Higher Education Law Courses in Graduate Preparation Programs and Law-Based Programs at Student Affairs National Conferences

Article excerpt

The purpose of the study was to determine the content of higher education law courses in student affairs graduate programs and the legal focus in presentations at the American College Personnel Association and National Association of Student Personnel Administrators national conferences. Syllabi from 23 institutions and conference programs from 1990 through 1997 were reviewed.

The preparation of college student personnel professionals has been an issue for more than three decades. The Council of Student Personnel Associations in Higher Education (COSPA, 1965) published a proposal for professional preparation in College Student Personnel that included the purposes of the student personnel profession, its functions, and the content of its graduate degree programs. The COSPA proposal recommended that preparation programs include a professional core, a core extension, and specialized fields. Included as part of the professional core was an overview of social and legal issues.

More recently, standards for preparation programs have been developed. The Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS, 1986) created guidelines for student affairs preparation programs that include a familiarity with the legal knowledge needed by student affairs professionals. During the last decade, CAS has continued to modify its guidelines and continues to advance quality assurance practices in professional associations (CAS,1997).

For the past 16 years, courts have played an increasingly important role in higher education, and laws that are relevant to student affairs administrators increase in response to the litigious nature of society (Greenleaf, 1982). Authors in the field of student affairs have explored various aspects of legal knowledge (e.g., Barr & Associates,1988; Gehring & Penney,1995; Olivas, 1986, 1989). Gehring and Penney (1995) underscored the need to understand legal issues for those entering the field of student affairs. Olivas (1986), in his investigation of syllabi and textbooks, described higher education law as a rapidly changing field of study. In his casebook, Olivas (1989) stated that "knowledge of higher education law has become essential to anyone in a responsible position in higher education" (p. xix). Barr and her associates (1988) made note of "the major increase in the influence of the law on the campus" (p. xv). They urged that student affairs administrators become more knowledgeable about the law and wrote, "Graduate preparation programs should include courses and materials to help practitioners understand the law. Professional associations and staff development programs should intentionally focus on such issues" (p. 349).

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this research was to determine the content of higher education law training for student affairs professionals in graduate preparation programs and in presentations at professional association conferences. The first part of the study was an examination of course syllabi of higher education law courses in graduate preparation programs in college student affairs. Second, the content of legal-based programs presented at the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) and National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) annual conventions was reviewed to determine which areas of law are being examined in these organizations' conferences.


Several researchers have conducted studies about the need for graduate preparation in legal issues (Bishop, 1993; Lunsford, 1984; Ostroth, 1975; Richmond, 1989; Schmitt, 1990). Ostroth (1975) surveyed student personnel administrators from 60 institutions (n=82) who indicated that a high degree of emphasis should be placed on the study of legal issues affecting higher education in a 2-year master's degree program in student personnel. A knowledge of college law rated a mean of 3.88 on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (no value) to 5 (essential), with 70% stating it was of high value or essential, and 26% indicating it was of some value. …


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