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.

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Review, 85(3), 600-614.

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

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

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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.

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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.


Where Were You When?

Dr. Cindi Love, Ed.D.

From One Dupont Circle: Where Were You When? 

Cindi Love
ACPA Executive Director

Where were you when you heard about the recent murders of people in Minneapolis, Istanbul, Orlando, Dallas, Baton Rouge, Nice and Munich?

Do you know anyone in any of those places?  Friend, relative, co-worker, member of a community with which you identify?

How did you feel when you first heard about these killings?

What do you want to do about this situation?

How will you do it?

When will you start?

These are the six questions that crisis counselors are trained to first ask people who are processing their exposure to a human-engineered act of mass murder or terrorism.

The answers to these questions help the counselor quickly assess and react more effectively to respondent’s location within the predictable stages of grief and loss (Jennings, 2003).

Research indicates that the psychological effects of terrorism inflicted by human beings lasts longer than those from natural disasters and accidents, almost doubling the average time that people report cessation of measurable PTSD like symptoms, from 18 to 36 months. In addition, these acts of terror affect the mental health of a higher percentage of people than that recorded for natural or accidental disasters (Selzler & Grandbois, 2011).

The six question process can help you navigate the stages of grief for students, colleagues and yourself as we move forward together each day on our campuses as professionals in student learning and development.

The world feels shaky to some and as if it is imploding to others. Some people are using social media like a numbing drug and others are using the real thing. Some people are praying and others are cursing the universe. Some people are staying in bed all day and others cannot sleep. Some are compartmentalizing and will have to unpack later. Some are stuffing their grief away.  We are all coping in a new normal in which our traditional sanctuaries do not necessarily feel safe.

Servaty-Seib’s (2006) research suggests that college campuses can be difficult places to experience grief.

It’s important for faculty and staff to acknowledge the emotional and cognitive effect that experiencing a death loss has on students. With greater acknowledgement, students are likely to feel greater support, experience less isolation and, therefore, function more effectively.

What plans are we making for students who will return to campus after break?  What does support look like?  What is helpful?  What is not helpful?  We are operating in an unprecedented time of distrust and unrest and I am so grateful for the sensitive and experienced leadership of many ACPA members.

In 2015, ACPA President Kent Porterfield was at ground zero of Ferguson at Saint Louis University.  Mamta Accapadi, faculty of ACPA’s Mid-Level Management Institute and VP Student Affairs at Rollins University in Orlando was at the epicenter of student response along with Sandy Shugart, President of Valencia Community College who had to tell his community that they lost seven students in the massacre at Pulse. ACPA’s current President, Donna Lee, is Vice President of Student Affairs at Macalester in St. Paul, Minnesota and has supported that campus through multiple protests by the larger community.   We need to support them and our many colleagues who are engaging with students around the world.  We need to learn from them and with them.

No one has all the answers. However, each one of us can listen to another human being. It is very important to hear the stories of those who bear the brunt of our national failures—people of color and, particularly, young Black men who arrive on campus this fall.

Despite two years of discussions and protests, police shootings have not declined nationally.  Black Americans remain 2.5 times as likely as whites to be fatally shot by police.  Some professionals will attempt to separate this reality from campus climate as if the Ivory Tower in not, in fact, Ivory—born out of white supremacy and built on the backs of Black people.

We must be in the business of strengthening our communities and our campuses within them and insisting on the translation of research into equitable and inclusive climates for all.  We must engage rigorously in the development of culturally competent leadership at every level.  Human dignity can no longer be an assertion without realization.  Activist scholars have been researching, observing and recording campus climate, failures and successes for more than a century.  It is time to dig deeply into their work and make it real in campus life.

The convergence between frontline activism and scholarship emerged after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968 and remains one of the most effective means of understanding and addressing the egregious effects of educational, economic and political apartheid in America.  It is this intersection of thought and action that can lead to a radical vision and revolutionary courage necessary for reform in police control, health and welfare, cultural development and definition. (Grady-Willis, 160-161).

I am deeply grateful for the scholarship of ACPA members in these areas.  If you have not read the recent compilation from About Campus, please take time this week to do so.

In Conflict as a Catalyst for Learning, Rashné R. Jehangir challenges her students and herself to engage with tough issues like class, race, gender, disability, and homophobia. How does she help them learn from, and even embrace, the conflict that inevitably arises?

In Confessions of a Recovering Racist, Donna M. Hauer shares an experience of making a misinformed judgement, and how the student she put in a box made her realize she was make assumptions that weren’t true.

In Difficult Conversations, Debra Miretzky and Sharon Stevens share their experience launching a series of campus conversations focused on raising personal awareness and building relationships across difference.

In Multiracial in a Monoracial World, Samuel D. Museus, April L. Yee, and Susan A. Lambe interview four undergraduate students of color about their experiences on a ‘colorblind campus.’ The students tell their own stories of discrimination, frustration, and willingness to have the race conversation that their peers don’t want to engage in.

In Racism and Sexism in Cyberspace, Samuel D. Museus and Kimberly A. Truong report on the negative consequences of the ubiquitous radicalized and sexualized stereotype of Asian American college students that appear online.

In Black Within Black, Chrystal A. George Mwangi and Sharon Fries-Britt disrupt the idea of a monolithic experience among Black students by reporting on Black within-group diversity and the perceptions and experiences of Black immigrants in higher education.

Beyond Discourse to Emancipatory Action by Penny A. Pasque and Hailey Neubauer describes one undergraduate student’s transformational story of self-discovery and personal development frames this discussion of the importance of undergraduate involvement in social justice research.

Frank Shushok, Jr. in A Candid Conversation about Schools, Culture, and the Widening Opportunity Gap in America interviews Robert D. Putnam about our attention to the worsening problem of inequality of opportunity in American society.

Jennifer Meyer Schrage in A Sea of Change on the Horizon contends that adjudication-only models of conflict resolution limit opportunities for restorative justice and student learning, for both those who have caused harm and those who have suffered harm.

Sydnee Viray and Robert J. Nash in Taming the Madvocate argue that advocates must move beyond anger in order to be effective.

Reginald Wilson in Educating for Diversity explains why achieving cultural diversity on campus requires nothing less than a complete transformation of our institutions of higher learning. This means reinventing everything, from the canon to the classroom and beyond.

Forest B. Wortham in Engaging Prospective and Admitting African American and Other Minority Students Before They Arrive on Campus talks about the waning effectiveness of traditional methods of connecting with incoming Wittenberg University minority students and how to help them find their places.

Researchers, scholar practitioners and students have deep wisdom to add to this critical time in our history in higher education.  What are you thinking, reading and writing? Start with the simple questions posed at the beginning of this article and, if you are willing, share with our community.  Email a blog post to be included on our website to [email protected].


Jennings, G. S. (2003). Tarrant County Region 11 Education Service Center, Crisis Counseling

Selzler, B., & Grandbois, D. (2011). Best practices for psychological support of communities after a disaster. WIT Transactions on the Built Environment, 119, 291-302.

Servaty-Seib, H. (2006, April 4). Study: Grief has impact on college students’ academic performance. Retrieved from  HYPERLINK “