This document is intended to stimulate discussion and debate on how student affairs professionals can intentionally create the conditions that enhance student learning and personal development. It is based on the following assumptions about higher education, student affairs, and student development:
- Hallmarks of a college educated person include: (a) complex cognitive skills such as reflection and critical thinking; (b) an ability to apply knowledge to practical problems encountered in one's vocation, family, or other areas of life; an understanding and appreciation of human differences; (d) practical competence skills (e.g., decision making, conflict resolution); and (e) a coherent integrated sense of identify, self-esteem, confidence, integrity, aesthetic sensibilities, and civic responsibility.
- The concepts of "learning," "personal development," and "student development" are inextricably intertwined and inseparable. Higher education traditionally has organized its activities into "academic affairs" (learning, curriculum, classrooms, cognitive development) and "student affairs" (co-curriculum, student activities, residential life, affective or personal development). However, this dichotomy has little relevance to post-college life, where the quality of one's job performance, family life, and community activities are all highly dependent on cognitive and affective skills. Indeed, it is difficult to classify many important adult skills (e.g., leadership, creativity, citizenship, ethical behavior, self-understanding, teaching, mentoring) as either cognitive or affective. And, recent research shows that the impact of an institution's "academic" program is mediated by what happens outside the classroom. Peer group relations, for example, appear to influence both affective and cognitive development. For these reasons, the terms learning, student development, and personal development are used interchangeably throughout this document.
- Experiences in various in-class and out-of-class settings, both on and off the campus, contribute to learning and personal development. Indeed, almost any educationally purposeful experience may be a precursor to desired outcomes. However, optimal benefits are more likely to be realized under certain conditions, such as active engagement and collaboration with others (faculty, peers, co-workers, and so on) on learning tasks.
- Learning and personal development occur through transactions between students and their environments broadly defined to include other people (faculty, student affairs staff, peers), physical spaces, and cultural milieus. Some settings tend to be associated with certain kinds of outcomes more so than others. For example, classrooms and laboratories emphasize knowledge acquisition among other things while living in a campus residence, serving as an officer of a campus organization, or working offer opportunities to apply knowledge obtained in the classroom and to develop practical competencies. Environments can be intentionally designed to promote student learning. For example, students learn more when faculty use effective teaching techniques and arrange classroom space to promote interaction and collaboration; similarly, when student affairs staff discourage students from spending time and energy on non-productive pursuits, and encourage them to use institutional resources (e.g., libraries, student organizations, laboratories, studios), to employ effective learning strategies (e.g., study time, peer tutors), and to participate in community governance and other educationally-purposeful activities, students learn more. Institutional and student cultures also influence learning; they warrant attention even though they are difficult to modify intentionally.
- Knowledge and understanding are critical, not only to student success, but also to institutional improvement. To encourage student involvement in learning tasks, thereby improving institutional productivity, the outcomes associated with college attendance must be assessed systematically and the impact of various policies and programs on learning and personal development periodically evaluated.
- Student affairs professionals are educators who share responsibility with faculty, academic administrators, other staff, and students themselves for creating the conditions under which students are likely to expend time and energy in educationally-purposeful activities. They endorse talent development as the over-arching goal of undergraduate education; that is, the college experience should raise students' aspirations and contribute to the development of skills and competencies that enable them to live productive, satisfying lives after college. Thus, student affairs programs and services must be designed and managed with specific student learning and personal development outcomes in mind.