A Matter of Institutional Size: A Comparative Case Study of Collaborations between Academic and Student Affairs in Community College Settings

By Gulley, Needham Yancey | Journal of Applied Research in the Community College, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

A Matter of Institutional Size: A Comparative Case Study of Collaborations between Academic and Student Affairs in Community College Settings


Gulley, Needham Yancey, Journal of Applied Research in the Community College


While much has been written about the historic divide between academic and student affairs units (Frost, Strom, Downey, Schultz, & Holland, 2010; Hirsch & Burack, 2002; Schroeder, 1999), there also has been an increase in the volume of partnerships that have formed between the two units. As demands for accountability have pressured higher education professionals to critically review their practices, policies, and procedures, the propensity for collaborative endeavors between academic and student affairs professionals has increased. Also increasing is research focused on understanding the forms and types of collaboration that are occurring between these units (Crafts, First, & Satwicz, 2002; Guarasci, 2002; Jacoby, 1999; Kezar & Lester, 2009; Schmidt & Kaufman, 2007).

Early research tends to focus on the topics and programming around which collabo rations are occurring, the best practices of those collaborations, and the barriers to collaboration. Such research was typically conducted at traditional four-year, researchintensive, residential institutions using mostly quantitative methodologies. In recent years, work on collaborative practice in community college settings has emerged (Amey, 2010; Bourassa & Kruger, 2002; Gulley & Mullendore, 2014; Kennedy, 2004; Kezar, 2002; Kolins, 1999), yet remains very limited. The aforementioned research indicates that collaboration is different in the community college setting and further inquiry is necessary for a better understanding of practice and implications for these institutions. Therefore, this article focuses on understanding the impact of institutional size on collaborative practice between academic and student affairs at three community colleges of distinctly different sizes within the same system examining their similarities and differences.

Review of the Literature

Much of the literature around the topic of academic and student affairs collaboration focuses on the programmatic partnerships that facilitate dialogue and interaction between members of each unit, such as seamless learning environments, service learning, freshmen and first year experiences, and faculty involvement in residence halls (Bourassa & Kruger, 2002; Crafts et al., 2002; Guarasci, 2002; Jacoby, 1999). These collaborations are grounded in the documents seminal to the understanding of purposes associated with academic and student affairs units, including: Student Learning Imperative (American College Personnel Association [ACPA], 1994), Principles of Good Practice (ACPA, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators [NASPA],1997), and Powerful Partnerships: A Shared Responsibility for Learning (American Association of Higher Education [AAHE], ACPA, & NASPA, 1998).

Given the vast amount of literature produced over the past 15 years on collaborative practice between academic and student affairs units in higher education settings, very little of that research focuses on the community college setting. Noting this exclusion in the literature, Bourassa and Kruger (2002) stated that "the entire higher education community should keep track of factors within the community college sector that cultivate successful partnerships that are easily adapted by either community colleges or four-year colleges and universities" (p. 15). It is important to study community colleges as separate educational entities from other higher education institutions given the unique nature of the community college. Overall, community colleges differ from four-year institutions in terms of structure, mission, scope, and student population; all of which may impact collaborative practice.

Few studies have offered insights into collaborative practice in community college settings (Amey, 2010; Kezar, 2002). Kezar (2002), for example conducted a nationwide quantitative study on collaborations between these units at a variety of institutions, including community colleges. After disaggregating the data, Kezar found that there were less structural barriers to collaboration in community colleges than other institutional types. …

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