I could write for many many pages about the goals, trends, and key issues currently facing student affairs professionals and higher education. Some that come to mind are the emergence of MOOCs, incoming international students, mental health support, and sophomore year experience programs. However, I have the space here to discuss only a couple of these goals, trends, or key issues in depth, so I will focus on several that I have had the opportunity to study during my time in the CSSA program. Staying on top of the research, including what institutions around the country and around the world are talking about, is one of the challenges that creates doubt for me. Can I stay ahead of the conversation when it comes to those issues that affect how I do my work? I will continue to strive in wonder at the extent of the current goals, trends, and key issues, with the personal goal of following my learning and interests where they take me.
The first issue that I would like to speak of in a bit more depth is the growing population of student veterans. As soldiers around the world, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, come home after deployment, they are often taking advantage of the new G.I. Bill benefits that give them funds to attend college. This demographic change presents some amazing opportunities for student affairs professionals. I outlined research I found on these opportunities in a paper for AHE 551, Programs & Functions in College Student Services, “A New Generation of Student Veterans“. I found it important to educate myself, and other higher education professionals, on the cultural differences between military life and civilian life, as these differences may impact transition needs that student veterans have. I also learned about particular programming and theories that apply to student veterans, including service learning opportunities and several of Schlossberg’s transition theories. I developed a program supporting student veterans through this transition process for my CSI project, which spanned my work in the Fall 2011 in AHE 551, Programs & Functions in Higher Education, AHE 548, American Higher Education, and AHE 552, Principles and Theories of Student Development in Universities and Colleges I. For this poster project, I developed a group peer-mentoring orientation series for student veterans, where upper-level student veterans would hold group orientation sessions throughout the fall term to monitor transition issues for new student veterans. This project really opened my eyes to the issue of educating our campus communities about this student population so that we can better support and integrate their particular strengths and traits into our campus culture.
A second issue that higher education is beginning to innovate to address is President Obama’s College Completion Agenda (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2011). The national goal for the President and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is that by 2020, 50% more Americans will possess some post-secondary school credential (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2011). This credential could include vocational certificates, associate’s degrees, or bachelor’s degrees. To reach this goal, student affairs’ current focus on access to higher education must widen to focus on programs that enhance students’ abilities to complete their degrees. This issue became apparent to me while in AHE 553, Organization and Administration of College Student Services. Our final project, working on a team with Marcella Flores and Raphelle Rhoads, included investigating and presenting on innovative ways to meet these goals and shift the conversation from retention and persistence to completion.
The final issue that I will discuss here is the focus on experiential education to prepare students for the workplace. This trend is one that has come out of my engagement with Career Services, yet my belief is that it touches most functional areas in student affairs. In this struggling economy, employers are telling us in Career Services, through survey data and anecdotal conversations, that students with experience are more likely to be great candidates for entry level positions when they transition to the working world. This experience can come in many forms; the most useful are internships in the student’s field of interest. However, students can gain transferrable skills by getting experience through service learning projects and coursework, volunteering, student leadership experiences, on and off-campus jobs, and undergraduate research opportunities. These sorts of experiences are often the domain of student affairs in higher education. Because of this employer feedback, it is important that we promote a cultural shift across campus that encourages involvement in these types of experiences. From decades of research, we in student affairs know that it is also these experiences that promote retention and persistence in college. However, the new argument for these co-curriculur student experiences that they can represent on their resume is that they will also be more likely to receive job opportunities when they graduate. Therefore, the entire university must work together to increase student involvement, so that our students will be successful once they leave us. This project requires students affairs to work collaboratively across the campus with academic affairs and administration to shift everyone’s understanding of the purpose of the college experience.