Message to Masters’ Students

While I try to keep my blogs short, I wanted to share with you, and particularly our new masters’ cohorts, a message I was honored to be able to give September 13 to the cohort at Oregon State University. The occasion was made even more special by the fact that my friend and colleague of so many years, Kevin Kruger, joined me. Kevin spoke first about his journey to the position of NASPA President and the trends in higher education, and I followed up with the following comments:

Congratulations on being accepted into the 2012 cohort of the College Student Services Administration Program!  I thank Mamta Accapadi and Kim McAloney for the invitation to speak with you.

First, I can assure you that you were not accepted and given this opportunity to study with and learn from the best just because of your brains and your good looks. You have more than you think going for you and during your work together as a cohort, you will discover those other characteristics that will make you the kind of leader needed for student affairs of the future.

Last week, I had the pleasure of having lunch with a young woman who is considering whether or not to get her Masters Degree in Student Services or some academic discipline. During that conversation, I thought about the time I’d have to speak with you. As we talked, it became crystal clear to us that if she were risk averse, she would choose an academic discipline because the formula is all laid out and one needs only to learn it and follow it. One has to be a risk taker with a lot of confidence to choose to pursue a graduate degree in student services because regardless of how brilliant and worldly your faculty are, and regardless of how committed you are to soak up all the learning you can, when you are the student services professional, there will always be situations that you have not experienced and no one has been able to tell you about. Critical thinking and compassion and the ability to see the world from different perspectives are the trademarks of professionals in student services. There is no doubt that your work in the College Student Services Administration Program will help you hone these skills.

Your work in the Oregon State College Student Services Administration Program will help you gain the competencies needed to build your confidence in order for you to respond appropriately to all the challenges you will face as an administrator in student services.

I recently had a conversation with a parent whose daughter is just beginning college at a prestigious university, and I thought of you. The student could have selected from among many institutions, so I asked the parent what were the defining factors that helped her daughter decide on a particular institution. It seems that the decision was made on the intangibles that student services provides to create a welcoming and happy environment.  You need to know how valuable you are to the college or university you choose after you attain your degree, and you need to make sure that students, faculty and administrators know what you are doing. Interestingly, the parent I spoke with said that the University selected by her daughter had two qualities that were missing from the others: Transparency about their processes and not just lip service to being transparent and authenticity. They believed that people there were genuinely happy, having fun, and committed to learning. They felt that the staff really cared about them, and that they were not just following a script.

Yesterday, in the mail, I received my copy of September 17 issue of Newsweek, screaming with a headline on the front cover-Is College a Lousy Investment?  And I thought of you. The article is based on the thinking of some economists who do not acknowledge the inherent values of education such as life-long learning and learning in order to carry out responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic society. In the article, they also pull out extreme examples of the unnecessary luxuries college campuses provide that they see as a waste of money and some of the reasons why college costs keep rising. What made me think of you was part of the conclusion of the economists on how we might get out of this cycle of student debt and their future salaries that will be inadequate to pay off the loans.

They suggest apprenticeship-style programs in the work place because, they say, every job does not need to have someone with a college education.  And they said, “not just specific job skills, but the kind of ‘soft skills’, like getting to work on time and getting along with a team, that are crucial for career success.”  What they call soft skills fall into some of the transnational characteristics and skills that will be needed for future jobs and these are personal and social responsibility and intercultural communications.

These are areas where student services excel and working with students on these skills provide a great opportunity to collaborate with academic affairs. Collaboration will be the key to your success as you work towards your degree and when you are using your skills as a professional in student services.

I mention this because the work that you do in student services is going to be more important than ever because families and policy makers will continue to ask the question about the worth of a college education.

You’re in basic training with some of the best at Oregon State University. I’m confident that you will be able to help turn the conversation around about whether or not college is worth the investment.

Again, I congratulate you and wish the very best in this adventure.

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