Tag Archives: student affairs careers

8 Ways to Make Yourself Indispensible in Student Affairs

Because of recent discussions related to professional accreditation through ACPA, I felt it would be appropriate to write a post on how current and prospective student affairs professionals can make themselves indispensible within the field. Putting yourself in a position in which “they can’t do without you” not only firmly establishes you at you own institution, but also makes you marketable on a national level.

Here are eight ways to make yourself indispensible in student affairs:

1. Have a Working Knowledge of Research & Assessment – Higher education is coming under more scrutiny in regards to accountability by politicians and tax-payers alike. Are we accomplishing what we’ve set out to accomplish? Are we making an impact on the lives of our students? If so, student affairs professionals need to be armed with the practical skills involved in assessing developmental and educational learning outcomes. Being able to develop and assess student learning outcomes is a skill you definitely want to have in your “bag of tricks.”  Both CampusLabs.com and AALHE (Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education) provide excellent resources.

2. Ablility to Do More with Less (Resource Management) – Times have become tight across the U.S., particularly within public higher education institutions. The ability to maximize resources, whether human resources or financial, is a crucial skill for those who want to remain and excel in higher education administration. Many resources exist through NACUBO (National Association of College and University Business Officers) and NACAS (National Association of College Auxiliary Services) that you may find helpful.

3. Innovation – Being able to leverage technology within student affairs has now become a must-needed skill set. Instructional technologies and social media are now at the forefront of curricular design across the globe.  Also, being able to think outside of the box, challenge the status quo, and develop new and fresh ideas that can help set your department apart from others. What new ideas and practices are your bringing to your department?

The Chronicle hosts the “Wired Campus,” which publishes the latest “news on tech and education.”  Additionally, I highly recommend the book The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen.

4. Develop Student Learning Outcomes – Student Affairs typically complements the university’s academic mission, and being able to demonstrate that that your work directly affects student learning and developmental outcomes is key. Moving beyond mere attendance counts for programming can be challenging, but this is the mark of a true student affairs professional. The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education offers many resources on learning and developmental outcomes.

5. Knowledge of Best Practices – While many would criticize this for being an overused phrase, having a broad knowledge of what works and does not work within Student Affairs is valuable knowledge. Set yourself apart by placing the bar high and constantly excelling. Again, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education is a good place to start to explore what practices and standards you should be implementing within Student Affairs.

6. Nurturance of Diversity – More and more students are coming to our campuses with diverse backgrounds and varying needs. The “traditional” college student is no longer an 18 – 22 year old white male. Student characteristics have become increasingly diverse, and the ability to meet the needs of all of our students is crucial. Student Affairs is past the point of merely “accepting” diversity; a new paradigm of nurturing diversity by reflecting the diverse characteristics of a “global” community is what is expected from all Student Affairs professionals.

7. Political Saavy – Being able to wade through the often murky political waters of an institution is a tricky task. Learn all you that can about those you work for, including the upper-level administrators. Make a name for yourself, and find ways to help them achieve their goals so that they may help you to achieve yours.

8. Mentoring & Supervision – Developing and leading a shared vision is key to being a successful student affairs administrator. Helping others understand and carry out that vision is essential to the growth and development of your department. Be there to support those you supervise and mentor because the more you are there for them, the more faith and trust they will develop in you.

In what other ways have you made yourself indispensible within student affairs? Please share your comments below.

So You Want to Be a Vice President of Student Affairs (Guest Post by Dr. Linda D. Koch, D.Ed.)

Almost forty years ago, I decided I wanted to become a student affairs professional. As an undergraduate student, I was like many soon to be student affairs professionals in that I was a student government officer, in charge of the program board, involved in any number of clubs and organizations and little did I realize that would become my career path.  While working at my alma mater [East Stroudsburg], I was asked to fill in for a student affairs professional that needed to be on leave for a year. It was the beginning of what became a lifetime commitment to students.

I learned very early in this career that I needed to be credentialed appropriately. I watched many of my professional colleagues with lots of ability never chosen to be more than an Assistant or Associate Dean. Some by their own choosing but many because they felt it was not necessary to have a terminal degree. I should note that many of them were also female and that could also be another reason for not being selected. I made certain if I was not going to move up the career ladder there would be a good reason for it and it was not because I did not fit the academic requirement of a terminal degree.

My goal was to have all of my education completed by the time I was thirty. I missed it by about six months. It meant sacrifice and living on a budget that now seems quite meager. I commuted from Shippensburg, PA to State College, PA for two years before I realized I needed to spend the better part of a year getting the doctorate finished. There was a point in time that I also considered going to law school and not finishing the doctorate but I am glad I made the choice I did and completed a degree in Higher Education.

Our profession is an odd one in that there is no one degree that is preferred over another for the senior student affairs officer. The only criteria that I think is invaluable are the ability to speak in complete thoughts and also write them in communications to our academic colleagues. I have seen very intelligent professionals fail to achieve their goals because they neglect to write well and without grammatical mistakes and can barely engage others in conversation.

All of us read materials by professionals who are published in journals that are pertinent to what we do. Being a senior level administrator, however, does not necessarily mean you need to be published or even know how to conduct research. In these troubled times in all of education, we need to be able to analyze data, put together a plan that will work and become part of every committee on campus that needs to be reminded that students are our customer.

Working with all of the faculty and staff on a campus is always a part of the expectation for the senior student affairs officer. This is particularly true during troubled times and during an emergency, like a student tragedy. We have too many, most of the time, audiences that need to hear our voices. I believe it is critical that the Vice President for Student Affairs learns to be the spokesperson for the campus not only for student matters but in times of great sadness as well as joy. We are one of only a few administrators who can handle matters effectively when there needs to be one voice.

All of the experiences in higher education matter as you wander down the path that leads to the senior officer position. Most of us come out of housing and/or residence life. This is the only way to learn about how an institution functions. As a professional, I also think it is essential to move up through appropriate levels of experience, i.e. Assistant/Associate Dean, Dean and even Assistant Vice President. Learning takes place at all levels of responsibility but different settings are also important. I have worked at five different universities during my career and each one had a different way of doing things. That provided me with more perspective than I could possibly have hoped for.

Take advantage of professional development opportunities outside of the student affairs profession. Time I spent at Harvard’s Institute for Educational Management has been irreplaceable. Find someone on your campus who can nominate you for this program once you become a Vice President. Also, I have thoroughly enjoyed and learned a great deal by becoming a peer evaluator for Middle States Regional Accrediting Agency.  Visiting a campus that has just completed several years of studying itself and telling you about it, is a great way to gain ideas that may help you on your campus.

As your campus looks for leaders to participate on committees that are a part of various processes, volunteer to help. Volunteer to be a part of the selection processes for important positions on your campus, you will learn a great deal.

Making a campus better for students is all of our jobs and sometimes we do it well and other times we do not. In these financially troubled times, it will take more than the Vice President for Student Affairs to do that. As anyone begins the search process for such a position, ask others to help you. Practice questions for interviews are essential as you prepare for such an experience. Doing homework on the institutions you apply to is also critical in the process.

Finally, all of us work for a boss. Get to know your President and clearly let him or her know that you are a team player who wants to make the campus a better place for everyone. Being politically savvy and able to talk with other professionals is imperative to making sure you are successful.

Linda D. Koch, D.Ed. has been the only Vice President for Student Affairs in the history of Lock Haven University. She holds a BA and an MA in History from East Stroudsburg University; an M. S. in Counseling from Ohio University and a D. Ed. in Higher Education from Penn State University. A native of Pennsylvania, she has worked for East Stroudsburg University as an Assistant Dean; Ohio University as a Resident Director and Teaching Assistant; Shippensburg University as an Assistant Dean; Western Connecticut as Associate Dean and Lock Haven University as a Dean of Student Affairs and Vice President for Student Affairs. She resides in Lock Haven with four male cats!