The New Student Affairs Niche Is Your Path

The value of multiple career paths.

September 25, 2014
The New Student Affairs Niche

What you're reading right now is my second draft of this post. I realized that I was venting via a very rant-oriented post and that I would rather try to focus on being productive and positive. One of my favorite pieces of advice from a mentor when I was in graduate school was that it is always easy to criticize something but the challenge is in creating something actionable and/or positive after you critique it. Sort of a "it's bad, but now what" type of scenario.

There are currently a lot of individuals who are in higher education administration masters-level graduate programs. Said individuals are usually in two year programs (some are condensed into a year) that take place within on-campus environs (there are a handful of online-only programs, too). I don't think that it's too much of stretch to say that most people who are in a student affairs grad program are wanting to work with on-campus students at a non-profit institution. Sure, there are small number who will actively seek out opportunities to work at community colleges or for gigs that are outside the scope of where we traditionally end up. However, those of us (myself included for a short time) who stay in student affairs tend to focus on working within a select set of employment possibilities.

The fact is, student affairs work is vast in terms of its opportunities. When I was finishing up my graduate degree, I had plans that included working my way towards a dean of students role. I never contemplated doing what I do now. While in graduate school, I often said that I would never be an academic advisor. I wasn't interested. A year after finishing my EdM, I found myself working as a full-time academic advisor...and loved it. Then, I moved on to a role that includes writing, consulting, and professional speaking at campuses all over the place. My particular endeavors have taken me all over the United States and to events in Canada, Mexico, and beyond. My student affairs degree has opened up myriad opportunities that I never even dreamed of when I was a grad student.

Today's higher education administration masters student should be open to any/all career paths that present themselves. You want to change the world? Go and get a job at a for-profit institution or education company. Try doing student affairs work and serving students in an online-only environment. Don't limit yourself to a narrow demographic. Think broadly. Higher education is a vast and evolving space.

Look at it this way, the University of Florida UF) Online program grants degrees from UF to students who will potentially never set foot on campus. UF is trying to recruit high school students to enter their online-only program, but it's just not happening. Why? Because young people tend to enroll in on-campus higher education experiences because it's been socially set up that that is where people go to mature, learn, network, and grow. Online-only education is a tough sell for an immature teenager.

However, online-only education is a vibrant space for a massive amount of people. The spaces that are most appealing to current student affairs practitioners are jammed up with an endless supply of practitioners. You want to find your niche? Work somewhere that doesn't look like the place where you went to school. Expand your possibilities when it comes to finding a path that suits you. Broaden what it means to work in student affairs. From brick-and-mortar, online-only, and beyond...student affairs work can be disrupted simply by choosing a different and unique path.


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