skill set (on a scale from 0-5 with 5 being excellent and 0 having no skill). Although we only provided this handout to our graduate students in the classroom, we encourage supervisors to do something similar so that they can also be involved in the assessment of the graduate students they supervise.

We also created two qualitative assessment handouts for both faculty/site supervisors and supervisees titled “Interview Your Supervisee” and “Interview Your Supervisor.” Oftentimes when we want to obtain information, we feel stuck in what, when, and how to ask questions. Some of the questions listed on the “Interview Your Supervisee” handout include: tell me about your academic background; what are your professional aspirations?; and what are some skills that you possess that are an asset to this office and what skills do you wish to improve upon? We created the handout to help faculty/site supervisors to get to know their supervisees better as well as to help supervisees in developing a sense of curiosity and a habit of asking effective questions, which will also help them in the future while working in the field of college student affairs.

A major purpose of the “Interview Your Supervisor” handout was to help graduate students obtain information that could be helpful in developing goals. Some of the questions listed on the “Interview Your Supervisor” handout include tell me about your career path, what are the responsibilities of your position, and what do you most enjoy about your current position. We encourage supervisors to also create qualitative assessments and to incorporate them into their supervision meetings with graduate students throughout the assistantship/internship experience.

After conducting a skills assessment with graduate students, we encourage graduate students to then develop their goals for the assistantship/internship experience. Scholars have affirmed the importance of writing down goals in order for them to become a reality (Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1997). Similarly, if supervisors encourage graduate students to write down their goals for the experience, they will also be more likely to achieve their goals and make the most of their experience.

Setting realistic expectations
After conducting an assessment(s) of graduate student’s skills and developing goals, supervisors will be ready to set realistic expectations for the assistantship/internship experience. This can be broken down into internal opportunities on campus and external opportunities off campus. When thinking about internal opportunities, it will be important for supervisors to discuss how they expect their supervisees to be involved within their office and/or on campus such as attending staff meetings, committees, and/or technology and multicultural opportunities. When considering external opportunities, it will be important for supervisors to discuss how they expect their supervisees to be involved off campus such as attendance at and/or involvement in professional organizations and conferences. We feel that it will be important for supervisors and their graduate students to consider all of the internal and external opportunities available to their students to help them to best develop and improve upon their skills. In addition, it can be a great exercise to help supervisors and graduate students to intentionally design the assistantship/internship experience by linking experiences to goal setting.

Another important area to address with graduate students is the importance of legal and ethical issues. As faculty members we created a legal and ethical issues handout that asked students to write down a list of the major activities they do at their graduate practicum and internship sites such as the following: answering phone calls, handling confidential files, attending meetings where sensitive information is shared, distributing information to students/parents, participating in hiring practices, operating office equipment, supervising others in or away from the work site, and/or planning events. Next, we had them rate the potential of liability of each activity. This is an excellent exercise for supervisors to do with their graduate students as a learning tool to identify the potential of liability as well as to better understand the training that supervisors should provide and expectations they should address with their graduate students to minimize liability and maximize success.

Developing a contract for the experience
Developing a contract is a great way for faculty/site supervisors and their graduate student to write down and outline the goals and realistic expectations they have for the assistantship/internship experience. It will be important for supervisors and graduate students to create the contract at the beginning of the experience, so that expectations are clear right from the start. When we taught graduate students involved in a practicum and internship class, we required our students to take the lead in creating this document, but they were required to ask their supervisors for feedback and approval. Students were to include the following elements in their contract: a purpose statement, goals/objectives, activities, skills or competencies, proposed work schedule and time for each activity, and signatures of the student and faculty/site supervisor(s). We found that it was also helpful to add a section for the faculty/site supervisor’s responsibilities, so that they were also aware of what was expected of them such as: (a) meeting with the student once a week for one hour of supervision; (b) providing orientation and ongoing training; (c) providing feedback to the student; and (d) identifying resources that the student will need to be successful during the experience (e.g., personnel, facilities, equipment, and financial and insurance needs).

Although we required our graduate students to create the document, we encourage supervisors to be contributors. Supervisors could create a list of specific expectations they want to be on the contract before meeting with their graduate students. Being prepared ahead of time will assist supervisors to articulate the roles and responsibilities not only of graduate students but also of themselves.

Most importantly, it is our hope that the contract represents what graduate students hope to contribute and achieve during their supervised experience. Knowing graduate students’ dreams, goals, and ambitions will help faculty/site supervisors to be more intentional in designing the assistantship/internship experience by matching and/or creating opportunities that will allow graduate students to reach and achieve those initiatives. Reviewing and updating the contract throughout the academic year will also be important for supervisors and students to stay on task and make sure that goals are being met.

Understanding the roles of each person
From teaching graduate students involved in an assistantship/internship experience, we have learned how important it is for graduate students and supervisors to understand each other holistically. Graduate students bring much strength to the internship setting such as their skills, experience, and a fresh perspective. Given their role as graduate students, they also bring a wealth of knowledge from the courses they have recently taken or are currently taking (e.g, theories, crisis intervention, multicultural counseling, and administration in higher education). In addition to work and school, graduate students are also balancing their personal lives. We discovered that when faculty/site supervisors understood that their graduate students were balancing many life roles, they had a much greater level of empathy, understanding, and realization of how their student intern’s strengths could be best utilized and stretched. In addition, when the supervisor understood what courses graduate students have taken or were taken, they were better able to have discussions about how real-world work situations connected with their coursework.

While working and communicating with faculty/site supervisors, we found a reoccurring theme of faculty/site supervisors not giving themselves enough credit of the incredible role that they can have on their graduate students professional and personal lives. In other words, the vehicle of students’ learning and development often occurs through a positive working relationship with their supervisor. The importance of the supervisory relationship in students/clients’ development has been supported by several scholars, including Loganbill, Hardy, and Delworth’s (1982) developmental model of supervision. As most solid relationships require an investment of time, it is most often during 1:1 weekly supervision meetings when a supervisory relationship will blossom while supervisors take the time to teach, actively listen, and genuinely care for their graduate students.

Supervisors are not only professionals who provide orientation and training to their students, they are also educators and developmental mentors (Janosik et al., 2014).
We created two handouts to help faculty/site supervisors become the best educators and developmental mentors they can be. The first document we created was a live supervision form where supervisors are to (a) observe and/or listen to their student during a “live” encounter that their student has at their internship and (b) document and provide feedback to the student about that event/experience. We had our faculty/site supervisors do this six times throughout the academic year. We saw how impactful those live supervisions were both to faculty/site supervisors and graduate students in sharing or receiving important feedback, developing goals, and developing their relationship.

The second handout we created was a journal entry handout that graduate students were to fill out weekly and share with their faculty/site supervisors occasionally. Students were to write down a recent event while outlining a description of it as well as their thoughts, feelings, and plans for action because of the event. This handout was a very effective tool for teaching graduate students a way in which they can become reflective practitioners.

Assisting students in achieving life-school-work balance
When discussing the roles of the assistantship/internship experience, we mentioned the importance for supervisors to holistically mentor and educate graduate students. When teaching and working with graduate students, faculty/student affairs professionals may think of students holistically but often think of their primary identity as “graduate students” or “graduate interns” depending upon their role as faculty or student affairs professionals. We encourage supervisors to view graduate students in a balanced triadic order of life-school-work balance. We encourage supervisors to think of “life” at the top of the triangle with “school” and “work” balanced at the bottom two corners of the triangle. In this article we have addressed the school and work items, and now we want to emphasize the importance of the lives or personal needs of graduate students. When considering the personal identity of graduate students, we encourage supervisors to think of graduate students’ well being, which includes their health, happiness, and prosperity.

In our years of working with faculty/site supervisors, we discovered those who were most effective were the supervisors who cared about students as people first and as employees/students second. Contrary to this, those supervisors who lacked a genuine interest or care about the satisfactory condition of their graduate students seemed to have more conflict in their work settings, and oftentimes their graduate students lacked a sense of belonging to their office. We encourage faculty/site supervisors to engage in appropriate conversations with their graduate students to get to know them as human beings. One way supervisors can do this is by asking their graduate students about their goals and aspirations, which will begin a dialogue that will often lead to a healthy and lasting relationship. As graduate students come to understand their supervisor’s care and investment for their lives, they will be even more eager to learn from them and receive their mentorship.

Scholars have concluded that a successful assistantship/internship experience is most often one that is intentional in its design (Bruening, Peachey, Evanovich, Fuller, Murty, Percy, & Chung, 2015). With the constant pace and complexity of changes occurring at higher education institutions graduate students are needing to be more prepared than ever to manage more ambiguous contexts in environments demanding a greater degree of responsiveness (Levine & Dean, 2012; Selingo, 2013). In order to best prepare graduate students for these changes as they transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs, we recommend faculty/site supervisors to be strategic in their supervision approach. It is our sincere hope that our five component supervisory model will provide faculty/site supervisors with a road map of attitudes, strategies, and practical ideas that they can implement to maximize graduate student success.

Discussion Questions
1. How might you apply some of the concepts addressed in this article to your current supervision style?
2. What expectations do you have for the graduate students whom you supervise? How and when have you communicated those expectations to them?
3. What role has assessment had in the development of expectations for the assistantship/internship experience?
4. How can you help graduate students put their goals into practice as they transition to work in the field of college student affairs?
5. How can you assist graduate students in achieving life-school-work balance?

ACPA & NASPA. (2010). Professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from
Bruening, J. E., Peachey, J. W., Evanovich, J. M., Fuller, R. D., Murty, C. J. C., Percy, V. E., & Chung, M. (2015). Managing sport for social change: The effects of intentional design and structure in a sport-based service learning initiative. Sport Management Review, 18(1), 69-85.
Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS).
(2012). CAS
professional standards for higher education (8th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Janosik, S. M., Cooper, D. L., Saunders, S. A., & Hirt, J. B. (2014).
Learning through supervised practice in student affairs (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.
Levine, A., & Dean, D. (2012). Generation on a tight rope: A portrait of
today’s college student. San Francisco: CA: Jossey Bass.
Loganbill, C., Hardy, E. and Delworth, U. (1982). Supervision, a
conceptual model. The Counseling Psychologist, 10(1), 3-42.
McEwen, M. L., & Talbot, D.M. (1977). Designing the student affairs curriculum. In N. J. Evans & C. E. Phelps-Tobin (Eds.), The state of the art of preparation and practice in student affairs: Another look (pp. 125-156). Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Reber, A. S. (1993). Implicit learning and tactic knowledge: An essay on the cognitive unconscious. Oxford Psychological Series, No. 19. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Selingo, J. J. (2013). College unbound: The future of higher education
and what it means for students. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt.
Sheckley, B. G., & Keeton, M. T. (2001). Improving employee development: Perspectives from research and practice. Chicago, IL: Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.
Steiner, G. A. (2010). Strategic planning. London: Simon and Schuster.

Zimmerman, B. J., & Kitsantas, A. (1997). Developmental phases in self-
regulation: Shifting from process goals to outcome goals. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(1), 29.

About the Authors
Katelyn Romsa, Assistant Professor of Counseling and Human Development at South Dakota State University, has nine years of higher education experience in both practitioner and scholarly roles. Katelyn’s research interests include the evolution of student-faculty interactions, what matters to millennial college students, preparing graduate students for success, and initiatives to improve student retention and satisfaction.

Bryan Romsa, Assistant Professor of Sport Management at South Dakota State University, has been working as a college professor for the last seven years. Bryan’s research interests include cultural learning through a sport tourism experience, students’ perceptions of leadership behaviors through service learning, and preparing graduate students for success. Both Katelyn and Bryan have taught practicum and internship courses to graduate students pursuing a master’s degree in College Student Affairs or Sport Management. Katelyn and Bryan have created several handouts aligned with the five components of the supervisory model.

Please email inquiries to Katelyn Romsa or Bryan Romsa.

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

Contemplating the Rainbow Lotus of Ethical Competency


Contemplating the Rainbow Lotus of Ethical Competency
Jonathan O’Brien, California State University Long Beach

Since January 2016, I have had the pleasure of co-chairing an ACPA/NASPA Joint Task Force, comprised of an amazing group of educators, charged with revising and expanding a set of rubrics aligned with the new professional competency areas (ACPA & NASPA, 2015). These will be helpful tools for individual self-assessment, professional development frameworks, and conference planning.

In one meeting, our discussion turned to how individual competencies tend to intersect as one’s experience increases. Granted, years of experience do not correlate precisely to increases in professional competency, but common sense says there’s a close connection. Actually, this was explained in the introduction to the revised competencies (ACPA & NASPA, 2015, p. 9) and accompanied by a Venn-diagram of ten ovals exploding outward from a center point like individual petals on a giant, psychedelic flower. I started (affectionately) calling this figure the rainbow lotus.

Someone suggested we should color code the rubrics to show how competencies intersect, like they do in the rainbow lotus. Good idea we thought, but the intersections are so subjective and too complicated to explain without some tricky, 3-D printing. Even so, as a faculty member in a preparation program, I remained interested in understanding how competencies intersect as experience increases. The idea seems obvious on its face; yet, it’s unclear what “higher order synthesis and complexity” (p. 9) looks like in practice. Knowing more about these intersections could help educators to design authentic approaches to teaching competencies in professional development, supervision, and graduate curricula.

Ethical Competency is Fundamental
Since this is a column about ethics, I consider here how the other competency areas intersect with the Personal and Ethical Foundations (PEF), which involves the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to develop and maintain integrity in one’s life and work; this includes thoughtful development, critique, and adherence to a holistic and comprehensive standard of ethics and commitment to one’s own wellness and growth. Personal and ethical foundations are aligned because integrity has an internal locus informed by a combination of external ethical guidelines, an internal voice of care, and our own lived experiences. Our personal and ethical foundations grow through a process of curiosity, reflection, and self-authorship. (ACPA/NASPA, 2015, p. 12)

I have already expressed concerns about the present version of this competency (O’Brien, 2016), so here I turn to reviving the idea that ethics is “an integral component of all the competency areas” (ACPA & NASPA, 2010, p. 12), despite the absence of this phrase in the revision. In a field like student affairs, without licensure or credentialing, it’s critical that we consistently emphasize a professional’s moral responsibility to know, internalize, and exhibit competencies and ethical standards. To belabor the metaphor, ethics is the stem that supports the rainbow lotus, not the mere petal it presently occupies.

Ethical Intersections in Practice
To pursue my interest in this idea, I had two goals: (1) to know more about how PEF intersected with the other nine competency areas, and (2) to identify any patterns in the intersections related to developmental level.

To do this, I used existing qualitative data I collected for an on-going study. The sample is a diverse group of Student Affairs professionals (n=49) representing a variety of institutions, job functions, and positions. Each was asked to share a recent incident that exemplified their best practice in a professional situation. I decided to use their years of professional experience as a proxy for developmental level: foundational, 0-5 years; intermediate, 6-14 years; and, advanced, 15 or more years. I know that time in the field isn’t the only factor that impacts one’s competency; but, for this purpose, it seems to be a reasonable indicator.

A research assistant and I individually coded each incident multiple times, guided by definitions of the competency areas (ACPA & NASPA, 2015). After reconciling our coding, we categorized incidents by participants’ years of experience. Finally, we sorted them into one of four categories that we discovered using inductive analysis procedures: influence & authority, diversity issues, misconduct, and student crisis. I present these and other observations below.

The table below displays competency areas intersecting with PEF the most, listed by incident categories, in ascending order of the predominant experience level(s) of participants in the category. Although PEF intersected with all ten competency areas, three did not make this list: Assessment, Evaluation and Research (AER), Technology (TECH), and Values, Philosophy and History (VPH). I’ll discuss these after I exhibit the competency intersections data.

Incident Category & Experience Level Competencies Intersecting with Personal & Ethical Foundations (PEF) Influence & authority Foundational · Leadership (LEAD) · Law, Policy & Governance (LPG) · Organization & Human Resources (OHR) Diversity issues Intermediate · Social Justice & Inclusion (SJI) · Organization & Human Resources (OHR) · Student Learning & Development (SLD) Misconduct Intermediate Advanced · Law, Policy & Governance (LPG) · Organization & Human Resources (OHR) Student crisis Advanced · Advising & Supporting (AS) · Law, Policy & Governance (LPG) · Student Learning & Development (SLD) · Social Justice & Inclusion (SJI)

Each incident category represented a point of intersection among PEF and a cluster of other competencies. I also found that foundational and advanced level participants dominated two categories more than others. Specifically, foundational participants disproportionately reported incidents in the influence & authority category, as did advanced participants in the student crisis category. Data from all four categories are presented below.

Influence and Authority
These incidents (n=24) involved becoming a skilled manager, making difficult decisions, and doing the right thing. Foundational participants were over-represented in this category in which LEAD was the core competency, supported by LPG and OHR. For example, Britt, a recent graduate and new Hall Director, objected to a policy requiring her to “store illegal drugs in my office safe until the disciplinary hearing.” She recalled when she voiced her objection:
My boss is so intimidating and I was very quiet in meetings. I finally brought it up and she was so offended. She shouted, ‘Listen, I have already told you what you’re doing. You need to stop!’ She just shut me down.

Other incidents in this category involved participants at intermediate and advanced levels exerting authority and advancing their positions amid opposition from colleagues.

Diversity Issues
These incidents (n=9) included managing diverse workplaces and supporting the needs of a diverse student body. SJI was the primary competency, but OHR was evident in incidents involving professional staff and SLD was only salient when students were the focus. The category was dominated by intermediate level participants, followed by advanced and foundational. Carlos, founding director of his campus’ LGBTQ center, “felt stabbed in the back” when students
used social media to bad-mouth me for ignoring trans issues. I’m a one-person office with limited resources, so this attack hit me really hard. I’d advocated on their behalf to administration in the past and they totally ignored that.
In other incidents, participants intervened in hiring decisions to diversify their staff, responded to bias incidents, and supported the actions of student protesters.

These incidents (n=26) involved responding to inappropriate behavior of students and colleagues. Participants were typically advanced, some were intermediate, and only one was foundational. LPG and OHR were strongly connected in this category. Yesenia was conflicted about how to respond to a staff member who was intimidating others with a voodoo doll on his desk:

I was trying to be respectful of his beliefs but, at the same time, be a good manager and address a toxic work environment. The doll has a religious affiliation, so that was my primary concern; but it is still an item that represents violence and hate.

Other participants in this category responded to unethical supervisors and disruptive behavior or bullying by students or colleagues.

Student Crisis
These incidents (n=15) included rapid response, case management or altering protocols to support a student. A&S was central to this category, supported closely by LPG, SLD, and SJI. Advanced participants were most likely to report these incidents and none were reported by entry-level participants. For example, when Veneshia was the first person to encounter a freshman who was “beaten and disowned” for coming out as gay, she explained

I immediately contacted our student advocacy department to set him up with services. I also knew the director of financial aid, so I contacted her to arrange for some help from our LGBT alumni scholarship fund. I also fast-tracked his application for the African American themed [residence hall] so he had a place to stay.

Incidents in this category also included creative interpretation of policy and hearing students’ petitions for special consideration or appeals to disciplinary actions.

PEF Interactions with Other Competencies
So, what about AER, TECH, and VPH? Despite their limited intersections with PEF, there is no doubt that professionalism demands that we handle data and use technology ethically and recognize how the values and history of student affairs impact our work. I have some thoughts.

AER and TECH were reported in few incidents (n=2), when research was used to justify controversial budget or reorganization decisions. The scarcity of observations may be attributed to data collection. Typical incident narratives were about intense, personal struggles or deeply moving interpersonal interactions. It’s possible that stories about ethical use of technology or responsible data management were not memorable or compelling enough for participants to share in an interview setting. If asked directly about these instrumental competencies, it is likely participants would have had something to say.

Intersections between PEF and VPH were often hidden in plain sight. Specifically, most participants were reconciling their personal beliefs and goals (PEF; LEAD) with institutional goals and regulations (OHR; LPG). Many had advanced in their career to a point where principles of student affairs (VPH) had become so internalized that they did not distinguish between their values and those of the profession. Entry-level participants felt pressure to downplay the values and ideals they were taught; as one participant said, “I was unlearning everything I learned in grad school. You learn how to do everything right and then you start [working at] your institution and you learn how to do everything their way.” From my perspective as researcher, participants’ actions (at least implicitly) mirrored traditions and values of the profession, but it was unclear if they were motivated by VPH, their moral convictions, or both. I could have asked them directly.

My first goal was to know which competency areas intersected with PEF the most. Here’s what I found:

  • LPG and OHR intersected with PEF most often. At least one of these two was observed in each incident category and across all experience levels.
  • Other intersections with PEF were context-specific. For example, SLD only surfaced when students were the focus. Likewise, SJI was prominent in diversity issues and in student crises, when participants advocated for vulnerable or troubled students.

My second goal was to see if years of experience had any influence on how PEF intersected with other competencies.

  • LEAD was central to establishing authority at the foundational level. In their first years on the job, participants were striving to do the right thing, assert their views, and adapt to the ethical culture of a new institution.
  • Competence was widely dispersed at the intermediate level. Participants were fully immersed in their careers and capable of synthesizing new knowledge with multiple skills to perform their duties in response to a variety of incidents.
  • A&S was central to helping students in crisis at the advanced level. Seasoned professionals actively intervened to reduce harm and tapped into their robust support networks to benefit students.

These points suggest that, at all experience levels, the core of ethical competency in student affairs is working with people and organizations, creating and interpreting policies, and fulfilling obligations as a member of an institution (PEF; LPG; OHR). Beyond this, context and developmental level determines the particular intersections of instrumental (TECH; AER), interpersonal (A&S; LEAD; SJI), and specialized knowledge (SLD; VPH) competencies needed to respond effectively.

The results suggest new avenues for educators and supervisors who wish to build ethical capacity in student affairs preparation program candidates and staff members. Here are some recommendations:

  • Assess ethical intersections and identify areas for development. Rubrics can help to identify ethical intersections among your advanced level competencies. Use your knowledge of these complex strengths to stimulate ethical development of other, foundational and intermediate level competencies.
  • Be explicit about ethical uses of technology. Few participants mentioned this new competency area; nonetheless, ethical use of technology (e.g., access, security, confidentiality, appropriate boundaries, etc.) is a critical proficiency that requires sustained attention and continuous learning.
  • Reflect on the relationship between personal and professional values. Many of the abstract concepts and history learned in graduate school remain relevant. Consider how your ethical foundations align with the customs and ideals that you value most about our field. Be a role model for new professionals and colleagues.

Discussion Questions
Building on the findings and implications reported above, I conclude with questions for further learning and application.

  • Where would you position ethical competency relative to the other nine competencies and various responsibilities of student affairs professionals? Why?
  • Recall a recent incident in which you faced an ethical dilemma or difficult challenge. Which competencies came together in this situation? How and why?
  • What is your understanding of the values, philosophy, and history of student affairs? How do they align with your personal ethics and beliefs? How do they differ?


  • ACPA – College Student Educators International & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (2015). Professional competency areas for Student Affairs educators. Washington, DC: Author.
  • ACPA – College Student Educators Interantional & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (2010). Professional competency areas for Student Affairs practitioners. Washington, DC: Author.
  • O’Brien, J. (2016). Ethical perspectives on the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies. Developments, 13(4), 39-43.

About the Author
Jonathan O’Brien is assistant professor of educational leadership and coordinator of the Student Development in Higher Education master’s program at California State University, Long Beach. He teaches law and ethics and qualitative research methods. Jonathan has worked at public and private universities in Missouri, Kentucky, and California. His consulting and scholarship focus on assisting students in personal crisis and promoting professional conduct in student affairs practice.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jonathan O’Brien.

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

Autism, Inclusion, and Communication in Higher Education


Autism, Inclusion, and Communication in Higher Education
Beth Brennan
Edlyn Peña
California Lutheran University

The number of students identified with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in schools and colleges is steadily climbing. Currently, prevalence of ASD in the United States is estimated at 1 in 68 students (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Since the implementation of the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that set the groundwork for inclusion of students with disabilities into K-12 community schools in the United States, the number of students with ASD who have been included in general education curricula throughout their schooling has steadily risen (Kurth, 2015). Kindergarten-12th grade school districts across the country recognize that inclusion for students with disabilities is based not only on legislation but also on a culture of social justice and research which points to benefits for all students (Kalambouka, Farrell, Dyson, & Kaplan, 2007). As a result of these changes, access to supports from early intervention services for very young children with ASD all the way up through high school has meant that “a greater number of these young people are prepared and interested in attending university” (VanBergeijk, Klin, & Volkmar, 2008, p. 1362). Students with ASD who have been included in their community elementary and high schools are now gaining access to post-secondary environments, desiring to have equitable educational opportunities in higher education and to develop into independent and contributing members of society.

Student affairs professionals must become equipped, both in knowledge and practice, to support the growing population of college students with ASD. Today, close to one-third of high school completers with ASD gain access to college (Roux et al., 2015). Nearly 80% of four-year public institutions enrolled students with ASD in the 2008-2009 academic year (Raue & Lewis, 2011), a rate that has likely increased in the last eight years. While these numbers reflect progress in increasing access for this historically marginalized student population, students with ASD experience unique needs and challenges. For instance, research suggests that college students with ASD are at high risk of being disengaged from postsecondary education (Pinder-Amaker, 2014; Shattuck, Narendorf, Cooper, Sterzing, Wagner, & Taylor, 2012), often failing or dropping out due to “sensory, social, learning styles and organizational challenges combined with fatigue” (United States Autism and Asperger Association, 2013, para. 1). Therefore, the importance for student affairs professionals to have an awareness and acceptance of the needs of students with ASD has never been more critical.

While most students with ASD use traditional speech to communicate, estimates indicate that up to 40 percent of students with autism are minimally or non-speaking (National Autism Association, 2016). Current statistics show that while intervention can certainly improve speech capability for students with autism, 70% of students with ASD who are non-speaking develop production of words while only 30% gain phrased speech (National Institutes of Health, 2010). Those students have faced heightened challenges in finding their voice in general education settings. It is critical for student affairs professionals to understand that not being able to communicate through spoken word is not an indicator of cognitive ability. Motivated by the premise that all individuals have a desire and basic right to communicate, student affairs professionals will want to explore ways to include and support students who use alternative means to communicate. While basic rights for all students with disabilities are covered under the law — Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or the Workforce Investment Act (504), and Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) — training for student affairs professionals must extend way beyond basic law in order to provide effective support for students who are minimally or non-speaking.

Supports and Services
Supporting the needs of students with ASD who use alternative means of communication becomes not only a requirement but also a positive focus for campuses that embrace a diverse student population. This begs the question: how does that focus play out in higher education supports and services for student affairs professionals? To help answer that question, we highlight the story of one college student who uses typing to communicate. Samuel Capozzi is currently a freshman at California State University Channel Islands (CI). Samuel did not have a reliable means of communication prior to the middle of his high school trajectory. At that point, Samuel was reading books for younger children and was doing simple math. He describes how, prior to becoming “a typer”, he learned incidentally through his environment and interactions with others. Once he was exposed to typing, Samuel decided to stay in high school an extra year to earn his diploma. The extra time that he spent was filled with accomplishments. Samuel took the National Latin Exam and graduated with honors. He was able to do these things through grit and determination. But he also had a very supportive school community. Samuel describes his experiences at CI this way:

As I understand it, I am CI’s first non-speaking, non-writing student. I simply can’t say enough about Disability Resource Programs at CI. I am truly embraced, and my presence is celebrated on campus. It’s a nice change! What inspires me most is my professors’ delighted responses and even shocked responses when they hear my cogent answers and read my strong essays. I hope to pioneer a path for other students who communicate differently that may come after me. Knowing this helps me forge on when I become overwhelmed! (Capozzi, 2016).

We invited Samuel to speak to over 350 educators, students, and families at the Spectrum of Opportunity: Autism, Inclusion and Communication Conference at California Lutheran University in March, 2016. This conference provided information on supporting students who use typing or letter boards to communicate. Samuel spoke to the social, academic and communication needs of a minimally speaking student with ASD in a university setting. The audience, including student affairs professionals, learned about the supports that were most helpful to Samuel in his university experience.

Campus Initiatives
There are four basic campus-wide initiatives that can set the stage for students who are minimally or non-speaking, like Samuel, to have a successful experience and make those campuses more desirable to all students when choosing a college. These involve initiatives that support a culture of acceptance, foster a culture of diversity, promote a culture of inclusion and focus on the consideration of practical realities.

Support a culture of acceptance
The most basic premise in acceptance of students who are autistic, including those who are minimally or non-speaking, into the campus community is to presume competence in their academic abilities. Lacking the ability to communicate verbally does not correlate with cognitive ability. Nor does it indicate a person’s desire to communicate. Presuming competence in enrolled students with ASD is the first step toward student success. In order to be a truly inclusive campus community, colleges and universities need to support the entire campus community in both learning about autism and increasing a culture of acceptance. As with any transformational change to an organization, sustainable change needs to involve the whole system. Myers, Ladner, and Koger (2011) argue that “current educational practices both alienate students with autism from their neurotypical peers and compel students to hide their autistic traits” (p. 517). A close examination of both formal and informal practices and traditions on campus will reveal weak points in developing a true culture of acceptance. And any proposed practices should not focus solely on the student with ASD adapting to the environment but on adjusting the environment and perceptions of student affairs professionals to the student.

Foster a culture of diversity
All campus conversations about diversity should include disability in that conversation. “As colleges and universities encourage increased diversity in their students and faculty, this is yet another aspect of diversity that must be considered” (Ashby & Causton-Theoharis, 2012, p. 277). Some have argued that not only is disability missing from conversations and initiatives surrounding diversity but that “disability seems harder for people without disabilities to celebrate and see as empowering” (Davis, 2011, para. 6). Autism is a form of diversity. We can look at a student with autism as someone who may learn differently, socialize differently, move differently and/or communicate differently. To truly embrace diversity, a campus must include a spectrum of diversity that includes autism rather than be limited to focus on one type of diversity (e.g.. race, religion). Campus culture that is high in acceptance of all forms of diversity will better support students with ASD including those who are minimally or non-speaking. This more comprehensive view of diversity builds stronger learning communities. Acceptance of diversity that is inclusive of disability will create learning communities that are more welcoming and willing to adapt for students with ASD who are minimally or non-speaking.

Promote a culture of inclusion
Inclusion is not a program. It is what happens when there is a culture of acceptance and diversity. It is a welcoming of contributions that students with autism who are minimally or non-speaking can make in the classroom and campus environment. It is membership in the campus community. It is also a ‘willingness to know’ on the part of student affairs professionals. Student support needs must be specific to the individual student’s challenges. The willingness to get to know a student can validate and affirm the student’s place in the campus community and will help the student affairs professional to design individual plans for support. This also naturally leads to greater retention and student success. In addition, knowledge about the attitudes and perceptions of neurotypical peers toward students with ASD can support the development of appropriate services and support programs (Matthews, Ly, & Goldberg, 2015).

Consider practical realities
Student affairs professionals must also think through the practical realities to support students with complex communication challenges on a daily basis. Particularly when minimally or non-speaking students with autism first transition into the college environment, they will more likely require higher levels of parent involvement in the transition process than is common for typical college students. Student affairs professionals can work with the campus disability office to make sure that all conditions for FERPA are being met if and when parents initiate communication. In addition, minimally or non-speaking students are generally accompanied by a communication partner. The communication partner assists the student with interacting and responding to others inside and outside of the classroom—typically via a speech generating device or letter board. The communication partner is akin to an American Sign Language interpreter for the deaf and hard of hearing. Always speak directly to the student, allowing him/her/hir/their time to respond while they point to letters or icons to construct their comments and responses. Student affairs should continue to work collaboratively with the campus disability office to maintain a supportive and responsive campus experience that involves the student with autism in meaningful ways.

Closing Thoughts
Although it is acknowledged that experiences of students with autism at the post-secondary level have been understudied, student affairs professionals can cultivate knowledge and practices to frame a supportive culture. Research indicates that strong higher education supports have significantly increased enrollment of students with autism in postsecondary education. And that is good news for our communities. Students with ASD bring to the table many qualities that positively benefit the higher education environment. Student affairs professionals may be the best people to highlight those contributions because they are recognized as a good place to start in setting inclusive campus climate.
Of all the constituencies on college campuses, student affairs, by virtue of its historical commitment to differences and the espoused values of the profession, has assumed leadership for creating learning environment that are inclusive, diverse and affirming. In doing so, values of human dignity, equality, and community serve as an appropriate framework for working with students. (Hall & Belch, 2000, p. 9)
When those values are extended to students with autism including those who are minimally or non-speaking, student affairs professionals will model for others the kind of welcoming campuses that make up vibrant learning communities. As Samuel Capozzi (2015) states, we want “to move from mere awareness to appreciation for the unique gifts and abilities of those on the autism spectrum” (para. 3).

Reflection Questions:

1) In your role, what professional development do you think that you would need to be able to support a student with ASD who types to communicate?
2) Based on your personal life experience, what assumptions or perspectives do you bring with you that might be a barrier to working with a student with ASD and what can you do to overcome those barriers?
3) What could your institution do to be more inclusive and accepting of students with ASD?
4) What collaborations and networks with programs or individuals might you develop or strengthen to support minimally or non-speaking students with ASD?


  • Ashby, C. E., & Causton-Theoharis, J. (2012). “Moving quietly through the door of opportunity”:
    Perspectives of college students who type to communicate. Equity & Excellence in
    Education, 45(2), 261-282. doi:10.1080/10665684.2012.666939
  • Capozzi, S. (2016, March 19).  Words from a college student with autism [Web log post].  Retrieved from
  • Capozzi, S. (2015). Acceptance Speech to the Ventura County Autism Society. Retrieved from
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, March 31). Retrieved from
  • Davis, L. J. (2011). Why is disability missing from the discourse on diversity? Chronicle of Higher Education, 58(6), B38-B40. Retrieved from
  • Hall, L., & Belch, H. (2000). Setting the context: Reconsidering the principles of full participation and meaningful access for students with disabilities. In H. A. Belch (Ed.), Serving students with disabilities, No. 91(1). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Kalambouka, A., Farrell, P., Dyson, A., & Kaplan, I. (2007). The impact of placing pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schools on the achievement of their peers. Educational Research, 49(4), 365-382. doi:10.1080/00131880701717222
  • Kurth, J. A. (2015). Educational placement of students with autism. Focus On Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities, 30(4), 249-256. doi:10.1177/1088357614547891
  • Matthews, N., Ly, A., & Goldberg, W. (2015). College students’ perceptions of peers with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 45(1), 90-99. doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2195-6
  • Myers, J., Ladner, J., & Koger, S. (2011). More than a passing grade: fostering positive psychological outcomes for mainstreamed students with autism. Journal of Developmental & Physical Disabilities, 23(6), 515-526. doi:10.1007/s10882-011-9242-4
  • National Autism Association. (2016). Retrieved from
  • National Institutes of Health (2010). Workshop on nonverbal school-aged children with autism. Retrieved from
  • Pinder-Amaker, S. (2014). Identifying the unmet needs of college students on the autism spectrum. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 22(2), 125-137.
  • Raue, K., & Lewis, L. (2011). Students with disabilities at degree-granting postsecondary institutions: First look. NCES 2011-018. National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from
  • Roux, A. M., Shattuck, P. T., Rast, J. E., Rava, J. A., Edwards, A. D., Wei, X., McCracken, M. & Yu, J. W. (2015). Characteristics of two-year college students on the autism spectrum and their support services experiences. Autism Research & Treatment, 1-10. doi:10.1155/2015/391693
  • Shattuck, P., Narendorf, S. C., Cooper, B., Sterzing, P. R., Wagner, & M., Taylor, J. (2012). Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics, 129(6): 1-8.
  • United States Autism and Asperger Association. (2013). About US college autism project (USCAP). Retrieved from
  • VanBergeijk, E., Klin, A., & Volkmar, F. (2008). Supporting more able students on the autism spectrum: College and beyond. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 38(7), 1359-1370. doi:10.1007/s10803-007-0524-8

About the Authors
Beth Brennan earned her Ph.D. in Special Education in 1997 from Kent State University. Dr. Brennan joined the California Lutheran University faculty in 2011 as an Associate Professor. She currently serves as Associate Dean and Director of Special Education Programs in the Graduate School of Education. Dr. Brennan has worked in supervision and research at Family Child Learning Center in Ohio (a collaborative of Kent State University and Akron Children’s Hospital), as a site coordinator (San Francisco State University) with the Early Childhood Research Institute on Inclusion, and as the Special Education Program Director at Saint Mary’s College of California. Dr. Brennan is a Founding Co-Director of the Autism and Communication Center at California Lutheran University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Beth Brennan.

Edlyn Peña earned her Ph.D. in Education with a concentration in Higher Education in 2007 from the University of Southern California (USC).  After teaching graduate level courses at USC for several years, Dr. Peña joined the California Lutheran University (CLU) faculty in 2009. As an Associate Professor in Higher Education Leadership at CLU, her research currently focuses on social justice issues for students with disabilities, particularly autism, in the preschool through higher education pipeline. Dr. Peña is a Founding Co-Director of the Autism and Communication Center at California Lutheran University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Edlyn Peña.

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

Accreditation: Learning through a Participatory Process


Accreditation: Learning through a Participatory Process
Keith E. Davidson Jr., Indiana University of Pennsylvania

The Commission for Assessment and Evaluation (CAE) is pleased to sponsor this “Views of Assessment” series. Focusing on the experiences of student affairs educators working with assessment, the series highlights reflections from practitioners at different levels in their careers – graduate student, new professional, mid-level, and senior student affairs officer (SSAO). Each article offers rich narratives, personal experiences, and professional examples, as well as instructive wisdom and advice related to assessment practices and implementation. The first article in the series is from Keith Davidson about his experience with the accreditation process at the university level. Writing with candor, Keith’s insights are valuable for professionals wanting to understand more about the assessment process and how they can get involved.

Once every ten years institutions of higher education are asked to embark upon a journey of self-exploration as part of the regional accreditation process. This process generally involves conducting thorough research of the institution to develop a comprehensive self-study document outlining how the institution is in compliance with the accreditor’s standards. In addition, a team of external reviewers also evaluates the institution during an intensive site visit to make their determination as to whether the institution is in compliance. As accreditation is directly tied to an institution’s ability to offer federal financial aid, many in higher education have distaste for the process. As a result, few employees elect to understand the benefits of performing the accreditation process and fewer yet choose to get involved.

According to Racine (n.d.), the development of a self study is “a collaborative and participatory process” (p. 109). In my experience as a graduate assistant working directly with accreditation, Racine’s statement is accurate; however, I think it is more applicable to say the entire process is collaborative and participatory. Unfortunately, the ten-year accreditation cycle and its negative connotation means many graduate students, new professionals, and even mid-level managers may not even know what it is or have an opportunity to get involved until late in their careers. In this next section, I will briefly explain accreditation and share some of my experiences with accreditation as a graduate student to emphasize the learning opportunity this process can provide for those at any level of their student affairs career.

What is Accreditation?
Accreditation as a general term can refer to two different processes by which institutions and programs receive a seal of approval from an external agency. The first form of accreditation, called specialized accreditation, refers specifically to an agency which reviews specific programs, typically academic programs, and provides them with some form of recognition for meeting the agency’s standard (CHEA, 2002). While specialized accreditation is more commonly the realm of academic affairs, regional accreditation impacts the entire institution and is the form of accreditation that will be discussed from this point forward. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA, 2002) defined regional accreditation as a process in which institutions undergo a critical self-assessment and external peer review in order to ensure quality control and assurance. While this definition seems straightforward, it is much more complicated in practice as there are six regional accreditors, each with their own standards and procedures for how to conduct the process.

While each regional accreditor has its own process, there are some aspects of accreditation that are common among them all. For starters, accreditation is a process that occurs in full every ten years with follow-up reports typically around the five-year mark. As a part of the process, institutions must develop a critical self-assessment document that, at minimum, addresses the agencies’ standards of accreditation. A second part of the process includes providing evidence to the agency that the institution is in compliance with all accreditation-relevant federal regulations (MSCHE, 2015). Following the completion of these two areas the agency will select a team of 8-12 peer reviewers to conduct a site visit and review of the institution’s self-study document. The review team will then deliver a report to the regional accreditor who will make a decision regarding the institution’s status with the agency that may include requirements to develop follow-up reports or include subsequent team visits.

In my experience, one of the biggest questions about accreditation that comes up is, “why should we care?” One of the simplest answers to this question—and the one most often stated by administrators—is failure to meet regional accreditation standards results in the inability of an institution to participate in the federal financial aid system. A better answer is the process allows for institutions to gather evidence that highlights the strengths and weaknesses of both institutional and departmental level missions and goals. The analysis of weaknesses is perhaps the most important part of the process as the self study is also the place to put forward recommendations for future improvements. The process can also be an opportunity to develop an institutional culture of assessment and continual improvement if one does not already exist. Accreditation is not meant to be a one-time event that appeases accreditors; rather, it is meant to develop goals for which the institution will be held accountable for over the next ten years.

An institution’s self study document is the most important part of the accreditation process as it represents the institution’s past to the peer review team and starts the process of preparing for the institution’s future. The development of the document should not be an initiative undertaken by the institution’s administration; instead, the document should be created by the collaborative efforts of all members of the institution. Unfortunately, many in higher education are uninformed about accreditation, which leads to them not participating in the process (Wood, 2006).
A comprehensive self-study document is one of the ultimate forms of assessment. To develop the document, a multitude of different data gathering techniques are required such as survey, historical document review, focus groups, interviews, and many more. Given all of the different forms of information collection that are necessary, it should be apparent why individuals from all areas of higher education are needed to participate in the process. Relying on only a finite group of individuals would result in a lack of understanding of the various areas techniques. Furthermore, a diverse group of individuals working on the process increases the likelihood that someone will be an expert on a specific methodology and able to improve data collection in that area.

In my experience, picking the individuals who lead the development of a self study involves more politics than any other institutional initiative. To provide some context for this, consider that most self study documents are developed by a steering committee which generally creates subcommittees to research and write reports on the various standards of accreditation. Now, think about your institution and pick a team of 20 to 30 people from across divisions that would need to be on that committee. My guess is you will find this is not something you can do in five minutes off the top of your head. When it comes down to selecting the steering committee, a lot of factors go into consideration, and that is where politics comes into play. If you work in student affairs, your list would probably include people like the vice president, dean of students, director of housing, and so on; however, appointing 10 people from student affairs and leaving only 10-20 seats left for the other divisions is not providing an equal representation for all campus constituencies.

Decisions have to be made at this level of the process that involve saying the composition of the committee has to be this in order for everyone to be represented fairly. In some cases, one group may need to have more representation than another area because the institution’s mission or values are more heavily centered in that area. This can be where “territory” really starts to come out of employees. For example, not selecting the director of student housing for a spot on the committee may result in someone in that area saying, “My area clearly is not important to the institution.” However, that is not the case. I think the take home message from this section, regardless of position or experience level, is just because your area does not have a direct representative does not mean it is not important. Instead, consider that an appointment to an assessment committee at this level is an appointment to represent a wide campus constituency. Therefore, the three representatives from student affairs who do get appointed to the committee have a duty to represent all areas of student affairs and not just their respective office.

Expanding Your Understanding
While the steering committee may coordinate the accreditation process and the development of the self study, it is often necessary to divide out the work further. Creating subcommittees that are tasked with researching, collecting data, and developing an informed response about one or more of the accrediting agency’s standards generally accomplish this. Similar to the steering committee, the subcommittees often include representatives from various areas of the campus. These committees are often the opportunity for professionals at different levels in their career to get involved. In addition to being an opportunity to represent your office or department, these committees can be an opportunity for an individual to highlight their area of expertise and gain additional institutional knowledge about that area or it can be an opportunity to learn about an entirely new area.

I had the opportunity to work on a subcommittee that was outside of my area of knowledge shortly after starting as a graduate student. The subcommittee I was on covered two different standards that focused on planning, resources, and institutional renewal. Going into the experience during my first semester of graduate school I knew very little about these topics, and the topic of resources meant money in my mind. By the end of the semester, I felt fairly knowledgeable about university monetary resources, but also with the various other resources such as facilities and human. Specifically, with monetary resources, I gained significant knowledge about the limitations put on funding from different sources. For example, I did not realize that funding—at least for my institution—set aside for construction could only be used for that purpose and could not be used to balance out debt in other areas. During subsequent semesters of my graduate program, I was able to utilize the information from the experience to add to classroom discussions and my class assignments. Through this application of the knowledge I was also able to provide my classmates, most of whom worked in more traditional student affairs assistantships, with information about the greater operations of the university.

Institutional Culture of Assessment
In many cases, the subcommittees need to request and analyze assessment data and reports from various offices and departments in order to conduct their research into the standards. For anyone involved on these committees, this can provide a great illustration for the institution’s culture of assessment. According to Henning (2015), a culture of assessment is “a set of pervasive actions and behaviors by staff across an organization, focusing on the use of data in decision making regarding the accountability and improvement of programs and services” (pp. 11-12). Using this definition, subcommittees, which are able to readily find data, reports, and evidence of improvement based on that information, are probably at an assessment positive institution. However, the inability to find this information may be an indication that one of the institution’s weaknesses involves assessment and the emphasis that is placed upon it.

While culture of assessment can be an institutional term, it can also be used to describe divisions, departments, or units (Henning, 2015). While the previous scenario addressed an institutional level culture of assessment, my experiences in my assistantship illustrated more about the culture of assessment within individual offices and departments. Going back to one of my previous topics, politics are also very prevalent in understanding the culture of assessment. For example, no one ever wants to see their department’s issues exposed, and if those topics are brought up as part of a subcommittee’s research the conversations can get pretty heated. In these discussions, it also becomes easy to identify the units that time and time again takes hits to their resources. In many of the cases I observed, programs or offices which were targeted by resource decreases in the past were able to provide more data and evidence of the importance of their programs and how they contribute to student learning outcomes than those programs which where seldom plagued with resource decreases. Essentially, these offices’ prior experience with resource targeting resulted in them recognizing the need to provide tangible evidence of their programs’ success and importance. This in turn led to them developing stronger assessment plans for continual improvement. The establishing of the assessment cycle and use of the data for continual improvement led to a stronger culture of assessment being present within these offices.

Overall, I think the message I took home from this part of my experience was to ingrain assessment into the day-to-day operations of your job. The units I observed which developed a strong culture of assessment from their past experiences did this and as such they were able to provide information that was relevant and useable. They were not conducting assessment processes just for the sake of their annual review or the institution’s accreditation cycle. They were conducting it as a way of improving themselves and defending the outcomes their area has on students.

Role of Student Affairs Professionals
One of my overarching themes throughout this article has been assessment should not be done for the sake of accreditation. Instead, accreditation is a process by which previously gathered information is collected and reviewed in relation to the standards of the accreditor. If anything, the full scale institutional review involved in accreditation should indicate where weaknesses are present, and allow the institution to set goals for addressing those weaknesses over the next ten years.

Accreditation may seem to be too broad to impact the day-to-day operations of student affairs professionals; however, our work is directly connected to the development and learning of our students. As such, it is our responsibility to ensure we connect our work to the accreditation process and ensure our services meet the standards expected by accrediting bodies. The following are my tips for student affairs professionals with regards to accreditation:
· Get involved – Accreditation is a participatory process, but it is only participatory if people choose to get involved. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and participate in the process to show commitment to your institution and develop professionally. Getting involved does not have to be as intense as joining a committee. Simply participating in an interview or providing feedback on the self study document are less time committed processes to introduce you to accreditation.
· Ingrain assessment in your work – Accreditation relies on the knowledge and information that has been collected since the last review cycle. By building assessment into your day-to-day job duties, you not only assist in the accreditation process, but you also help improve your department by collecting data that is used to improve your programs and show the importance of your work.
· Stay informed – Even if you do not get involved in the accreditation process, at least take the time to understand your institution’s process and keep up-to-date on what is being done. Accreditation impacts every single campus constituent, and knowing what is occurring not only benefits you, but also your office and students.

Regional accreditation is potentially one of the most complex processes experienced by faculty, staff, and administrators at institutions of higher education. While it may only occur every ten years, the process of preparing the self study may take as much as three or four years of work. When you add in that an extensive progress report is generally due around year five and requires some preparatory time itself, it becomes apparent that the accreditation cycle never truly ends. Essentially institutions are constantly engaged in accreditation activities and by the nature of the process assessment related ventures. As student affairs professionals, it is imperative to assist institutions in this process by not only conducting assessments, but also using the data to close the loop and improve the performance and value of our areas. Our role is likely to continue to grow in this process as a result of recent calls by the federal government for accreditors to change their processes to improve institutional accountability. Many of these calls for change push for a greater emphasis on return on investment data such as job placement rates, average graduate salary, and percent of graduates pursing graduate education. Other changes already in discussion include requiring greater annual data be submitted to accreditors by institutions, and shortening the ten-year cycle. Regardless of what accreditation’s future holds, the culture of assessment inherent to the process is something to be embraced by student affairs professionals as it can lead to positive impacts for our students.

Discussion Questions
1. Where is my institution currently at in the accreditation cycle? What areas where previously selected for improved during the last review?
2. How does my involvement in the accreditation and associated assessment processes benefit the students I serve?
3. What is the culture of assessment within my office? Division? Institution?
4. How can I help build a culture of assessment within my office, division, and/or institution, and what skills or resources would I need to do this?


  • Council for Higher Education Accreditation (2002). The fundamentals of accreditation: What do you need to know? Retrieved from
  • Henning, G. W. (2015). Tenet two: Cultivating a culture of assessment. In K. K. Yousey-Elsener, E. M. Bentrim, & G. W. Henning (Eds.), A practical guide: Coordinating student affairs divisional assessment (pp. 11-34). Sterling, VA: Stylus.
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (2015). Verification of compliance with accreditation-relevant federal regulations: Implementation for 2016. Philadelphia, PA: Author.
  • Racine, M. B. (n.d.). Writing a self study report. In Institutional development: Added value through program assessment (Sec. 1.5.1, pp. 107-110). Plainfield, IL: Pacific Crest Faculty Development Series.
  • Wood, A. L. (2006). Demystifying accreditation: Action plans for a national or regional accreditation. Innovative Higher Education, 31, 43-62.

About the Author
Keith E. Davidson Jr. is currently in his first year as an Academic Counselor at Frostburg State University. He is a May 2016 graduate from Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s (IUP) Master of Arts program in Student Affairs in Higher Education. During his time at IUP, he was the graduate assistant for the Office of the Provost’s Associate for Academic Programs and Planning and spent a considerable amount of time assisting with preparations for the institution’s spring 2016 decennial review with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. He holds a B.S. degree in chemistry from Frostburg State University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Keith E. Davidson.

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

In Pursuit of a Diverse Community


In Pursuit of a Diverse Community
Donna Lee, ACPA President

As we open our campuses to usher in a new academic year, we recognize that we are starting this year at one of the most tumultuous and challenging times in recent years. This has been an especially difficult summer: terrorist attacks around the world, shootings of unarmed black men, attacks on police protecting demonstrators, targeted killing of LGBTQ people, and a presidential campaign in which we hear messages of violence and hate. All of these events and challenges have had an indelible impact on each of us. And it is clear that we all have much to learn as we engage in difficult dialogues in our diverse communities. But have we truly nurtured this diverse community on our campuses?

The process of creating a diverse community is an amorphous one – dynamic and ever changing. Earlier initiatives to diversify our campuses have focused exclusively on demographics and increasing numbers of historically underrepresented populations on campus, especially racial groups. Other approaches have been aimed at developing programs, initiatives, and services, all designed to help students from underrepresented populations succeed in a dominant culture. The deficit in these exclusive approaches is that diversity is perceived as an end – a stagnant, fixed outcome.

Many campuses have since begun to recognize the need to embrace an approach that conceptualizes diversity as core and essential to the mission to educate students for responsible and engaged citizenship and leadership in local and global communities. As such, diversity must become part of the fabric of our institutions, connected and integrated into all aspects of our learning communities. Respect and value for diversity should be reflected in our social interactions, our practices, programs, resources and services, and in a curriculum that represents a body of knowledge that spans diverse cultures, traditions, histories, and values. An important part of the process is a critical assessment of what we are teaching, how we are teaching it, who is doing the teaching, and the contexts in which the learning occurs. How well does our curriculum – in and out of the classroom – teach students about diverse groups? Are students given opportunities to reflect on their own identities, heritage, and cultural traditions? Do we provide knowledge of social issues such as power and privilege, bias, and discrimination? Do we relate diversity issues to students’ majors? Do we prepare students to work with people from different cultural backgrounds? Do we challenge our students to consider the implications of diverse worldviews, perceptions, and values? Do we provide opportunities for students to engage in dialogue across difference? A diverse community is one that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful in which each member values difference, and at the same time, this diverse community affirms the central importance of our common humanity.

The emergence of a truly diverse campus involves incremental and progressive change. Although diversity issues are broader than merely increasing numbers, progress in educating all students to effectively engage in a diverse and global society can be especially challenging in an environment that is culturally and ethnically homogenous. Underrepresented populations cannot be expected to conform and assimilate into the mainstream culture; instead, all populations should be able to merge to form an integrated campus community that is culturally synergistic, a campus community in which all are affirmed and valued. Boyer (1990) describes this community: “a place where freedom of expression is uncompromisingly protected and where civility is powerfully affirmed” (p.17); “a place where the well-being of each member is sensitively considered” (p.47); “a place where the sacredness of each person is honored and where diversity is aggressively pursued” (p.25).

As we aggressively seek and recruit diverse students, it is imperative that we challenge ourselves to consider the following: Are we prepared to educate a diverse population? Is our campus environment one in which members from underrepresented populations can thrive? Are our curricula, our practices, and pedagogies appropriate for these populations? Of equal importance is the diversity of our faculty and staff. On many campuses, as the racial and ethnic diversity of student populations have experienced steady growth, the same growth among our faculty and professional staff is not seen. The presence of a diverse faculty and staff body provides students with diverse role models and mentors, opportunities to learn from different perspectives and voices, and exposure to new ways of knowing and learning. The research literature suggests that student engagement with diversity not only is related to changes in attitudes, openness to difference, and commitments to social justice, but it is also related to satisfaction, academic success, and cognitive development for all students (Taylor, Apprey, Hill, McGrann, & Wang, 2010). To this end, as we consider issues of diversity and multiculturalism and create dynamic learning environments, we must adopt a comprehensive approach that includes the following components:

1. Learning experiences that expand all students’ knowledge of multiculturalism and its implications as they are prepared to engage in their communities – both local and global;
2. Programs, services, and resources that recognize and address the developmental needs and learning styles of diverse populations;
3. Aggressive strategies to intentionally diversify the campus community. A campus community that is rich in its diversity – across multiple identities – provides the container for this multicultural education, outreach, and support to occur.

Recognizing this need for a comprehensive approach, attention must be given to the inclusion of underrepresented populations, support and outreach to these groups, campus climate issues, the inclusion of diversity in the curriculum – in and out of the classroom. Strategies must be aimed at seeking multiple perspectives and voices, promoting growth through dialogue in the campus community, the curriculum and the classroom, creating linkages between the in class and out of class learning, and building connections between the campus and local and global communities, understanding the systemic issues related to diversity, power, and privilege, and developing a heightened sense of commitment to create positive social change. And the work of creating a diverse community must be shared by all in that community. While departments and administrators focused on diversity play a crucial role, the responsibility for thinking about the implications of diversity must be distributed much more broadly among students, staff and faculty, and administrators. And diversity must be reflected in mission statements, strategic plans, campus priorities, decision-making, and resource allocations.

Our campuses are embedded in a society wracked by ongoing challenges that are deep and confusing and from whose conflicts, violence, and pain they will never be immune. But our campuses are powerful learning containers in which we should aspire both to model what our world could be and to educate those who will be the ones who will improve it. The vision should be to create a campus community that can engage across difference, cultivate empathy, have conversations of respect, and learn and grow from each other as we educate ourselves for a diverse world and create positive social change through a shared responsibility in support of the common good.

In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.
John F. Kennedy
Commencement Address at American University, June 10 1963

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. New York, NY: The
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Taylor, O., Apprey, C. B., Hill, G., McGrann, L., & Wang, J. (2010). Diversifying the faculty. Peer
Review, 12(3). Retrieved from

Creating a Culture of Advocacy at the Intersection of Avoidance & Adversity


Creating a Culture of Advocacy at the Intersection of Avoidance & Adversity

by Cindi Love, ACPA Executive Director

How can we, as higher education & student affairs professionals, advocate for full equity & inclusion at the institutional-level?

How can we answer the call for transformation of structural oppression?

How can we demonstrate more effectively the critical role of co-curricular engagement in the realization of human dignity?

There are a few basic activities that seem to catalyze and sustain positive change that I want to share within our higher education community. And, there are some harsh realities.

We are not keeping pace with other global institutions in diversity, equity and inclusion. Many very large for-profit and multinational corporations have been forced to do better because their profits depend on market leadership with finely tuned global acuity and cultural competence.

When I came to work at ACPA in March 2014, the Executive Team of the Governing Board asked me to conduct an organizational audit of effectiveness based on mission, vision and core values. I did so. One of the tools that I used for these types of audits is the Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks (GDIB), a platform launched ten years ago by the Diversity Collegium ( to help corporations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) systematically address discrimination in their organizations.

At JLM 2014, I reviewed the results with our leaders. We scored slightly below the 50 percent level between Level 2 Reactive and Level 3 Proactive. There was evidence of stalemate in some areas including:

  • Response to the voices and needs of our native, aboriginal and indigenous members
  • Pathways to leadership for persons of color
  • Accessibility for persons with disabilities
  • Full inclusion of LGBT persons
  • Response to the voices and needs of people with certain religious, spiritual and secular identities

Following the 2014 organizational audit, another group of leaders at JLM 2015 completed two sections of the GDIB: (1) D&I Vision, Strategy and Business Case and (2) Leadership and Accountability.

We again scored slightly below 50 percent. The Leadership Pathways Project, Elders in Residence Program, Developmental Pathways to Trans Inclusion on College Campuses, Community Conversations on Racism, the ACPA Bias Protocol and Deconstructing Racism in the Academy Series were all developed to improve our organizational performance in equity and inclusion.

We’ve made progress and we have a lot of work to do.  It is important to understand and accept that inclusion is not a one-time effort or exercise, a project or a program.  It is, in many ways, at the very heart of student affairs work.

Over a decade, use of the GDIB has revealed that organizations must systematically measure what they really want to change. They must understand and identify benchmarks for diversity and inclusion within the macro view of the social and political system and climate in which they operate and in which they are planning transformation. We need only read the headlines about higher education to discern why this external scan is so important.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer, and campus communities may address the same issues from very different religious and socio-political perspectives. These issues must also be viewed against the backdrop of rapid social change, substantial polarization in the political arena, political challenges to the freedoms of expression and religion, and high-profile instances of violence and terrorism. Catalytic events—even those that take place far from a campus—unrecognized needs, and pent-up demand. (AGB, p. 16)

Leaders have to locate themselves within this working environment and ask questions of themselves.  Are they catalyst, compliant or conformist?  Are they committed to creating cultures of advocacy or avoidance?  Are they focused more on risk management than students and staff at risk?  We have to continue to ask the same questions of ourselves as association members.

There is more pressure to commit to diversity, equity and inclusion than there has been in the past. The Association of Governing Boards makes very few public statements to trustees, but on August 25, 2016, they issued CAMPUS CLIMATE, INCLUSION, and CIVILITY.

I highly recommend that you read it cover to cover.  If you do not serve on a Board of Trustees, take a copy to your SSAO, President, Provost or Chancellor and ask them to read it if they have not.

The AGB Board of Directors, in approving this important statement, realizes that some of the recommended practices presented herein will raise concerns. Some will prompt difficult conversations and will challenge boards to address the questions that result. However, governing bodies bear ultimate responsibility to ensure that effective policies are in place and followed in order to uphold institutional mission, values, and educational quality for all who are part of their institutional community.

I was invited to serve on the AGB Task Force that helped identify the complexity of issues, fundamental values and foundational principles that anchor the statement.  Artis Hampshire-Cowan, AGB Senior Fellow and former senior vice president and secretary at Howard University is to be commended for her thought leadership and facilitation.  As you can imagine, the dialogue was intense.

Bottom line, the Report confirms what the GDIB case studies for the past decade reveal, that commitment and action to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion must emanate first and continuously from “the top.” This transformation cannot be delegated to a Director or Division or Department. It belongs first to the people with the most resistance to change and the power to change.  This leadership makes all the difference in whether a campus pursues real equity and inclusion or not.

I was very proud that Fred P. Pestello was chosen for a central quote in the statement.  He is President of Saint Louis University, an ACPA member institution, home of past-President Kent Porterfield and the place where we filmed Deconstructing Racism in the Academy after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

I recommend that you watch his interview on ACPA Video on Demand, and I want to share his quote from the AGB report.

At the outset, we simply talked and listened to one another. We worked to find areas of understanding and agreement— and not dwell on our differences. Throughout those discussions, we in positions of leadership strove to speak using the poetry of compassion, respect, and dignity, rather than the prose of fear, power, and threats.

Fred P. Pestello President, Saint Louis University

Well said.

Presidential Remarks Delivered at the 2016 Convention

Donna LeePresidential Remarks Delivered at the 2016 Convention

From the President

Donna Lee, ACPA President

Ubuntu. I am because we are. I am because we are. Ubuntu is a beautiful concept in African culture. At its most basic, Ubuntu can be translated as “human kindness” but its meaning is more vast and carries so much more depth – it embodies connection, community, and mutual caring for all. Ubuntu is about the essence of being human…for caring, sharing, and being in harmony with each other. Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “a person is a person through other persons, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. You seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in community, in belonging.” And when I reflect upon my life’s journey, and the experiences and encounters leading up to this moment at which I stand before you, I am struck by the power of Ubuntu. I am because we are.

I have never been able to forecast where the steps I took in life would lead me, but I have always trusted in my inner voice, my intuition, my spirit to lead me to those destinations I am meant for.  If you had asked me several years ago if I saw myself as a dean or as a vice president, or now as the President of ACPA – College Student Educators International I would have said, “no way!” Yet, now I stand here as the 77th President of our Association, the 7th African-American to step into this position of service.

I must first pay homage to and honor those who have come before me, who through their acts, words, and deeds, have forged and paved paths, opened doors, and created spaces for me to be the woman I am today. I thank them for the strength of their shoulders, allowing me to stand upon them. I give honor to those who have trail blazed a path for me to be here, especially my mother and my grandmother. I pay homage to May L. Cheney, Mary T. Howard, and Anne S. Pruitt, women who made it possible for me to stand here before you today. I have a responsibility to hold close by these pieces of my history. And I have the responsibility to exalt those values that enabled these phenomenal women to persevere. The tears once held back by my ancestors can be shed, but now as tears of joy that come from knowing that their energies have been transformed into the hope that we see represented in our present.

It is important that I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today. I pay my respects to their elders past and present.

 I honor those in my present – sisters like Patty Perillo, who honored me with her generous introduction and who has been a source of friendship, inspiration, and love throughout the years…and the colleagues, friends, and leaders throughout our Association who have supported and nourished me, especially over this past year, my colleagues on the Governing Board, members of the Assembly, the staff of the International Office, and brothers like Kent Porterfield and Gavin Henning whose sage and gentle leadership have guided and paved a way forward for our Association. I thank the professionals and friends with whom I have been privileged to serve at Rollins College, Agnes Scott, and now at my new home, Macalester College. I thank those in my present for their powerful arms and hands outstretched to steady and guide me. I honor those who will come after me – I ready my shoulders to hold them up.

I am because we are.

I am Donna Lee. I sign my name using my middle initial A…for Ann. I use the pronouns she, her, hers. I am a woman of color, single mother of a beautiful brown boy, educator, change agent, feminist.  I am reminded by Audre Lorde that I am the product of my multiple identities and the intersections between and among them. I am from New York, oldest child of a working-class family, the product of a multiracial family – confusing and sometimes hurtful as I was too dark in some worlds and too light in others. As a young girl, I was a very introverted child, reflective and pensive. I attended parochial school during my early years. I remember my teacher giving a lesson on love. “God’s love is everywhere,” she said.  “He watches over all that is good.  God watches over his children. God will never let you fall, never let you get hurt.”  As I looked down at my scarred and scabbed knees – knees that suffered from my many falls from the tree in my back yard or where I hit the sidewalk as I was running or skipping, or the numerous times I would fall off my neon green bike with the banana seat. As I looked at my knees I questioned my own worth, my own place in the world.

    When I was teased by my white peers about the color of my skin…skin that they called dirty, and my hair that they called “Brillo,” my beautiful grandmother helped me to embrace and love my beautiful brown skin and my lovely coiled hair that I could style in oh so many wonderful ways. My journey of self-discovery took me to the military, where I discovered my voice as a woman, an education at a small, private liberal arts institution, where I discovered my niche, a degree in counseling where I discovered a passion for empowering others to be their best selves…all these things helped me to define and get a sense of who I am. My calling, my responsibility in life is to make the world a better place, and I have found a vocation that enables me to use my gifts and abilities to touch the lives of others in ways that are transformative.

I am a work in progress. At times, my confidence wavers. I make mistakes. Fear and self doubt sometimes invade my psyche. I remember my surprise when asked to serve in the role of interim dean. I think part of this was attributed to the fact that most of the models for me in this role were white men in suits.  I have typically worked in predominately white environments, and I have always been very aware of the impact my presence had on my colleagues – I usually wear my hair in braids, twists, or cornrows; my jewelry is ethnic, and my dress is not always considered to be conservative.  I know that for some, my presence makes them nervous…makes them uncomfortable…

When I transitioned into the role of a SSAO, I was advised that I would need to take out my “dreds” if I wanted to be successful…I was wearing cornrows.

I felt blessed to have been selected to serve as a VPSL, but experienced conflicting feelings about my role. It was an honor to be recognized as that college’s first black vice president, but at the same time, I was troubled by the fact that in the 21st century that my brown face was a cause for celebration.

I continue to agonize over the fact that there is still much work to accomplish across our institutions of higher learning.  I have been vividly aware of the lack of a critical mass of faces like mine in key roles, and often I am the only brown face at the table.  Because of this, I sometimes feel an enormous pressure to represent.

Reflection carries the connotation of bending back, mirroring, and returning to oneself.  It calls upon each of us to look, examine, turn and return, and bend our understanding of self and the impact we make.  It was the birth of my son, Jonathan, that gave me greater pause to engage in this bending, mirroring, and understanding who I am, who I will be, what I am purposed to do. When I looked into his innocent eyes, I was filled with almost an unbearable and conflicting mix of emotions…overwhelming love and joy and a profound sense of peace and connection… and at the same time, a sense of guilt and pain…and fear. I had just brought an innocent life into a fractured world…a world that would judge him for the color of his skin…a world plagued by chaos, devastation, and strife. I realized quickly that the fear I was feeling was obscuring the hope that could be. And as I look again into the innocent eyes of my son, I recognize the light of the future breaking over him, and I realize my responsibility in doing my part now…in the present…to make the world a better place. To do my part in mending our world.

My story is the why of my work…why I show up the way that I do. My story informs how I construct my identity, make choices, take action. My story tells why I feel called to serve. But I am because we are. And it’s the weavings of our collective stories that become the tapestry that is ACPA. And the story of ACPA…the story of us is a compelling one.

We serve as part of a noble profession, one that transforms lives, transforms communities, transforms our world. Our work is intentional, grounded in theory and guided by best practices. ACPA is a community of learners, educators, professionals, colleagues, and friends with a shared commitment to being instruments of change. Our story is one that is rooted in a history of dignity, equity, inclusion, and justice that goes all the way back to the time when 9 bold women noticed a gap and filled it. Evolving out of the disciplines of counseling and human development, we have remained steadfast as we are guided and defined by those things we value: our students and their learning, diversity and multicultural competence, dignity and respect, openness, inclusion, access, involvement, growth, outreach, advocacy, and action.

Our story is one of community.  The root meaning of community is derived from the Latin word, communitatus, meaning “the changes or exchanges that connect people.”  The earliest form of connection among groups of people was seen in the social divisions within traditional and indigenous societies. Kinship was at the center, and there was a distinct sense of identity and belonging, a sense that strengthened its members’ ability to bond and survive.  Life was profoundly egalitarian.  Hierarchies, dominant groups, class structures, and other status systems did not exist.  Leaders needed to be modest, generous, and selfless; leadership was transient and situational.  The process of making decisions was open to all as all voices were welcomed and valued.  Honor, respect, pride, dignity, and responsibility were core values.  Behaviors not aligned with these values were confronted quickly.  There was an emphasis on communal sharing, caring, and taking care of each other.  There was a spirit of cooperation and a genuine compassion for others.  There was an underlying ethic of reciprocity…you did not take something from another member without giving something in return. Life was cooperative and reciprocal. This is the same understanding behind the meaning of community: the changes that we go through, the exchanges we experience with others, the connections we make with one another, the ethic of care are the very things that nurture us, teach us, bond us, heal us.

And as we continue to nourish the things that make us ACPA, lifting up and weaving together the thousands of stories of us, we create our community, and in creating real community, we need to covenant with one another. We need to work together. We need to commit to an honorable reciprocity, never taking from one another without giving something of substance in return. At the core of a strong community is a genuine compassion for the welfare of others, a collective responsibility for the common good.

In an increasingly complex and global world, in a time where the issues and challenges of our world can feel overwhelming, I focus my attention on the light of the future – the work that we do, for what we do, what we teach is what will change the world. Our curriculum is one of hope and transformation…the light of the future. And as we work towards the common good, we must never forget the power that is ACPA…the interconnections among us, the importance of turning to one another to discover what we might create together, how we might help each other, how we might strengthen one another. The truth is that we can only persevere through challenges when we truly work together.

Three years ago, my friend Kent Porterfield reminded us of the transition we were experiencing as a community, describing the phases we would move through as we forged a way forward: the first of these being a “letting go” phase, a process of ending a former era; the second, the “in between,” a time of shaping new ways, a time of foundation-laying, of building, of creating new identities. Kent Porterfield and Gavin Henning shepherded us through these phases with a bold vision, a tireless energy, a passion for our work, and a lightness of touch. I am deeply indebted to them for their powerful leadership. Because of them, we are now moving into the third phase of that transition – the “new beginning,” a time when the seeds are beginning to sprout – new identities emerge, ideas are fully formed, the impact of changes are becoming visible.  It is with humility that I stand before you readying my back and shoulders to provide leadership as we embark upon this new and exciting phase in our Association.

All around us we can see the fruits of our labor:

Research and scholarship continues to ground, inform, shape, and guide our practice. It is a tenet of who we are and will continue to define our future and the future of higher education. We have made great strides in the promulgation of our research: About Campus, our scholarly magazine, will now have a wider reach via an online profile, and work is underway to use social media as a way to further engage readers. The Journal of College Student Development remains one of the most highly regarded journals in higher education, especially around issues of social justice, equity, and inclusion. Through our commissions, coalitions and networks, state and international chapters, senior scholars, task forces, and other entity groups, we promote scholarship and new knowledge in social justice education, student learning and success, assessment, global learning, mental health, sexual misconduct, and many other critical issues. As we look to the future, this commitment to research and scholarship must remain one of the highest of our priorities, and we will need to continue to invest in this priority, with a particular emphasis on linking our research and scholarship to our practice. We must continue to create opportunities for emerging scholars – both faculty and practitioners, supporting new research, exploring new ways to disseminate knowledge, enhancing existing initiatives, including research grants, programs like Dissertation of the Year, the Writers Workshop, and other opportunities aimed at amplifying the voices of our scholars.  This strategic investment is critical as we continue to shape and impact policy and practice in the field.

Professional development remains a cornerstone of our Association, and we are on the cusp of harnessing the powerful ways it shows up throughout ACPA. A partnership with NASPA resulting in the publishing of Professional Competencies provides a roadmap for our professional development. MyPROfolio will innovate the manner in which we engage in our professional development, providing an intentional and universal tool to reflect on, document, and deliver learning and knowledge. As we continue to immerse ourselves in this new tool, reflective and reflexive practice will become our norm.

Our entity groups have been the major source of content for our digital platform, ACPA Video on Demand, significantly expanding the reach of information and making professional development more accessible to our members…and even beyond our membership; this past year, over 42,000 individuals accessed digital segments through this platform. We have an opportunity to package this work in such a way that positions ACPA as the go-to Association for professional development.

We held our largest Residential Curriculum Institute in our history and created a new model for the Donna Bourrassa Mid-Level Managers Institute, increasing revenues while maintaining the high quality curriculum. Perhaps this model is one that can be applied across our institutes.

Nurturing a community of mentors and mentoring relationships through the spectrum of our membership – practitioners to faculty, undergrads to senior professionals – is a unique and special part of who we are and is an integral part of the journey of growth and development. We will continue to develop strategies and create initiatives to support and lift up the beauty and power of mentoring.

Much work was done to get us to this point of having our first Convention outside of the U.S., and key partnerships with global leaders and educators have brought us closer to realizing who we are as ACPA – International. It is important that we continue to engage in a process of understanding what International means to us and how we can authentically live this out.  Following up on the work of the feedback group created earlier this year, we will begin to develop a salient plan to move forward. My commitment is to create a working group that will partner with me in this endeavor. If we are to be truly international in our membership and global in our scholarship and practice, it is critical that we continue to push beyond the borders of the U.S., but it is just as critical that we not proceed in ways that further marginalize any group. It is important to acknowledge that the impact of us being in this space today has meant that members of our community – in particular, structures exist that may exclude members who identify as Trans from being physically in community with us. This kind of dissonance is something we need to reconcile as we nourish the community we want to be.

It was with intentionality that I shared my story with you. It is through the sharing of our stories that we begin to connect across our common humanity. Each one of us has a compelling story to tell, and it is incumbent upon each of us to give space for those stories to be told and shared…to nourish strong relationships within our community…to weave together the story that is ACPA. In this endeavor, I encourage you to begin reflecting on your own story…who are you? What are those beliefs you hold close? What are those things that encourage your heart? Who are the people…what are the experiences that have shaped and defined you along your journey? What is your “why?” As leaders, we need to employ both our heads and our hearts in pursuit of building community and affecting positive change. I recognize, however, that because of issues related to power and privilege, bias and oppression, hierarchies and systems, some stories are not heard…or even told.  You may be familiar with StoryCorps. That initiative is a mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. The sharing of stories is “to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters.” I am committed to lifting up each of our stories, building on the work that has already been done: training and education of ACPA leadership, opening opportunities and casting a wider net to ensure diverse and representative voice in leadership roles, examining practices that may inadvertently create barriers to hearing our stories. The strength, power, and beauty of our community can be heard in the symphonic notes played by each individual member.  The work of the Leadership Pathways provides a foundation upon from which we can begin to think about ways that we can capture and project the stories that make up our community.

I also commit to engaging in a thoughtful process to review and assess our structures, our governance, and our practices, ensuring alignment with our core values and identifying strategies to enhance, transform, restructure as needed. We need to hone in on what matters to our community, getting really clear on who we are, clearly articulate our “why”, and then create the structures that will serve to advance us. The governing board has already begun to immerse themselves in these critical conversations. This undertaking will involve an intentional process of listening, gathering information, documenting experiences, finding where the gaps are, noticing where voices are missing, and engaging in an iterative and reflective feedback loop. This will take a shared commitment across our membership and a trust in each other and the process to create the community to which we aspire.

As we enter this “new beginning” savoring the fruits, continuing to water the seeds, preparing the soil for new crops, we must move forward with a fearlessness, for when we are fearless, we are motivated by what is in our hearts, and we remain grounded in our core values. Fearlessness also has love at its core, and this love is coupled with reflection and discernment, allowing us to move toward what is good and right. And in this unprecedented time in higher education where the work that we do is under such scrutiny and in a world that is getting increasingly complex and messy, the light of the future is in who we are as ACPA…an Association…a community with almost a 92 year legacy of values-based practice, research, and education, an Association that centers student learning and development, an Association whose commitment to equity, inclusion, and social justice is just what is needed to change the world. Moving in this fearlessness, we can define the agenda for higher education. Moving in this fearlessness, we can open, create, and shape the spaces that empower students to find, raise, and place their voices in the world in ways that are transformative.

The Hopi Elders share words of wisdom:

Here is a river flowing now very fast.

It is so great and swift,

That there are those who will be afraid,

Who will try to hold on to the shore,

They are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.

Know that the river has its destination.

The elders say we must let go of the shore,

Push off into the middle of the river,

And keep our heads above water.

And I say see who is there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history we are to take nothing personally,

Least of all ourselves, for the moment we do,

Our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over.

Gather yourselves.

Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

For we are the ones we have been waiting for.

And as I stand before you today I focus on the light of this powerful Association. I can let go of the shore and move forward with a fearlessness, inviting in what the world offers me, not seeking a destination, but my direction. I take time to breathe and pause, staying in my present, but with an eye to the future, staying focused on taking one step at a time. I wade fully into the water, keeping my head above, buoyed by the work, words, acts, and deeds of my foremothers and fathers, and supported by the outstretched arms and hands of the people around me. And with each step I continually ready my back and shoulders, making them strong for the next generation of leaders to stand on. Ubuntu. I am because we are.

Maintaining Open Access Admissions within the Community College System

Open Access InstitutionsMaintaining Open Access Admissions within the Community College System

Charlene Adams-Mahaley
Independent College Admissions Counselor

The Commission on Student Development in the 2 Year College is sponsoring this series to expose readers to the past, present, and future of open access institutions. Open access institutions are colleges that are nonselective in their admission standards. Primarily two-year or community colleges provide open access to students.    For many at-risk students with low academic performance, open access institutions are the only gateway for pursuing higher education.  With the pressure to meet new standards for graduation rates set forth by the American Graduation Initiative, the mission of open access is at risk.  Admitting students with little to no academic resources while dealing with external pressure to increase graduation rates could force some institutions to move away from their traditional mission and create academic standards that would bolster graduation rates and meet the demands of the Federal government.


In this essay, I will discuss the potent historical developments of the community college and explain, in the spirit of democracy, why the two-year college open door admission policy remains the hallmark of higher education today.  This will guide the reader to understanding how the historic twentieth century community college, founded by James Bryant Conant (Brint & Karabel, 1989), attributed to the present equalitarian mission of achieving social and civil justice in higher education attainment.

The Junior College Movement

James Bryant Conant, the 23rd president of Harvard University, is considered the father of the junior college movement and attributed to the present equalitarian mission of achieving social justice at the community college level (Brint & Karabel, 1989).  In his classic book Education in a Divided World,  Conant (1948) asserted that “it is the fundamental duty of the country to provide every citizen an equal opportunity to an education up to the 14th grade, in order to thoroughly compete technologically and in science with the Soviet Union for national prosperity” (p.200).  Conant (1948) like Hillway (1958), believed that the democratic principles of the two-year junior college should provide adult education, workforce degrees, and a rigorous general education for students underprepared to enter a four-year institution.  Inevitably, he believed that the two-year college would “relieve the research colleges and universities,” (Conant, 1956, p.58) of nontraditional students entering college after the Second World War and prevent an institutional strain of excessive over-crowding (Hillway, 1958).

In addition, as the former president of Harvard University, Conant’s voice as an ambassadorial advocate for the American Association of Junior Colleges (AAJC) provided an understandable moral argument on the importance of the two-year college. I believe this helped to ignite the junior college movement as an effective postsecondary option with less emphasis on academic traditionalism. Nevertheless, although Conant and the AAJC disagreed on the transfer function as an essential component of the two-year institution (Brint & Karabel, 1989), the solemn relationship between Conant and the AAJC served to operationalize open access as the imperative mission of the junior college movement. Thus, given the distinct institutional purpose, the term “junior” was thereby replaced with the term “community” to reaffirm the democratic duty of serving broader populations regardless of social class, creed, and ethnicity. Thus, community college became the official name used to describe the venerable two-year institution (Hillway, 1958).

Although Conant professed the fundamental role of the two-year college in offering lower division coursework and vocational training to ordinary citizens, he failed to advance the equal significance of the community college in comparison to the research university. As a result, with respect to the American college structure, the community college became associated with being subordinate to the four-year institution, which heretofore resulted in an unduly hierarchal educational structure (Palinchak, 1973). Consequently, this controversial standing suggested that the democratizing open access community college was second best in stature (Zwerling, 1976).  Given this misconception, Cohen and Brawer (1996), posited that the two-year college is not an inferior institution, but instead a student-centered institution that has produced an inclusive campus environment that is often viewed as righting the historical struggles relative to ethnic and gender inequities. Furthermore, from a justice perspective, the open-door college is a much-needed institution that looks beyond family background, socioeconomic demographics, and admits students that otherwise would not have access to postsecondary learning opportunities (Cohen & Brawer, 1996; Shannon & Smith, 2006).

Democratizing Mission of the Community College

American community colleges represent over 42% of all higher education institutions in the United States, and serve 13 million of the undergraduate student population (American Association of Community Colleges, 2013). Moreover, they serve a disproportionally ethnically and culturally diverse student body that is often identified as low income, first generation, single parent, freshman, non-traditional aged, and work either full-time or part-time while enrolled (Shannon & Smith, 2006). The low tuition cost, open access, and close proximity to family and neighborhood communities are also among the reasons why first-year and first time in college students (FTIC) choose to enroll at a community college as their initial choice for postsecondary training  (Cohen & Brawer, 2003).

Therefore, it is not surprising to learn that the two-year college is a major point of entry for many diverse and international student populations seeking higher education. Essentially, this enrollment trend facilitates a self-help behavior that is potentially linked to the open access policy. However, presently there is no resolve with reference to the fundamental question frequently directed at community colleges-specifically: “Is the open door access policy a gateway or impasse to higher education completion?” Although education practitioners frequently express that the community college is “democracy’s open door” to diverse college student populations (Cohen & Brawer, 1996; Griffith & Connor, 1994), whether the open door policy contributes to sustainable student achievement and resilience over time remains a controversial question (Brint & Karabel, 1989).

In response to the aforementioned discourse, educators and researchers must first understand conceptually what the open door is supposed to mean to the general education community and the estimated 40% of undergraduate students enrolled at the community college level (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). Open door can be operationally defined or described as the democratizing practice that extends beyond the open admission policy and excludes no one (Rhoades & Valadez, 1996). In addition, as a result of the open door access, Rhoades and Valadez (1996) explain that over time the enrollment opportunity should empower and prepare students to participate in “various economic, political, and social institutions” (p. 34).  In this regard, one could conclude that vocational training in a high need field or associate degree completion, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related areas, may provide potential economic and vocational opportunities that a non-college student would not have.

Conflicting Perceptions of the Open Door Policy

Dougherty (1994), an outspoken critic of the community college open door structure, argues that the community college overemphasizes remedial, vocational, and technical oriented programs, which can hinder student persistence; particularly for students labeled at-risk. As a result, this may produce what Clark (1960) invoked as a cooling out effect—the displacement or restraint of students’ academic aspirations. From a motivational perspective, this concept suggests that a student enrolled at a 2-year college is at risk of not transferring to complete a baccalaureate program in comparison to a student starting at a 4-year institution.  In sum, the cooling out attitude detracts a student from persisting, thereby making him or her less likely to transfer and graduate with a college degree (Brint & Karabel, 1989).  

The problem with the above analysis is threefold.  First, it generalizes that the 4-year versus 2-year degree is the criteria for personal academic success. Second, it implies that the community college is not of equal value or benefit in contrast to the university experience. Third, it suggests that the cooling out behavior is long-standing. Essentially, one should note, that the community college should not be solely measured by the similarities or differences between the two college types or the number of transfer students that enter the baccalaureate pipeline. Therefore, the cooling out stricture is indeed an inaccurate and outworn view of the American community college system that must be refuted intelligently and consistently whenever it presents itself to encourage meaningful dialog.

Another investigator that received wide research attention was Monk-Turner (1995).  In her study on higher education labor market return, community college students were less likely than their four-year counterparts to experience career success because four-year college graduates’ had higher earnings than two-year graduates with an associate degree. However, despite Monk-Turner’s (1995) claim on the predictive relationships between academic degree type and economic return, the comparative weakness of the cost-benefit study to educational attainment gave low salience to inhibiting sociological differences such as family income status, access to pre-employment mentoring, societal inequities, and social capital factors that have historically widened the earning gap and produced unequal income earning trends among ethnic groups.


In response to Monk-Turners controversial conclusion, Harvard trained educational economists, Kane and Rouse (1995, 1999) also investigated the labor market benefits of the associate degree on a cost-to-benefit human capital analysis. They found that low socioeconomic status (SES) students that enrolled at the community college with a high school diploma received an opportunity out of poverty despite past economic limitations to financial resources.  On the basis of the human capital investment argument, Kane and Rouse (1995) asserted:

A simple cost-to-benefit analysis shows that, for over 30 years the community college student who completes even one semester will earn more than enough to compensate him for the cost of schooling. Second there is an option value to college entry if students are able to gain more information about the costs and benefits of further investments. When one is uncertain about the prospects of completing college before entry, there will be a value attached to enrolling in order to discover if one is college material.  (p. 611)

Clearly, Kane and Rouse provide an intriguing analysis that makes a strong case for the economic benefits of enrolling in a two-year college for multiple semesters and/or completing an associate degree. More recently, Belfield & Bailey (2011) found that the labor market return for an Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science degree in a STEM field potentially produced higher labor market outcomes. These results give credence to Boggs’ (2012) contention that “community colleges play an essential role in preparing the nation’s workforce” (p. 37).

Two-Year Colleges: Institutional Effectiveness and Funding Efforts

Community colleges’ commitment to educating ordinary citizens is a distinct postsecondary development and undoubtedly makes them the hallmark of higher education. From this point of view, the two-year college successfully creates possibilities and not obstacles for students seeking higher learning. Although community college leaders and their constituents recognize the challenges of reducing high student attrition, they remain committed to preserving enrollment flexibility so students can enroll on their own terms. For instance, a nontraditional aged adult can enroll in a short or long-term workforce degree or certificate program to either increase wages or enhance job skills with no further enrollment obligation.  Likewise, a reverse transfer student may take summer courses at the community college and return to their home university in the subsequent semester. Thus, community colleges are fundamentally multi-mission institutions that have the ability to deliver higher learning on demand, despite reduced state funding, rising enrollment, and higher accountability based standards.

In an effort to buffer the effects of reduced funding appropriations, innovative partnerships between two-and four-year colleges, secondary schools, and the private industry sector have formed to ultimately (a) improve overall student achievement; (b) increase degree completion rates; and (c) generate optimal revenue in grant funding to support academic services and programs.  Additionally, state governments have provided new education grant funding opportunities to improve student retention efforts and develop workforce training programs conducive to the needs of the labor market.  In this vein, to make consistent progress toward future workforce objectives, further exploratory research investigating intervention-prevention best practices in higher education is warranted.

For example, when assessing the paradigmatic effectiveness of two-year colleges and the qualitative experiences of enrolled students, it’s unwise to solely focus on why students leave before completing a degree as a dominate research topic.  Instead, to understand the contributory institutional variables that impact persistence, greater longitudinal attention should focus on students that persist until associate degree completion or/and transfer to a four-year institution, despite repressive obstacles or personal barriers. Doing so will unravel the subjective realities faced by a robust number of students that choose to enroll at the two-year college. Such realities will demonstrate that to dismantle the flexible open door structure is to block the much-needed door of opportunity for the next generation of new college age students. And to ignore this fact is to nullify rather than endorse our distinct egalitarian doctrine of access for all rather than a selective few.

Discussion Questions

This essay has attempted to endorse the importance of the community college mission and to spark discussion on the impact that the two-year college has had upon student success and influencing self-actualization.  Thus, student services practitioners and faculty members at two-and four-year colleges are encouraged to appropriately build on this discussion by addressing student development and retention areas regarding:

  1. How does the academic identity influence success in college?
  2. What critical service utilization factors enable enrolled students of different gender, age-ranges, and socioeconomic backgrounds to persist and successfully transfer from a community college to a four-year university?
  3. Do mandatory advising sessions help college students overcome nonacademic barriers to course completion and develop a healthier academic identity?


American Association of Community Colleges, Fast Facts. (accessed January 3, 2014).

Belfield, C. R., & Bailey, T. (2011, January). The benefits of attending community college: A review of the

evidence. Community College Review, 39, 46-68.

Boggs, G. R. (2012, February/Mach). The evolution of the community college in America: Democracy’s colleges.

Community College Journal, 82(4), 36-39.

Brint, S., & Karabel, J. (1989). The diverted dream: Community colleges and the promise of educational opportunity in America, 1900-1985. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Clark, B. R. (1960). The cooling function in higher education. American Journal of Sociology, 65, 569-576.

Cohen, A. M., & Brawer, F. B. (1996). The American community college (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cohen, A. M., & Brawer, F. B. (2003). The American two-year college (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Conant, J. B. (1948). Education in a divided world. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Conant, J. B. (1956). The citadel of learning. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Dougherty, K. J. (1994). The contradictory college: The conflicting origins, impacts, and futures of the community college. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Griffith, M., & Connor, A. (1994). Democracy’s open door: The community college in America’s future. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, Inc.

Hillway, T. (1958). The American 2- year college. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.

Kane, T. J., & Rouse, C. E. (1995). Labor-market returns to two-and four-year college. The American Economic

Review, 85(3), 600-614.

Kane, T. J., & Rouse, C. E. (1999). The community college: Educating students at the margin between college and

Work, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 13(1), 63-84.

Monk-Turner, E. (1995). Factors shaping the probability of community vs. 4- year college entrance and

acquisition of the B.A. degree. Social Science Journal, 32, 255-264.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). The condition of education 2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics.

Palinchak, R.S. (1973). The evolution of the community college. Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press.

Rhoads, R. A., & Valadez, J. R. (1996). Democracy, multiculturalism, and the community college: A critical perspective. New York, NY: Garland.

Shannon, H. D., & Smith, R. C. (2006). A case for the community college’s open access mission. New Directions for Community Colleges, 136, 15-21.

Slevin, J. (2010). President Obama’s graduation initiative: Higher education for the 21st century. Insight into Diversity, 5.

Zwerling, S.T. (1976). Second best: The crisis of the community college. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

About the Author
Charlene Adams-Mahaley, Ed.D., is an independent college admissions counselor and consultant. Her primary fields of interest are identity and stratification theory, social inequality, and college retention. Adams-Mahaley is currently working on a college admissions planning handbook for high school students and parents.

Please e-mail inquiries to Charlene Adams-Mahaley.


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

Life Skills: How Can We Fill in the Gaps Before Graduation?

Graduation Shadow Image

Life Skills: How Can We Fill in the Gaps Before Graduation?

Marisa Vernon
Tonisha Glover
Cuyahoga Community College

Identifying the Skill Gaps

Engage any faculty member or administrator several weeks into the semester and you’re likely to hear about the skills students have somehow failed to pick up during their prior educational experiences. Even the most compassionate educators have vented to a colleague or two about the basic “life” skills today’s college students seem to be missing. If they only knew how to manage their time, we say; if they could only critically think about problems; if they only would just ask for help.  In conversation among academics and student affairs professionals alike, we discuss these gaps often, but struggle to find ways to help students actually develop in these areas. The academic calendar is full, the syllabus already exploding with necessary content. We are confident students are going to develop these skills before they walk across the stage, but we are rarely intentional about helping this process along.

Hiring managers, parents of students, and perhaps even students themselves are concerned about the impact these gaps in communication skills, resiliency, motivation, and problem-solving can have on long-term personal success. These skills, it seems, provide the foundation for handling whatever life throws at a college graduate.

For the community college student, and specifically those pursuing career and technical pathways, the timeline to develop strong “life” skills is relatively short, though critical. I recently worked with a young student who had completed several levels of a medical program and begun working within the field while obtaining his next credential. Experiencing his first major trauma on the job, the student seemingly lost his ability to put the incident in perspective, respond with resiliency, and balance his first high stress work environment with his role as a student. Like many students, education and training had prepared him for the work. However, the incident brought some gaps in preparedness to the surface.

Through a recent conversation with an area employer, as well as a faculty and staff survey, a member of our team highlighted three major skills areas on which we hope to focus student development efforts over the next few years. While the specific terminology came as a result of anecdotes and conversation, Communication, Problem-Solving, and Motivation were identified as the key areas in which many college students (and graduates) are lacking. One could argue that many of the desirable skills identified by employers fall within or are synonymous with these three areas as well.

Before addressing these skills gaps through intentional student development programming, co-curricular support, or within the traditional classroom setting, it is important to understand the areas themselves. Since motivation, communication, and problem-solving serve as factors directly contributing to success in a variety of endeavors, a quick literature review focused on these topics produces an extensive backdrop to the story.

Fear not, busy faculty member, overworked administrator, or dedicated staff member; a member of my team and I have completed the arduous literature review component for you.

How to Use This Article

This edition is slightly different from other articles published in my column, as I wanted to highlight the work of a graduate practicum student who worked alongside me in a recent semester. During the practicum experience, she was tasked with creating three online modules to address the skills gaps identified by our Student Life team detailed above. To begin this process and brainstorm ideas for delivering this student development content, she engaged in a review of the literature associated with the areas of motivation, communication, and problem-solving. By taking the time to learn more about these skills and how students internalize them, a foundation had been built from which intentional student development programming could be built.

It is my hope that the literature review below will generate discussion among your teams, inform the development of new initiatives to support student learning in these areas, and transform your teaching practices to help prepare our students for future success outside of the college environment.

Motivation and Resiliency

Many professors at various colleges and universities have complained about the lack of motivation from their students in the classroom; students seem more interested in social activities with peers in comparison to their academic responsibilities (Crone & MacKay, 2002). However, the literature states that professors must become familiar with the current generation of traditional college aged students and observe their personal academic goals and interests in order to learn what motivates them (Crone & MacKay, 2002) In a 2014 study, a total of 286 undergraduate students majoring in English, Physics, and Finance were given a series of questionnaires and surveys to test students’ perception of instructor’s teaching styles (Myers & Goodboy, 2014). Results demonstrated that student learning was positively influenced when students perceive their instructor to be using both lecture based and discussion-based teaching strategies (Myers & Goodboy, 2014). Additionally, students were most motivated when they felt their instructor listened to and expressed interest in their own thoughts and opinions (Myers & Goodboy, 2014). This may be because most traditional-aged college students are used to constant interaction and retaining strong bonds with family and peers and expect the same from their college community (Crone & MacKay, 2002).

In a qualitative study conducted by Alexakos, Jones, & Rodriguez (2011), 16 junior and senior high school students taking a Physics course at a local college were studied. Data was collected through observation notes, informal and formal interviews, and grades (Alexakos, Jones, & Rodriguez, 2011). During this study the researchers noticed that students empathized with one another when discussing the intensity and struggle of the course. These discussions promoted resiliency in one another as they relied on each other for motivation to get through and complete the course. Close friendships between students promoted motivation and healthy competition, creating a supportive atmosphere amongst students.  Students demonstrated emotional and academic support when classmates solved problems out loud (Alexakos, Jones, & Rodriguez, 2011). Sociable rivalry among the peers was influential since most students can be motivated by peer input and constructive criticism (Crone & MacKay, 2002).  Students served as mentors to one another as they provided information to peers who were lacking certain techniques and skills learned earlier in the course in an effort to keep one another on track for successful completion (Alexakos, Jones, & Rodriguez, 2011).

Similar to the high school students, the online learners in Baxter’s (2012) study yearned for peer interaction and remained motivated to study for online courses when connected to family and peers outside of class. During this qualitative research study data was collected through 16 interviews from students taking an online course in efforts to receive feedback on progression and retention (Baxter, 2012). Baxter found that students adored their online tutor and viewed her as a role model for them when courses began to become difficult, and like the students in Alexakos, Jones, and Rodriguez’ (2011) case study, the tutor’s words of encouragement motivated students to excel in and complete the course (Baxter, 2012). Most students craved social interaction with their peers at the university and suggested “open days” for when students could meet up on campus (Baxter, 2012). Interaction with classmates outside of the classroom seems to be a natural desire for students and can produce motivation and accountability amongst one another (Alexakos, Jones, & Rodriguez, 2011). This soft skill of social collaboration is crucial for college students since most careers involves some type of collaboration and requires individuals to feel comfortable when working well with others in order to produce successful results (Holmes, 2014).

Problem Solving

Students and professionals face several unexpected challenges during their career for which they are responsible to make decisions in efforts to create a positive resolution (Holmes, 2014). Students who lack problem-solving skills will find it difficult to succeed in college and most professions (Holmes, 2014). Instructors and staff should advise students in a way that will challenge them to create their own resolution to a problem by asking prompting questions instead of providing an answer for the student (Crone & MacKay, 2002). When students are prompt to reflect, it can positively influence and increase their problem-solving abilities (Kauffman, Ge, Xie & Chen, 2008).

In a 2008 study, 54 undergraduate junior students majoring in Education interacted in an online module in which their problem-solving capability in an online environment was measured (Kauffman et al., 2008). Half of the students were given problem-solving prompts and half were given a reflection prompt (Kauffman et al., 2008). Students who were prompted to problem solve displayed a better understanding of the assignment and were more likely to problem solve in real life situations compared to students without a problem solving prompt (Kauffman et al., 2008). In addition to encouraging students to problem solve, Alexakos, Jones, and Rodriguez (2011) found that problem solving with peers in the classroom stimulated their interests and resulted in students exercising their problem solving techniques with peers outside of the classroom in authentic challenges. Conversing and expressing their feelings of pressure with peers encouraged students in their college level Physics course to problem solve (Alexakos, Jones, & Rodriguez, 2011).

A review of accounting educators revealed that instructors fail to promote problem solving skills to their students when their dominant teaching strategy involved conceptual modules (Kern, 2002). In this study, researchers created a hands-on model to portray allocations and cost of goods by using a Fisher’s Price toy with colorful rings stacked on top of one another- biggest at the bottom and smallest at the top – then assessed student learning via questionnaire (Kern, 2002). Results revealed that student learning was retained and more effective when hands on models were used within an active learning environment (Kern, 2002). Students should be expected to be hands-on in their education, answering questions in class, creating examples, and participating in group work, in order to develop problem solving abilities (Kern, 2002). To improve this skill [problem solving] students should become hands-on with their learning and enroll in experiential courses when they are available (Holmes, 2014). Students are motivated to problem solve when they engage in experiential learning courses where they have to connect theory to practice (Crone & MacKay, 2002).


Many United States citizens believe that the most important skill to have as a college student is effective communication (Long, 2015). Many traditional-aged college students struggle with communication skills because they have mastered online interactions through social media, but lack experience with face-to-face conversations (Holmes, 2014). Communicating with professors and staff can be difficult for traditional-aged students because they may view the power and age gap as intimidating (Wecker, 2012). Students that are frequently engaging with others in a professional setting or constant talking with their professors in person during office hours seem to successfully hone communication skills naturally (Holmes, 2014). Students feel encouraged when the communication between themselves and the instructor shows that their thoughts and ideas are in fact valued (Myers & Goodboy, 2014). Supportive communication from administration, faculty, and staff motivate students to complete their coursework (Baxter, 2012). Quality interaction between students, faculty and staff was a primary factor in retention for students taking an online course, where general face-to-face communication was limited (Baxter, 2012). Crone & MacKay (2002) stated that effective communication between professors and students can enhance students’ problem-solving abilities when professors use a specific method that encourages reflections, rather than direct answers. A professor at George Washington University uses humor when demonstrating his lack of exceptions for students who are not honest and refuse liability of their own decisions (Wecker, 2012). “College students should take responsibility for when they have made mistakes and focus more on improving for the future” (Wecker, 2012). The use of humor can assist with understanding and clarity of the course content and may boost students’ confidence in approaching their professor when they have a question (Myers & Goodboy, 2014).

Traditional-aged college students feel more confident in familiar situations when surrounded by peers with whom they share a close bond (Crone & MacKay 2002). In Alexakos, Jones, and Rodriguez (2011) study, communication between peers was significant to high school students’ progress in a college level Physics course and promoted motivation and problem-solving amongst the students.  Frequent communication and interaction between peers developed a mentorship among the students, which resulted in a sense of accountability among the group. Likewise, students engaging in an online course glorified their constant communication with the tutor and looked to her as inspiration to complete the class (Baxter, 2012). Discussing and communicating anxiety and stress to other peers who are in similar situations can promote motivation and problem solving (Alexakos, Jones, & Rodriguez, 2011). When students did not have a lot of peer interaction, they asked for access to their peers in efforts to communicate and become social with one another (Baxter, 2012).


The three skills discussed in the literature are all linked and impact one another in an individual. Motivation in college students can encourage students to become resilient in difficult situations. Resiliency is essential to student development and can strengthen individuals’ problem-solving abilities, which is heavily dependent upon communication skills. It is important that college students interact and communicate effectively with peers and professors in efforts to build and develop their passion (motivation) and confidence in their college experience. When students are passionate and comfortable with their situation, it can result in determination and the ability to adapt (resiliency) and sustain through unexpected challenges (problem solving).

The common theme overall is peer-peer and faculty-student interaction. It is important that college students build meaningful relationships with their peers in order to develop a sense of community. In 2014, Holmes named collaboration as one of the top five soft skills needed in the workforce after graduation.

As educators, how can we promote interaction and collaboration within our environments, especially in community colleges lacking residential environments? This is perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing the two-year sector as we seek to develop students who are prepared for the modern workplace. Two-year college students need the same skills, and educators working in non-residential settings need to think creatively to promote interaction both in and out of the classroom.

Whether you work in a two- or four-year setting, with students living on or off campus, are you ensuring students leave equipped with these skills? If not, here are some suggestions for embedding these themes into your campus or department’s approach to student development:

  • Use these themes to develop department programming goals for the year, and align post-program student assessments to the skills discussed in this article.
  • Select one of the skills gaps as a campus or department theme for the year, and align co-curriculars, assignments, and student experiences around the common theme.
  • Review your college’s general education outcomes or departmental curriculum strategy. Are these skills represented, and if so, how can co-curricular strategies increase learning in these areas?
  • Develop modules to embed in your college’s First Year Experience seminar that promote peer-to-peer interaction and address the skills gaps listed above.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you observe other skills gaps among the students with whom you work? If so, what are they, and how do you believe students can fill in these gaps while in college?
  2. How do your Academic and Student Affairs areas partner to ensure students are obtaining the skills they need to be successful? Are there opportunities for collaboration or streamlining goals between the two areas?
  3. How would you incentivize students to participate in learning outside of the classroom in a non-residential environment? What do you believe motivates students to engage?


Alexakos, K., Jones, J. K., & Rodriguez, V. H. (2011). Fictive kinship as it mediates learning, resiliency,

perseverance, and social learning of inner-city high school students of color in a college physics

class. Culture Studies of Science Education, 6, 847-870. DOI: 10.1007/s11422-011-9317-7

Baxter, J. (2012). Who am I and what keeps me going? Profiling the distance learning students in higher education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13, 107-129.

Crone, I. & MacKay, K. (2002). Greater expectations: A new vision for learning as a nation goes to college. Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from

Holmes, B. (2014, May). Hone the top 5 soft skills every college student needs. US News. Retrieved from

Kauffman, D. F., Ge, X., & Chen, C. (2008). Prompting in web-based environments: Supporting self-monitoring and problem solving skills in college students. Educational Computing Research, 38, 115-137.

Kern, B. (2002). Enhancing accounting students’ problem-solving skills: The use of a hands-on conceptual model in an active learning environment. Accounting Education, 11, 235-256.

Long, C. (2015, March 23). The most important skill for students? Communication, say most Americans. The National Education Association. Retrieved from

Myers, S. A., & Goodboy, A. K. (2014). College student learning, motivation, and satisfaction as a function of effective instructor communication behaviors. Southern Communication Journal, 79, 14-26.

Russo, K. (2015, May). Hard skills vs soft skills: What they mean to your job search and the weight they carry with HR. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Sirin, A., & Guzel, A. (2006). The relationship between learning styles and problem solving skills among college students. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 6, 255-264.

Wecker, M. (2012, September). 5 guidelines for college student-professor interactions. US News. Retrieved from

About the Author
Marisa Vernon is Assistant Dean – Access and Completion, at Cuyahoga Community College – Westshore Campus. Opened in 1963, Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®) is Ohio’s first community college and now the state’s largest, serving 50,000 students each year. The college offers two-year associate degrees, certificate programs, and the first two years of a baccalaureate degree.  The curriculum includes 1,600 credit courses in more than 140 career, certificate and university transfer programs. Courses are offered at four campus locations, two Corporate College® facilities, online, hybrid courses, and many off-campus sites.

Tonisha Glover is a Master of Education student at Kent State University, focusing on identifying barriers to college completion, the first-generation student experience, and success factors among low-income student populations. During Spring 2016, she completed a graduate Internship at Cuyahoga Community College, where she developed learning modules to promote soft skill development among students during their early years in college. Tonisha Glover recently accepted a full-time Academic Advisor position at Kent State University, where she will be supporting first year students in exploring majors and academic programs to meet their goals.  

Please e-mail inquiries to Marisa Vernon.

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

No Adult Left Behind: Student Affairs Practices Offering Social Support to Adult Undergraduates


No Adult Left Behind: Student Affairs Practices Offering Social Support to Adult Undergraduates

Rebecca L. Brower
Bradley E. Cox
Amber E. Hampton
Florida State University


For each of the last 6 years at Florida State University, students pursuing a master’s degree in student affairs have taken a class entitled “The American College Student.”  At the beginning of the first class, the students are asked to spend 10 minutes describing American college students.

The results are pretty consistent. A self-confident student begins the discussion by describing students who look/sound/think/act a lot like he or she did just a few years earlier.  Next, another student, typically one who looks/sounds/thinks/acts differently than the first student, tells the class that not all college students are the same and then goes on to describe how he or she was different from the description provided by the first student.  Eventually, a student will argue that there are many ways to describe college students, and that trying to define the American college student is impossible.  The class transitions to exploring this question, “How do we paint a single portrait of such a diverse group of students?”  Students then list a series of characteristics that might be used to differentiate undergraduate students including demographics, institution type, and academic status. Rarely is age mentioned in the list of student characteristics.

In the second week of class, we transition from brainstorming who we think college students are, to established facts by sharing data from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES).  While this information substantiates the arguments made by the class during the activity in the first class session, one statistic often catches students by surprise.  According to NCES data, the average age of undergraduate students in 2000 was 25 years old.  In fact, although this population accounted for only 27% of undergraduates in 1970, roughly 42% of current undergraduates are 25 or older.  These statistics are surprising to students because adult undergraduates are rarely mentioned during the initial class discussion about the different types of American college students.

This classroom experience causes us to wonder the extent to which student affairs professionals have a real awareness of adult undergraduates. This question is particularly salient right now because as Wyatt (2011) pointed out, adult students are “one of the largest and fastest growing populations of students” (p. 13).   The perception that adult students are self-sufficient and do not need or want student affairs services may lead campus personnel to believe that adult undergraduates need less assistance than their traditional age peers. However, as Hardin (2008) emphasizes, “the misperception still exists that adult learners are self-supporting and do not need the same level of support as eighteen- to twenty-three-year-old students.  In reality, adult learners need at least as much assistance as traditional-aged students, and sometimes more” (p. 53).

The purpose of the current research study was to examine the extent to which student affairs divisions are adopting practices that offer social support to adult undergraduates. We not only write this article as a call to action supported by our research findings, but also as an invitation to take note of a population on our campuses who are in need of greater social support. In this article we present new data suggesting that by failing to adopt adequate practices supportive of adult students, divisions of student affairs offices at four-year colleges and universities may be losing an opportunity to improve outcomes for these adult students. Therefore, our study poses the following research question: To what extent are student affairs divisions adopting practices that the literature suggests provide social support to adult undergraduates (aged 25 and older)?

Literature Review

As a group, adult students share a number of characteristics: they are more likely than traditional age students to be first generation, female, ethnically diverse, and financially independent (Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009). Adult students are also more likely to study part-time, have children for whom they are financially responsible, and work in addition to studying (Giancola et al., 2009; Hardin, 2008; Kasworm, 2003). Reasons for adult students to return to college include career concerns, family needs, and self-improvement (Bauman, Wang, DeLeon, Kafentzis, Zavala-Lopez, Lindsey, 2004; Chao & Good, 2004; Kasworm, 2003). Kasworm (2003) argues that adult students are motivated to attend college by “personal transitions and changes” as well as the desire for “proactive life planning” (p.6). These transitions may occur as the result of positive or negative life events such as promotion at work, reevaluating life goals, divorce, or losing a job (Chao & Good, 2004; Hardin, 2008).

Female students, who constitute the majority of adult undergraduates, have special concerns when they return to college (Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002). Women, in particular, are more likely to experience role conflict between home and school (Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002). The added demands of college, along with employment and other family roles, can produce an added strain on women students juggling multiple responsibilities. Conflicts such as these are often mitigated by the calculated choices some adults make about the timing of enrollment.  Women often return to school to support their family when they divorce or their children enter school (Hardin, 2008).  Because psychological stability increases with age in women, female adult students may be better equipped to manage the stressors and role conflicts in their lives (Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Hardin, 2008). Nonetheless, family responsibilities are the most frequently cited reason for female adult students to leave college. One important factor in this equation is the age of women’s children, because women caring for young children experience the greatest role conflict and face the most serious academic challenges (Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Hardin, 2008). Regardless of students’ gender, family/school conflict can be a major source of stress for many adult students (Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009).

Social support is an important issue for adult undergraduates, particularly for female students, because students with stronger social support systems perform better academically while students with less social support are more likely to require campus services (Bauman et al., 2004). Sources of support for adult students tend to be family, partners, friends, coworkers, and professors on campus, though off campus sources of support are often more influential in their lives (Bauman et al, 2004; Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002 ; Chao & Good, 2004; Donaldson et al., 2000 ; Graham & Gisi, 2000). Depending on a student’s life situation, family, partners, friends, and coworkers off campus can either be a major source of social support or a major source of stress in the case of family/school and work/school conflict (Donaldson et al., 2000; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009).

The literature on adult undergraduates suggests a number of student affairs practices that may offer adult students social support thereby helping them to succeed in college. First, student affairs offices would benefit from an infusion of ideas from colleagues who specialize in adult undergraduates (Bauman et al., 2004; Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009; Graham & Gisi, 2000; Hadfield, 2003; Hardin, 2008; Wyatt, 2011). After training or hiring staff that are cognizant of adult student needs and establishing an office for adult students, student affairs personnel can poll adult students through surveys or focus groups on their service needs and the greatest barriers to their success (Hadfield, 2003). This data can be used to establish services such as child care, orientation programs for adults, and adult student organizations (Bauman et al., 2004; Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009; Graham & Gisi, 2000; Hadfield, 2003; Hardin, 2009).

Programming is another area in which student affairs staff can offer support and help adult undergraduates succeed. Programming that nontraditional students find particularly useful include workshops on stress and time management as well as study skills (Bauman et al., 2004; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009). In addition, programming that welcomes families, partners, and friends, can assist adult students in feeling included in campus life (Hadfield, 2003; Hardin, 2009). Other existing services that can be tailored to the needs of adult students include career counseling, personal counseling and support groups, academic advising, and financial aid advising (Bauman et al., 2004; Chao & Good, 2004; Donaldson et al., 2000; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009).  These services, apart from childcare, are particularly useful for adult students who may not be interested in the traditional collegiate social experience, but benefit from resources connected to employment and course completion.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework for this study is grounded in psychological literature, which suggests that adults require four types of support from their social systems: emotional, appraisal, informational, and instrumental support (House, 1981).  As described in House’s (1981) research, emotional support is felt when others are trustworthy and show concern; appraisal support gives positive encouragement; informational support is the ability to share knowledge and instruction; and instrumental is the shift of a physical setting or investment of funds. These categories broaden our understanding of social support and make sense in light of our study, applying equally to our research question, research design, and interpretation of findings. Specifically, we use this framework from psychological literature to categorize five student affairs practices as offering instrumental, informational, or appraisal support. Thus, childcare services offer instrumental support; new student orientations specifically for adult undergraduates provide informational support; adult student organizations and programming for student of diverse ages offer appraisal support; and hiring student affairs staff with expertise in adult undergraduates provides all three types of social support.

Methods and Data Sources

In order to determine the extent to which student affairs divisions are adopting practices that the literature suggests provide social support to adult undergraduates, we used data from the Survey of Student Affairs Policies, Programs, and Practices, which was distributed to the Chief Student Affairs Officer (typically the Vice President for Student Affairs or Dean of Students) at 57 institutions in five states (California, Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Texas). Included in this quantitative survey were 34 categories of questions that covered topics such as advising, orientation, and assessment date usage.  The survey was distributed by project staff in both hard copy and electronic formats. The 57 participating institutions included 22 bachelor’s degree granting institutions, 29 master’s degree granting institutions, 2 doctoral degree granting institutions, and four specialty institutions (i.e. one Bible college, one health professions school, and two schools of art and design). Of the participating colleges and universities, 13 were public not-for-profit, 42 were private not-for-profit, and two were private for-profit institutions. The sample was inclusive of a wide range of institutional types, sizes, levels of selectivity, and sources of control/funding. To review full results from the project, visit:

Our initial reports included information on the prevalence of student services in areas that the research literature suggests are especially beneficial for adult students: hiring student affairs staff with expertise in adult students, childcare services, orientation programs for adult students, student organizations for adult students, and events for students of different ages.  As shown in Table 1, there were specific questions targeting student populations and the adoption of policies. Possible answers to survey questions were dichotomous “yes,” “no” responses.

Survey Topic Survey Question
Orientation Does institution provide an orientation for specific student populations?
Events Does the institution’s student affairs division hold schedule events and programming for specific student populations?
Student Organizations Does the institution have formally recognized student organizations for specific student populations?
Staff Expertise Does the institution purposefully recruit staff members or counselors with expertise in specific student populations?
Childcare Services Does the institution have childcare services available for students?

Table 1.  Student Population Survey Questions (LIPSS)

We then compared the adoption rates of these practices (with the exception of childcare services) with those for international students and students of color. Services for traditionally underrepresented groups often increases the likelihood of success (Grant-Vallone, Reid, Umali, & Pohlert, 2003), hence, the targeted comparison of populations.  We did not include survey questions about childcare services specifically for international students and students of color because these services are typically extended to all students. Therefore, childcare is not included in subsequent statistical analyses. We then performed four logistic regressions to determine whether higher percentages of adult undergraduates at an institution increased the likelihood that the student affairs practices mentioned above (excluding childcare) would be enacted at that institution.


Our survey asked the extent to which student affairs divisions were adopting practices that the literature suggests provide social support to adult undergraduates. The answer to this question was an unexpected finding that called for more attention.

Table 2

Percentage of Institutions Adopting Student Affairs Practices for Specific Populations

Student Population International Students Students of Color Adult Students
Orientation 77% 21% 21%
Events 76% 74% 37%
Student Organizations 79% 60%* 26%
Staff Expertise 53% 51% 9%

Table 2.  Percentage of Institutions Adopting Student Affairs Practices for Specific Populations

*Average for African American, Hispanic, Asian American, and Native American student organizations.

As we reviewed the results (see Table 2), we encountered the same surprise as the students in our American College Student class.  When we compared the adoption rates of practices for adult undergraduates to rates for international students and students of color, we found that with the exception of orientation programs for students of color, adoption rates are higher for other student populations. It was disheartening to find that student affairs services for adult undergraduates lag behind services for other groups on campus. For instance, when we asked whether student affairs divisions purposely recruited staff members or counselors with expertise in specific student populations, 53% of institutions reported staff expertise for international students, 51% for students of color, and for adult students, it was only 9% of institutions. Logistic regressions uncovered no evidence that student affairs practices for adult undergraduates was related to the percentage of adult undergraduates attending an institution.  In none of the four logistic regressions was the size of the adult-student population a statistically significant predictor of adoption rates for these practices.

The regression results showed that higher percentages of adult undergraduates did not reliably distinguish between institutions with student orientations for adult students and those without such orientations (chi square = 1.706, df = 2, p = .189), nor for those with events for adult students and those without (chi square = .901, df = 2, p = .357). ), nor for those with student organizations for adult students and those without (chi square = .05, df = 2, p = .822), nor for those with student affairs staff expertise in adult students and those without (chi square = .033, df = 2,  p =.855).  In all of these cases, there was little relationship between the variables (Nagelkerke’s R2 of .046 for orientation, R2 of .021 for events, R2 of .001 for organizations, and R2 of .001 for staff expertise).  Thus, overall the greater presence of adult undergraduates in the student population does not seem to influence the practices adopted for these students. Therefore, the differing rates at which institutions adopt services supporting adult students cannot be dismissed as simply a function of the composition of the student body.


Any type of support, whether it is from our communities, families, or staff, decreases the impact of stressors during the college yearsarney-Crompton, & Tan, 2002; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009; Johnson, Schwartz, & Bower, 2010), and yet, we found that many campuses were not instituting the changes needed for adults.  This may be due to a lack of financial resources to develop new programming or the perception that the adult population on campus is small.  However, our results illustrate that student affairs services specifically for adult students significantly lag behind services for other student groups. We affirm the crucial importance of student affairs practices for students of color and international students, and agree that these practices could be extended to adult undergraduates as well. Furthermore, the greater presence of adult undergraduates in the student population does not seem to influence the rates of adoption of student affairs practices for these students. In light of these findings and the observation that adults are the fastest growing segment of the undergraduate population (Wyatt, 2011), we suggest that student affairs divisions would be well-served by a reexamination of their practices related to nontraditional students.

What Institutions Can Do

From our literature review and survey results, we identified five student affairs practices that can offer support for adult students:  hiring staff specializing in adult undergraduate experiences and issues; providing childcare; and tailoring orientation programs, programming, and student organizations to adult undergraduates.  It is our hope that the availability of services and support that are developed or modified for adult students will increase their social support and success, both on and off campus.  Each of the five areas described below are supported by literature suggesting that these practices are especially beneficial for adult undergraduates.

Specialized Staff

Our survey revealed that relatively few institutions hire student affairs staff with expertise in adult undergraduates. Student affairs offices can benefit from the insights of colleagues who have attended college as adult undergraduates or who specialize in the needs of adult undergraduates (Bauman et al., 2004; Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009; Graham & Gisi, 2000; Hadfield, 2003; Hardin, 2008; Wyatt, 2011).  Thus, we argue that a crucial first step in addressing the needs of these students is to hire or train staff with expertise in the lifestyles of nontraditional students.

Having advocates for adult students on staff might also then lead to the establishment of a central office where information and services could be disseminated to adult students. Giancola, Grawitch, and Borchert (2009) discuss a common thread for adults in dealing with conflicting commitments: conflicts among work, school, and family are prevalent among adult undergraduates. Finding a space such as a student affairs office with staff members who specialize in adult undergraduates can help adults navigate these conflicts (Hadfield, 2003).  We cannot overstate the importance of advocacy on behalf of adult students in areas that will be beneficial for them and offer resources, skills, support, and peace of mind.  Even hiring one staff member can make all the difference for adults.


If we frame the needs of adult students in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a basic need is the financial means to attend college.  But more often than not, another basic requirement of adult students is the need to care for children, particularly for adult women, who as a gender, make up the majority of adult students (Johnson, Schwartz, & Bower, 2010).  Miller, Gault, and Thorman’s (2011) research identifies that in the year 2008, 23% of undergraduate students identified as being parents.  Many of these parents face greater challenges in college and have a lower rate of degree completion than students who do not have children (Miller, Gault, & Thorman, 2011).  This fact brings childcare to the forefront as a way to increase access for adult undergraduates.


Many more schools have begun to institute transfer student orientation, which is an improvement in sharing institutional resources with incoming students from other colleges.  Because many transfer students come from community colleges as well (Erisman & Steele, 2015), it may be advantageous for institutions to consider adding specific adult student components.  New student orientations specifically for adult undergraduates could provide both informational and social support.  A tailored adult student orientation can assist students in adjusting to college and connecting with resources on campus.  Since social support is an important consideration for adult undergraduates, orientation programs specifically for adults would help nontraditional students network with one another and adjust to the academic and social demands of college life. Adult student organizations would likewise provide nontraditional students with a sense of belonging and validation for the stressors in their lives.  An approach like this is likely to help all nontraditional students, and specifically assist adult students in building their peer networks and in adjusting to the academic and social demands of college life.


Programming is another area in which student affairs staff can help adult undergraduates succeed.  Bauman et al. (2004) and Giancola, Grawitch, and Borchert (2009) found that programming that nontraditional students find particularly useful includes workshops on stress and time management as well as study skills. In addition to skills-related programming, social programs that are open to families, partners, and children can widen avenues of involvement and feelings of belonging for adults.

Student Organizations

Adult student organizations would likewise provide nontraditional students with a sense of belonging, along with validation for the stressors in their lives (Bauman et al., 2004; Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Giancola, Grawitch, & Borchert, 2009; Graham & Gisi, 2000; Hadfield, 2003; Hardin, 2009).  Our study revealed that fewer events are geared to students of different ages than to international students and students of color.  This deficit could be addressed through the development of programs that go beyond one identity, and instead cater to the multiple identities that students have.  As an example, an existing program geared towards African American students could add the words “children and families welcome” to shift the way a program is perceived by adult students.


Our study suggests that student affairs services offering social support to adult undergraduates lag behind services for other groups on campus. We also find that the percentage of undergraduates in the student population has little relationship to the availability of services for these students. Thus, we argue that student affairs divisions can do much more to facilitate the success of adult undergraduates in four-year colleges and universities.  Specifically, we recommend that student affairs divisions hire staff with expertise in adult undergraduates, who could then establish offices with services tailored to the needs of these students.

Discussion Questions

  1. How might your institution adapt existing events and services to encourage adult undergraduate participation?
  2. Adult undergraduates often struggle to balance responsibilities such as work and family with academics. How might the advice and resources you provide adult undergraduates differ from the advice and resources you provide traditional-aged students?
  3. It is often assumed that adult undergraduates should become assimilated into college life. We propose that it is equally important for colleges to become better integrated in the lives of students.  How might colleges better integrate the college culture with adult students’ lives?


Bauman, S. S. M., Wang, N., DeLeon, C. W., Kafentzis, J., Zavala‐Lopez, M., & Lindsey, M. S. (2004).  Nontraditional students’ service needs and social support resources: A pilot study. Journal of College Counseling, 7(1), 13-17.

Carney-Crompton, S., & Tan, J. (2002).  Support systems, psychological functioning, and academic performance of nontraditional female students. Adult Education Quarterly, 52(2), 140-154.

Chao, R., & Good, G. E. (2004).  Nontraditional students’ perspectives on college education: A qualitative study.  Journal of College Counseling, 7(1), 5-12.

Donaldson, J. F., Graham, S. W., Martindill, W., & Bradley, S. (2000).  Adult undergraduate

students: How do they define their experiences and their success?  The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 48(2), 2-11.

Erisman, W. & Steele, P. (2015). Adult college completion in the 21st century: What we know

and what we don’t. Washington, DC: HigherEd Insight.

Giancola, J. K., Grawitch, M. J., & Borchert, D. (2009).  Dealing With the Stress of College A Model for Adult Students.  Adult Education Quarterly, 59(3), 246-263.

Graham, S. W., & Gisi, S. L. (2000).  Adult undergraduate students: What role does college involvement play?  NASPA Journal, 38(1), 99-121.

Grant-Vallone, E., Reid, K., Umali, C., & Pohlert, E. (2003).  An analysis of the effects of self-esteem, social support, and participation in student support services on students’ adjustment and commitment to college.  Journal of College Student Retention:  Research, Theory, and Practice, 5(3), 255-274).

Hadfield, J. (2003). Recruiting and retaining adult students. New Directions for Student Services, 2003(102), 17-26.

Hardin, C. J. (2008).  Adult students in higher education: A portrait of transitions.  New Directions for Higher Education, 2008(144), 49-57.

House, J.S. (1981). Work stress and social support. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.

Johnson, L. G., Schwartz, R. A., & Bower, B. L. (2010).  Managing stress among adult women students in community colleges.  Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 24, 289-300.

Kasworm, C. E. (2003).  Setting the stage: Adults in higher education.  New directions for Student Services, 102, 3-10.

Miller, K., Gault, B., & Thorman, A. (2011).  Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents.  Washington, DC:  Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Wyatt, L. G. (2011).  Nontraditional student engagement: Increasing adult student success and retention. The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 59(1), 10-20.


About the Authors

Rebecca L. Brower is a Research Associate at the Center for Postsecondary Success at Florida State University. Her research focuses on institutional policies in higher education, particularly diversity policies that facilitate student encounters with difference.


Bradley E. Cox is an Associate Professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Florida State University. His research explores how institutional policies shape student experiences in college, with a particular emphasis on the systemic, institutional, and personal conditions that shape college experiences and outcomes for students on the autism spectrum.


Amber E. Hampton is an Associate Director at the Center for Leadership & Social Change at Florida State University and current doctoral student in the Higher Education program focusing on public policy. Hampton’s work as an Associate Director involves increasing dialogue as a form of communication across campus through programs with faculty, staff, and students. Her research as a student focuses on college access and underrepresented populations in higher education.


Please e-mail inquiries to Rebecca L. Brower.


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

After 35 Years of Publishing Standards, Do CAS Standards Make a Difference?

CAS Standards Logo

After 35 Years of Publishing Standards, Do CAS Standards Make a Difference?

Wendy Neifeld Wheeler
Kelcie Timlin
The College of Saint Rose
Tristan Rios, Hamilton College


The Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) released the 2015 edition of the blue book in August 2015 (  This 9th edition of CAS includes thirteen revised functional areas and guidelines.  As higher education professionals know, calls for better quality accountability measures can be heard from stakeholders across the nation—including the federal government, funding agencies, state legislators, accrediting associations, elected officials, parents, and students.  Educators within student affairs have been impacted by the increasing demands to provide evidence of outcomes assessment.  Upcraft and Schuh (1996) asserted that as “questions of accountability, cost quality access, equity and accreditation combine to make assessment a necessity in higher education, they also make assessment a fundamental necessity in student affairs as well” (p. 7). The inherent goal to continuously make improvements in higher education is an equally compelling factor influencing the necessity of assessment (Keeling, Wall, Underhile, & Dungy, 2008). According to Keeling et al. (2008), “the use of assessment more importantly emerges from the desire of faculty members, student affairs professionals, parents, students and institutional administrators to know, and improve, the quality and effectiveness of higher education” (p. 1).

CAS was launched as a consortium of 11 charter members with the express charge “to advance standards for quality programs and services for students that promote student learning and development and promote the critical role of self- assessment in professional practice” (CAS, 2012, p. v).  It has influenced assessment practice in student affairs since its origination and continues to provide significant revisions and updates as with the newest edition’s release in August 2015.  A primary goal of CAS is to fulfill the foundational philosophy that “all professional practice should be designed to achieve specific outcomes for students” (CAS, 2012, p. v). According to Komives and Smedick (2012), “utilizing standards to guide program design along with related learning outcomes widely endorsed by professional associations and consortiums can help provide credibility and validity to campus specific programs” (p. 78).

Today, CAS has grown to include forty-one member organizations with representatives who have developed these resources through a collective approach that integrates numerous perspectives across student affairs.

The purpose of this study was to replicate the original research of Arminio and Gochenauer (2004). Their investigation was designed to “assess the impact of CAS on professionals in CAS member associations…the researchers sought to explore who uses CAS standards, how and why they are used and whether CAS standards are associated with enhanced student learning” (Arminio & Gochenauer, 2004, p. 52). To that end, the processes of sampling and data collection were mirrored as much as possible. This article addresses the question “What changes, if any, are there between the results of the 2004 publication by Arminio and Gochenauer and the current study?”


In the spring of 2012, the investigators made contact with original author Jan Arminio requesting permission to duplicate the 2004 quantitative study.  Researchers also consulted with Laura Dean, then president of CAS, for approval to move forward with the research.  Dean, in consultation with her CAS colleagues, agreed that CAS would support the research project. IRB approval was sought and granted from the home institution. Once all approvals were completed, Dean, on behalf of the investigators, emailed an invitation to participate in the study to the designated CAS liaisons (a representative of the member association whose role is to provide transparency between CAS and the association).  Ten of 41 professional associations agreed to participate, resulting in an initial sample size of 2,127.  The response rate for each of these associations is provided in Table 1.

Name of Organization Response Percentage Response


ACPA (American College Personnel Association) 13% 41
ACHA (American College Health Association) 1% 5
ACUHO-I (Associations of College and University Housing Officers) 4% 12
ACUI (Association of College Unions International) 3% 8
AHEAD (Association on Higher Education and Disability) 1% 3
NACA (National Association for Campus Activities) 1% 3
NACADA (National Academic Advising Association) 37% 114
NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) 1% 4
NASAP (National Association of Student Affairs Professionals) 4% 13
NODA (National Orientation Directors Association) 2% 7
Other 33% 99

Table 1. Professional Organization Response Rates

The survey consisted of all quantitative multiple-choice questions from the original study (Arminio & Gochenauer, 2004), plus several new multiple-choice questions expanding on the initial question set to 18 items. Twelve of the 18 questions allowed participants to add comments beyond selecting one of the available answer choices. The instrument had three primary purposes: to determine the extent to which the respondent was familiar with and/or utilized the CAS standards; to learn of other assessment tools or methods being used; and to investigate any existing relationship between assessment practices and student learning outcomes. The instrument was uploaded to the online survey system SurveyMonkey (, a free software platform. The researchers analyzed the data using the software included in the SurveyMonkey platform.  Frequencies and summaries of data were included in the statistical analysis.


A total of 15% (n=309) of the initial sample size was included in the data analysis. Of the 309 respondents, 36% (n=109) of the individuals indicated they were employed at public 4-year institutions and 24% (n=75) were from private 4-year institutions.  Community 2-year schools were represented by 12% (n=36) of the sample. A total of 6% (n=18) of individuals indicated job titles of vice presidents, associate vice presidents and assistant vice presidents, while deans, associate deans and assistant deans were indicated by 9% (n=29) of respondents. Directors made up the majority of the participants at a total of 23% (n=72), followed by coordinators at 15% (n=45). New professionals made up 9% (n=28) of the sample, and faculty represented 6% (n=18) of the sample. The remaining 32% (n=99) of participants indicated other as their job title as described in Table 2.

Table 2

Table 2. Percentage of Respondents in Each Job Category


Knowledge and Use of CAS

The current instrument included five yes/no questions; the first asking participants if they had previously heard of CAS. A total of 82% (n=254) of the participants indicated that they had heard of CAS. In contrast, Arminio and Gochenauer (2004) reported that 61% (n=890) of the participants in their study had heard of CAS. For those participants who indicated they had heard of CAS in the current study, follow-up questions were designed to investigate the extent of the usage of CAS.  Of the 254 respondents who had heard of CAS, 65% (n=158) indicated they were using CAS.

CAS Resources and How They Are Used

Respondents who had indicated they were using CAS (n=158) were asked to identify how they were using the current or past editions of the blue book, the CAS CD, or a particular CAS Self-Assessment Guide (SAG). Of those who use CAS, 81% (n=128) of respondents indicated that the blue book was their primary source of CAS-related information, with 72% (n=114) indicating that SAGs for a particular functional area was their secondary source of information.

Participants were then asked to identify how they use each of the materials. The multiple-choice options included: read it, to conduct self-assessment, for evaluation, as a general reference, as a resource guide for my work, for staff development, to increase institutional support, and for accreditation. The foremost reasons respondents were using the CAS resources were to conduct self-assessment at 41% (n= 65) and as a resource guide at 35% (n=55).  Only 11% (n=17) of the respondents selected, to increase institutional support, as a way they used CAS materials.

Arminio and Gochenauer (2004) reported that in their study “more respondents used CAS materials to guide their programs than for self-assessment” (p. 57), which is the reverse of this study’s findings.  Arminio and Gochenauer (2004) did not report on whether respondents indicated using CAS to increase institutional support, but they did include the general statement “several respondents noted using CAS standards to document support for increased resources” (p. 59).

The instrument contained a multiple-choice question asking respondents if CAS had influenced their programs and services. The question included eight items for the participants to select, along with the option to write in additional comments.  The most frequently identified item was assessing current program, which was reported by 70% (n=111) of the participants, with mission statement and goals following at 44% (n=70). This is highlighted by respondents who shared “CAS Standards were critical in helping me to develop program initiatives, mission statements, and assessment plans” and “CAS provides an essential guide of how to best measure, compose and evaluate one’s departmental programs and services.” It was reported by 9% (n=14) of the responders that CAS influenced budget requests. CAS standards were also credited in influencing “emergency procedures and statements of ethics” in addition to “serving as a guideline for organizational change” based on comments of respondents.

Of the respondents who had indicated they had heard of CAS, 35% (n=80) were not using CAS. The most common reasons given for using an alternative assessment tool included that: the tool was more specific to the program/service (59%; n=47); that the tool was easier to adapt to the program/service (33%; n=26); and that the tool was less complex than CAS (9%; n=7). Similar to the previous question, the instrument allowed participants to specify other reasons for the use of an alternative assessment tool.  Respondents indicated via comments that the alternative tools they were using had been “selected by the division of student affairs” or they were “based on the school’s strategic plan.”

Participants, who had indicated they had not heard of CAS, were asked about their knowledge regarding other assessment tool availability. Of the 55 participants who indicated they had not heard of CAS, 32% (n=18) indicated they had heard of alternative assessment tools, but 68% (n=37) had not.  Of those who reported they had heard of other assessment tools 71% (n= 13) indicated they were using an alternative.  Those participants who indicated they were using an alternative assessment listed the following instruments as examples: Noel-Levitz, Collegiate Learning Assessment, World Class Instruction Design and Assessment, and HESI Admission Assessment Exam. There were also comments that indicated that the alternative assessment instruments being used had been developed specifically for that department by internal staff.

Influence of CAS on Learning

A total of 85% (n=134) of respondents stated there was a connection between learning outcomes and CAS.  Arminio and Gochenaur (2004) reported that 24% of the respondents stated they measured learning outcomes generally and of those, 41% indicated a connection between the measured learning outcome and CAS standards.  Several respondents provided comments on learning outcomes as it relates to CAS.  One participant stated, “I think the learning outcomes are brilliant and will guide our programs at my university,” while another respondent shared “CAS provides an essential list of tools and items that must be included in order to meet minimal to substantial learning outcomes.” The current climate, which has a distinct focus on learning outcomes, may have been an influence that resulted in the increase from the 2004 study to the present.

Of those in the current study who indicated there was a connection between learning outcomes and CAS standards, 64% (n=86) described the connection as strong. The connection was described as vague by 36% (n=48) of respondents, while Arminio and Gochenauer (2004) reported 28% of respondents describing a vague connection between learning outcomes and CAS standards. The primary reason given for learning outcomes not being connected to assessment was because student satisfaction is measured more than learning outcomes.

Positive Comments and Constructive Criticism of CAS

Respondents were asked to reflect generally on CAS and share their thoughts.  The most common theme was focused on the collaborative nature of the CAS standards.  This is emphasized by the thoughts of one respondent:

CAS is an essential resource to the student affairs profession.  It is the ONLY available set of objective standards for a standard of practice in each area of student affairs.  The process by which CAS standards are written and vetted is excellent,

and “knowing functional area groups from across campus had to come together to agree on these standards provides even more weight as we work to make change.” The most common challenge of CAS standards was summarized by one respondent: “The sections (of CAS) are somewhat repetitive across functional areas…and the learning outcomes could be more specific to each functional area rather than just discussing broadly.”


The data collected in this study not only supports and enriches the research of Arminio and Gochenaur (2004), but provides an indicator of sustained knowledge and use of CAS since its introduction in the 1970’s.  The current study also indicates that CAS is used primarily to conduct self-assessment and that these assessment activities are directly related to established learning outcomes.  Recognizing the potential CAS can play in enhanced assessment practices of student affairs educators, professional organizations may want to consider additional means of providing training on CAS standards for its members.

Department leaders are encouraged to continue intentional discussions about the role of assessment in the day-to-day work of student affairs. To ensure continued commitment to assessment activities in the future, considerable thought and resources need to be part of a department’s strategic planning.  If one role of student affairs educators is to create the most effective learning opportunities for students, it is imperative that assessment undertakings hold a place of priority.

Limitations and Future Research

This study has a number of limitations.  The overall response rate was low.  This may have been impacted by several confounding factors. Specifically, the original study used a paper and pencil survey that was mailed to prospective participants.  The current study mirrored the questions from the original study, but used an electronic platform for administration. Shih and Fan (2008) have found “web survey modes generally have lower response rates (about 10% lower on the average) than mail survey modes” (p. 264).

The investigators experienced some unforeseen minor technological complications in the use of SurveyMonkey, thus three slight revisions needed to occur during the distribution of the study. Thus, initial invitees were asked to disregard the first link (to the first survey) and use the subsequent link. Future investigators who choose to further replicate the original research may want to revert back to a paper and pencil version of the instrument.

It is also possible that those who chose not to participate selected out of the survey because they were unfamiliar with CAS and did not feel their responses would be valued. It may benefit investigators to more overtly express that invitees do not need to be versed in CAS to participate in the research. Although the sample size was sufficient, others may want to implement additional strategies to increase the overall sample size.

The participants of this study were exclusively members of a “member association” of CAS, thus potentially skewing the results of the study in the direction of CAS knowledge and use.  Concurrently, selection bias may also be a limitation; those who responded may have been more invested in the subject of CAS or have a strong orientation towards the support of CAS. This restricts the generalizability of the findings to a wider range of diverse student affairs professionals who may not belong to these member associations and limits the contextual range of the data.  Future investigations may want to consider a comparison group by including professional organizations that are not member associations of CAS.


Colleges and universities continue to work towards improving assessment and accountability practices. Student affairs professionals seeking to advance their programs and services may want to reflect on whether CAS has served as a valuable resource for peers who, in this study, indicated positive experiences with the CAS instrument.  CAS provides a vetted tool that can serve as a resource in creating new programs, improving current practices and generally providing an instrument with which to judge our work in an intentional way. It is likely that CAS usage will continue to grow in member organizations and that new functional areas will be added.

In summary, two participants articulated the overall value of CAS in these ways: “I find the CAS standards to be very meaningful and an important framework from which to maintain clear focus about what programs are/are not doing and how to communicate to others what national standards and norms are” and “I think CAS standards are valuable to give our work credibility and as they provide guidance for us as we develop our programs.”

Discussion Questions

  1. What additional avenues can be utilized to broaden and enhance the use of CAS across divisions of Student Affairs?
  2. How can a CAS self-assessment study provide additional credibility and validity to the work of student affairs professionals?
  3. As campuses continue to explore and examine their own cultures of assessment, where does the CAS instrument fit into this picture?


Arminio, J. & Gochenaur, P. (2004). After 16 years of publishing standards, do CAS standards make a difference? College Student Affairs Journal, 24(1). 51- 65.

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

Keeling, R. P., Wall, A. F., Underhile, R. & Dungy, G. J. (2008). Assessment reconsidered: Institutional  effectiveness for student success. Washington, DC: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

Komives, S. R. & Smedick, W. (2012).  Using standards to develop student learning outcomes.

In K. L. Guthrie & L. Osteen (Eds.), Developing Students Leadership Capacity. New Directions for Student Services, no. 140 (pp. 77-88). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Shih, T. H. & Fan, X. (2008). Comparing response rates from Web and mail surveys: A meta- analysis. Field Methods, 20, 249-271.

Upcraft, M. & Schuh, J. (1996). Assessment in student affairs: A guide for practitioners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

About the Authors

Wendy Neifeld Wheeler, Ph.D. is the Dean of Students/Title IX Coordinator at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.  She also teaches as an adjunct instructor in the College Student Services Administration program at The College of Saint Rose.

Kelcie Timlin, MS.Ed., is an Assistant Registrar at The College of Saint Rose.  Her current interests include Academic Advising and whole student development.

Tristan Rios, MS.Ed.,  is a Resident Director at Hamilton College.  He is interested in pursuing more advanced positions in Residence Life and aspires to be a Director.

Please e-mail inquiries to Wendy Neifeld Wheeler.

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