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By becoming more student centered, colleges will excel

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by Gwen Dungy

From my observations, those people who work in what is known as “student affairs” are basing their work on a few guiding realities. These realities or guiding principles underlie the fundamental mission of higher education and open a window into the complexity of student affairs’ work in the late 1990s.

First and foremost, institutions are becoming more student centered.

Shifts within higher education are in an effort to find a way to better serve students. There is a re-energized focus on students as central in the mission of higher education. To become more student centered, educators are realizing that they must move from a focus on different types of learners to a focus on individual learners.

In becoming more student centered, student affairs will be more closely related to classroom instruction. There will be increased emphasis on non-traditional college students who don’t spend as much time on campus because of family and work responsibilities. Not only will there be a need to adjust teaching, the students’ interactions with the campus will call for new programs and structures to involve students in a campus community defined more broadly than ever before. Campus interactions will be more important than ever amid a culture of isolation resulting, in part, from an increase in teaching and communicating by means of electronic technology.

In addition to encouraging campus interaction, student affairs cab share with faculty information on how students spend their time outside the classroom, how they work together, and what their changing values and orientations are. Student affairs staff can join faculty in creating more civil and interacting learning communities in the classroom and across disciplines. By sharing how students respond to particular classroom materials, faculty can provide information to student affairs that will help them better plan for programs to complement the curriculum. The challenges of higher education today will require the efforts of both academic and student affairs.

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As institutions respond more directly to students, they will address the core mission of education by becoming more learning focused.

Emphasis will be on how to provide the best experiences within the most optimum environment to increase student learning. The environment itself becomes a resource when classroom faculty and student affairs work together to design experiences that help students realize their talents and potential by translating course content they have learned into applied knowledge. Institutions will abandon the idea that only faculty can teach and only student affairs can work with students to help them to apply their knowledge to real life issues. Students learn when all their support systems emphasize learning that is connected to their lives. A generation ago, students wanted their learning to be relevant. Today, students want to know how they can use what they learn to reach their goals. The quality of learning is enhanced when intersections between classroom work and personal obligations and experiences increase. A new balance between faculty-monopolized discipline-related expertise and collaboration will expand the knowledge of campus educators and increase learning opportunities and resources for students.

Institutions are becoming serious about measurable outcomes inside and outside the classroom.

The question will be: “What impact will this activity have on student learning?” As traditional institutions of higher education are being challenged by entrepreneurs through electronic scholarship, and corporations are increasing their efforts to serve as learning providers, faculty and student affairs are blurring the boundaries of teaching. Together they will help students to better integrate work and learning. Students who apply their knowledge and, as part of the process, reflect on the “what” and “why” of the experiences, tend to retain the learning.

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In response to students who say, year after year, that important educational outcomes for them are related to career and quality of life issues, student affairs will add to their satisfaction surveys assessment of how what they have taught adds value to student learning. Just as students are evaluated on what they learn and not how many hours they study, institutions will be evaluated on the value added to students’ potential and not how well the teachers lectured or how many programs student affairs offered.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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