Considerations for Residence Life Professionals Exploring Work in Privatized Student Housing

February 14, 2018

privatized student housing

In January 2018, I served as a faculty member for the ACUHO-I Senior Housing Officer (SHO) Institute in Pittsburgh, PA. I presented on student housing public private partnerships (P3) with a colleague from Brailsford & Dunlavey. I shared that I myself worked for over 10 years for a student housing industry firm at two public university P3 communities in order to gain much needed experience in budgeting, staff supervision, and capital project management. I was approached by a handful of the institute attendees who stated that they were being recruited to work for various privatized housing firms and wanted my perspective and some advice. The following information should prove insightful if you are debating a potential opportunity to work for a privatized, student housing firm.

PRIVATE MANAGEMENT COMPANIES – There are multiple student housing industry firms in the United States that develop, construct, own and / or manage college housing. Some of these firms are privately-owned while others are a public corporation whose shares are publicly-traded on the stock market. Some firms may own and manage private housing in your local off-campus community while others may directly own and / or operate student housing in a P3 relationship on (or near) a college campus. Like any organization, these firms have different histories, goals, priorities, leadership styles, and company cultures. *Note: Do not confuse privately-owned student housing communities near your campus with P3’s. There needs to be a direct public-private financial arrangement between the university and the private firm in order for it to be considered a P3. REIT (i.e., real estate investment trust) firms may own a property off-campus that is completely independent of your university.

ORGANIZATIONAL & STAFFING STRUCTURE – Each housing community (i.e., “property”) has its own staff, which typically includes a community manager, leasing and marketing staff, student account / financial staff, maintenance staff, and student staff. Student housing properties can be small or relatively large depending upon the college or university it serves. I managed two different, campus-affiliated apartment communities of 407 and 770 beds respectively, but I worked with colleagues who managed properties of 1,000+ beds. It should go without saying that the larger properties have a larger staff infrastructure.

The community manager (CM) is in charge of the property and supervises all of the staff. In some cases, the CM and / or maintenance manager (MM) may live on the property. In turn, a regional manager (RM) supervises a portfolio of properties and is the supervisor for those respective CM’s at those properties. The RM is typically a corporate office-based employee who is charged with staying in regular contact with their properties and visit at least once every quarter to make sure that everything is copacetic operationally. They will also interact with campus stakeholders if there is a P3 arrangement.

P3 properties that are operated by a private management company are financially self-supported in that the operational and capital costs come exclusively from the property’s bed revenue and reserves. The management company has a corporate office and supports all of its properties through various departments, such as accounting, human resources, marketing, and purchasing.

It is important to understand that a property CM is NOT the equivalent of a resident hall director or area coordinator. A CM is in charge of all aspects of property operations, including, but not limited to, leasing, rent collections, budget creation, vendor and utility payments, monthly income statement reviews, capital project management, and crisis response. Essentially, they would be the equivalent of a senior housing officer at a very small college. Some properties, however, do have a subordinate resident director that helps with student programming and CA / RA supervision.

REAL ESTATE VS. RESIDENCE LIFE – There is a very distinct difference between working for a student housing management firm and for a college or university residence life department. For a housing firm, the “bottom line” is paramount, particularly if it is publicly-traded with investors involved. At the end of the day, it is a business. In that regard, student learning outcomes, residential curricula, and student affairs are generally not a part of the day-to-day discussion. Operations mostly mirror what multifamily housing real estate management would look like in the rental apartment and townhouse market within the general community.

The vast majority of my community manager colleagues nationally did not have a background in higher education or student affairs and could not tell you what ACPA, ACUHO-I, and NASPA are nor the importance and applicability of student development research into their work. In some cases, there can be community managers who do not have a college education. This is not a criticism, this is simply an industry reality. Additionally, there is a semblance of programming, but overall it is not tied to student learning outcomes or assessment efforts. Programming is essentially a marketing tactic in order to entice students to renew their leases at the property for the following year.

COMPENSATION – It is crucial to understand and consider the different compensation structure that comes with working for a privatized student housing firm. Community managers will receive a base salary and typically the potential for a bonus.

Bonus Structure: Bonus programs can vary from firm to firm and can also differ if there is a P3 arrangement with a college or university. Community managers are normally paid quarterly incentives based upon predetermined objectives tied to revenue, expenses, and leasing efforts. While this may seem alien to a residence life professional, financially incentivizing performance is a standard practice in the real estate world. To give a theoretical example, there could be a $500 bonus for reaching a set goal of at least 98% of the budgeted revenue for a particular quarter. If the property revenue earnings are a total of $1,300,200 for a quarter and the budgeted amount for that time is $1,320,000 (i.e., 98.5%), you would earn the $500 because you would be above the 98% goal. If you were able to maintain that goal for every quarter, you would earn $2,000 (i.e, $500 x 4 quarters). There can be a combination of different bonus amounts for different goals so there is the possibility to earn a considerable aggregated bonus. However, bonuses are never guaranteed and can even be challenging to earn depending upon the financial health of the property and the team’s ability to keep beds filled and costs under control.

Benefits: Unlike working for a college or university directly, the benefits are going to differ in many regards. Educational benefits are generally NOT included for the employee and / or their spouse and dependent children. Also, any 401(k) retirement plans are also not going to be as generous either. For example, when I worked for a privatized housing firm, their match was 1.5% for the 3% that I contributed toward my retirement fund. Colleges and universities commonly match at a much higher rate, including above a 9% contribution where I currently work. In some cases, a firm may offer discounted company stock options that can be paid for by deductions from your paycheck. This can be a nice option, but there can be various restrictions set by the company related to how much you can purchase and the terms upon which you can sell that stock. Additionally, health care coverage is generally going to be more pricey than what is typically offered through colleges and universities.

Below is a compensation chart that illustrates the base salary, bonus, and total compensation for property community managers based upon the bed count of the property. Different firms are going to offer different compensation packages and they will vary dependent upon the size of the property. Obviously there are going to be differences based upon the cost of living of the area in which the job is located. This data came from the July / August 2017 Student Housing Business magazine (pp. 40 – 41).

Salaries

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT – Professional development looks different than what you may have become accustomed to on campus, particularly with going to ACPA, ACUHO-I, NASPA or other Student Affairs-related conferences. Most of the training will be based on operations, including marketing, leasing, customer service, and facilities management. This can occur through webinars, online training modules, and even during company retreats held at locations near the corporate office. The training that I received working for a private student housing firm has been invaluable in my current role as a senior housing officer.

BOTTOM LINE ADVICE:

  • Look at the turnover history of the property staff and ask why the manager position is currently open? It is naive to think that you will be able to save the day for a property that has a history of challenges. Be careful that you are not walking into a nightmare situation you will regret. Granted, people leave for a variety of reasons, including being promoted. However, there is a significant amount of volatility among manager positions nationally so assess the culture of the company, the qualities and experience of the person that you would be reporting to, and be prepared to ask thoughtful and probing questions.
  • If it is too good to be true, it probably is. Be particularly careful when talking with “headhunters.” These are contracted recruiters who earn money by finding viable candidates for companies. I have been contacted numerous times by headhunters who were attempting to sell a position that I was simply not interested in. I also had one recruiter that was particularly pushy trying to get me to interview for a manager position at a property that was struggling in a saturated market. Don’t take the bait and inherit a problem that has little chance of being resolved.
  • As should be the case with any job offer, get it in clear writing, including any bonus programs offered. Never accept anything unless you have it in writing. A hiring manager (and / or their human resources department) should be transparent with the salary, benefits, and how bonuses are earned. Don’t get caught into “We’ll see how it goes!” or “There are bigger opportunities coming down the road!” red herring-type conversations that are empty promises. Know exactly what you are agreeing to. In the end, it should be a “win-win” relationship.
  • Once you are out, it can be hard to get back in. While P3’s and privatized housing firms are here to stay and an important part of the higher education landscape, there is still much suspicion and disdain among Student Affairs professionals regarding these companies. I certainly felt this among certain campus colleagues and oftentimes at many professional conferences across the country. I clearly remember one time interviewing for a senior housing officer position at a flagship institution and the hiring manager made the comment, “I have no clue why an institution would ever outsource their housing?!” Because of these types of negative opinions and stereotypes that exist about privatized housing firms, you can be easily dismissed over other candidates applying and interviewing for campus positions that have a traditional residence life path.

CONCLUSION – There are many considerations to make when deciding to work for any organization, including colleges and universities as well as privatized housing firms. You need to do your homework and find out as much as you can about the position. Talk to your colleagues and mentors about the opportunity as well as any current or former colleagues from that particular housing firm that you may know.

What questions do you have that I may help you with? Additionally, what advice do you have if you have transitioned from campus to the privatized housing world or vice versa. Leave your comments and questions below. 

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Difficult Discussions: Coaching an Employee Out of the Job (*Guest Post in The Student Affairs Collective*)

March 31, 2016

Difficult Employee Conversations

One challenge of being a supervisor is having to discuss performance shortcomings with employees. In some cases, you may need to coach someone out of the job. This month I wrote about the topic as a guest blogger on The Student Affairs Collective blog. To see the post in full, please click on Difficult Discussions: Coaching and Employee Out of the Job.

Special thanks to Tom Krieglstein and his team for the opportunity to discuss this issue!


Turn the Tide: Rise above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace (*Book Review*)

February 9, 2016

Turn the Tide by Dr. Kathy Obear

Dr. Kathy Obear recently published Turn the Tide: Rise Above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace, which is a resource that you can use yourself or with your staff and / or students. The book is available as a $2.99 Kindle download on Amazon.

While Dr. Obear explicitly states in the text that she herself is not a therapist, the book is essentially an illustration of rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). “REBT’s basic hypothesis is that our emotions stem mainly from our beliefs, which influence the evaluations and interpretations we make of the reactions we have to life situations” (Corey, 2013, p. 268). Through the REBT process, individuals can replace ineffective ways of thinking and thereby change their emotional reactions to various situations they encounter in their life. Likewise, Dr. Obear walks the reader through a similar process in which individuals, particularly those who are having challenging times in the workplace, can shift their thoughts and reactions to more positive and proactive outcomes.

The book is organized into ten chapters: 1.) I can’t control how I react! Maybe I can; 2.) Step 1 – What pushed my buttons; 3.) Step 2 – Intrapersonal Roots; 4.) Step 3 – Making meaning: Change your story, change your reactions; 5.) Step 4 – Common physiological, emotional, and mental reactions; 6.) Step 5 – “Choosing” your intentions; 7.) Step 6 – Tools to Respond Effectively; 8.) Step 7 – The impact of our triggered reactions; 9.) Maximize our effectiveness: Focus on Self-Care and Healing Practices; and 10.) We Always Have a Choice. The book has many self-directed exercises in them, which helps the reader to explore and work through the various feelings and thoughts they may be having as a result of being in a challenging work environment. While the content of the book centers on one’s own personal reactions to the day-to-day dynamics of working with others, it does not cover the more nefarious and even illegal issues that can and do occur in the workplace, such as bullying, discrimination, harassment, and how to manage those particular situations.

I highly recommend Turn the Tide: Rise Above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace for graduate students, new professionals, and those supervisors who are responsible for developing staff training and professional development opportunities. 

Works cited:

Corey, G. (2013). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. Stamford, CT: Brooks / Cole.


Relocation 101: Three Things to Consider When Job Searching Nationally (Guest post by Adrienne Boertjens)

January 5, 2016

Student Affairs Job Relocation

Job search season is right around the corner, and as colleges and universities across the country prepare their search teams for trips to the various student affairs job placement events, the time has come for aspiring graduate students, new professionals and some seasoned professionals alike to face the inevitable question: “Where do I go from here?”

When it comes to job searching in Student Affairs, career progression is the obvious primary consideration. As a field, we also talk a lot about “Institutional Fit” and how to identify an employer that aligns with your professional values, desired culture, and educational philosophy. All of these are incredibly valuable factors in the job search process, however even if you find your “dream institution” it’s important to consider geographical fit, and how adjusting to life in a different regional culture may impact your overall transition. What kind of move will both challenge and support you in your professional growth? To get started, here are a few things to consider when determining your geographical fit:

1. Consider the basics, but don’t stop there!

  • Geography: Everyone has their geographic deal-breakers, and while it’s best to minimize them when it comes to these basic considerations for job searching, some things just can’t be avoided. For some people, certain geographic regions simply don’t agree with their lifestyle, whether it’s because they can’t stand the heat of the Deep South, or because shoveling snow off their car at 7am just doesn’t sound like a good time. Either way, knowing the extremes of what you’re willing to handle is a good place to start, but shouldn’t be the end-all, be-all of your search.
  • Personal support system: When it comes to a dual-job search or considering the needs of your dependents, there are a ton of factors to consider. If you’re moving on your own or if your job is the main factor in a move, as is the case for many new grads and new professionals, it’s helpful to identify just how far you’re willing to move away from your loved ones. Thanks to technology, staying in touch with your personal support system is easier than ever, however when you live far away from the people you care about, you have to consider how far and how often you’re willing to travel to be with them. Are you willing to miss out on a holiday or two for the sake of landing your “perfect fit?” Are you prepared to shell out for a plane ticket should a family emergency arise? While we can always hope for the best when it comes to these situations, it’s good to know literally how far you’ll go for your dream job.
  • Pro-tip for aspiring graduate students: These basic considerations may be better off on the back-burner when you’re searching for graduate assistantships and choosing your graduate program. While it can be tempting to continue your studies at your undergraduate alma mater or to stay close to home, graduate school is a wonderful opportunity to step outside of your geographic comfort zone. Your graduate program is probably only 2-3 years long, and it will be over before you know it! Take advantage of this short amount of time and consider moving somewhere you normally wouldn’t live long-term. Your resume and your professional network will thank you!

2. Consider your professional networking goals. For new grads and professionals especially, growing and developing your professional network in the field of Student Affairs is a must. Now is the time to establish a strong and positive professional reputation, which can present a challenge if you’re not willing to leave the comfort of your alma mater or home state. As a Student Affairs practitioner, growing and maintaining a strong network will contribute to your own professional development and can even assist you in future job searches. On the flipside, maybe you’ve already spent some time away from your Student Affairs family or a special mentor, and you’d appreciate being within regional conferencing proximity to them. When starting a new job, having an existing professional network close by may provide a certain level of comfort and support that can make your transition easier. If maintaining close ties with your existing professional network is important to you when it comes to relocation, consider moving to a region where you’ll strike a balance between having lots of new networking opportunities, and where you’ll still feel the support of your existing professional relationships. There’s nothing like a good ol’ regional conference reunion!

3. Consider state/regional professional development/involvement opportunities. Each department in each institution is going to have a different opinion or level of financial support for their professionals’ development opportunities. Regardless of whether or not your department has the financial means to send you to a national conference each year, it’s important that you’re able to seek out your own professional development opportunities in order to continue to grow in the field. As such, consider researching state/regional professional organizations or chapters of national organizations as a way of determining whether or not there will be opportunities for you to join committees, attend conferences, network, and take charge of your own professional development outside of your place of employment.

While this list is certainly not the end-all, be-all of relocating, these are some important things to think about as you begin applying to jobs and considering where you may want to spend the next phase of your career. What are some other things that you’ve considered when making a decision to relocate? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, or tweet me at @aboertjens.

Adrienne Boertjens is a Residence Director at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, and a proud alumnae of Eastern Michigan University (2015, M.A.) and Minnesota State University, Mankato (2013, B.A.). She is passionate about travel, arts and crafts and all things technology! Connect with Adrienne via email, Twitter, LinkedIn.


Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (Book Review)

January 20, 2015

Overcoming Mobbing

It is my contention that the workplace should be a place of collegiality, integrity, and respect. Unfortunately, as long as there are differences in agendas, opinions, personalities, and power there will always be conflicts at work. Some of these conflicts can become downright nasty and end up costing individuals their jobs, and more insidious, their health, well-being, and subsequently, the welfare of their families.

I came across a great resource when doing some research on workplace bullying that I thought would be helpful for Student Affairs professionals. Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014: Oxford University Press) by Maureen Duffy and Len Sperry is a must read for those professionals dealing with or attempting to prevent organizational bullying. Duffy and Sperry define “mobbing” as “a destructive social process in which individuals, groups, or organizations target a person for ridicule, humiliation, and removal from the workplace.” Mobbing is different than bullying in that it occurs en mass involving multiple workers, administrators, and managers willing to participate in unethical communication that is both written and verbal. Bullying, on the other hand, occurs when one individual, such as a supervisor alone, targets an employee.

The process of ganging up includes such behaviors as the following: workplace conflict, people taking sides, unethical communication, other aggressive and abusive acts, involvement of management or administration, elimination of the target from the workplace, and post-elimination unethical communication. Mobbing is caused by a mix of individual, group, and organizational dynamics. An example of mobbing in Student Affairs can include colleagues ganging up on someone who is in line for promotion to a senior position in their department because those individuals do not want that person to assume that role. Tactics they use include spreading false information about their performance, befriending executive decision-makers and giving inaccurate and negative reports of that person, and purposely not inviting them to informal department meetings outside of normal work hours. As a result, they do not receive the promotion, begin to come under undue scrutiny from supervisors, and ultimately leave the institution because of the abuse.

Given the highly bureaucratic and politically-charged nature of higher education institutions, it only stands to reason that mobbing can and does occur within colleges and universities. Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying is a great primer that administrators in Student Affairs departments can use to facilitate discussion on how to create and nurture a “mobbing-free” environment. While it is unreasonable to think that colleges and universities are the bastions of collegiality and civility, we as Student Affairs administrators should ultimately work toward that goal, particularly as we serve as role models to our students.

What are some strategies that you feel should be used in order to create a “mobbing-free” workplace in Student Affairs?


The Things We Dread: Evaluations (Guest post by Sinclair P. Ceasar)

December 29, 2014

Staff Evaluations

You both sit down to the table for a chat. Well, it’s more formal than a chat. Your employee looks at you with wide eyes. At present, they are more attentive than they are at staff meetings, and you feel pressure to say everything with a smile – even if the information is negative at times. Why do we have to go through this? Aren’t they self-aware enough to know how they’re doing at their own job? You refocus your attention on the mid-year evaluation before you and begin.

Evaluations Can Be an Ordeal

Many of us are gearing up for mid-year evaluations with our supervisors, our staff members, and ourselves. We tell ourselves we won’t get lost in the rubrics and number valuations, but at some point we trip up during the evaluation process especially when we appraise our own employees. For me, most the anxiety around assessing my staff stems from me not wanting to hurt feelings or turn staff off from the work they do. At the end of the day, I’ve hired competent individuals who work to improve the lives of students. Alas, those same individuals are imperfect and need coaching, mentoring, and feedback.

Feedback with a Purpose

At some point in my career, I decided to view one-on-one meetings as opportunities for improvement and relationship building, rather than just simple check-ins with my staff. Reframing my meetings changed my line of questioning. I became more interested in the life of my employees outside of work. I wanted to know about how their interpersonal relationships were with their teammates. And I questioned their thought processes when reviewing situations they’d dealt with since our last meeting. I wanted to affirm their decision making skills and let them know where they could improve as well. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric said to “make every meeting an appraisal.” Sure, I could have a staff that dreads criticism each time they enter my office. Or, I could have a team that values my perspectives because they know my intentions are to build and strengthen instead of belittle and weaken.

By the time we reach evaluation season, my staff is knowledgeable about their progress and areas of growth. The formal appraisal meeting becomes a space to exclusively converse about what they need to do to take their positions to the next level. We focus on actionable steps and end the meeting with goals and deadlines. The result: we have an account of their progress, written steps to better performance, and an entire evaluation packet to help me keep them accountable throughout the next half of the semester.

Putting it All Together

Here are 3 ways you can kick up your staff evaluations and make them less scary and more meaningful:

1. Show them how what they do matters – One section of my evaluation focused on interpersonal relationships. This section contained phrases like: staff member effectively communicates with others and staff member updates supervisor in a timely fashion. On the surface, these could seem like basic outcomes to measure, but I went beyond simply saying how well my employee did in those areas, and I came prepared with examples for each line of feedback I wrote. I also had an overall explanation of why we evaluated employees on interpersonal relationships in the first place and how it connected with our departmental goals. You want to know why your boss wants you to do something, and your staff wants to know the importantance and impact of their jobs.

2. Nothing should be a surprise- Your mid-year evaluations may be anxiety filled no matter what you do, but none of the feedback you provide should blindside your staff. Do yourself a favor and take 5-10 minutes during each one-on-one meeting to provide an informal appraisal. It will make your mid-year evaluation run smoothly, and you and your staff member will be on the same page.

3. Make the numbers work for you – We used a numbering system at one of my institutions in the way that “1” meant you were weak in an area and “5” meant you excelled. Once, I told my staff that no one would get above a “3” because they were all new, and it wasn’t realistic to have an exceptional staff member at that point. This was a huge mistake. I received backlash from staff members who felt this wasn’t fair and expressed how they excelled in some areas. Word to the wise: make sure the number system make sense, is objective, and is used fairly.

I’m curious to know what your best practices are.

Does your staff find evaluations to be refreshing and helpful? What changes have you made to your process in the past years? What are some challenges you face as a supervisor when it comes to appraising your staff? Please feel free to comment below.

Sinclair P. Ceasar has six years of experience with Residence Life, New Student Orientation, First Year Programming, and Service Learning. He is currently an Assistant Director of Residence Life at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, and enjoys dancing, running 5K’s, and being a foodie in his leisure time. Follow him on twitter @sceasar1020.

* Graphic courtesy of Sigurd Decroos


10 Difficult Lessons I Learned in Student Affairs

December 22, 2014

Difficult Lessons in Student Affairs

Having been in Student Affairs for a long time now, I have met many fantastic and inspiring professionals from all over the world. I have learned many wonderful things, which have made me a better higher education professional (and person!) Some of those lessons, however, have been difficult ones and actually have made me an even more dedicated and resolved Student Affairs professional.

Here are the 10 Difficult Lessons I Learned in Student Affairs:

1. Not Everyone Values Student Development – Just like employees in any other industry besides higher education, everyone has different goals and motivations for doing what they do. The same is true for employees in higher education. While it may seem bizarre to a Student Affairs professional that a college professional would not be interested in student development, some see the study and practice of student development as frivolous and not worthy of attention or resources.

2. The Grass Isn’t Always Greener at Other Institutions – Student lifers rank up there with professional athletes that are traded from team to team when it comes to transitioning from one institution to another. Various reasons, include seeking a better salary, more responsibility, or to be closer to family. Some staffers have the impression that the path a new school is lined with gold. What they can come to find out is that their new situation may not be any better than from where they just came. While there are some places that may be better than others, all colleges and universities have problems, which is something to keep in mind when looking for a new place to work.

3. Most Staff Are Not Trained in Leadership & Supervision – I find that many colleagues at other institutions share their frustration with their institution’s leadership. Frustrations range from having supervisors with challenging personalities and those who provide unclear direction to others who are “buddy-buddy” with select employees or who are downright abusive. Unfortunately, most supervisors in all fields never had any formal education or training in supervising people. Many supervisors learn from previous poor role models and can apply behaviors of stereotypical archetypes of leaders they see on TV and in movies (i.e., coach, military officer, entrepreneur, politician, etc.)

4. Most Faculty & Staff Could Care Less about Student Development Theory – Years ago, I once had an engineering professor at a social event ask me what exactly I was learning in my higher education doctoral program. He was actually perplexed that an academic program like this actually existed. While student development theory is only a small part of a higher ed doctoral program, it helps to inform our practice and should be the basis for how we operate. However, most faculty and staff have never heard of Astin, Kuh, Tinto, Pascarella, and / or Terenzini nor put any credence into the study of students’ time at college.

5. For Some, It’s Just For a Paycheck – For most of us, it is our career and our passion. For others, working at a college or university is simply a job. While some of us are inspired and enthusiastic about our careers, others find it an end to a means.

6. Student Affairs is Seen as the “Icing on the Cake” – In particularly  difficult times with a fragile enrollment environment and the increasing costs associated with a college education, student affairs can be viewed as a luxury. When it’s time to make budget cuts, extracurricular activities are an easy target.

7. Professional Development Can Be Seen as a Glorified “Vacation” – One year I was not permitted to attend the ACPA Convention and was told, “You have already been to one of those” as if it was like going to some amusement park. Now granted, I have seen many professional staffers blow off sessions at conferences and go site-seeing in the host city, but for the vast majority of us, off-site professional development opportunities are for continuous improvement, collaboration, education, and networking.

8. Politics Can Supersede Student Development –  In the 15 years I have been a student affairs professional, I have seen university politics that have been antithetical to the spirit of student development or learning (or simple ethics to be honest). I recently read an excellent blog post called The Dirty Secret of Student Affairs by Christian Cho, which specifically speaks to this dynamic. While politics definitely has its place in colleges and universities, they can also be disconcerting for new and eager student affairs professionals.

9. “Cronyism” & Nepotism Is Pervasive – While some may call it networking, others consider it nepotism and cronyism.  Cronyism is the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority without proper regard to their qualifications. Likewise, nepotism is the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs. A related practice is the pejorative “inbreeding,” in which an institution only hires those that have graduated from there. This can be challenging and frustrating especially for new professionals looking to advance their careers.

10. The Most Logical Decisions Are Not Always Made – Like any bureaucratic organization, colleges and universities have multiple layers of decision-makers with varying degrees of authority. Additionally, those decision-makers come with different agendas, opinions, and experiences from one another. Given those dynamics, the decision-making process can end up having a mind of its own.

The intent behind this post is not to discourage or frighten graduate students nor to kowtow to experienced professionals. Conversely, I hope to inspire new and veteran student affairs staffers to create a better university environment and experience for both employees and students.

Please share some of the difficult lessons you have learned from your time in Student Affairs.