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Academic and Student Affairs Collaboration

In many colleges a rift exists between Academic and Student Affairs with both areas drawing "lines in the sand" demarcating their specific areas of responsibility. However, education in the author's view is a holistic venture that should adress the student's academic and personal development. In this article he makes a case for collaboration between the two areas versus competition or little or no contact.

Academic and Student Affairs Collaboration

No one would dispute that learning comes from interactions with myriad people, sources, and experiences while a student in wending his/her way though the college years. According to a recent ACPA paper “Legislators, parents, governing boards, and students want colleges and universities to reemphasize student learning and personal development as the primary goals of undergraduate education.” Certainly we in the community colleges see many students coming through our doors who are lacking, sometimes severely, in both areas. And while most of our resources are focused towards the student learning/cognitive side, dealing with personal development does take place on a large scale whether intended or anecdotally.

After World War II, when the huge influx of GI’s began matriculating into higher education, a shift occurred that gave an impetus to hiring more Student Affairs personnel in diverse areas. These personnel assumed many of the duties that faculty had traditionally held (e.g., academic/personal advising, club/organization sponsorship, and registration). Now, of course, Student Affairs has evolved into a major player at all institutions becoming responsible for many segments of non classroom services. However, what has occurred with this rapid growth is that the two distinct “camps” of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs have emerged, each with its own hierarchies and fiefdoms.

Also, with the seminal work of O’Bannion in the 1990’s focusing on institutions of higher education becoming learning and student centered, a major shift in thinking began at many colleges to seek ways to implement his philosophy. One focus of change in thinking is that everyone at an institution, from the president down to the custodial staff, needs to see themselves as ultimately being a part of a team and contributing to student learning/success.

This shift begs the question however:  Can Academic Affairs and Student Affairs personnel work collaboratively? Can the “lines in the sand” that have been drawn at so many institutions be blurred so a feeling of connectivity exists between the two entities, understanding that both are contributors to a student receiving a holistic education?  This may fly directly in the face of common practices now, which have clearly demarcated areas of responsibility with sometimes little communication occurring between the two departments.

One faculty member remarked to me recently, “If it were not for the faculty, there would be no college.”  True enough but certainly most of us would see the short-sighted thinking in that statement. Unfortunately that train of thought may be more prevalent in higher education than may be acknowledged. And a statement like that exemplifies the disconnect   Note, this is not meant as faculty bashing, just an illustrative point of the mindset of some. Ultimately both departments need to modify attitudes and outlooks if any substantive progress is to be made.   

In a similar vein, a question that some student affairs professionals may need to ask is do they consider themselves educators with a vested interest in student learning? Hopefully that is a rhetorical question with an obvious answer. Most would answer with an unequivocal “yes,” but some caught up in their day to day activities may forget the fact that the experiences they have with students also fall into the learning category.  Whether it be advising students on what classes to take,  guiding them in career decision-making, accompanying them to or teaching a seminar at a student leadership conference,  leading a field trip, coaching them on an athletic team, these and a host of other student development concerns are all learning experiences. Although student affairs personnel may not be in the classroom regularly (although quite a few do teach), they need to embrace and expand their own view of themselves and see that they are co-participants in educating students, especially in the realm of personal development. 

On the flip side of the coin, some attention may need to be paid to opening the eyes of faculty members to see that education is an all encompassing venture and the skills and knowledge base students are acquiring are certainly happening in the classroom setting but much relevant learning is taking place outside of the classroom as well.

 Large systemic changes as O’Bannion proposes have to come from the top down. Administrators must initiate and model collaborative practices and behaviors if they are to occur. With resources becoming scarcer and more being asked of everyone, conscious efforts to start “tearing down the walls” between the two areas where they do exist will have to be initiated, viewing this change as a longitudinal process as any deep cultural shift has to be.

As educators, we want students to experience cognitive improvement and master subject matter, learn social skills and civic responsibility, accept personal responsibility, seek knowledge and question, become skilled in research methods and a host of other developmental concerns that involve educating someone. All of this complex learning cannot take place solely in the classroom nor can it all be accomplished outside of the classroom. Thus, if productive dialogue between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs is not open at your institution or is only taking place minimallyArticle Submission, then a “jump start” to enhance communication lines may be needed. Both departments have much to offer and much to share.  Working collaboratively to insure students are developing on multiple levels will be a win for the students and for all involved.


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Dr. Earl Paul is a Student Affairs professional at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa Florida. He is also an author and speaker focusing on life skills areas. To learn more about him, go to

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