Bridging the Gap between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs

HoldingHands

Last week I led a workshop for our Student Affairs Winter Recharge on the topic of “Bridging the Gap between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.” My experiences as an instructor, as well as my personal experiences in education, have given me an appreciation for the transformative effect of a rigorous academic curriculum. And my interactions with students outside the classroom have confirmed the importance of reinforcing the academic components through additional opportunities for student development. As a result, I often feel like I have my foot in both camps.

In my role as a service-learning coordinator, I served as a liaison between academic affairs and student affairs. Many faculty have limited interactions with student affairs and are unfamiliar with the variety of services and programs offered; not surprisingly, student affairs professionals often feel misunderstood and unappreciated by faculty. The relationship between academic affairs and student affairs may not receive as much attention as retention or graduation rates, but its impact can be just as great for students. Ever since I stepped foot on campus as a student affairs professional I have seen and felt the real “division” between the Division of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.

Historical Background

Prior to the 1960’s, faculty was responsible for intellectual and social development of students. Around the 1970’s, enrollment increases created a higher demand for student affairs professionals to address needs for co-curricular programs and services. In the 1980’s higher education researchers began focusing on the need for collaboration between the growing student affairs divisions and academic affairs. By the 1990’s, national student affairs organizations like ACPA and NASPA released Best Practices (which are still pertinent). In the past ten years, High Impact Practices have gained the spotlight highlighting many of the practices that fall within student affairs as being critical to academic success.

Benefits of bridging the gap between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs:

  1. Seamless connection between in- and out-side of classroom experiences. When a student is trying to navigate a process that involves multiple departments (like coordinating disability services), lack of communication between departments can lead to frustration. If the student is already distressed, these disconnected experiences can exacerbate the student’s situation.
  2. Co-curricular experiences that enhance and compliment the curriculum. There are many opportunities, including Service Learning, for students to apply the knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world environments. When student affairs and academic affairs work together, students benefit from a richer learning experience.
  3. Holistic support and development of the whole student. Both faculty and student affairs staff are critical to student development. Both play a major role in orienting students to campus, helping students transition into college, and advising students in various aspects of personal and professional growth.
  4. Increased resources and support for students resulting in academic and personal success. Students need many types of role models, mentors, and advisors, and student success is greatly improved when the faculty and student affairs staff who are supporting a student are working collaboratively.
  5. Increased satisfaction with the overall university experience. The success of an institution is dependent on the quality of education and service provided to students. Taking care of our students improves the relationship between the student and the university.

Barriers

Barriers exist on both sides of the university. Barriers specific to faculty include lack of recognition and rewards for participation, significant turnover in student affairs, and lack of orientation and training on student affairs. Barriers specific to student affairs staff include, restricted freedom within the university due to classification (lack of tenure status), lack of understanding of tenure process that drives academic affairs, and perceptions that student affairs play a subordinate role in the university.

Barriers to both Student Affairs and Academic Affairs:

  1. Lack of knowledge or understanding of roles
  2. Assumptions and incorrect perceptions
  3. Competition for resources
  4. Lack of trust
  5. Organizational culture and language
  6. Values and priorities
  7. Organizational structures

Opportunities

The opportunities for collaboration are endless. Partnerships can range from formal strategic decisions to informal alliances. Some of these ideas can be implemented overnight, and others will require long-term planning.

Opportunities for collaboration:

  1. Classroom announcements and in-class trainings provided by student affairs
  2. Faculty office hours in Living Learning Communities/Housing
  3. Service learning courses
  4. Campuswide Task Forces
  5. First-year experience courses
  6. Academic-Student Affairs Partnership Meetings
  7. Campus-based Leadership Institute
  8. Conferences and Presentations
  9. Collaborative Grants and Research
  10. Institutes and Centers
  11. Advisory Boards
  12. Internships in Student Affairs
  13. Recruitment & Outreach
  14. Search Committees

I chose to pursue my Ph.D. because I wanted to leave the door open to academic affairs. I see the changes taking place in education and realize that in the academic world understanding student development theory, the learning process, and factors for success are critical supplements to a strong knowledge base in the academic field.

The gap between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs will not be bridged overnight. We will need both formal and informal processes to build collaborative partnerships. At the center of these collaborations will be professionals who understand the value of both academic affairs and student affairs.

Resources:

American Association for Higher Education, American College Personnel Association, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (1998). Powerful partnerships: A shared responsibility for learning. Washington, DC: Author.

Kellogg, K. (1999). Collaboration: Student affairs and academic affairs working together to promote student learning. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education.

Kuh, G.D. (1996). Guiding principles for creating seamless learning environments for undergraduates. Journal of College Student Development (37)2, 135-148.

Martin, J. & Murphy, S. (2000). Building a better bridge: Creating effective partnerships between academic affairs and student affairs. National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Inc.

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