21 minute read

Student Services


Maureen E. Wilson

U. Monique Robinson-Wright
Sonya G. Smith


Student affairs professionals have always been concerned with the development of the "whole student" or a student's intellectual capacity and achievement, emotional make-up, physical condition, social relationships, vocational aptitudes and skills, moral and religious values, economic resources, and aesthetic appreciations. Although the activities of student affairs have changed over time, the basic tenets of helping students reach their full potential and attending to them as a human beings–not simply those in need of intellectual training–has remained constant.


Several developments in higher education gave rise to student affairs. In colonial colleges, faculty were responsible for enforcing regulations on students. Colleges acted in loco parentis or in place of parents. By the mid-nineteenth century, extracurricular activities such as literary clubs, athletic teams, and eating clubs were founded by students in response to the classical course of study. The rise of research universities and the subsequent changes in the roles of college presidents and faculty, and the increase in women's colleges and coeducation, led to the first appointments of student personnel workers–deans of men and deans of women–who among other duties, relieved college presidents of their role as disciplinarian and resolved student problems. The first dean, LeBaron Briggs, was appointed at Harvard University in 1891, and his duties also included personal counseling of students.

The Student Personnel Point of View, a report issued by the American Council on Education in 1937 and revised in 1949, serves as a foundation document for student affairs. It was developed on a philosophy stressing the importance of educating the whole student. It describes a number of services that are adapted according the specific mission, aims, objectives, and student demographics of individual campuses. Also emphasized is the need to coordinate student personnel functions with other programs and services on campus.

In 1914 Columbia University's Teachers College awarded the first master's degree for "Adviser of Women." Esther Lloyd-Jones earned the first doctorate in the field in 1929 and men were admitted for the first time in 1932. As of 2002, eighty-four institutions are listed in the Directory of Graduate Preparation Programs and there are additional ones as well. Entry-level professional positions in student affairs typically require a master's degree in college student personnel or a related field, and advancement to senior management positions often requires a doctorate.

Professional organizations reflect the development of professional positions in student affairs. The National Association of Deans of Women began in 1916; became the National Association of Women Deans, Administrators, and Counselors in 1972; changed its name to the National Association for Women in Education in 1991; and folded in 2000. Founded in 1919, the National Association of Deans and Advisers of Men became the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators in 1951. The American College Personnel Association began in 1924 as the National Association of Appointment Secretaries, assisting in job placement for teachers and other college graduates. Other specialized organizations serve various functional areas (e.g., Association of College Unions International, Association of College and University Housing Officers–International, and National Orientation Directions Association) and state and regional organizations serve members as well.


On college and university campuses, the division of student affairs provides services to students and supports the educational mission of the institution. These services may include academic support services, academic advising, admissions, alcohol and drug education programs, career services, campus ministries, community service and service learning, counseling, financial aid, food services, fraternities and sororities, health centers, housing and residence life, multicultural programs, orientation, recreational sports, student activities, student discipline, and wellness programs.

All these programs and services have had to adapt to increasingly diverse student bodies. In the colonial era, higher education was for white males from well-to-do families. The establishment of women's colleges and historically black institutions in the late nineteenth century broadened the scope of higher education. Legislation including the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 and Servicemen's Read-justment Act of 1944 (G.I. Bill) allowed new populations access to higher education. Student affairs programs and services expanded accordingly.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the majority of undergraduates are more than twenty-one years old. More than 40 percent are enrolled part-time. Nearly 27 percent are people of color. About 65 percent of high school graduates attend college, although far fewer graduate. Furthermore, many students lack adequate preparation for college-level courses. Effective student affairs organizations are able to deliver programs and services to serve diverse populations and assist in the recruitment and retention of students.


Like all departments on campus, student affairs has had to make critical decisions in the face of rising costs and reduced budgets. Fee-for-service arrangements can mitigate some expenses. Hence, students may have to pay for counseling, health, and other services sometimes covered in student activity fees. Privatization is another issue facing campuses. In an effort to control costs in the face of dwindling budgets, administrators are outsourcing various functions including health services, dining services, maintenance, housekeeping, and bookstores. Although many question the move and raise concerns about job security, quality control, and incompatible operating philosophies, financial considerations are often compelling. Furthermore, private companies have increased competition with campus departments. For instance, off-campus apartment complexes attract students out of campus residence halls and into facilities that are often located close to campus. They may provide shuttle services, swimming pools, workout rooms, cable television, Internet access, laundry machines, and other attractive amenities at very competitive rates. Finally, to remain competitive and meet student demand, many campuses have increased board plan options for students and changed dining facilities and programs. Food courts (often offering popular fast-food chains), a la carte dining options, and expanded service hours now supplement traditional, all-you-can eat dining commons.

Contemporary efforts in student affairs have attempted to refocus student affairs on creating intentionally the conditions that enhance student learning and development, encouraging student commitment to educationally purposeful activities in and out of the classroom, and assessing those initiatives. Increasing the quality of student–faculty interactions and linking in-class and extracurricular activities through living-learning centers in residence halls are two strategies to promote student success. To be involved in the central missions of college and universities, student affairs must affirm its commitment to student learning and development.


AMERICAN COLLEGE PERSONNEL ASSOCIATION. 1994. The Student Learning Imperative: Implications for Student Affairs. Washington, DC: American College Personnel Association.

AMERICAN COLLEGE PERSONNEL ASSOCIATION and NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF STUDENT PERSONNEL ADMINISTRATORS. 1997. Principles of Good Practice in Student Affairs. Washington, DC: American College Personnel Association and National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

AMERICAN COUNCIL ON EDUCATION. 1937/1949. The Student Personnel Point of View. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

COOMES, MICHAEL, and TALBOT, DONNA, eds. 1999. Directory of Graduate Preparation Programs in Student Affairs. Washington, DC: American College Personnel Association.

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF STUDENT PERSONNEL ADMINISTRATORS. 1987. A Perspective on Student Affairs. Washington, DC: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

NUSS, ELIZABETH M. 1996. "The Development of Student Affairs." In Student Services: A Handbook for the Profession., ed. Susan R. Komives et al. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

THELIN, JOHN R. 1996. "Historical Overview of American Higher Education." In Student Services: A Handbook for the Profession., ed. Susan R. Komives et al. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Institutions of higher education vary in composition and structure, as do the characteristics of the students they serve. Community colleges are but one type of institution that educates and trains students, though they constitute a diverse group of institutions, ranging from comprehensive two-year colleges to technical colleges. These types of colleges offer students certificates, associate of applied science, associate of science, and associate of arts degrees. In contrast, four-year institutions also provide training and education, but usually offer baccalaureate, graduate, and professional degrees.

The demographics of higher education institutions, both community colleges and universities, shifted during the last decade of the twentieth century. In particular, increasing numbers of minorities, different ethnic groups, a larger female population, older adult students, international students, and students of varying academic abilities began to make up a major percentage of postsecondary students.

Overview of Student Service Organizational Structure

According to Robert Fenske (1989), the organizational foundations of student services can be found in a desire to foster the intellectual, social, moral, and spiritual development of students. Based on the community college or university mission, the functions included in the area of student services may vary. Divisions within student services may be linked to the philosophy of the higher education institution, with some institutions stressing a more student-centered approach and others, particularly universities, focusing more on research. Smaller liberal arts colleges, which are also four-year institutions, may emphasis teaching the humanities and maintaining a small student population with a greater student-centered focus. However, it is unnecessary to compromise the needs of student services or a student-centered climate due to institutional missions.

The functions typically associated with student services, at both two-year and four-year institutions, include admissions and recruitment, retention, international student services, counseling, testing, orientation, career services, student activities, disability services, financial aid, and athletics. The most common administrative philosophy is to enhance and support students' experiences, from initial enrollment through graduation. Additionally, four-year institutions usually focus on student programming, such as speakers, symposia, and other student activities, to complement the learning experiences in the classroom.

Whether at a two-year institution or a university, there are several administrative offices that may or may not be a part of the division of student services, depending on the campus organizational structure. Campus security is one such office, and on some campuses security personnel are actually certified campus police, especially if the campus is an urban environment. The offices of admissions, recruitment, and retention also may report to either the student services department or the academic affairs department.

Athletics, though typically within the realm of student services, is a distinct entity–depending on institutional type, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) designation, and conference. Community colleges generally have fewer athletic programs and the emphasis is less competitive compared to Division I universities. The athletic recruiting process at two-year colleges is also less competitive–athletes may often walk on to a team. Additionally, because athletics at four-year institutions (particularly football and basketball) generate large revenues and the recruitment of top athletic talent is fierce, university athletics may be within the general university administration, or the athletic director may report directly to the president of the university. It should be noted that revenue usually generated from athletics at four-year colleges and universities is much more significant than at community colleges. Additionally, civil rights laws such as Title IX have had a direct impact on both community college and university athletics by requiring equality in men's and women's sports and equity in payment of coaches and athletic facilities and equipment.

Common to two and four-year colleges and universities is the office of career services. Although this office may report to the academic affairs department, it facilitates students' movement into the workforce, and at most institutions it is still considered a student affairs function. Both community colleges and four-year institutions typically invite employers to interview students on campus. While four-year schools may hold career or employment fairs for teachers, engineers, or graduate programs such as nursing and law, the community colleges may put more emphasis on workforce retraining.

Judicial services can usually be found at both two-and four-year campus. These services deal with disciplinary issues and misconduct, which are generally governed by a student handbook outlining rules and regulations and an honor code that covers plagiarism, cheating, or other academic misconduct. Additionally, four-year institutions have an office of fraternity and sorority affairs, which primarily deals with Greek organizations. This is less common at two-year institutions, but some community colleges do have sororities and fraternities. Although these groups are a common source of bonding and service on both types of campuses, incidents of hazing, alcohol abuse, and Greek on-campus housing often present dilemmas that must be carefully monitored.

Recruitment, Retention, and Counseling Services

Recruitment for community colleges is often different than that for four-year colleges and universities. "Because the community colleges try to serve as many members of the community as feasible, they have frequently engaged in extensive recruitment activities" (Cohen and Brawer, p. 193). Community colleges employ recruitment strategies such as partnering with surrounding community colleges to offer classes to high school seniors. Other strategies include working with local businesses, state government, and the local chamber of commerce to develop specialized courses or training programs to meet the needs of industry, businesses, and the state's economy.

The recruitment and admissions function at four-year institutions usually involves admissions counselors working with area high schools and community agencies to recruit students. Additionally, many universities have a national draw, and there are national recruitment forums in urban areas and high schools in which representatives from four-year institutions nationwide assemble to meet and speak with prospective students and their parents.

Prospective four-year students must take the SAT or ACT Assessment, complete an application, write a personal statement, and submit a high school transcript and letters of recommendation. The ACT or SAT may be waived for nontraditional older students who have been in the workforce for a significant amount of time, but they may be required to take a basic standardized test administered by the university to assess their level of academic functioning in basic areas such as English, mathematics, writing, and reading.

In terms of the admissions process, graduate and professional programs at universities are usually even more competitive and also require standardized testing, and medical and law schools may require interviews. Similar recruitment tools may be used, such as online applications, recruitment forums, visiting local colleges, and use of alumni.

Retention is often difficult for two-year colleges compared to other institutional types. The diversification of the student population and commuter campuses both create obstacles to retention. Thus, students often spend less time together and with faculty at two-year colleges than students at four-year schools do. With changing demographics, retention can be difficult due to adults with children and child-care issues and four-year institutions reducing remedial and development programs. Additionally, although some two-year schools have on-campus housing and residential living, some students find it difficult to feel a sense of community. Typically, commuter students often work and have less time for student activities, which often increases a feeling of community and belonging on campus. In four-year schools with residence halls and students who often have more time for student organization, students are usually easier to retain. Nevertheless, adjusting to college life, whether at a four-year or two-year institution, can be difficult. Unlike high school, there is usually much less oversight of absenteeism, and large students bodies make it difficult to assess changes in student behavior that may need intervention.

This does not mean that colleges and universities do not realize that adult students are undergoing many psychological and development changes as they enter college. On the contrary, campus counseling services are an integral part of student affairs. "The contention has been that community college students need help in moving into the college and out again into careers and/or transferring to other colleges, and that individualized instruction through counseling and other nonclassroom-based activities is essential" (Cohen and Brawer, p. 194). Since two-year college students possess varying academic abilities, the goal is to help students assess their abilities and limitations, and "community college counselors try to help students clarify their goals and values" (Cohen and Brawer, p. 195). Though four-year colleges and universities campus counseling services provide similar services, they tend to deal more with student socialization issues and, to a lesser degree, academic issues.

New student orientation is a major tool used to introduce students to campus life and to aid in their adjustment at both and two-and four-year institutions. "In determining appropriate formats for these introductory sessions, staff members consider their college's mission statements, campus culture, and student population to tailor an appropriate orientation program for their newest students" (Cohen and Brawer, p. 199). Each college and university designs orientation to suit the populations they serve. This may mean several orientation sessions offered at a variety of times, and use of formats such as video or the Internet. Orientation is closely connected to retention and, as such, is carefully executed to ensure student satisfaction and academic persistence. Encouraging students to participate in orientation, however, can be problematic.

Disability Services

All higher education institutions are required to provide reasonable accommodations for students with qualified disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. An office of disability services works with students with disabilities, faculty, and campus officials who may need accommodations. Students are often required to provide medical documentation certifying their disability. They also have the option of voluntarily disclosing to the disability office whether or not they qualify for disability services. In order to receive accommodations and to develop an accommodation plan to meet an individual students needs, however, documentation must be provided.

Students may qualify as students with disabilities due to learning disabilities or visual, hearing, or mobility impairments. These students may need note-takers, special equipment, translators, extended test time, computer-aided testing, and other accommodations to allow them to compete equally in the classroom and to participate equally in other campus activities.

Financial Aid

All students who wish to apply for financial aid must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can be completed online or via direct mail. Male students ages eighteen to twenty-five must also register for the Selective Service in order to qualify for any form of federal aid. Each institution may also have its own financial aid forms that must be completed. There are usually priority deadlines for financial aid eligibility.

It should be noted that the ability to pay everincreasing tuition and fees makes financial aid vitally important to today's college students. Thus, to some, community colleges are the school of choice because of their affordability.

Students who meet certain economic qualifications may qualify for either federal or state grants to assist with college tuition at both two-and four-year colleges. These grants usually do not have to be paid back as long as a student is enrolled for the full academic term or semester. There are few federal and state grants to assist graduate and professional students at the university level.

Many students need to apply for student loans. Stafford Loans are the most common source of education loan funds loans available. Direct Stafford Loans are available through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, and FFEL Stafford Loans are available through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program. The major differences between the two are the source of the loan funds, some aspects of the application process, and the available repayment plans. Under the Direct Loan Program, the student receives the loan directly from the U.S. government, while through the FFEL Program, the funds come from a bank, credit union, or other participating lender.

Perkins Loans may also assist students, but are limited in funds. A Federal Perkins Loan is a low-interest loan for an undergraduate or graduate student with exceptional financial need. The student's institution is the lender, and the loan is made with government funds plus a share contributed by the school. The student must repay a Perkins Loan to his or her educational institution.

Parents of undergraduate students may qualify for specific federal loan programs also, but they may be required to pay the interest immediately upon borrowing. Students should be aware that borrowing for their educational needs is very serious, and it is advisable only to borrow what is needed to fund one's education. Usually, there is a six-month grace period after graduation before repayment begins, but if a student withdraws before completing a degree, repayment may be required immediately. Students should be aware that there are often private loan vendors for both undergraduate and graduate programs. Additionally, student default increased somewhat in the closing years of the twentieth century, prompting credit checks to be used by some loan agencies. Following graduation, students may consider consolidating student loans to reduce payments.

Both two-and four-year students should seek out campus-based aid, such as college work-study, institutional loans, and need-based and merit-based scholarships. Scholarships may also be available for underrepresented groups in certain fields. Additionally, in order to remain eligible for any form of financial aid, students must remain in good academic standing.

Residential Life

As previously stated, most two-year schools are basically commuter schools, though some have residential halls. Most four-year colleges and universities have some type of housing, including specialty housing such as faculty-in-residence, fraternity and sorority housing, and off-campus housing. Many residence halls provide food services and technology such as computer labs. Residential life, or special event, programs organized by student and professional campus housing staff are designed to facilitate the growth of students in all aspects of their social development.

Student Organizations and Activities

Community colleges and four-year colleges and universities offer a bevy of student organizations. Both two-and four-year colleges have organizations that are centered around a student's academic, religious, social, or political interests, including volunteer, community service, and cultural organizations. Student government associations, social-activity coordinating bodies, and campus publications are just a few examples. Typically, fraternities and sororities are relegated to four-year colleges and universities. Funding for student organizations usually comes from student fees, and at both public and private institutions student-fee usage has been an issue. Questions regarding the use of these student fees to fund certain politically affiliated or religious organizations–or other controversial groups–have become a source of sometimes heated debate.

The Evolving Concept of Student Services Personnel

Over the years, student services have evolved at both community colleges and four-year higher education institutions. The concept of student services, or student affairs, as simply keeping watch over student behavior or nurturing parents has given way to the concept of an institutional life that is supportive of the growth of the "whole" student.

The whole student concept involves the development of a living and learning environment in which student services personnel work with faculty, administrators, students, staff, employers, and the community to integrate academic and student activities outside the classroom in order to prepare students to live in a complex world. Student events, activities, organizations, and departments under the umbrella of student services are designed to not only complement the learning environment, but also to allow students to develop intellectually, spiritually, physically, emotionally, and vocationally–and in their capacity to serve as leaders and bring about change.

Future Trends in Student Services

With the increase in technological advances and distance education, student services at both the community college level and at four-year institutions must be able to adapt quickly to change. Online programs, video courses, weekend courses, executive weekend programs, and off-site programs have a significant impact on the way student services are provided. Both community colleges and universities are beginning to rely more on websites, e-mail, chat-rooms, and online applications to attract and communicate with students in the technological age. Additionally, a student's ability to apply and monitor application decisions directly online and through Internet portals, which allow prospective students to converse in "real time" with admissions professionals, will greatly impact student services and students' expectations.

In addition, a diverse student body requires student services personnel to be equipped with new skills, including second-language proficiency and sensitivity to disabled, culturally different, and gay and lesbian students. Also, an increase in nontraditional adult students necessitates new approaches to student services, including services at alternative times to meet the needs of part-time and working adults.

Finally, shrinking resources, particularly in light of modern technology, will cause student services personnel to have to justify their place in higher education. Demands for fiscal accountability may one day requires colleges and universities to discuss the elimination of certain student services.


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