Guiding Documents in Student Affairs: How We Shape Our Work

Bookmark and Share

Last fall the new APCA/NASPA Professional Competencies document was revealed. Our division of student affairs at the University of Memphis has intentionally applied the previous professional competencies through our professional development challenge programs, individualized professional development plans, and our annual Memphis in May Student Affairs Conference. We have even assessed the extent to which our staff felt these competencies to be (1) important and (2) in their skill set. These competencies have helped us to be very intentional in our ongoing search for competence and confidence in student affairs work.

The new document has a few changes within, including combining some previous competency areas (Personal Foundations and Ethics are now combined) and adding new ones (Hello, Technology!). Language has been modified to reflect more modern approaches to student affairs concepts. The new document is friendly for the reader as it aims to help us to understand the bottom line utility of each competency area as well as some of the key changes made within these areas.

The revisions make sense to me. Good job ACPA and NASPA…..

But all of this will not matter if we are not continually intentional in analyzing how these competencies play out in the work we do. None of it will matter and it will just be another association document unless professionals take the time to reflect on the gap between their current skill set and those necessary to do this work.

When I did my dissertation research, one of the factors that participants highlighted as influential in their development of a set of student affairs values was the use of guiding documents: CAS Standards, some of the seminal works of our field such as the Student Personnel Point of View, and association ethics statements were items they mentioned as very influential in directing how they should work and what they should value.

I recently interacted with a participant from my study at a professional conference. When I asked if they had seen the new ACPA/NASPA professional competencies, they had no idea (this person has been “in the field” for almost six years now). Another person in the conversation said “oh yah, I’ve seen those” but explained she had not found the time to review them. And I realized, I hadn’t given them much attention either. I had not been intentional about using the documents that should guide the work I do.

We just had our annual Spring Break Professional Development Challenge at the U of M. Staff is encouraged to come to workshops that will enhance their professional competence. We tie all sessions back to at least one of the ACPA and NASPA professional competencies. It was the first time I had probably uttered the statement “hey we have new competencies to guide our work” since the revisions were released over six months ago. I had even failed to tie this new document back to the work we’re doing here and it’s my job to coordinate and promote professional development in our division.

It has reminded me that the value of guiding documents to professional work is significant. It has reminded me that using these documents needs to be at the forefront of my mind as I create learning experiences with and for students, staff and faculty. It has reminded me that while it is so often overused in our field, being intentional matters in order to ensure we are achieving the goals and objectives of our programs: using these documents means we are creating and conducting programs with intention to achieve what our field has said is important. Moving forward, I commit to incorporating these competencies into my professional development plan in more meaningful and appropriate ways.

Have you reviewed the newest version of the ACPA/NASPA professional competencies? What stands out to you as areas of focus?

What kinds of things do you need to do in order to enhance your competence and confidence within each of these competencies?


Bookmark and Share

Change Fatigue? No Time To Rest!

Bookmark and Share

I like change. Really, I do. However, I’ve become change fatigued. I’m thinking that much more change and I may become change averse.

It’s not that I’m unwilling or that I’ve become set in my ways. I know I can still embrace change as it’s part of who I am: I have challenged and been challenged to change. However, right now I have been forced into change so much that I’m not quite sure I know what I am to do or how to slow things down in a way that allows me to “get good” at anything.

I know that as a result of change I have been given new opportunities, but I have also lost some of the things that once made me happy. That’s life but I just feel like the pace right now is so much faster. So much harder to manage. It is harder to stay on top of things or to know to what I should aspire.

I’ve written before about how change sometimes stick and sometimes it does not. For two years I have been in the midst of serious changes, both personally and professionally. I am a new father (which of course has me reflecting). Where I work has had numerous changes in the organizational chart as a result of people retiring, downsizing, addressing inefficiencies, etc. I have new professional responsibilities. I have new volunteer responsibilities in an organization that is going through massive changes as many of our board members are retiring after very long tenures. I have had to change my approach to professional development and have placed myself into educational opportunities that are different than what I have done before. I’ve even changed my diet a bit to try to address what happens when you approach those middle 40s.

Change is both awesome and awful all at once – a dualism I have always explained to others while being more likely to describe the awesome part over the awful part. It’s becoming a little more balanced nowadays.

Stressed out guy at work.jpg


I sometimes wonder: what is expected of me? What if I don’t subscribe to the new normal? What if I mess up and make a mistake? Not that these things weren’t considerations previously but when things are constant you at least know the standards of performance. I don’t know constant anymore. I know I still enjoy what I do, I love my family, and I plan to follow through on commitments. However, I am more afraid of personal and professional failure than ever before in my adult life. Am I just older?

There’s a concept called “gracious space” that I find interesting. It basically says that in this environment, your voice is welcomed and your thoughts and concepts matter. You can try out new approaches or ideas here and if they don’t work, we’ll forgive you and we’ll all move on. To some extent it is judgment “light” and allows people to put an idea out there and see how others respond. I buy into this concept but not all do because sometimes what you say publicly can influence how you are seen and appreciated organizationally. In a change environment this is a major risk.

Sometimes in change environments, gracious space does not happen. Sometimes in change environments you lose, fail, get fired, get reprimanded, and hurt yourself or others. There is nothing gracious about any of that. So, you monitor around you. You try to not let the fatigue do you in. You figure out your allies and test ideas with them. You assess situations and people and determine what is a safe place to try and what places are best to maintain status quo. You look for the gracious space and you consider scaling expectations, because there is nothing more frustrating in a change process than adjusting expectations.

So, it’s likely I’ll be OK through all of this: I often reflect more on how I show up in spaces than necessary. However, I wonder about colleagues who may be struggling or may not be aware of what competencies they need to better manage the change.  I wonder what others need to do in order to persist and thrive in these environments. I wonder what plans they have to increase their competencies needed to excel at change and the confidence to implement change plans.

How are you managing change fatigue?

What have you done to enhance your ability to manage change?

Where do you find your gracious space and how can you create those opportunities should they not exist?





Bookmark and Share

Regaining Focus to Advance our Professional Competence

Bookmark and Share

I haven’t posted for a while. There have been a few reasons: first, we had a baby in August and the fall was just keep head above water time. Second, the spring has been busy, but not so much that I couldn’t find a little time to write some blogs. To be honest,  it was more a matter of what to post about. I have toyed with all kinds of topics and frankly felt a little paralyzed by having too much to say. I was just so unfocused.

So it hit me that I should write about how focus is important to efforts to increase our competence and confidence. For me, I had that focus for a long time. I was clear on my goals. I was clear on aspirations and knew what skills I needed to develop to get where I wanted to go. However, in the last year it was gone and personal life aside, I really didn’t have a professional excuse for it because I’ve always been “busy” at work. I’ve always prided myself on getting things done. Getting things done right now isn’t as much of a problem as is how what I am doing connects to where I want to be in the near future.

What my new professional self is to look like given my new priorities as a dad is what I now need to discover, and I need some focus to figure out my professional goals at this point in my career and life.

I have written previously about how intentionality is a value of the field of student affairs. Intentionality runs opposite to what I have experienced myself lately: this lack of focus. And you know what, that has impacted my work and my professional development. I have become less intentional I’ve dabbled in a lot of topics and have not retained much of it. I have had difficulty concentrating on tasks. I get distracted by the littlest things such as the bird out my window right now. Hey birdie. What’s up. Nice day out……

There’s good resources out there on getting focused and finding what matters to you. I have recently discovered this via a few friends on Facebook and I think I need to use it to guide what I do. I always like a good venn diagram and this one is one of the best!


So I’m making a commitment to get more focused. I’m thinking that using this model will help me though I might edit it to add that “I could be great at it” and “It’s something I hope to love” and “The world needs it and I don’t yet have it” and “This is a skill I need to continue to get paid”. I know I need to get excited about my professional life, both present and future, again and I think it’s coming.

I think it’s likely I need to “survive” this semester and then revisit what matters to me professionally when I’m not distracted by the noise around me. Hopefully that doesn’t mean you won’t get another blog posting before then but I don’t know.

What are the things on which you need to focus?

What are the things that are distracting you?

What can you eliminate from your daily routine to minimize the noise and renew your focus?



Bookmark and Share

Sometimes Professional Development Goals Just Don’t Happen

Bookmark and Share

It’s August 5th. I haven’t written a blog since May. We have a baby “due” in a week. I’m running on all cylinders to get my day time job, all my volunteer responsibilities (including chairing a large scale association committee), and a consulting project done.

With all of this, I can’t help but feel a little bit of failure. It is a failure that I have manifested in this pile:


This is my professional development reading pile that I’ve more or less collected since March. It was my summer reading – journal articles, monographs, reports, and even a whole book (which I at least have skimmed). It was my plan to stay on top of my career long practice of reading as much of the resources that come my way about this field of higher education and student affairs. I’ve never skipped (at least skimming) an entire issue of the research journals from all Associations to which I belong. The pile includes topics which with I am familiar and also new topics about which I want to learn. Reading has been pivotal to my professional development.

And I failed at it.

Or did I? I’m not sure. Maybe I’ve just had to rethink things. Maybe this isn’t an “I’m so busy – whoa is me” blog post. Maybe it’s really a “I’m rethinking – good for me” blog post.

Looking ahead, I know I will have to rethink my professional engagement outside of work. I resigned a committee role last week. I’m wrapping up that large scale association committee chair project. I have two other volunteer roles that I may have to skate through at least for a few months. I’m going to have to do what I can but not necessarily what I want on consulting projects. I’m deeply committed to staying on top of my CAS involvement but even in that role I’m going to need some patience for a little bit. I’m working collaboratively on a book and a monograph chapter (neither project I am rocking at the moment). Finally, there’s potential that my dissertation will finally see an article come to light – if I can take the time to revise as explained by a journal editorial board.

And that’s just for the things OUTSIDE of my job, which has become more demanding and exciting than ever before. By nature of what I am now doing, I am learning new and different things.  However, I know I need to wrap up or at least get things to a place that when Baby Bureau comes I can take a little time away and enjoy my life. This means cocurriculars and it means work.

Again, maybe this is a rethinking blog, not a whining student affairs “I’m so busy” blog.

I have to think about if I failed at my professional development goals or I had to change them to meet the demands of work and life. I wonder how often others examine how their needs for professional development have changed. For the first time in 18 years, I won’t attend the AFA Annual Meeting in December (more for personal obligations than for not seeing value, but still). I don’t plan on submitting workshop proposals for NASPA or ACPA, which means I likely may not be able to go to either of those conferences. I am also wondering, what would it look like to do my job REALLY well? I’m good at my job, but what if I focused on really doing my job exceptionally well and taking some of the time I’ve used to do other things to improve my practice in my primary professional role? That last question alone is a COMPLETE shift in thinking for me.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering “why did you take the 30 minutes to write the blog when you have so much other stuff to do” and you might even think “stop complaining and get on with what you have to do”. You’re a bit correct in that I could have done something else, but I felt the need to share the story because I bet someone else feels the same kind of dissonance around changing their approach to how they experience life as a student affairs professional. There’s a chance that someone else, like me, was feeling like a failure.

There’s also a chance that someone else, like me, decided to take these feelings of failure and to view them as a potential triumph in our effort to examine what we need to do versus what we’ve always done. It’s time to put that pile away and realize that things are changing for me. I’m kind of excited for that process. We’ll see how I do.

What professional practices do you need to change?

What professional goals do you have that might get in the way of doing what you do now really well?




Bookmark and Share

Infusing Daring Greatly into our Practice of Caring Greatly

Bookmark and Share

There’s a lot of talk about transforming student affairs practice – we need to move the needle from routine to impactful. At the recent ACPA conference we were challenged to dare greatly  – a concept I believe in and feel compelled to act on. While our field has been taught to CARE greatly – convey a sense of compassion and empathy for the students with whom we work – I’m not sure the general field of student affairs is ready to DARE greatly. Collectively, I believe:

We’re not doing enough to demonstrate our contributions.

We’re not doing enough to end negative behaviors.

We’re not doing enough to create a work/life balance that makes sense.

I wonder what needs to happen to move the needle. What would make student affairs practitioners capture the moment and dare greatly?

Don’t get me wrong. Lots of people are doing amazing things: Changing lives and influencing students. People are trying to make a difference. This isn’t a condemnation, but rather an examination of what could change if we aim to dare greatly versus only care greatly.

Daring greatly might mean taking some of the following risks to become better professionals in this important field:

Using assessment to influence our work and infusing tactics to collect evidence of our contributions. We’d spend less time on hoping we’re making an impact and more time on finding ways to determine so as a natural part of our work. Our advising and helping tactics would infuse assessment into them, asking common questions, documenting our answers, using themes to determine strategies for improvement. We would take the leap to transform our work, all the while still conveying care and commitment.

Using different approaches to issues of alcohol, drugs, hazing, etc. Students know it’s against the law – who cares. How about we get more creative and talk about the way these things undermine our relationships. Students seem to like each other by and large – there is some level of care there – maybe appealing to a sense of compassion for others might move the needle to end extreme and negative behaviors. We’d teach students how to take the risk. We’d support them through their enactment of the interventions we developed together.

Being more intentional with how we approach our work. We don’t need to be everything to every student. We need to convey care and concern. We need to handle their needs, but we do not need to lose ourselves as we seek to help them find the answers. Most life/work balance issues I’ve seen come as a result of caring greatly – certainly not a bad quality in a human being – but when we dare greatly, the way we demonstrate care may change.

So many good people work in student affairs. There is such a commitment to helping students. However, for us to dare greatly, we must be clear that our frameworks for practice must change. We must make progress on the things that we continue to push to the margins and we have to figure out ways to move the needle from routine to extraordinary. As we focus on change of our environment, we too will change. We’ll become more competent at demonstrating care while also daring students and ourselves to be all that we can be.

Bookmark and Share

The Ongoing Search for Student Affairs Competence: Becoming the Well-Rounded Student Affairs Professional

Bookmark and Share

The search for competence: it’s the framework I have used for this blog since its inception just over a year ago. The ongoing quest to be our best is a part of a career in student affairs. Through the simple search for competence we actually can become better and more confident in our work.When we become better we are more equipped to serve our students. The best student affairs professionals I know put students first, but they don’t sacrifice their own learning: they are deeply committed to ongoing professional engagement and development.

However, I believe that the majority of student affairs professionals do not focus on developing the entire set of skills and prefer often to focus on only a few at a time (and possibly only a few at all). I am convinced that our pursuit to be really good at one thing will ultimately be a downfall in modern-day student affairs work. We can’t afford for you to rock at advising when your understanding of legal issues is dismal. We can’t afford for you to be a great supervisor but have zero concern with assessment of your programs.

Student affairs is an ironic field: those who come into the field through a student affairs preparation program, are typically taught to be generalists but new professionals often go into functional area positions that are specialists such as residence life, advising, fraternity/sorority life, and career development. While our generalist skills might come in handy now and then, we default to what defines us as specialists: advising residents in your learning community, helping students schedule their classes, aiding leaders in managing complex organizations, and counseling students as they determine potential career paths. We focus so much on specific skills that those we don’t (or choose not to) use routinely just go by the wayside. The best athletes practice all parts of their game and work all parts of their bodies – therefore, shouldn’t the best student affairs professionals practice every part of ours?

Enhancing our competence in all areas of student affairs work requires an intention that many student affairs professionals lack: as we are so responsive to the demands of our students, we often forget to take the time to determine pathways for strengthening our competence and confidence in all the skills necessary to student affairs work. We are not bad professionals for this, in fact if the metrics that people around us care about is how accessible we are to students, then you might be perceived well; however, are you truly developing the competence you need to interact with all of those students? What skills would make you even better at serving your students?

Well-rounded student affairs professionals are important to our field. We have to create environments in which all staff are clear that expertise in an area is good but some level of understanding in all areas is expected.

At the University of Memphis, we have been intentional about creating a framework for ongoing professional development. All training sessions tie back to the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competency areas. Next week we will have our annual Spring Break Professional Development Challenge; participants are encouraged to take part in as many sessions as they can fit into their week (it is spring break) and each session addresses at least one of the 10 professional competencies. I love this week and almost 40 of our staff must also appreciate the opportunity because they have signed up for at least one training!

It’s our hope that this intention will help our staff realize what they know now, what they need to know, and how they can fill the gaps between what they are expected to do and their current skill set. To help others, I have highlighted those I find to be most engaged in their work and ongoing professional development in our weekly newsletter. We can all learn from examples and aspire to be like those who are the most focused on high levels of professional engagement and ongoing development.

We also have developed an individualized professional development plan, using the Competency areas, that can be used to help staff figure out how to accomplish their professional goals. The value of professional development has become an ethos here: coming down from our VPSA, through her AVPs and permeating the director/associate dean level.

Personally, I believe we can do even more! I’d love to see all staff be held accountable for demonstrating at least the basic level of the ACPA/NASPA Competency areas. What if we had to prove annually that we worked on one attribute within the  basic level of each competency area? What if our work was evaluated on our demonstration of each competency level? It would require a high level of intentionality and we’d be laser focused on being the best we can be in order to make a difference in the lives of students. We have to be more intentional to become the well-rounded student affairs professional we are needed in modern day higher education.

What are your professional goals? What competencies do you need to work on to reach your goals? How would you rate yourself in each of the 10 Professional Competencies?

Bookmark and Share

Sometimes change sticks, and sometimes it hangs there for a bit and slides down the wall

Bookmark and Share

When spaghetti is ready it will stick on the wall. When it’s not, it just slides down, indicating to the chef that more time is needed. It’s an interesting analogy to the concept of change.

Change happens all the time. Each of us are likely engaged in some change effort right now. I’ve led some change initiatives and have been fortunate to be involved in lots of discussions that involve “making a change”. I tend to like change.

However, change can be really uncomfortable, particularly when people don’t know all the facts. Those in the highest positions are trying new things – seeing what sticks. Leaders have good intentions to be transparent – discussing issues, positing approaches, suggesting systemic change approaches. Transparency is by and large the best tactic…BUT, people read into messages and decisions. Sometimes transparency breeds speculation, particularly in times of significant change.

The rest of us are asked to respond to ideas that might come across as etched in stone when they’re nothing more than a passing conversation between two people who have decision power. When ideas are thrown out there they have implications as people struggle to work through logistics of implementing new and different ideas only to find out days (maybe hours) later that it was only an idea. Those tasked with implementing the change ideas are going to spend a lot of time answering the questions of nervous staff who feel threatened or at risk. It’s obvious that saying “give it some time and we’ll know for sure” is not an effective spin strategy.

It’s almost like we need some way to know what’s a change that is sticking and what is a change that is up for discussion. Perceptions of idea traction can be deceiving. Really, we should just assume that nothing is finalized until someone says it is.

What we all should take from change initiatives is that leaders are looking to address financial, structural, political and other forces that are at play. Those things keep happening around us and leaders must respond by indicating they are working toward improvements and change. Problem is that the rest of us have to take a wait and see or hold on tight while we change directions yet again.

How do you perceive change? What aspects make you feel uncomfortable? When have you seen change stick well?

Bookmark and Share

How Professional Association Conferences Give Me Life and Drain the Hell Out of Me

Bookmark and Share

I attended my 18th Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors Annual Meeting in December. I’ve written previously about  how attendance at a functional area association, even one outside of my day to day work and after 18 years of work in student affairs, is still an opportunity to learn about good work in the field of student affairs. In addition to learning, professional and personal relationships I’ve developed through AFA give me a sense of belonging and hope.

All of this aside, professional associations also drain me and give me cause to worry about our field. Here’s how one experience can both enriching and draining all at the same time.

Learning: I attend conferences to learn. I do this in three ways: attend sessions, facilitate sessions, and connect with colleagues to talk about issues. Student affairs association conferences, for the most part, tend to have good content and good facilitators doing the work. I always feel like I’m learning, even in sessions that might be “routine” for me. I have a learning orientation, but….

Not everyone does. Student affairs professionals must realize that we are not at conferences to vacation. Resources are put behind us to participate: Time away from work, money from the dwindling higher education budgets, etc. If I could change one thing about how people approach their time at professional conferences it would be that everyone would recognize this need to learn and then teach others. Additionally, no matter how much fun you have or how many relationships you want to nurture (for personal and professional reasons), attending sessions is tantamount. It is not in question: you go to things, you participate in learning for some significant period of time each day at the conference and then you share what you learned with others upon return.

Relationships: I attend conferences to maintain and nurture relationships. These are  professional and personal and often both. I appreciate those who have mentored and supported me and I try to pass that on to others. I enjoy time talking through issues. I enjoy time at dinner. At the bar. I enjoy time exercising before sessions start. I truly enjoy these relationships, but….

These relationships can be draining: some are terrific and there’s not so much an issue with the relationship but more about the time spent nurturing them. Staying up all night hanging with friends is something that’s particularly challenging if I also want to prioritize my learning. I have to figure out how to spend better time with people rather than less. There are also some relationships I need to spend time on repairing and some that I need to let go of – not for any reason other than I can’t be everything to everyone. My best self never shows up in that scenario.

Because I value supporting others, I find that I spend a lot of time at AFA in particular, but at any conference, I want to mentor and support. This means lots of hallway conversations, coffee and lunch meetings, fitting in discussions between sessions or at dinner, the bar, etc. I won’t stop doing this BUT it is time away from some of my prioritized relationships; can I support others while being supported myself?

Drama: Associations come with drama (don’t even get me started on the ACPA/NASPA consolidation matter) and AFA is no stranger to this. It’s particularly salient in AFA because (1) we’re a relationship oriented function, (2) not everyone plays nice together in the sandbox, and (3) for me, I’ve been so engaged in so many ways that I traverse in different circles, know different things, etc.

I see nothing valuable about unfounded drama. Sometimes the conversations that result from discussions (i.e. the never ending perception of an in/out crowd in professional associations, members’ perceptions of how leaders are doing) can be powerful, rewarding, learning experiences, but…

I have to step away from the drama. I often think I’m not immersed in it, but I become immersed because I respond to it. Because I value relationships, I want to ensure that all have the right information and we all know drama comes from perceptions that something isn’t right and that someone wasn’t involved or didn’t have the right information.

I also wonder if the drama continues to suck the life out of the relationships, how can we make progress? How can we move beyond territory and ownership to shared goals? Prevalent in AFA and any association, this is a real problem in student affairs: are we always truly about the right things or do we let personal hangups influence our work?

So, what does this mean for me and how can someone take this and use it for their own association experience:

1. If I am focused on learning, how can I do this in a way that doesn’t exhaust me. I am less willing to compromise the learning orientation but I also may need to be less involved in creating the learning experiences. Maybe going to sessions or facilitating one or two sessions rather than facilitating five is a good idea for me.

2. If I am focused on relationships, what do I need to do to prioritize the ones that matter most, incorporate opportunities for mentoring and relationship building, and minimize the time spent in interactions that may be valuable/important but not priorities? How can I ensure relationship building occurs and still get enough sleep to prioritize learning?

3. If I am focused too much on drama, or fixing perceptions, I get wrapped up in the things that drain me the most. My investment in professional associations is meaningful and I demonstrate care through my contributions. However, I can’t change the perception of all persons and I need to determine when I have crossed the line between getting involved in meaningful discussions about the future of an organization and the experiences of members and that of being dragged down into drama ridden, mean or spiteful. and often uninformed conversations.

We’ll see how I do. I don’t get as invested in ACPA or NASPA issues and tend to focus my learning and relationship orientations pretty well there. I imagine trying out this new balancing approach to engagement in professional associations, specifically their conferences, will end up with lots of hiccups rather than perfection, but I am committed to trying.

What are your experiences like in professional associations? How do you engage at conferences? What do you love and hate about these organizations?

Bookmark and Share

Evolving to Practitioner/Scholar

Bookmark and Share

Today I sat in on a friend and colleague’s dissertation defense. He did a great job and is now Dr! However, of all his responses today, the one that stood out to me was less about his research and more about his evolution as a student affairs professional.

When he was asked how the process of pursuing the PhD changed him, he indicated that he set out to do the degree because he wanted to move up in the field, eventually becoming a VP. However, while that might still be a professional goal, he explained that the pursuit of the EdD has helped him be more in the moment with his current work as a director. Even more importantly, he described how the doctoral pursuit helped him rethink approaches to work, making him more focused on doing his work BETTER. He explained that better meant more data driven and using the framework of research to approach how he conducts his practice.

He will now listen to conversations differently – as a researcher. The pursuit of the dissertation is about the research but it’s also about how you become better at what it is you plan to do. You do the dissertation to inform your current and future approaches to research, teaching, or general professional practice. It’s nice to hear how this process changed him and how it will inform who he is now and who he becomes. It was nice to see how what began as a means to an end became a lesson in how to approach the present.

How do you frame your work?

How has the pursuit of additional knowledge through pursuit of advanced degrees or participation in professional development activities influenced your approach to work in student affairs?


Bookmark and Share

Increasing our Competence to Influence Student Retention and Persistence

Bookmark and Share

If you work in higher education in Tennessee, you know that we’re all scrambling to adapt to a new model of funding. We are no longer funded on how many students are here on Day 14 of the semester. As part of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission Complete College Tennessee Act, institutions are now funded based on retention, referred to as outcomes based funding.

We’re feeling this at the University of Memphis as our base funding has been cut significantly over the last five years and we have yet to see the effects of our efforts to significantly increase our retention and graduation rates. We’re on the cusp, but that’s not good enough. We all have to be working toward helping students come here, stay here, and graduate from here. It has to be the job of all, particularly student affairs.

Now, there is evidence that students involved in activities and such are more likely to stay, but I would argue that dispositions have a large influence in those numbers and few in student affairs could provide evidence that students perceive their programs influence the decision to come and stay here. Furthermore, student affairs professionals have to more strongly connect their work to the goal of retention. You might work with the Student Programming Board, serve as a hall director, coordinate programs for identity groups such as students with disabilities, or run the student union but you’re not doing your job here in Tennessee unless you think your primary job is to influence retention and graduation.

We should each examine how the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competency areas connect to retention. Consider some of the following examples:

Through developing skills in advising and helping, how are we strengthening our conversations to incorporate questions about decision to stay, influence of involvement in staying, engaging student leaders in helping their peers to persist and graduate?

Looking at the different skills in equity, diversity, and inclusion, do we have the competence to support students from diverse backgrounds considering the facts that might influence their decision to stay (e.g. first generation status, campus climate issues for LGBT students).

If we are committed to the competency of student learning and development, are we creating experiences and connecting students to opportunities to become engaged in activities/programs/services that connect their in-class learning to their out of class learning, thus strengthening the perception that college, in its entirety, helps them become something they aspire toward.

There are few meetings anymore that I am in that we aren’t discussing how student affairs contributes to retention. These meetings have made me think more and more about how I should be developing the skills needed so that when I interact with students I can meet their individual and group needs and connect them more strongly to the institution, in the hopes they will stay and graduate.

What kinds of things are you doing to push the needle up on retention?

Does your student affairs division have a culture in which staff identifies that they directly influence retention and they are working toward increasing retention and graduation rates?



Bookmark and Share