Senior Night

Senior night in high school sports is a time to recognize graduating students and their accomplishments. At the pre-game celebration for our local girls soccer team, players were honored with a bouquet of flowers while escorted to center field by their parents. Honors and activities are announced for each player, culminating with where they will be attending college in the fall. It was no surprise that each player from our academically ranked high school was heading to a four-year institution including several research universities and prestigious private colleges.
Fast-forward a week to an opportunity to attend another senior night, in a small town 40 miles from our small university city. Only this time as each player is introduced, the future plans are predominantly for community college. Only two of the twenty players were planning to attend a 4-year college or university. And 17 of the twenty players were Latina.
Why the difference? Demographics and privilege are most certainly a factor. Our small city is 85% White with 3% of persons identifying as Hispanic or Latino/a compared to a town where 35% of the population is Hispanic or Latino/a. The Latino population has grown dramatically in the town over the last decade with the addition of a new meat packing plant. These backbreaking low-wage jobs are attractive steady work for the mostly of Mexican-origin immigrants moving into Iowa.
College enrollment of U.S. Hispanic students surpassed that of White students for the first time in 2012. In contrast, the number of Hispanics completing four-year degrees only accounted for 9% of young adults. Hispanic students continue to be less likely to enroll in a four-year college or attend college full-time.
Our university student success committee has spent significant discussion time on Who Gets to Graduate? While formulating models for student persistence, we review many variables involved in graduating the students on our campus where Hispanic and Latino/a students make up the largest non-majority population. Our students of all ethnicities are academically motivated, but are frequently working class and first-generation, which sometimes translates to not being prepared for the rigor of higher education at a research university.
So the question becomes not only who gets to graduate, but also who gets to enroll?
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Laws of Physics and College Transition

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There is an amusement park near my home that has one of those lose your lunch inducing rides that spin faster and faster until the floor drops out. It leaves you stuck to the wall until the ride slows and you gradually resume your footing on solid ground. The science of this phenomenon is centrifugal inertial force.

My university is welcoming 4,356 6,000+ new students to campus as we begin the fall semester; colleges across the country are welcoming thousands more. Imagine the inertial force as these students navigate classes, new roommates, and campus cultures that are frequently in contrast to their personal experiences.

Now, imagine your campus as a giant spinning disk with a student planted firmly in place by centripetal force, moving along the curved path of the disk, going with the flow. All is fine as the student survives residence move-in, deciphers a schedule, and maneuvers the dining center. But soon the campus disk is spinning faster and the centrifugal inertial force can become greater than the centripetal friction force holding the student in place. A failing quiz grade, roommate argument, financial difficulties or homesickness can all be triggers to send our students flying right off the college ride.

As we in student affairs greet our new students and those who are returning, it is important that we keep these laws of physics in mind. Know what resources you have available to address student concerns. Advocate for your students when university networks are difficult to follow. Listen carefully for clues that a student may be struggling.

Understanding F = mv2/r may just graduate a student.

This post first appeared on eighteen and life on August 23, 2010.

Like a Box of Chocolates

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How do you define your work in student affairs?

Like many of my colleagues in student affairs, my first job in the profession was the result of a student leadership experience, student tour guide to be exact. My work as an undergraduate admissions ambassador led to a position as an admissions recruiter for a small private college. Working in admissions, helping students with their college decision-making, I honed facilitation skills that are critical to my current job. I had a couple of gigs as a director of admissions before turning my sights to program coordination.

Stanford professor Robert Sutton suggests employees need predictability, understanding, control, and compassion. As anyone who has spent even a few months in a student affairs position can tell you, those items are few and far between. You learn early in your career that student affairs hours include nights, weekends, and other duties as assigned. The concerns of the 18-year old college student differ from year to year. Reactions to course assignments or program activities may not communicate their message or be perceived as useful. Faculty and academic units question the value of student affairs programming and services, particularly in challenging financial times. Student affairs professionals do, however, provide predictability, understanding, control, and compassion… for our students.

The graduate assistants who have worked in my unit over the years have enhanced my work and life. They went from grad to pro and are now high school teachers, logistics managers, academic advisors, independent consultants, and campus activity coordinators. Each of these individuals had an opportunity to make a difference in student lives. They used their creativity, energy, and enthusiasm to make our university a better place for students. When I think of my colleagues at the Student Affairs Collaborative, you may find us in campus activities, student union management, leadership development, residence life, career planning, scholarship programs, and consulting. Those titles do not include the personal counseling, financial advising, academic enhancement, and other duties as assigned that we provide on a daily basis.

I borrowed the title for this post from a former graduate assistant who is now blazing trails of her own. She used the analogy that Student Affairs is like a box of chocolates for a course assignment and the concept stuck with me.

Student Affairs is:

  • Being a generalist in helping, listening, organizing, and facilitating, while a specialist in your position.
  • Never growing old as you surround yourself with 18-22 year olds.
  • Spending your life by the academic year calendar.
  • Justifying your existence with the belief that higher education is also about the out-of-classroom experience.
  • A real profession.

Student Affairs professionals work hard to make our colleges and universities more welcoming and engaging for students because we believe in higher education and all that it offers. We get up every morning and face the day with a smile, because we never know what we’re going to get.

This post first appeared on eighteen and life on January 17, 2010.

 

Worth the Price of Admission?

I never expect to see perfect work from an imperfect man. ~Alexander Hamilton

Middlesex University (U.K.) was in the news this week for falsely sending 2,500 admission acceptance letters to students who had not yet been accepted. I began my student affairs career as an enrollment services professional, serving as director of admissions for two small private colleges. On several occasions, I likely admitted a student that never should have been in college. I am not perfect. But I am certain that I never mistakenly notified 200 students or 29,000 students that they were admitted to college. Our students deserve better.