On March 3, 2018, I was invited by the NASPA Community College Division to serve as the keynote speaker for the annual Community College Institute (CCI) as part of the NASPA Annual Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NASPA has long been my professional home since pursuing a career in higher education over twenty years ago, so it was extremely humbling to be invited to share my insights on the current and future college completion agenda.
As my speech, “Community Colleges at the Center of the Completion Agenda,” began with a short overview of the changing trends of the student affairs profession over the past decades, I could not help but reflect on my participation as a faculty member for the NASPA Mid-Managers Institute where I first presented a session on an emerging trend and expectation that student affairs practitioners were well situated and would soon be expected to be retention, progression, and graduation experts. This is especially true for practitioners at community and technical colleges where the lines are more blurred between student and academic affairs and where, as CCI Director Bette Simmons points out, there are unique challenges due to the “diversity of our student populations.”
Student affairs leaders and professionals are at the center of this work: advising and teaching students, developing programming and planning tools, and providing support and advocacy for students, among many other functions. To be more effective in the changing academic marketplace and political environment, student affairs professionals must measure and articulate the results we are achieving with student retention and success. We are making a difference, but we must be more intentional in demonstrating and quantifying that impact.
In community colleges, and at most baccalaureate-granting institutions, student affairs practitioners are finding innovative ways to engage with Complete College America’s completion strategies. 15 to Finish campaigns give students critical information about the academic and financial consequences of lower credit accumulation and late graduation, and encourages them to enroll in at least 30 credits per academic year. Student affairs divisions are well situated to incorporate these types of campaigns in new student orientation and advisement processes. As NASPA CCD Director Kimberly Lowry said, “all of the strategies are important but the ones that would be considered low hanging fruit from a student services standpoint would be Proactive Advising and 15 to Finish. These are the two that we should be able to impact immediately.”
Momentum Pathways (academic degree maps, meta-majors, and Purpose First/career pathways, corequisite support, and math pathways) are increasingly being embedded into the work of practitioners. Additionally, as we recognize the changing demographics of collegiate populations, we must develop and enhance institutional structures that reflect the spirit of CCA’s “A Better Deal” for returning adult-learners that are needed to reach state and national attainment goals. Student Affairs is truly at the center of the completion agenda that remains aligned with NASPA’s professional efforts to ensure holistic student development.
As NASPA President Kevin Kruger shared in his introductory remarks at the CCI, now more than ever, student affairs professionals must own the important role we play in ensuring students succeed in college. Whether at the leadership level or amongst the cadre of new professionals that enter the field, student affairs practitioners must assert themselves as thought partners in a college completion agenda that is now ubiquitous in higher education.
Student affairs leaders are some of the best trained, prepared, and committed professionals in higher education. Our students demand a system committed to their success, so let’s be as engaged as possible in delivering it to them.