The Role of Student Affairs
The Division of Student Affairs, with a diverse and complicated set of responsibilities, contributes a special perspective about students, their experiences, and their campus environments. The mission encompasses the dual paradigms of student services and student development. Student services address the programs and activities that support the academic enterprise while student development involves those interpersonal and affective strategies through which students learn. Student services and student development, when properly designed to correspond with the institution’s mission and goals reinforce and extend the university’s influence beyond the classroom. As a result, student’s experiences and opportunities become an integral part of the educational process. The quality of the university experience for students is significantly affected by the availability, variety, and integrity of services and development activities provided by Student Affairs.
The Academic Mission of CSUF is, of course, preeminent. We know that colleges and universities organize their primary activities around the academic experience: the curriculum, the library, the classroom, the studio and the laboratory. The work of Student Affairs should not compete with and cannot substitute for that academic experience. As a partner in the educational enterprise, Student Affairs enhances and supports institutional productivity in learning. Therefore, what and how much students learn must also be the criteria by which the value of student affairs is judged (as contrasted with numbers of programs offered or clients served). The student affairs division’s mission complements the University’s mission, with the enhancement of student learning and personal development being the primary goal.
Learning and Personal Development
The American College Personnel Association, in the document "The Student Learning Imperative," says that "The concepts of learning and personal development are inextricably intertwined and inseparable. Higher education traditionally has organized its activities into academic affairs (learning, curriculum, classrooms, cognitive development) and student affairs (co-curriculum, student activities, residential life, affective or personal development). However, this dichotomy has little relevance to post-college life, where the quality of one’s job performance, family life, and community activities are all highly dependent on cognitive and affective skills. Indeed, it is difficult to classify many important adult skills, (e.g., leadership, creativity, citizenship, ethical behavior, self-understanding, teaching, mentoring) as either cognitive or affective."
We must function in ways that recognize that students benefit from many and varied experiences during their years at the university and that learning and personal development are cumulative, mutually shaping processes that occur over an extended period of time in many different settings. The better the balance between curriculum and co-curriculum, the more students gain. Student Affairs must work to make "seamless" the inside and outside class activities of students. These activities are often perceived by students to be disjointed, unconnected experiences; student affairs professionals should address these perceptions by bridging organizational boundaries and forging collaborative partnerships with faculty and others to enhance student learning.
The Campus Environment
The campus environment is extremely important because it is rarely neutral. It will add or detract from a student’s university experience. Interaction between students and their environment shapes attitudes, readiness to learn and the quality of the university experience.
Student Affairs must work to help create an environment in which personal integrity, cross-cultural understanding, and human sensitivity flourish. Student government, recreational, cultural and social affairs, and other supplements to the formal instructional program should be integral parts of, and contribute directly to, the effectiveness of the total educational program. Concerted administrative efforts to promote positive faculty-student relationships can contribute immeasurably to the enhancement of the quality of campus life.
Further, we must understand that students are individuals. No two come to the university with the same expectations, abilities, life experiences, or motives. Therefore, students will not approach the university with equal skill and sophistication, nor will they make equally good choices. This is particularly true at a large public university.
Since diverse student constituencies have differing needs, some students may require special support. Student services should be broad enough to meet the special needs of students, including part-time and older students, international and non-traditional students, students with disabilities and first generation college students. Given this diversity, faculty and staff must be responsive to the spectrum of ability, preparation, and the special needs of the student population.
For example, within the diverse student population at CSUF there are students with varying counseling needs. Students require counseling in a variety of areas, including personal concerns, academic choices, and career planning. Student Affairs has the major responsibility for making counseling available to all students. The aim should be to provide counseling, advocacy, intervention, and referral services so that students can resolve problems that might otherwise interfere with the achievement of their educational objectives.
Providing and Interpreting Information about Students
Another major role for Student Affairs is the responsibility to provide and interpret information about students. In order to assess its objectives, and to develop and modify institutional policies, service, and practices, an institution must have knowledge and understanding of contemporary and emerging student populations.
This information goes beyond demographics. It should include student beliefs, attitudes, values, interests, skills, cultural awareness, and other aspects of psychological and social development. Knowledge about student characteristics should influence and inform the learning process, the campus climate, the programs offered, and the services provided.
Student affairs professionals should know how students spend their time and whether students are using the institution’s resources to educational advantage.
Student Affairs shares responsibility for initiating conversations--with students and other institutional agents--about how students could make more effective use of their time and institutional resources. We should monitor whether institutional policies and practices enhance or detract from learning and personal development. Moreover, we should integrate data about student performance from faculty and others with our own observations of students’ experiences and disseminate this information to stakeholders.
The Importance of Standards and Guidelines
We must have standards and guidelines for the Division of Student Affairs in general and our respective units in particular. This will assist in not only designing and sharpening our mission but also help us to advance our goals and objectives. Standards and guidelines provide focus, direction, and a greatly needed new perspective to student affairs practices. Together they provide a guiding vision of substance and stable criteria against which to measure our services, programs, and activities. They can also provide a blueprint for program establishment and enhancement as we seek to determine ways to respond to the needs of our students in the future. Standards and guidelines can be helpful in reducing the credibility gap between Student Affairs and other constituencies by educating the campus community to the value of student services and student development programs in advancing the mission of the University.
We have chosen to use the Council on the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS), Book of Professional Standards for Higher Education, as the vehicle to do a self-assessment and evaluation of the units in the Division of Student Affairs. As an added benefit, this activity can be a positive development experience for the staff involved in the assessment of their area of responsibility, as well as for those beyond their purview. In using the CAS standards, we have an excellent tool to create, expand, explain, evaluate and defend the important student services and student development programs we provide.
To ensure the preeminence of learning at CSUF, we must focus on more than classroom teaching and learning. For faculty to simply teach more or to teach better is not enough. A true university education encompasses much more than what is learned in the classroom, laboratory and library. We must create conditions throughout campus and throughout divisions that motivate and inspire students to pursue educationally purposeful activities, both in and outside the classroom. Student Affairs must help ensure that CSUF student learning and student development are seen as inseparable. We must help foster a positive and supportive campus environment for all students. We must become the major source for information about students. Finally, we must continually review and evaluate our effectiveness in meeting our goals and objectives.
As a partner in the educational enterprise, the Division of Student Affairs must contribute effectively to the comprehensive education of students by providing a diverse and complex set of programs and activities that enhance and support the mission of CSUF.