Values, Philosophy &  History

Higher education undergoes nearly constant transformation. In fact, “whether 1910 or 2011, an element of continuity is that our colleges and universities are constantly changing, both by accident and design” (Thelin, 2011, pp. ix). As change happens, student affairs professionals rely on the history of the profession to inform future research and practice. By looking to the past for guidance, professionals ensure that growth is happening over time and that it aligns with the values of the field. ACPA and NASPA emphasize that by incorporating these values, professionals have an opportunity “to succeed within the current higher educational environment as well as projected future environments” (ACPA & NASPA, 2015, pp.7). 


The Student Personnel Point of View (American Council on Education, 1937) serves as a classic guiding philosophy for student affairs work. The philosophy outlined in the document highlights students’ holistic development, including career goals and academic achievement. By reflecting on the Student Personnel Point of View, we can observe shifting trends over time to develop the sense of context needed to navigate rapidly changing political and social realms. In recognition of the importance of the Student Personnel Point of View on our values, I sought to develop my competence in the following outcomes: identify enduring questions, issues and trends from the history of higher education and discuss their relevance to current and emergent professional practice, articulate the history of the inclusion and exclusion of people with a variety of identities in higher education, describe the roles of faculty, academic affairs, and student affairs educators in the institution, and engage in service to the profession and to student affairs professional associations (ACPA & NASPA, 2015, pp. 18).

Higher Education’s Enduring Questions


As a first generation college student, I often thought about the other students on campus. While I was working at the dining hall to make enough to pay my bills, what did they do with their time? Did they go to class, study, and then call it a day? My story isn't new, of course. In fact, it's quite old.


According to Thelin, low-income alumni from the early nineteenth century spoke of "exclusion within the campus culture, [but they] still encountered experiences, friendships, learning, and associations they would have been unlikely to find elsewhere" (Thelin, 2011, pp.67). By 1910, little had changed in terms of access to college. "Often as not, the selective-admissions machinery was used to increase the social homogeneity of a campus by rejecting applicants from religious or ethnic minority groups (Thelin, 2011, pp.197). Regardless of the outcome, accessing a higher education has been a concern for low-income and minority students for as long as colleges have existed. This is evident on my higher education timeline as well as in my paper about the barriers faced by several specific identities (women, people of color, etc). I wanted to understand how the culture and events of different time periods contributed to students’ access of higher education. After all, how could I have the same problems as someone from the early nineteenth century?

Academic & Student Affairs Collaboration


While finances and identity have persisted as barriers to getting a higher education degree, another long-standing concern for higher education is the academic affairs/ student affairs debate. Higher education strives to support the whole students’ development including their learning both inside and outside of class (American Council on Education, 1937). With the creation of the Student Army Training Corps in 1917, leadership and national service became more recognized sources of learning (Thelin, 2011). However, this created service learning opportunities pose an ongoing challenge in this way,This is a continued challenge for today’s institutions. Despite the value of a campus ethos that encourages active involvement in learning (Arcelus, 2011), divisions unintentionally dichotomize academic vs. non-academic approaches. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory cautions against this divided approach because “norms within an academic discipline can become exclusionary, and one learning style may be favored” (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton & Renn, 2010, pp. 143). This result is problematic because learning style is a major determinant of personal development. 


While academic affairs, student affairs, and faculty have different responsibilities, the best outcome for students’ learning and development derives from partnership between them. This can be achieved by developing resources that include both groups' information to establish more congruence. For this reason, the following quote resonates with me and guides my approach to cross-divisional collaboration:  “partnership is not about developing a program together; partnership is exhibiting mutual understanding and together developing an ethos where people value integrative learning” (Arcelus, 2011, pp.69).

Collaboration through Professional Associations


Although the act of referencing history and understanding collaboration between academic and student affairs are essential pieces a professional, membership and participation in a professional association is a transformative component of developing a professional identity. According to Hirschy, Wilson, Liddell, Boyle and Pasquesi, professional associations help new professionals increase their information base about the profession, develop a commitment to a career in the field, and apply skills learned in graduate preparation programs to get involved (2015). Ultimately, this socializes the new professional to the field and develops professional identity. For more seasoned professionals, professional associations play an additional role, as they assist with networking opportunities and offering the continuous professional development that is so valued in the profession. As a new professional, I have worked to get involved in several professional associations by critiquing resumes for the Career Development and Advancement Team through ACPA, writing blog posts for EACE, or checking out webinars that I can share with my team. I believe that service in these organizations contributes to both my own and the field's improvement overall, and that these organizations exist to align the ideas of the past with the goals of the future through globalism, collaboration, and sustainability.


ACPA & NASPA. (2015). The professional competency areas for student affairs educators. Washington, D.C.: Authors.

American Council on Education. (1937). The Student Personnel Point of View. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Arcelus, V.J. (2011). Transforming our approach to education: Cultivating partnerships and dialogue. In P.M. Magolda & M.B. Baxter Magolda (Eds.), Contested issues in student affairs: Diverse perspectives and respectful dialogue (pp. 61-74). Sterling: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Evans, N.J., Forney, D.S., Guido, F.M., Patton, L.D., & Renn, K.A. (2010). Student  development in college: Theory, research and practice. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Hirschy, A.S., Wilson, M.E., Liddell, D.L., Boyle,K.M. & Pasquesi, K. (2015). Socialization to student affairs: Early career experiences associated with professional identity development. Journal of College Student Development. 56 (8). (pp. 777-792).

Thelin, J.R. (2011). A History of American Higher Education. 2nd ed. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Last Updated: May 2018