10 Things Student Affairs Programs Don’t Teach You

December 16, 2012

Graduate programs in higher education and student affairs provide budding professionals with educational theory and insights that will be invaluable when working at a college or university. However, there are many lessons that will only be learned by actually being a student affairs professional.

While internships and practica linked to the graduate program can offer some skills development, they can perpetuate bad practices, particularly because there may be little if any direct curricular connection between the academic program and the department hosting the internship. Unfortunately, these practices then become ingrained in students’ minds and are carried with them throughout their professional lives.

Here is a list of topics that student affairs programs do not teach:

Budgeting & Finance – One of the key lessons for moving up the administrative ladder in student affairs is having a working knowledge and experience in budget and finance management. Unfortunately, any higher education finance courses taught are cursory in nature and do not provide any opportunities to learn how to create revenue and cut spending, which is almost certainly a requirement for department heads and executive higher education administrators.

Management & Supervision – Hiring and firing, assessing performance, and motivating employees are not areas that student affairs programs teach to students who will be prospective employers. Generally, these skills are learned best on-the-job and are influenced by the specific policies and procedures of the department and institution for which you work.

Political Saavy – Institutions of higher education are rife with personal and political agendas. While classes in ethics and discussions of case studies occur in student affairs programs, there typically are not “How To’s” taught in regards to holding your own in the political arena of higher education.

Theory vs. “Real World” – As is the case with any discipline, the ideal standards taught in class are going to differ from what occurs in actual practice. You can learn all there is to know about Astin, Chickering, and Tinto, but work with colleagues who never heard of them nor care about their place in the practice of student affairs.

Emergency Preparation – The health, safety, and security of our students has become one of the top priorities of all colleges and universities. Student Lifers outside of Residence Life (i.e., admissions, career services, etc.) typically do not have day-to-day operational concerns related to this area so it can be more difficult to get direct experience in this area.

Fundraising – University foundation and alumni departments are typically charged with raising external funds to be used for scholarships and special projects. This is another area that is particularly specialized and subject to specific institutional policies and federal and state guidelines and laws.

Program Development – Civil engineering programs teach students how to build bridges, medical programs teach students how to diagnose and treat illness, but student affairs programs do not teach prospective student affairs professionals how to develop, manage, and assess departmental programs. Having the knowledge to put these type of strategic plans together is crucial. Unfortunately, new professionals carry around “bad habits” learned from their undergraduate and even graduate institutions. They can incorporate these philosophies and practices into their new professional lives without being knowledegable about how to fully develop a department through evidence-based practices.

Marketing & Publicity – Now more than ever, colleges and universities face multiple challenges for attracting and retaining undergraduate students. Marketing has become essential in order to publicize both student affairs departments and institutions as a whole. Social media has now become ubiquitous in our world and especially in the lives of our students.

* Photo courtesy of Craig Parylo  


The Leader’s Pocket Guide (book review)

December 5, 2012


The road to leadership begins with self-understanding and so does John Baldoni’s leadership book, The Leader’s Pocket Guide.  “Leadership has often been defined as a journey. The journey begins with a starting point, and that starting point is the self.” He immediately catches the reader’s attention as he describes leadership as a journey of understanding, learning, growth, and humility. The first of three sections (“SELF”) provides the reader with 20 suggestions for improving their self-leadership skills and helps the reader understand how they interact with others as a leader. At the end of the section, there is an assessment that evaluates how well a reader leads and understands who they are as a leader. Baldoni outlines tips for growth and learning as a self-leader.

In the second of three sections (“COLLEAGUES”), Baldoni declares that one of the most challenging aspects of being a leader is leading your peers. He captures the essence behind interacting with peers and improving the relationship with them in the 33 different suggestions. He encourages the reader to understand how they are influencing their peers and gives them knowledge on how to do it in a positive manner.  The book also gives the reader an opportunity to evaluate how they interact with their colleagues and tips for improving those relationships.

In the final section, (“ORGANIZATION”), Baldoni coaches the reader on what it takes to lead an organization. He addresses everything from authentically interacting with your people and instilling a purpose in them to making time for yourself outside of the organization. Like the other sections, he provides the reader an opportunity to evaluate how they lead their team. To lead a team successfully you must execute positive change so that your team is learning and growing together. Baldoni understands what it takes to be a leader and passes on his knowledge so they are developing into positive and productive leaders.

The Leader’s Pocket Guide is an excellent tool and resources for all leaders because it provides well-rounded and diverse suggestions for improving leadership skills that can be applied to any field and any leader. It would be an excellent resource for new supervisors because it would help them evaluate how they lead themselves, interact with their peers, and supervise their workers.  It is a book that can be used over and over again to improve how a leader learns and grows.

The first 25 people to tweet this post on Twitter, like or share on Facebook, or pin on Pinterest will be entered into a raffle to win a copy of  the book. Two books will be raffled.

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