A Discussion of the Challenges Campus Activities Offices Face Today

As a new academic year begins, our friends in the fields of campus/student activities are facing several challenges. Some are fairly new challenges, while others seem to always be around.

How many offices have recently changed their name or are considering a name change? Many campus activities offices are moving toward names like the ‘Office of Student Engagement’ or ‘Campus Engagement’ to more accurately reflect the services and programs the office is now responsible for maintaining. These offices have never only been about activities – it has always been so much more. Perhaps a name change will allow the office to garner more respect from the campus community.

Campus activities offices are being asked to do much, much more. Many other offices and departments are now reaching out to the office of campus activities for co-sponsorship and collaborative programming opportunities. This is in addition to the usual offices that campus activities has traditionally partnered with throughout the year. When the rest of the campus discovers the reach and impact campus activities can have with students, these different offices want to work with campus activities. While this is a wonderful recognition of the work of student activities, finding ways to add programs/activities to an already packed schedule with no more hours in a day, adds to the stress of trying to “be everything to everyone,” that many offices feel today.

Share with us your experiences of these challenges. Are you being pulled in a hundred different directions? Are you thinking of changing your office’s name or have you done so recently? We would love to hear from you, and about the ways that you are managing the increased expectations of your office.

Continuing with the theme of challenges to campus activities offices, this month we are also discussing financial resources.

Resources, particularly financial, are always an issue. It does not matter what type of campus you work on, large, small, public, private — finances can impede progress and create obstacles for innovation. Many campus activities offices are funded through some type of student fee. Usually this is a fee charged to each student to help provide them with a vibrant on-campus community as part of their classroom experiences. Generally, fees not only supports programs and services, but sometimes staff and student salaries. Students paying this fee can enjoy most, if not all of the activities/services for free, or for an additional modest fee depending on the event. Most institutions give a portion of this fee back to student organizations through a funding process, thereby allowing students to pursue their own creative activities that further their interests and passions.

The days of thinking the student activity fee will always be a secure, protected source of funding are now in question. Institutions are beginning to question this revenue source and, in some cases, they have started to look at ways in which other departments/offices might use these funds. As budgets tighten, this fee represents some potential funding relief for larger institutional projects. However, repurposing these funds comes with its own problems, as many fees represent a negotiated contract between the students and the institution. There is a cost to all of these decisions as well as potential benefits.

Another aspect of the fee discussion entails the students who pay the fee, but may not ever access the associated services. This argument has been prevalent on campuses for years. At the University of Southern California, a system was created to allow graduate students to opt out of paying the fee. In doing so, they waived their access to any and all privileges associated with this fee, including travel grants to support their academic research. More recently, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville has allowed its students to opt in to paying the fee for the first time. Those choosing to opt out of this program may not utilize the services/activities supported by the fee. Does this means that organizers of an event must now check to see which students have paid the fee and are allowed entry to the event? In addition, some students still pay this fee but if they do not opt in, the fee that would have gone to student-organized programming, will be re-allocated to other services for students. It is unclear if the student can select where that money will go.

Another topic for discussion at a later time would be fees and distance learners. At some institutions, these students do not pay the fee, yet they wish to access services supported by this fee or even other, more traditional on-campus services. How do we work with these students to create a positive college experience for them?

What are you experiencing on your campus? Are you concerned that your fee may be repurposed? We would love to hear from you.


This article was written by SJG Search Associate Heather Larabee. Comments or questions? Please feel free to add your comments! You can also reach out to us here or @spelmanjohnson!


Heather Larabee

Search Associate - Spelman Johnson

Heather Larabee earned her BS in marketing from the University of West Florida, her MEd from the University of Florida and her doctor of education in educational leadership from the University of Southern California. Heather has most recently served as assistant dean of students and director of campus activities in the division of student affairs at the University of Southern California. Prior to this, she served as the assistant director for cultural arts and activities. Heather came to the University of Southern California from Francis Marion University where she served as the director of student life in the division of student affairs. She also held the position of program coordinator in the division of student affairs at the University of Tennessee. Heather has published several articles and has been a presenter at the National Association for Campus Activities, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, and the Association of College Unions International national conferences.