Keeling and Hersh (2012) explain as colleges and universities move toward a focus on increased graduation rates and meeting students’ expectation to “get me a job”, we forget what should be primary to our existence and purpose in society: helping students learn. While graduation rates and job placement numbers matter, are we satisfied that students enter society without some of the basic skills they should have learned under our guidance? Many of our graduates lack essential skills. Does college/university really accomplish what the world needs it to?
Student affairs needs to ask the same question: if we cannot prove that students learned as a result of our programs, what value do we have?
We are at a point when all we do should be about learning. We should not just hope it occurs. Keeling and Hersh (2012) tell us this. Guiding documents of student affairs tells us this – in fact, in a recent essay, Jim Barber and I explain that while not always first on our mind, learning has always been a byproduct of good work in student affairs. In the ACPA/NASPA Student Learning and Development competency, at the basic level, we are expected to “Identify and construct learning outcomes for both daily practice as well as teaching and training activities”.
What else do we need to hear before we’re just being negligent about our work in student affairs? Why are people still not prioritizing learning? Why don’t we use language that more meaningfully connects what we do to learning? Why don’t we view our role as educators? Really, why has this been so hard?
It’s hard because we can’t see or feel learning as much as we can see a student happy with her residence hall experience or relieved after we’ve provided her with counseling services for stress management. Student affairs folks like happy – that’s not a bad thing – but when we see her happy we can also meet our other obligation by asking her (in some way) what it was she learned as a result.
What will it take for you to prioritize learning? If you already do, what are the strategies you use to infuse learning more strongly into your work?