The role of student affairs in working with students

I believe that the goal of student affairs professionals should be to complement students’ learning in the classroom by encouraging them to develop an individual identity, increase active engagement within in a diverse community, and learn about and work toward ending inequality and ensuring social justice.

To this end, I believe that student affairs professionals fill the role of gardeners, cultivating the growth of students in higher education outside the classroom (Chipman & Kuh, 1988). Like the many kinds of plants, different students do not all develop into the same mature self. Different students require different things to continue to develop. I believe that the correct balance of challenge and support, as identified by Nevitt Sanford (1967) is imperative for the continued growth of students. Like gardeners might try to ward off pests, student affairs administrators can construct, control, or alter certain aspects of the environment in order to impact student behavior (Strange & Banning, 2001). Finally, like plants, students will grow as long as their needs are met, but may only develop in the senses of identity, engagement, and justice given certain resources within a certain environment.

The role of student affairs within a college or university

I believe that student affairs in higher education should engage, educate, and empower students within the environment outside the classroom. Students attend higher education institutions to learn, develop, and mature, but classroom experiences are not the best way to teach everything. I believe life skills are best learned through action. College environments, including residence halls, student unions, fraternities and sororities, and student organizations should be living and learning laboratories, allowing students to learn through action and informed risk-taking within a strong framework of support. Student affairs should also attempt to get students to take their learning beyond the boundaries of the college environment, through experiences in service learning, education abroad, and professional education through internships. At the end of a student’s higher education experience, students must transition from their roles as students to roles as professionals and citizens. According to Schlossberg’s Transition Theory, this transition can be traumatic if a student is not properly equipped with positive coping strategies, interpersonal support, and a strong sense of self (Schlossberg, Waters, & Goodman, 1995; Evans, Forney, & Guido-DiBrito, 1998). Through providing opportunities for new and different experiences, while supporting students through new challenges, student affairs professionals can help prepare students for positive citizenship and successful professional lives.

The role of student affairs in higher education in general

In the United States today, with mass, nearly universal, access to higher education (Trow, 1999), it is more important than ever that an institution has sufficient staff to support student populations which are still relatively new to higher education. Growing student populations such as first-generation college students, international students, students with a history of academic difficulty or learning disability, and students with multiple racial or ethnic identities may need additional support or new and innovative support programs from student affairs professionals. Student affairs professionals must be in tune with the changing student, as student affairs programs and services are more flexible than academic curricula, institutional culture, and university tradition.

Leadership in student affairs

As a leader within higher education, I strive to implement the principles of collaboration, empowerment, and advocacy, which were identified by Kezar, Carducci, and Contreras-McGavin (2006) as revolutionary concepts of leadership in higher education. I seek input from those I serve as leader in critical decisions. I seek feedback from those affected before changing programs, creating projects, or implementing new policies. I will take risks and implement new programs, while being careful to assess whether the programs meet their goals. All of my work will be toward improving student engagement and success. I will empower those I supervise to become leaders themselves, and I will advocate on behalf of my coworkers and students.


Chipman, J. T. & Kuh, G. D. (1988). Organizational entry into student affairs: A metaphorical analysis. NASPA Journal, 25, 274-80.

Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., & Guido-DiBrito, F. (1998). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kezar, A. J., R. Carducci, & M. Contreras-McGavin. (2006). Rethinking the ‘l’ word in higher education: The revolution in research on leadership. ASHE Higher Education Report, 31(6)

Sanford, N. (1967). Where colleges fail: A study of the student as a person. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schlossberg, N. K., Waters, E. B., & Goodman, J. (1995). Counseling adults in transition (2nd ed.). New York: Springer.

Strange, C. C. & Banning, J. H. (2001). Educating by design: Creating campus learning environments that work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Trow, M. (1999). From mass higher education to universal access: The American advantage. Minerva, 37, 303-328. doi: 10.1023/A:1004708520977