- Where You Work Matters: Student Affairs Administration at Different Types of Institutions
Author Joan Hirt attributes the genesis of this book to conversations at a national student affairs conference where new professionals were discussing, at least in part, the extent to which their graduate education had prepared them adequately for their professional responsibilities. The new professionals were working at other institutions than where they received their graduate degrees. Consequently, they had to adjust to new institutional missions and values. Upon reflection Hirt acknowledged that she had had made adjustments in her professional practice in making transitions to new administrative positions at three very different types of institutions.
As a consequence, Hirt prepared this volume because "the intersection between student affairs professional life and institutional type has not been explored" (p. xii). The book is based on six studies that "looked at the nature of professional life for student affairs professionals at different types of campuses" (p. xiii). More than a thousand professionals [End Page 334] who worked at two- and four-year colleges across the country participated in the studies and, hence, provided the data for the book.
My view is that this book is of greatest value to master's students who typically have a limited view of higher education and whose personal experience may be framed by their baccalaureate institution and the university where they are pursuing their graduate degree.
The book is centered on seven institutional types: liberal arts colleges, religiously affiliated institutions, comprehensive colleges and universities, research universities, historically Black colleges and universities, community colleges, and Hispanic-serving institutions. Hirt concedes that her taxonomy is arbitrary, and could use refinement. For example, she points out that "women's institutions, graduate and professional schools, Tribal colleges, proprietary institutions, and hybrid institutions" (p. 16) require special attention that lie outside the bounds of this volume. I agree with that caveat.
No taxonomy can be perfect because, to a great extent, the diversity of institutions of higher education creates anomalies that are hard to account for in any categorization. For example, where do public baccalaureate institutions fit? What about men's colleges? Service academies? Asian American and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (Laanan & Starobin, 2004)? Though both are religious institutions, Marquette University and St. Olaf hardly are similar in their size, curriculum and location. Nevertheless, some attempt at categorizing the institutions had to be developed to complete this text, and Hirt's taxonomy is more than satisfactory.
One chapter is devoted to student affairs practice at each institutional type, and each chapter is organized using the same template. Hirt reports on the historical evolution of the institutional type; the nature of the campus including mission, faculty, and students; the nature of student affairs work at the institutional type from the perspective of the work environment, the pace of work and how work is accomplished; the nature of relationships; and the nature of rewards. Each chapter finishes with conclusions about student affairs practice at the institutional type.
In her concluding chapter, Hirt expresses concern about the socialization of graduate students and asserts that, since graduate programs primarily are housed at research universities (or, to a lesser extent, comprehensive universities), graduate students are socialized to work at those institutional types. Such may be the case although it seems logical that the assistantships that students hold during their graduate work naturally would and should focus on the type of institution where they work.
But a graduate student's assistantship provides only a portion of that student's learning experiences. The graduate curriculum should socialize students to professional practice at many institutional types. This responsibility, in my opinion, falls to faculty who need to make sure that students are exposed to literature and illustrations that recognize the various types of institutions in which student affairs administrators practice their craft. Moreover, faculty should make sure that field study, practica, and internships are available at institutions that have different perspectives on the nature of student affairs practice.