My Student Affairs Blindspot

Bundling, the rise of inexpensive online degree programs, and the relational model of learning.

October 24, 2018

I have a student affairs blindspot.

My blindspot goes as far as not being sure that I understand the roles and functions of the profession. From looking at the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) site Considering a Career in Student Affairs, I see that the roles include "any advising, counseling, management, or administrative function at a college or university that exists outside the classroom.”   

The functions of a student affairs role encompass "a varied mixture of leading, educating, individual and group advising, counseling, supervising, teaching, training, planning, program development, inquiring, managing, financial management, and assessment and evaluation.

My student affairs blindspot comes from my history. As a student, I did not use these services. School was where I was, and continue to be, the most comfortable. While I have had a few graduations, I’ve never actually left college.

My assumption as someone who works in higher education was that everyone should be the same as me. If I could do higher ed without any additional support or resources, shouldn’t everyone else?  I doubt I’m alone in this view.

The problem is that basing an opinion on something as important as student affairs on personal history will cause us to miss things.

Tomorrow’s brilliant graduate might be today’s young person who needs some extra help.

Those of us who were able to pretty much cruise on through college for whatever reasons are likely to lack empathy for those that need some support.

If the empathy argument doesn’t work for you to look fondly at student affairs, then maybe an economic argument will. I’ve come to believe that student affairs professionals are essential for the long-term resilience of our colleges and universities.

The work that student affairs professionals do is part of the bundled experience that institutions provide. As far as every college or university is either dependent on tuition dollars, or dependent on status related to student demand, then the bundle will matter.

Attracting and retaining students requires an investment in their well-being.

Educators who equate the growth of student affairs functions with administrative bloat might want to think through the alternatives.

We know what an unbundled higher education experience looks like. The way that Georgia Tech can offer an online master’s in cybersecurity for less than $10,000 is that they are providing an unbundled student experience.  

Students in the Georgia Tech get courses and content and assessment. It might be the best online content and digitally mediated learning experience on the planet.

What they don’t get are strong mentoring and coaching relationships with professors or anyone else on campus. They do not receive what student affairs offers, or anything else that is included in the higher education bundle.

These programs can be inexpensive because adaptive learning platforms, digital content, and assessments can scale.

Relationships do not scale.  Human interactions do not scale. The bundle does not scale.

The Georgia Tech $10K unbundled online degree program may be a wonderful model for some full-time working professionals. I question if this is the model that we want for all of higher education.

If you are an educator and would like to work on a campus where a relational model of education is prioritized, then you might want to consider also championing your student affairs colleagues.

Any of us who believe in a relational model of education should be supportive of any bundled education that improves the experience of our learners.

Do you share my student affairs blindspot?


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