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.

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4 Responses to 8 Ways to Make Yourself Indispensible in Student Affairs

  1. Excellent post! IMHO, publishing in peer-reviewed journals will be necessary in the near future, as will rock-solid persistence numbers. Combine the two (preach what we’ve practiced) and we’ll be set.

  2. We agree with #3 – Connecting with students via social media is a new opportunity to engage with students and see what they really think of classes/programs. Great post!

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