Written By: Guest Blogger, Lori Reesor, Ph.D., Vice President for Student Affairs, University of North Dakota
In honor of Careers in Student Affairs month, I want to share a few thoughts of why I have chosen this profession and why I believe it has chosen me.
I was a first-generation college student who only considered going to college because a high school teacher thought I had potential. Going away to college was a significant step for me. As I reflect on those four years, I am struck by all that I learned and how much I changed during that time. I had the fortune to live on-campus all 4 years as an undergraduate serving as a Resident Assistant for 2 of those years. I was also involved in a number of leadership opportunities and I enjoyed helping others and making a difference. Through these experiences I was introduced to some amazing mentors in student affairs. Upon graduation, I was fortunate to land a great position in business (which was my major). It didn’t take long before I realized something was missing for me and I was not satisfied with this role.
I returned to those mentors at my undergraduate institution and asked them to tell me more about the work they did and why. After those conversations, I met with a faculty member in a local master’s program. Our conversation inspired me to enroll in a master’s degree and pursue my calling. When I reflect on that decision today, I really did not know what it fully meant to work in higher education but as I have gone through this journey, I realized student affairs was exactly where I was meant to be.
Working with and for students is a privilege. Creating programs and services that allow them to learn, grow, and excel is challenging and exciting. While my senior-level position does not allow for as much daily interaction with students as I used to have in other roles, student success guides every decision I make. I love working in higher education because learning and inclusiveness are part of its core mission. Higher education changed my life in so many ways and every day I strive to make a difference in the individual students I work with and through the opportunities we create them for them as an academic institution. If you feel this profession is calling like you like it does me, I encourage you to explore the many opportunities available in student affairs. I encourage you to visit with a number of individuals to learn more about the work, institutional types, and opportunities that await you. Then you, too, can decide if you are being called to one of the most rewarding areas in higher education.
Guest Blogger: Meghan Godorov, M.Ed., Associate Director for Alumnae and Community Engagement, Mount Holyoke College
With an emphasis on outcomes, career development centers across the country have been under scrutiny. Students, parents, trustees and the media are holding them to higher standards, some of which are very clearly articulated and others that are quite nebulous, as institutions experiment with approaches to the changes that are required to best match their constituents’ needs and institutional mission.
Based on my own experience in career development, the tests for these centers across the country have been both personal and professional in nature. Moves to eliminate silos in higher education have become a high priority. Inserting ourselves in both student and academic affairs, doubling staff size and creating many new programs to redefine career development drastically changed the way individuals experience the profession. Many career centers moved out of students affairs or Enrollment to Advancement and Academic Affairs, elevating the status of the Director’s role and career development as a whole.
Caught in flux both as a department and institution myself led me to consider the psychological effects that change has on higher education professionals, especially and most specifically, at institutions undergoing deep and broad change. When the integrity and quality of one if not more than one functional areas’ work is called into question, I’ve discovered that it can be difficult for individual professionals to make sense of campus and departmental dynamics without also calling your personal values and contributions into question. Rallying behind each other helps. Communication and innovation also helps rally the professional community and builds a support system at the institution for those struggling with the psychological and professional effects of deep and broad change. Easier said than done, right?
So, I ask you to consider the following questions below. As the dynamics in higher education continue to shift, remember to take care of yourself, be reminded of your goals in higher education, pay attention to how these professional changes affect you, your colleagues and department in addition to the rest of the campus. Help us shape the new definition of career development in higher education. Help us reinstill trust in our services and expertise and take the time to market our services to the students and alumni you encounter so we can prepare them for lifelong, career success.
What? Your position has been eliminated? And, after all those years of solid performance reviews and good work? Sometimes it’s true, bad things happen to good people. In the face of senior leadership changes, new strategic priorities and/or institutional financial constraints (or add your own rationale here) many professionals have had an up close experience with restructuring—and it’s rarely a pretty experience.
For those who suddenly find themselves without a job, the initial impact can be devastating. The obvious solution might be to quickly jump into job search mode. Here at SJG, we would urge a bit of patience and caution. Particularly, if you feel your whole world and sense of professional well-being has been turned upside down, it would be far better to work through the angst and grief that comes with the loss of your position before you move head long into a search for a new role. The first order of business is to work through that roller coaster of emotions with the goal of arriving at a centered place where you can clearly articulate your strengths, accomplishments, and how you can bring value to a new role, likely at a new institution. Some distance on your restructuring experience is essential as you shape your ready-to-go-in-an-instant, two-minute response to, “Why are you seeking a new opportunity?” There is simply no room in that explanation to lay blame at the feet of others. Nor, do you want to risk having to explain your “transition” and find the pain of it creeps into the conversation with a prospective new supervisor.
You will need to do all the usual things to gear up your search—such as pointing up your resume, updating your social media profiles (and, yes, you need to be on LinkedIn these days), and perfecting some of the frequent phrases that will be used to substantiate your candidacy that will find their way into many cover letters—but first you’ll need to practice. With a mirror, with friends and family, and with trusted professional colleagues, you will want to practice how you will handle the hardball questions about why you left your last position, how you are ready to contribute to a new role, and what have you been doing lately to add to your portfolio of skills and overall reputation. The investment of time and effort will be well-returned, trust me on this.
Once you’re comfortable with how you will discuss your transition, you may want to think about whether you want to continue in exactly the same career trajectory you were on in your last position, or change things up a little. I can’t tell you what the “right” answer is here; either option can work well. What is most important is that you have thought this through very intentionally. Sometimes change, even if imposed by forces outside of your control, can be a good thing that motivates you to take stock of what is truly important. Think about where your passion lies. What are the strengths you bring to your work and how would you feel if you could do more of what you love and less of what annoys you or keeps you awake at night? What type of institution and institutional mission really resonates with you? There are great career coaches out there who can help you with this. Bottom line, don’t be afraid to steer your career in a new direction.
Here at SJG, we have seen plenty of talented professionals move beyond the loss of a position due to restructuring and into new leadership roles that are both challenging and rewarding. Our advice is really quite simple: 1) take time to reflect and regroup; 2) ready your job search materials and update your social media profile (as well as your profile on the SJG network!); 3) be intentional—only consider new opportunities that are aligned with clearly identified priorities (sending out mass job applications rarely nets good results); 4) for every job you apply to, do your homework, work your network, and thoroughly research the opportunity, institution, strategic priorities, and leadership environment so you will know early in the search process how you can add value to the organization and how you will expect to thrive in that particular culture; and 5) believe in yourself and others will too.
By: Search Associate, Heather Larabee
As a search associate for SJG, I have the privilege of traveling all over the country to visit campuses and meet fascinating people. I love seeing the different campuses; the architecture, landscaping, and design. Perhaps one of my favorite buildings, and one that I always try to see, is the student union. This is due in part to my history in student affairs and also, as a student, the union was one of the places I felt most connected. Student unions on any campus should be a buzz of activity filled with members of the campus community and welcoming gathering spaces to facilitate meaningful dialogue among the students, faculty, and staff. The other attractions and services that complete a union vary from campus to campus, but at the core of the union’s purpose is always the same – to serve the students.
As a means to best serve the students, several trends, best practices, and/or discussion topics have emerged regarding student union work. These are not new to student affairs work or unique to student unions, but they are continuing to influence work and decision making. Recently, I have seen a few topics more frequently surface through my discussions with student union colleagues: assessment, relevancy, and the notion of the union being the “third place.”
Yes, we all know about assessment. This is hardly a buzzword or new concept, in fact, most Student Affairs divisions have their own departments or committees to work with the assessment needs of the division. We all agree that the benefits of effective assessment are plentiful, influencing every aspect of our work. In the student union environment, well-constructed research tools can assist in the assessment of students’ needs, habits, wants, and wishes. This information can inform all decisions across every area of the union. However, many student unions are only doing half the work. The data is being collected through multiple surveys, evaluations, people counters, etc., but that data is not efficiently or effectively analyzed and, in some cases, nothing is ever done with that data. This unused data represents numerous opportunities lost.
Campuses and the communities a union serves are changing, yet the mission of a student union has remained constant over the years. New buildings, even academic ones, are beginning to resemble student unions with dining options, gathering spaces, event spaces, and retail outlets. With these multi-purpose buildings becoming more common, what drives a student to the union? How does the union stay competitive and remain relevant to not just students but all campus constituents?
Additionally, as campuses grow, the student union may no longer be in the center of campus. Couple this change with these newer buildings with similar amenities and the union now finds itself in competition for students, faculty, staff, and visitors. Student union staff are exploring ways to enhance and clarify the union’s identity and ensure its continued importance on campus.
Undoubtedly, fostering community is one of the most important functions of a student union. In community building, the notion of third place, the social surroundings outside of home and work, fits perfectly with both the mission and purpose of a student union. Intentional efforts must be made to allow the campus community to create these third spaces. This can be done through activities, programs, and events, well designed spaces, and services provided to the community, but it must be done in consultation with community. It is essential to ensure all voices within the campus community are included in order to facilitate the creation of third spaces for everyone.
In the past several years, SJG has completed many searches for Enrollment Management professionals, and we expect that this trend will continue. Potential candidates often ask us what clients are specifically seeking in enrollment management candidates, so below are some skill sets you may wish to gather and/or areas with which you may wish to partner as you take steps to position yourself as a candidate in the professional realm of enrollment management:
Negative Financial Outlook for Higher Education Sector
The two most prominent investment rating firms (Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s) have recently issued negative outlooks for higher education. Moody’s expressed concerns about the ability of colleges and universities to significantly increase tuition revenues the way they have for the past 20 years. Additionally, there is little optimism that state funding for public institutions will grow enough to offset increased expenses. The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEOA) reported in 2014 that total educational revenue (net tuition plus state and local funding) per student dropped by 6.2 percent between 2008 and 2013.
The most significant risks are to regional public institutions and tuition-dependent private institutions. According to Moody’s, in fiscal 2013, net tuition revenue dropped for 25 percent of regional public universities compared, with four percent for flagship public schools, and public systems as a whole. “Regional public universities will be most susceptible to local declines in the number of high school graduates and improving job prospects”. It is believed that flagships/systems, those with the strongest brands, more diverse revenues, broader scope of operations, and greater wealth will continue to fare reasonably well, even as they will still need to make careful resource allocation decisions.
According to The New York Times, net tuition has either been flat or falling at 73 percent of colleges. Most colleges do not have the market power to significantly increase their prices, and maintain their enrollment levels. The number of higher education institutions on the Department of Education watch list has grown by one-third since 2007.
SHEEOA concluded its 2014 annual report with a warning that the financial realities for higher education cannot be ignored. “Parents, students, institutions, and states must make tough decisions about priorities – choosing those investments that are essential for a better future and where they can reduce spending on the non-essential in order to secure what is essential for our future as a successful society.”
Political Pressure Mounting to Control the Cost of Higher Education
The costs of higher education have come under increasing scrutiny during the recent recovery from the Great Recession. Over the past 30 years, tuition and fees have grown at a rate that significantly exceeded general inflation. According to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), the published “sticker price” for tuition and fees for the 2012-2013 academic year was more than 3.5 times the published price 30 years earlier, adjusted for inflation. As the overall economy has struggled to regain its footing in the last five years, the annual average tuition increase has been 6.7 percent.
A wide variety of high-profile voices including The New York Times, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and President Obama are openly questioning whether higher education has priced itself beyond the reach of many Americans. A common criticism is perceived “administrative bloat” at many institutions. Late last year economist Rudy Fichtenbaum expressed a widely-held view in The Wall Street Journal that increased costs are being driven by a “metastasizing army of administrators with bloated salaries” and “the growth in entertainment spending and spending on amenities (including) luxury dorms, new dining halls and rock-climbing walls.”
In the New York Times, Dr. Andrew Hacker of Queens College echoes the sentiment that institutions must reexamine spending priorities. “Colleges know that whatever they charge, students will pay, largely by taking out loans. The Reason: Only colleges can grant degrees, an award most young people think they must have. Yet the shameful truth is that too little of the revenue goes for education. Colleges have been rifling tuition checks for all manner of extraneous outlays, with undergraduate instruction barely making the list.”
Regardless of your opinion of these assessments, there is unquestionably a growing perception that colleges and universities must take significant steps to control costs. The Obama administration has proposed that the Department of Education establish a rating system for colleges and universities to hold them accountable for performance and help ultimately bring tuition under control. Evaluations will be based on measures such as the average tuition they charge, the share of low-income students they enroll, and their effectiveness in ensuring students graduate without too much debt. The eventual goal is to tie federal funding and financial aid to performance.
We would like to congratulate the winners of the 2014 Women’s Leadership Institute Scholarship. We are very pleased to announce this year’s scholarship recipients:
(in alphabetical order) Candice Baldwin, Elizabeth Boretz, Gaye Cooksey, Maria Fuentes-Martin, and Kristi Jovell. Congratulations to all of you!
A reminder for those who will be attending the 2014 Women’s Leadership Institute, the deadline for early bird registration is November 4, 2014. We look forward to seeing all of you there!
SJG’s Valerie Szymkowicz will be speaking at the NASPA Region I Annual Conference as part of a panel program with Scott James and others, entitled “How to be young, experienced and in a leadership role on campus.” The panel presentation will feature individuals who have advanced quickly in their career and will address the challenges and opportunities faced by young individuals who have navigated the traditional career paths in higher education. Panelists will address career strategies that have been valuable to their professional growth and development and the first 90 days in leadership.
The program will take place on Tuesday, November 18 from 2:30 – 3:30 p.m. as part of the NASPA Region I Annual Conference in Newport, RI. We hope you will be able to attend!
On October 3, 2014, the NASPA Foundation and its Board of Directors selected Ellen Heffernan as its new member of the Class of 2015 Pillars of the Profession! The Pillars award is designed to honor members of the profession who:
The Foundation gave Ellen this award in recognition of her outstanding service and significant contributions to the profession. This new class of Pillars will be introduced at the 2015 Annual Conference on March 23, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
As part of the Pillars program, the NASPA Foundation accepts gifts in the name of each honoree. These gifts come back to the student affairs profession as scholarships, research grants and awards. Please help us celebrate the 2015 Pillars with a donation in Ellen’s name to the NASPA Foundation. Your gifts ensure the advancement, health, and sustainability of the student affairs profession and help answer the challenges we face as educators. You may donate online here. To learn more about the Foundation’s Pillar class, go here.