Principles, values and beliefs of student affairs and services

Student affairs and services theory and practice are informed by a number of academic disciplines. Student development theory draws from research in psychology, sociology and human biology. Mental and physical health services rely heavily on medicine, psychiatry, clinical and counselling psychology, education, exercise sciences, and health education and wellness as well as others.

The effective administration of student affairs and services or SAS is based, in part, on theories of management, accounting, human resources etc. There is a diverse array of SAS services and programmes requiring the latest thinking from an equally wide and diverse set of areas of academic study.

Whether it is provision of quality services, programmes that enhance student learning, student leadership training, community service opportunities, or health and wellness experiences, SAS practitioners and scholars have an enormous impact on students, both academically and developmentally.

In order for any sector of higher education to be of top quality, it must be grounded in a set of principles and values that takes into consideration the expressed needs of the students being served. Education is the pillar of all societies and transforms lives by enhancing the quality of life, building peace, eradicating poverty and driving sustainable development.

Students in higher education all over the world enrol in different programmes of study and access various services, informed and guided by basic principles and values of student affairs and services. In this section, the authors propose a platform of universal SAS principles, values and beliefs that ought to exist in every institution.

Principles, values and beliefs will more than likely vary, depending on the region or country of origin. While that may be the case, the tenets outlined here have nearly universal appeal and allow readers to understand how they might apply to the creation and ongoing assessment of higher education SAS anywhere on the globe. The key principles, values and beliefs that underpin student affairs and services globally are reflected below:

Purposes and partnerships

1. Higher education and student affairs and services, as integral partners in providing services and programmes, must be student-centred and acknowledge students as active partners and responsible stakeholders in their education. Along with parents, institutional decision-makers, and government officials, students must be included in their educational process.

While students generally have the right and responsibility to organise, to participate in governance and to pursue personal and social interests, institutions must offer and encourage students to take advantage of such opportunities for enhanced integration and engagement.

2. Partnerships with all constituents must be established to promote in-classroom and out-of-class learning as well as lifelong learning. Such partnerships should include students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, employers, social service agencies and non-governmental organisations, primary and secondary school systems, government agencies and representatives of the local, national, regional and global communities.

3. Student affairs and services must be delivered in a manner that is seamless, meaningful and integrated with the academic mission of the institution.

4. SAS is a key player in advancing the talents of all nations. Partnerships at the national and international levels are necessary for sustained growth and development.

Access, equality and diversity

1. Higher learning is enhanced by diversity and creative conflict; in particular as students, faculty and SAS staff encounter different histories, experiences and points of view in one another. Thus, every effort should be made to attract and retain a diverse student body and staff. This includes diversity of race, ethnicity, faith, gender and disabilities, as well as of ideas.

2. The student affairs and services mission must be consistent with the institutional mission, its educational purposes, and the locale in which it is operating along with its student characteristics. Programmes must be established and resources allocated for the purposes of meeting their ultimate goal – enhancing student learning, and personal and social development.

Assessment of student needs

1. It is necessary to first identify and understand the needs and concerns of students. Student issues and concerns are best informed by their stage of development as young adults, as well as the stage of their study period.

Higher education institutions should provide the best suitable services along the student lifecycle by assessing student needs upon acceptance to their institutions and throughout the tertiary education experience until graduation.

2. Relevant, responsive and meaningful student affairs and services must be available to all students to enhance their integration into higher education and to support their academic success. The absence of such important services could result in students feeling isolated, alienated, stressed and performing poorly academically.

4. The student lifecycle stages can be comparable to the international student lifecycle (for students studying abroad for a period of time). The first stage comprises pre-arrival services, the second covers services provided upon arrival at the institution, and the third relates to services during the study period.

Learning and career development

1. Higher education must address the personal and developmental needs of students as whole human beings. Student affairs and services, by virtue of its core role and function, is best positioned to assume leadership in this regard, as well as in the appropriate advocacy of students in general.

2. Students encounter three major transitions related to their higher education experience: they first move into higher education, second through their collegiate and university life, and third from higher education into careers and the immediate workplace.

Support must be available for students during these transitions in the form of timely and accurate information, a broad range of services, and activities and programmes that engage them in the learning process within and beyond the classroom.

3. Learning is complex and multi-faceted. For society to benefit fully, the processes of learning must be lifelong in scope and varied in contexts both in and out of the classroom. When the connections between academic learning and out-of-classroom experiences are intentional and relevant, higher levels of intellectual and personal development will occur.

Service learning, leadership education, internships, community service, and a safe space for engagement on diverse issues etc, are examples of this blend of didactic and experiential learning.

4. All higher education stakeholders must promote independent and self-directed student behaviour within a community context. Worthy citizenship and service to the community and global responsibility are important values to promote during the postsecondary experience.

5. The delivery of student affairs and services is based on a number of critical values. These values include diversity, pluralism, inclusiveness, social cohesion, sense of community, high expectations, a global view, integrity, citizenship and leadership, ethical living, respect for the inherent worth of the individual and the idea that students can and must participate actively in their own growth and development.

6. Tools of information technology should serve as a means, rather than an end, in the student learning process. SAS staff should explore innovative ways to enhance student learning through technology and to promote effective and efficient student access and usage through advising, counselling, development of appropriate systems, and development and implementation of effective training programmes.

7. Student affairs and services practitioners, professionals and scholars expect students to be engaged with their institution and the learning process. This engagement should be consistent with principles of academic and personal integrity, responsible behaviour in a community setting and the exercise of appropriate freedoms developed within a national as well as local and institutional contexts. Good practices in SAS build supportive and inclusive communities both locally and globally.

Professional ethics, sustainability and resource management

1. Student affairs functions and services must subscribe to high standards of professional ethical practice and behaviour, including professional preparation, assessment of professional qualifications, continuing training and development, monitoring and evaluation of services, programmes and staff performances, assessment of student outcomes, adherence to codes of ethics, and use of effective management practices.

2. SAS funding sources ideally should be diversified and include significant institutional support. Funding from outside sources, such as grants, foundations, philanthropies, cooperative relationships and alumni donations, may be necessary in order to provide the array and level of services required.

3. Resources must be allocated to student affairs and services that are proven to enhance student learning and success in relation to demonstrated need and demand.

4. Information technology is essential for the efficient and effective management of student affairs and services. Therefore, modern hardware and software must be made available to students and SAS workers in order to achieve up-to-date and future-oriented learning and success goals for students.

Research, evaluation, planning and assessment

Student affairs and services, along with teaching faculty, bring to the academy a particular expertise on students, their development and the impact of teaching and learning environments. They gain that information through systematic inquiry, including both quantitative and qualitative research methods.

Professionals in student affairs and services are closely aligned with the academic mission of the institution and serve as invaluable links between students and the institution. They also serve as role models with high expectations of students and their capacities for learning and personal development.

Adriana Perez-Encinas is Lecturer, Business Organisations, at Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain. Saloschini Pillay is Manager, Student Support Services, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Jennifer A Skaggs is Assistant Professor, Graduate Education, at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. C Carney Strange is Professor Emeritus, Graduate Education, at Bowling Green State University in the United States.