- Perceptions of New Student Affairs Professionals and Their Supervisors Regarding the Application of Competencies Learned in Preparation Programs
In his recent article on the relevance of graduate preparation of new college student personnel professionals, Herdlein (2004) stated, “It is unclear whether graduate programs in student affairs have been satisfactory in preparing student affairs administrators in the rapidly changing environment of higher education.” (p. 51). Indeed the issue of whether or not college student personnel (CSP) programs have been successful in preparing students to work in student affairs has been an issue for nearly 50 years. This issue has been compounded by the fact that there still remains fierce debate as to what knowledge college student personnel graduates need in order to be successful in the profession.
Almost 5 decades ago, Mueller (1959) made the argument that the most essential skills needed for students considering a career in student personnel were counseling related. Mueller’s argument was supported by Parker (1971), who also contended that counseling skills were the essential ingredients necessary for success in student affairs. During the early 1980s, however, others argued that it was more important for graduate preparation programs in college student personnel to emphasize administration and practical experience over counseling skills (Ostroth, 1981; Stamatakos, 1981a, 1981b). Students in college student personnel preparation programs, it was felt, need to be given the opportunity to work in the field to develop their skills, and there was increasing concern that students who graduated from these programs were not learning the competencies that the field acknowledged as being crucial to early success in student affairs. By contrast, Sandeen (1982), in a poll of senior student affairs officers (SSAOs), found that 73% of the SSAOs surveyed assessed the academic quality of graduate degree programs in college student personnel as either “good” or “excellent.” Sandeen’s study affirmed the notion that senior student affairs officers view professional preparation as a very important issue.
As the profession continued to develop it became clear that it was not simply a case of “counseling vs. administration.” College student personnel graduates needed to learn a wide range of skills, including those related to counseling and administration, if they were to be effective in their chosen profession. In a survey of first–year professionals in student [End Page 104] affairs, Kinser (1993) found that for many of these professionals, “the first job in student affairs is full of surprises and quite possibly not what they thought they were training for in graduate school” (p. 7), making it difficult to know exactly what students entering the field should know. A full 26% of those responding to Kinser’s survey said that they did not use the theory they learned in graduate school. Similarly, Palmer (1995) suggested that so many skills are needed to be an effective residence life professional that it might be impossible for a graduate preparation program to supply all of the skills needed for success in the field.
Garland and Grace (1993) contended that the student affairs profession has changed significantly since its inception, arguing that the increased importance of student affairs calls for a revision of the role of the student affairs profession, which in turn requires a closer analysis of the role of student affairs preparation programs. As if to reinforce this notion of the changing role of student affairs, Rogers and Love (2004) made the claim that college student personnel preparation programs must also assume the responsibility of preparing graduate students to deal with issues related to spirituality and the meaning of life. Rogers and Love argued that given that spirituality is a legitimate element of student diversity, it needs to be understood by the professional working with college students.
And although Carpenter (2003) felt that the work of student affairs is a complex field that deals with human behaviors and so must rely on multifaceted theories, Burkard, Cole, Ott and Stoflet (2004) suggested that human relations, administrative/management, technological and research competencies—as well as personal attributes—are crucial to the success of entry level professionals in student affairs.
Because student affairs professionals practice in a variety of institutions...