Many of my conversations with colleagues are about how great are the support needs of students today. There are many different ideas about why this might be the case, such as parents who do too much “helping,” high schools that were more than “accommodating,” and expectations of students and families as “customers.”
Given these conversations, I was drawn to an April 2013 Inside Higher Ed article highlighting research at the University of Rochester that found that
students motivated by a desire for autonomy and competence tended to earn higher grades and show a greater likelihood of persistence than did other students.
. . .While much previous research has suggested that students who form social connections on campus are more likely to be retained, this study found that students who place a high priority (in their decision to go to college) on meeting and interacting with peers tend to earn lower grades than do students for whom that is a lesser motivation.
If this is what the research tells us, student affairs professionals who work in student activities and multicultural affairs, in particular, will want to help students develop autonomy and competence in the work they do with clubs and organizations. Not all students are privileged with too much help, but those who are need to be cut loose from their dependence on paid staff for every need in carrying out the mission of their group.
Some student affairs staff fear that if they reduce the support, or “hand-holding” as some call it, it may appear that they don’t care about students or that they are not doing their jobs. In order to minimize these negative assessments of a change in behavior, it is important that staff establish “helping students develop autonomy and competence” as a learning outcome and support this with the research and with specific objectives and tasks based on what students need to learn to do for themselves.
In addition to supporting students in their self-sufficiency, staff will gain opportunities for planning and interacting with colleagues across campus to plan even more significant learning experiences for students.
A vast majority of professionals in student affairs are able to name a mentor or someone they admire who made a difference in their lives. Many who choose student affairs as their profession do so because they want to have the same kind of impact on the lives of others as someone did in their own development.
One of the best and most advantageous positions to have an impact on college students is that of an orientation provider. Why is this the case? It is because orientation providers have access to students and families during a critical “between time.” Students and families at this time are like the “between voyagers.”
“The between voyager temporarily possesses . . . flexibility to become whatever can be imagined, and the openness to be radically transformed by a thought or a vision or an instruction.” (I Was Amelia Earhart, Jane Mendelsohn, Alfred A. Knofp, NY, 1996)
Just think about it. The students you see during orientation, whether fresh out of high school or adult learners, are more malleable during this time than at any future time during their college career. What you do or don’t do can make the difference in whether or not the student remains at your college or university or leaves for another institution or even leaves higher education.
To students just beginning their journey in higher education, orientation providers are all-knowing and all-powerful. Orientation providers have what these new students want: the keys to the kingdom, the magic word to open the doors to their success.
Orientation providers can capitalize and take advantage of this critical time and space by knowing, in broad strokes, something about these learners as a generation. Using this knowledge, orientation providers should take it as an imperative to plan an orientation that is created specifically to provide the support and information that this unique cohort of students deserve.