Building the Capacity for Mission through Use of the Principles of Good Practice for Student Affairs at Catholic Colleges and Universities: A Survey of Presidents and Senior Student Affairs Officers

By James, Michael J.; Estanek, Sandra M. | Journal of Catholic Education, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Building the Capacity for Mission through Use of the Principles of Good Practice for Student Affairs at Catholic Colleges and Universities: A Survey of Presidents and Senior Student Affairs Officers


James, Michael J., Estanek, Sandra M., Journal of Catholic Education


Dialogue about Catholic identity has been taking place at American Catholic colleges and universities since the publication of Ex Corde Ecclesiae in 1990. In a variety of venues since 1990, student affairs professionals who work at Catholic colleges and universities have discussed the implications of the characteristics of Catholic higher education expressed in Ex Corde Ecclesiae for their work. That student affairs professionals do their work within the context of the mission of the university is a concept that has been accepted from the earliest stages of the establishment of student affairs as an independent profession in the beginning of the twentieth century. This has been expressed in documents such as The Student Personnel Point of View (American Council on Education, 1937, 1949), A Perspective on Student Affairs (American Council on Education & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, 1987), The Student Learning Imperative (American College Personnel Association, 1996), and Learning Reconsidered (Keeling, 2006). These documents provided the foundation in student affairs practice and theory for a collaborative and peer-driven project that resulted in the development of the Principles of Good Practice in Student Affairs at Catholic Colleges and Universities (referred to hereafter as The Principles; Estanek & James, 2007). For the past 20 years, student affairs professionals at Catholic colleges and universities have been building their capacity for mission integration in a variety of professional development seminars and institutes, largely supported by the work of Catholic higher education associations and sponsoring religious communities, with the intention of increasing the presence and integration of the Catholic mission and religious charism at the institutions in which they work. The Principles are the latest mission-driven resource to be developed at a national level in support of the continuing efforts by student affairs professionals and others working at Catholic colleges and universities to build capacity for mission-driven work.

This article describes the development of The Principles as a mission-centered resource for student affairs professionals at Catholic colleges and universities. This article further presents the findings of a survey of presidents and senior student affairs officers (SSAOs) at Catholic colleges and universities in the United States and Canada regarding how The Principles are being utilized at their institutions to create mission-driven practices in student affairs work and to form mission-knowledgeable student affairs professionals. This article concludes with a discussion about the efficacy of The Principles to be used in continuing efforts across the diversity of institutions that constitute Catholic higher education in productive and meaningful ways to build a culture of mission integrated institutions.

Capacity Building and Mission

The term capacity building originated in the context of international economic development. The concept was first utilized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1991. It changed the focus of how to think about economic development from an emphasis on the advice and expectations coming from outside experts from developed nations to an emphasis on the process of "creat[ing] an enabling environment" in developing nations that entailed a "long term, continuing process in which all stakeholders participate" (UNDP, 1991). Most recently, the UNDP defined capacity building as "activities that bring about transformation that is generated and sustained over time from within" (UNDP, 2009, p. 5.).

The term has come to be used in other contexts as well, particularly in the literature on improving the effectiveness of not-for-profit organizations. Sobeck and Agius (2007) defined capacity building in this context as providing "training, technical assistance, and other resources to achieve the mission" (p. …

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