Friday, April 25, 2014

The Role of Student Affairs in Increasing the Value of a Higher Education Degree

Monthly updates from the Council of Higher Education Accreditation ( are keeping us informed of legislative proposals for reauthorization where the focus of the discussion is increasing the value of a higher education degree by increasing the number of learning units/dollar.  What does “increasing the number of learning units/dollar” actually mean?  Well right now, it appears that with success measures such as employability, we are being expected to become much more cost effective in the widgets of learning that we produce within the academy so that a student can take a job more quickly and with less debt accrued.

While this may appear to be an oversimplified version of the national conversation, the oversimplification is intentional.  The challenge that we are all aware of with the oversimplification of a complex conversation around whether students or public constituents perceive education as an investment in an experience that results in much more than a job is not the conversation many in Washington DC or within state legislatures are willing to host.  So, let’s set that conversation aside and simply ask, what is this conversation intending to create and how can student affairs professionals contribute?

At the NASPA national meeting, we heard several creative and innovative ideas for improving the delivery and assessment of student learning and development.  The challenge now appears to be, how do we get those ideas into the hands of leaders who can implement them while they attempt to manage their already full workloads?  What are the easy and affordable ideas that can have the greatest impact on increasing the number of learning units/dollar?  And how do Student Affairs professionals show they are a key player in that conversation?

One of the many strategies introduced at the national conference hosted by NASPA was a strategy that emerged from Google (Yes, Google.).  Adapting a professional development program offered at Google, a multi-disciplinary curriculum development and research team implemented the adapted Google program at a regional Hispanic serving institution and found compelling results.  Within 16 weeks, undergraduate and masters students’ stress and anxiety was significantly decreased.  In addition, students’ ability to pay attention, focus, engage in non-judgment, non-reactivity, and increase their ability to confidently reason.  Such developed skills and abilities lead to greater persistence and academic success by taking students to the crossroads of self-authorship (Baxter Magolda, 2004) and training them in the first steps of critical thinking. 

How do we know that such skills and abilities are needed?  The field of student affairs has a wealth of research (See a small sample of references listed below) that demonstrates what is needed to enhance student success.  Perhaps legislators are unfamiliar with this research and the costs associated with the programing that creates such skills.   We also know that the reason Google created the program they created was because they were hiring knowledgeable graduates who didn’t have the skills they felt were necessary for sustainable success.  In essence, their hires knew the knowledge content but not the skills to become resilient, emotionally intelligent, and creative human beings that are needed to thrive in today’s uncertain times.  Thus, Google created the program (Chade-Meng, 2012) that we adapted and then researched.  In addition, we have emerging neuroscience research to verify what specifically is being influenced in the brain as we facilitate students in these much needed skills development. 

In a breakfast presentation to faculty, NASPA President Kevin Kruger reminded faculty that their role in the accountability conversation was providing the research that would continue to transform the student affairs profession in the manner that would sustain its viability even in the midst of unprecedented challenges.  The presentation of this translational neuroscience research in an easy to adopt and implement program for students is just one of the many ideas that emerged from the NASPA national conference.  It is one way that student affairs administrators can demonstrate their contribution to increasing the value of a higher education degree.

More information about the program presented at NASPA can be found at

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D. is a professor of Postsecondary Educational Leadership at San Diego State University.

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