Moving Beyond the Name Game: The shared mission of Student Affairs and Student Services

There has been a great bit of effort expended in the “name game”, distinguishing between student affairs and student services. Yet if we look to the CACUSS Mission Statement (1989), it is clear that the primary purpose of this work “is to develop programs and provide services which support and promote student-centered education” irrespective of what the division is called. Service and education is at the heart of student affairs and services work. If service and education are our foundation, then what does the house look like that is built upon this foundation? This blog post describes the portfolios of Student Affairs and Services (SAS) divisions that participated in the Supporting Student Success study.

There were some clear commonalities that appeared across nearly all portfolios. Using the organizational system employed by Hardy Cox and Strange (2010), with few exceptions the first year experience and student engagement areas that were part of the SAS division and included:

  • New student orientation
  • Student leadership programs
  • Liaison with student government
  • Campus involvement (clubs and organization recognition)
  • Community development (service learning and civic engagement initiatives)

SAS divisions are also the home for what Hardy Cox and Strange (2010) referred to as “adjustment and support areas.” These included:

  • Counselling services
  • Health and Wellness services
  • Accessibility services (also called services for students with disabilities)
  • Career and employment services (and in some cases, cooperative education)
  • Academic skills or learning services centres
  • Services for diverse students (these often included, where available, Aboriginal student services, international student services, women’s centres, mature students centres, and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered Queer Questioning and Allies centres).

Despite similarities in the functional areas of the SAS divisions, we identified a number of variations as well and many of which differed by sector (college or university). These variations appeared frequently in the SAS units most aligned with student admission into college or university, such as enrolment management, admissions, registrar, financial aid and financial services. Specifically, the registrar was part of the SAS division at all of the colleges and about half of the universities in our sample. In all situations where the registrar was included in the SAS portfolio, student financial aid and typically financial services also reported to the registrar. This reporting structure can serve to fortify the registrar’s office, and thus the SAS division, as a critical component of the institution’s enrolment management process. When the registrar reported to a division other than SAS, the registrar reported to the Provost, Vice President (Academic).

It has been well documented that student residences, beyond their basic housing function, can play an important role in helping students transition to and thrive in their postsecondary educational life. With that in mind, student residences were often (but not always) part of the SAS portfolio. Likely due to the more residential nature and history of universities, we found residences within the SAS portfolio more often at universities than at the colleges. Athletics and recreation are also areas that provide for student engagement opportunities and are often, but not always, within the SAS portfolio. With only two exceptions, athletics and recreation were part of the SAS portfolio.

We found three other variations within the SAS portfolio that appeared to be related to the university/college distinction. The first is with regard to alumni relations. Whereas none of the universities’ SAS portfolios included alumni relations, we found two of the five colleges in our sample had alumni relations in their SAS portfolios. Second, although many of the universities report some connection with campus ministries, multi-faith centres, or chaplains, we found none of the colleges had an explicit relationship with those who facilitate religious and spiritual development. This could be due to the fact that several of the universities in our sample were founded by religious groups, and thus had expressed interest in the religious and spiritual development of their students, while all of the colleges were created by acts of government as secular institutions. Finally, with the exception of the institution in which the SSASO was also responsible for academic programs, the library did not appear in any of the universities SSASO’s portfolios, but was included in two of the five colleges’ SAS portfolios.

In general, there are more similarities than differences within the SSASO portfolio. Most functional areas that focus on accommodation, engagement and involvement – as well as support and adjustment – were found within the SAS portfolio. In more than half of the institutions in our sample, the key parts of students’ matriculation, at least as they pertain to registrarial and financial aid needs, were also within the SAS portfolio. Clear similarities notwithstanding, we found the SAS portfolio in the colleges to be more expansive often including alumni development, library and media services, as well as in one case, applied and institutional research and business development. This presents an opportunity for a more integrated and potentially seamless learning experience. A number of the SSASOs who had this type of expansive portfolio viewed it as an opportunity to be in touch with students from the time of being prospects throughout their postsecondary experience to being alumni and potential employers for the next generation of students. As several college SSASOs noted, “We have a cradle to grave philosophy.”

Thinking about your own institution’s SAS portfolio, how do areas work together to provide an integrated and seamless series of programs and services to support student success? What do you do particularly well that you think others might want to try? What do you wish you could improve on? What changes would be required to make those improvements?

-Submitted by Tricia Seifert

The Supporting Student Success research team welcomes your thoughts and comments. Please add your perspective and “Leave a Comment.”


3 thoughts on “Moving Beyond the Name Game: The shared mission of Student Affairs and Student Services

  1. How do institutions communicate with their undergraduate students to promote events, leadership activities, recruiters on campus? Is it simply mass emails and posters and website posts? How many use Facebook, blogs….?

    • The institutions in our sample reach students in a multitude of ways. During out campus visits, we found a number of bulletin boards which might be an example of a traditional method to communicate with students. We also saw a number of Web 1.0 technologies being used through websites, email, listservs, screensavers in computer labs and large LED screens. Most, if not all, of the institutions in our sample have also adopted Web 2.0 technologies and are communicating with their students through a host of Facebook groups, blogs, and Twitter.

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