Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

The Nature of Relationships and Rewards for Student Affairs Professionals at Liberal Arts Institutions

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

The Nature of Relationships and Rewards for Student Affairs Professionals at Liberal Arts Institutions

Article excerpt

This study examined the nature of relationships and rewards for student affairs administrators at liberal arts colleges (LACs). Forty-three student affairs administrators from LACs participated in five focus groups. Results indicate that administrators tend to spend most of their time with students, followed by other student affairs administrators, and support staff. Student affairs professionals at LACs rate intrinsic rewards such as meaningful work more favorably than extrinsic rewards such as salary and benefits.

In higher education today, the field of student affairs represents an increasingly complex set of programs and services such as admissions, financial aid, student housing, student activities, and academic support services (Austin, 2002). With this growing complexity, administrators need a broad range of skills, experiences, and knowledge to succeed professionally. Ascending to higher levels of authority requires a combination of opportunities, skills, good fortune, and hard work (Blinding, 2002).

Many student affairs graduate programs, however, fall short in terms of equipping new professionals with the kinds of skills and knowledge they need to succeed. This programmatic oversight may be due to the myth that organizational and administrative skills are best learned on the job (Woodard, Love & Komives. 2000). Research suggests that graduate programs across the board fail to prepare emerging professionals for their respective positions in higher education (Austin, 2002; Gaff 2002).

This situation is further complicated by the diversity of institutions within the American higher education system. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has defined 18 unique types of institutions within the system. Most student affairs graduate programs are housed at either research universities or comprehensive institutions (Hirt, 2003). As a result, graduate students have limited exposure to professional life at other institutional types (Austin, 2002; Richmond, 1986).

Consider, for example, how student affairs work at a liberal arts college is different than work at a community college or a doctorate-granting institution. The transition from a graduate program at a research university or comprehensive institution into a position at a small liberal arts college can be particularly challenging because of the shift in the nature of work at these dramatically different types schools (Richmond, 1986).

According to the Carnegie Foundation, Baccalaureate Colleges - Liberal Arts institutions are defined as "primarily undergraduate colleges with major emphasis on baccalaureate programs. During the period studied, they awarded at least half of their baccalaureate degrees in liberal arts fields" (Carnegie Foundation, 2005, ¶6). By definition, traditional liberal arts degrees are conferred in areas such as literature/letters; foreign languages; mathematics; philosophy; physical sciences; social sciences; and history (Carnegie Foundation, 2004). Pfinister (1984) further defines LACs as institutions that adhere "to the traditional liberal arts curriculum, providing individuals with a basic grounding in the meaning of one's culture and the skills in analysis and presentation that are necessary for successful pursuit of professional and advanced study" (p. 48).

There has been ample research conducted on aspects of LACs, including shifting curricula, the role of faculty, and academic administrators. In recent years, research has revealed a shift in liberal arts curricula from more traditional offerings to professional curricula (Cejda & Duemer, 2001; Delucchi, 1997; Lang, 1999). These studies have revealed discrepancies between the Carnegie Liberal Arts classification and the curricular offerings of LACs as described in their literature. Curricula are being driven by increasing social, corporate, and fiscal demands that prompt LACs to offer more professional programs and, in turn, diminish their focus on liberal arts (Delucchi, 1997). …

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