Retaining Student Affairs Professionals

Posted on December 7, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The field of student affairs is service focused: service to students, to the college community, and to the world at large (how would the world function without college graduates?). As such it is natural for student affairs professionals to push themselves to provide the highest quality and quantity of services and in doing set themselves up for burnout. There are numerous ways to try and help combat burnout without significantly decreasing the quality of service that an institution provides. Creating an environment where employees can easily request new job responsibilities and delegate others would help. Creating rewards for continued employment (having professional membership dues/ conference fees paid, telecommuting, academic year appointments, etc.) would help employees feel like their work is valued and motivate them to continue developing professionally. As the field of student affairs becomes a more academic and career driven path it may be necessary for institutions and professional organizations to work together to create more clear paths towards career advancement and career planning. Student affairs professionals will therefore be able to come into the profession with a better understanding of the responsibilities, jobs, sacrifices and struggles they will have to go experience in order to get to achieve their career goals. Lastly I think it is important that higher education administers recognize the struggle in retaining student affairs professionals because of burnout and create forums for employees to discuss these issues in a semi-formal basis. Given the opportunity to discuss their struggles, employees would not only benefit from the support of colleagues, but may also be able to come up with creative solutions to the individual and collective problems they are experiencing.

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3 Responses to “Retaining Student Affairs Professionals”

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In response to Scott’s question about trying to reconcile the current budget cuts within higher education and the need for both professional development opportunities and other ways to retain student affairs professionals: This situation may be a matter of discovering over time the lesser of many evils. Trying to “do more with different” is always an evolving science and time will tell what methods are successful.

From my own standpoint, I have spent the majority of my time in graduate school being instructed by professors, mentors, colleagues and classmates to work for organizations that will promote and support my own development. I have also been warned of the many additional, uncompensated services (committee membership, student group advisement, support of cross-departmental programs, and active participation in national organizations) I will likely need to take on in order to gain experience and move up in my career. Now that I am starting my job search and coming to recognize full on the extent to which the current economy will affect it, I’ve had to adapt my expectations of my future employer. I can’t expect to be sent to regional or national conferences; I can’t expect tuition reduction (for my lifelong learning), I can’t even expect travel reimbursement to interview at a school that is interested in me. On the flip side, I may be looking at having to take on additional tasks, work additional unpaid hours, etc.

How can I reconcile this, well in many respects I may not have a choice, but for now I’ll hold out hope that I still do. I can reconcile it, if an institution is honest with me about the scale backs they’ve had to do in the way of professional development. If they had a solid program in place before budget cuts, if they are still trying to find inexpensive ways to foster development, if they have a strategic plan for getting the program back up and running, then it is much easier for me to deal with the initial compromise. As for taking on additional work which can lead to burnout is concerned, I have to at least start out my career thinking that the skills I gain through these experiences can be seen as its own form of professional and personal development. The skills I gain may be more important to me than what I can get from training institutes, conferences, or additional classes. Being part of different sub-groups within the college will give me a better view of the institution as a whole and help me decide whether I want to stay or move along. Ultimately, I will also get to see how deeply my employer is to my personal balance, which will be instrumental in my future career decisions.

Those of us coming into the job market right now know that we will be forced to “do more with less”; my greatest hope is for honesty within this process. An understanding of what was, what still is and what can be is essential. If the mission of a person or university is to encourage development it must continue to do so through the good and the bad.

You certainly got a taste of those economic realities with your recent interview! Just a thought as I was reading your response — and I suspect this will resonate with you. Sometime it’s the uncompensated service that keeps you energized for your “paid” gig. I know personally that I’d actually have more difficulty working for someone who didn’t encourage or who, even worse, frowned upon campus and external involvement. I’d feel really claustrophobic if I couldn’t get out and about now and again.

Kerry,

I think that your comment and the CSSA program promote the concept of finding employment with institutions that promote campus and external involvement. Being in an interview where I preceived a lack of support for these things was unusual and definitely left a bad taste in my mouth. With that being said, I sometimes question whether I can find enough energy from campus wide involvements or if a significant part of my passion still needs to come from the work I do for a paycheck. Perhaps this is mindset is generational, I have been told over and over to do what I love and love what I do. Perhaps it is seen a lot in student affairs where we assume that part of our life will be consumed with our job and therefore we better like it. Perhaps it is a result of the decline in the balance between work and personal life. Fewer and fewer people are making time for families, friends, hobbies, civic groups, etc. and instead looking to their jobs for a sense of community involvement.


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