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  • A Legacy of Scholarship in Which Every Student Affairs Professional Can Be Proud
  • Gregory S. Blimling, 1995–2003

The Journal of College Student Development (JCSD) is a reservoir of knowledge chronicling the best thinking of student affairs scholars and practitioners about the growth and development of college students, and the profession of student affairs for the past 50 years. It is the only tier 1 journal in the field of student affairs and it is among the most competitive peer-reviewed journals in higher education.

JCSD grew up with the profession of student affairs. As such, it provides a unique opportunity to view the evolution of scholarship in the field. In this essay, I identify five themes of scholarship revealed in JCSD during the past 50 years, explore how communities of scholarship in student affairs influenced JCSD, and comment on how research methods have influenced this scholarship.

Five Themes of Scholarship

The five themes of scholarship that I identified in the journal are (a) mission and purpose, (b) treatment effect, (c) human development, (d) student learning, and (e) integrative/meta-analytic. Although some themes have starting points and segments of time when the research dominated the journal, it has more often been the situation that these themes ebb and flow throughout its history.

Scholarship in JCSD follows the most common form of knowledge creation, moving from broad general observations to increasing specialization as theories and research that are more general are applied to specific groups and situations to reveal knowledge that is more specialized. This scholarship builds on accepted knowledge in the field to support the creation of less well-developed areas of research. In doing so, it expands knowledge beyond established research themes to the associated complementary forms of scholarship.

Some of the earliest scholarship in JCSD focused on the mission and purpose of student affairs. Articles by Hopwood (1961), Shafer (1961), and Trueblood (1963) are examples of that scholarship.

Concurrent with this theme, experimental designs showing a treatment effect were used to describe, establish, and quantify the contributions made by student affairs to higher education. Research focusing on the educational contributions of residence halls, student government, career services, student activities, and related student affairs programs were widely researched and published. Most of this research reported on how students benefited from their involvement with these programs and activities. Dependent measures included variables such as grade point average, retention, satisfaction, and self-reported gains on various instruments.

By the mid-to-late-1970s, articles focusing on the psychosocial and cognitive development of college students began to emerge. This scholarship strengthened throughout the 1980s and 1990s as student development became a dominant theme of student affairs work. Unified psychosocial theories were augmented by identity development theories that addressed the sequence of developmental [End Page 712] issues encountered by various members of underrepresented student groups. In addition, student development research helped to launch research on the important developmental issues of first-year students.

The student learning imperative used student development language to support and broadened the role of student affairs and its connection to other areas of higher education. In 1996 (Blimling), the journal devoted a special issue to the student learning imperative and helped to introduce a research agenda focused on learning outcomes attributable to experiential learning provided by student affairs professionals independently and in collaboration with others, such as the instructional faculty.

Integrative research has been the fifth dominant theme in student affairs scholarship published in the journal. These articles have included meta-analyses, narrative reviews of research, and articles that summarize large national studies with multiple outcomes. Examples of this include Pascarella and coauthors (1996), Astin (1996), and Sedlacek (1987).

Research Methods

The evolution of research in the journal cannot be fully understood without an appreciation for the increasing sophistication of both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Univariate statistical tests were widely used in the early descriptive studies published in the journal. However, as computers became commonplace and advanced statistical programs were accessible from virtually every desktop computer, the complexity of research designs and statistical analysis increased exponentially. Similarly, the value of qualitative research and the sophistication in both the research methods and software programs to aid in analysis...


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pp. 712-714
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