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Keeping the Quality in Student Affairs Graduate Programs
Aaron W. Hughey
Western Kentucky University
Since 1980, business and industry in the United States have been engaged in a transformation aimed at drastically improving the quality of goods and services produced in this country. The standards of quality control developed by Americans during World War II, and embraced so wholeheartedly after the War by Japanese business leaders, were finally recognized for their inherent value on native soil.
Needless to say, higher education has been significantly impacted by the management revolution taking place within the private sector. Evidence of how these ideas have influenced academe can be found to some extent in the push toward greater accountability and credibility within student affairs graduate preparatory programs. More than just an attempt to insure consistency within and between similar programs, many of the changes that have occurred in these programs over the last ten years have been implemented as a means of maximizing adherence to higher quality standards.
Higher education will continue to be an exciting place to work throughout the next century. Demographics and other factors continue to precipitate both subtle and radical changes in the collective student population. As such, student affairs professionals are constantly challenged to provide services and programs that are responsive to the needs of their clientele. It is imperative that we continue to stress both strict adherence to established standards as well as the ongoing need to forever be flexible.
The challenges that lie ahead for higher education are enormous. As such, it is absolutely essential that qualified professionals be available to meet those challenges. Student affairs will continue to play a vital role within institutions of higher education for the foreseeable future. Rather than assuming a secondary, supportive position with respect to academics, student affairs professionals are increasingly taking a much more proactive role in shaping the higher education enterprise. In the not too distant future, college and university presidents will be as likely to be chosen from the student affairs ranks as from the faculty and administration.
If student affairs preparatory programs are to remain vital and quality-oriented, it is essential that they be both theory-based and applications-oriented. Without exception, everything discussed in the classroom must have relevancy in the field. Students in our programs must be given a realistic view of the profession. Those preparing for entry- level positions in the field deserve nothing less; those already employed in student affairs positions deserve an educational experience that allows them to enhance their skills to the maximum extent possible.
Graduates of student affairs programs must develop proficiency in all areas of student affairs work. Students must become knowledgeable concerning the theoretical foundations of the field, the parameters of professional practice to which they will be expected to adhere, and the various strategies available for enhancing administrative effectiveness. Although a certain standardization of subject matter should certainly exist, ample opportunities must also be provided for students to explore specific areas of interest. Programs must be as responsive as possible to the individual career and occupational goals of our students.
Our programs must be specifically designed to be of maximum benefit for both current as well as aspiring professionals in the student affairs field. Ideally, classes should consist of both full-time graduate students who are preparing for entry-level positions in student affairs as well as current professionals employed in student affairs work who are looking to enhance their skills, knowledge base, and/or marketability. This inherently serves to enhance the overall quality of the classroom experience for everyone involved.
Furthermore, in order to insure that quality is integrated within every aspect of our student affairs preparatory programs, it is absolutely essential that our graduates develop an appreciation for the immense diversity present within our college populations today. Students must acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to facilitate and enhance total student development. They must recognize that in addition to the administrative aspects of their work, student affairs professionals also play a vital role in educating students. They contribute significantly to the overall quality of the higher education experience through the programs and services that they provide.
Just like our counterparts in business and industry, we must truly believe that achieving and maintaining the highest quality standards possible in everything we do is of paramount importance. What we do in our student affairs graduate programs is vitally important to the future of the profession. By providing the field with dedicated and conscientious professionals, we are helping to create better individuals, better institutions, a better world and, ultimately, a better tomorrow.
As originally published in ACPA Developments, January 1992
(American College Personnel Association)
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