PREPARATION OF NEW PROFESSIONALS AND MISSION DRIVEN HIRING PRACTICES: A Survey of Senior Student Affairs Officers at Catholic Colleges and Universities

By Estanek, Sandra M.; Herdlein, Richard et al. | College Student Affairs Journal, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

PREPARATION OF NEW PROFESSIONALS AND MISSION DRIVEN HIRING PRACTICES: A Survey of Senior Student Affairs Officers at Catholic Colleges and Universities


Estanek, Sandra M., Herdlein, Richard, Harris, Justyne, College Student Affairs Journal


Studies over the past decade have resulted in significant data used to inform student affairs practitioners and graduate preparation faculty of desired competencies of new professionals entering the field of student affairs administration. Little information is available on the perceptions of senior student affairs officers at 208 institutions representing 900,000 students and identifying themselves as Catholic colleges and universities. The purpose of this study was to provide data on senior student affairs officer perceptions of the relative importance of competencies established by the American College Personnel Association (2007) and identified in the literature on Catholic institutions. Survey research using a cross-sectional design measured current attitudes through both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. The results indicated that respondents rank skill development and dispositions of greater importance than specific knowledge while emphasizing commitment to mission over knowledge of Catholic culture, moral, and social teaching.

Senior student affairs officers (SSAOs) employed at Catholic colleges and universities combine the expectations of two worlds (Estanek, 2002; Schaller & Boyle, 2006). On the one hand, they are charged with supporting the mission and hiring professionals who will contribute to the institution's vision and goals. On the other hand, they are expected to adhere to the professional standards and practices of student affairs administration. Previous research indicated that SSAOs generally understand and appreciate this dual responsibility but may have difficulty managing the sometimes competing and conflicting expectations (Estanek, 1996, 2005).

In 2007, after a 2.5 year process, the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) published a list of competencies expected of student affairs professionals (ACPA, 2007). These competencies were clustered into eight areas: advising and helping; assessment, evaluation, and research; ethics; legal foundations; leadership, administration, and management; pluralism and inclusion; student learning and development; and teaching. The authors of the document stated:

Our hope is that student affairs professionals, units, divisions, and organizations will use this document both to guide professional development activities and as a format through which to argue about what we should know and be able to do as professionals. (ACPA, 2007, p. 3)

In addition, writers on Catholic identity such as Heft (2001), Morey and Piderit (2006), Schaller and Boyle (2006), and Stringer and Swezey (2006), discussed the expectations of those who work at Catholic institutions. These include knowledge of and appreciation for Catholic tradition and the heritage of the institution's founding order. Both sets of competencies may be categorized as a combination of knowledge, skills, and dispositions.

In the "real world" of hiring new professionals, candidates will possess a combination of knowledge, skills, and dispositions but may not have all the desired competencies required for entry-level practice. Judgments will have to be made about which competencies are most critical in judging whether a new professional will be a good match for the institution. The survey discussed in this article asked senior student affairs officers at Catholic colleges and universities to both rate and rank a list of competencies that combine the ACPA standards and those found in the literature on Catholic identity, in light of what is most important to them when they hire new staff.

The purpose of this research was to further our knowledge of student affairs practice at Catholic colleges and universities, particularly in the area of hiring. Human resources are the greatest single expenditure in higher education and the most essential to enhancing learning outcomes. Since there is a paucity of research on criteria used at Catholic institutions to hire entry-level student affairs staff and its relationship to mission driven practice, this study provided valuable data to support future discussion. …

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