I hope you all have enjoyed the summer.
As you read this, students are making their pilgrimages back to campus for the upcoming fall semester.
Once they arrive on campus, what helps them stay on campus? Surely, we can point to the work of our faculty members, who pride themselves on getting to know their students and providing the encouragement and support to continue their studies.
But who’s responsible for supporting students the rest of the time? Student Affairs staff are the unsung heroes of student success. They provide for the physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing of students, and so much more. And their jobs keep getting harder. Students have so much more with which to contend than previous generations, and Student Affairs is charged with helping them to manage.
This summer I sat down with student affairs officers from SCICU member institutions in order to get a better idea of the challenges students face and how much more complex their jobs have become in order to address them.
And Student Affairs staff are responsible for more than you may realize – it’s not just about residence halls and freshmen orientation. They let me know being a Student Affairs staff member is a 24/7 job – student crises have a nasty habit of happening on weekends and at 2 a.m.
Student Affairs is also responsible for student health and mental health services, the demands for which have skyrocketed in recent years. Students in record numbers are reporting anxiety, stress and – worst of all – suicidal ideation, putting greater demand on securing staff capable of addressing these challenges.
Student Affairs staff are not waiting for problems to happen. They develop programs that promote healthy behavior and coping mechanisms that equip students to handle daily struggles and navigate the challenges of adult interactions. One student affairs staffer observed they are responsible for “helping students build and maintain healthy relationships.” Anyone whose ever had a teenager in the house knows that’s a tall order.
These kinds of programs require the coordination of many aspects of a campus’ operations, from facilities and engineering, to IT, to the athletic department, to the president’s office. Student Affairs staff are campus diplomats working across the “silos,” in college jargon.
And they look to the future – what is the plan for after graduation? Career services is a sophisticated operation that has become so much more than resume advice. It supplements what students have learned in the classroom by identifying their personal strengths and matching them to their aspirations. Indeed, by helping students to see a bright future, career services inspires students to stick with their studies, improving retention and graduation rates.
Notice all these services that are central to a student’s personal success, and essential to remaining in school and graduating, all occur outside the classroom. I find the criticism regarding a college’s “non-academic” expenditures utterly myopic, and misguided. Today’s students need more support and colleges are obliged to provide it.
So, three cheers for the student affairs professionals! Students wouldn’t make it without them.