How Student Affairs Professionals Learn to Meet Student Needs and Institutional Expectations
By: Darleny E. Cepin
Published: 05/20/2015
Uploaded: 03/13/2018
Uploaded by: Pocket Masters
Pockets: 2015 (May) Teachers College Columbia University Ed.D. Dissertations, Gottesman Libraries Archive, Historical Dissertations
Tags: self directed learning

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Description/Abstract: Student affairs professionals (SAPs) are recognized as the largest professional group in higher education, making up 62% of the academic workforce. However, while it has been well documented that SAPs play a significant role in higher education, there is limited research on how SAPS learn the diverse skills their profession requires. The student affairs (SA) profession continues to face new challenges that are related to broader transformations colleges and universities are undergoing. In the 21st century, student affairs professionals are often required to go beyond merely supporting the educational missions of higher education institutions. Given the evolving needs of higher education and the constant changes SAPs must face in order to best serve their institution’s mission and the diverse needs of students, this dissertation posits that serious consideration must be given to establishing a process that promotes greater standards of accountability and consistent measurements of excellence in SA practice. More specifically, the purpose of this study was to explore: (a) how SAPs conceptualize the changing needs of higher education; (b) how they make meaning of their experiences as they learn to meet the diverse needs of students; and (c) determine factors that impede and/or facilitate their ability to be effective in an evolving profession.

This qualitative case study incorporated three data collection methods: demographic inventory, one-on-one interviews, and critical incident questionnaire with 22 SAPs recruited through purposeful sampling. After review of the findings, three analytic categories emerged. These include (a) recognition of the impact of the external environment on performance; (b) engagement in self-directed learning; and (c) reception of support from a mentor and supervisor. Additionally, three qualitative groups emerged from the analysis, differing by their ability and willingness to accommodate changes while meeting institutional expectations and student needs. They were drivers, reactors, and the disengaged. Despite differences between drivers, reactors, and disengaged SAPs, they all learned to meet the needs of students informally through dialogue and in collaboration with others. This study also showed that having the support of mentors and supervisors is critical to successful SA practice.