A Classification of Collaboration Between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs

Collaboration between academic and student affairs divisions in higher education has anecdotally been referenced as an innovative way to improve student success, writes Kim C. O’Halloran, the associate provost and dean of graduate studies and extended learning at Widener University, in College Student Journal. There is, however, no research measuring and describing its many forms, so in “A Classification of Collaboration Between Student and Academic Affairs,” O’Halloran sets out to do that. 

This study utilized cluster analysis to develop a classification of collaboration between academic and student affairs that consisted of five different types of collaboration. “Though additional research is needed to fully understand such collaboration, this classification begins to explain how collaboration is being developed and implemented throughout diverse colleges and universities across the country. Developing a classification will not only help to better describe the types of collaboration and their similarities and differences, but also will serve to provide an organizational framework for future study and practice,” she wrote. 

Using a cluster analysis program called Clustan that measures similarities, forms clusters, and determines the number of clusters in a final solution, O’Halloran was able to place 195 higher education institutions in 10 unique clusters, which was then reduced to five based on scoring variables that were indicative of degrees of similarity and dissimilarity. The smallest cluster contained three institutions, the largest contained 52, and the majority contained between 15 and 30 institutions. 

The two most cited reasons for collaboration identified through the survey responses were “to enhance academic performance” and to “increase retention or persistence.” Together, they made up 81% of the highest-ranked responses, and were followed by “increase sense of community on campus,” at 11%. 

Barriers to Successful Collaboration 

O’Halloran identified barriers to collaboration that previous research has uncovered, including the recognition that most institutions have no system in place for rewarding faculty and student affairs professionals that engage in collaboration. For faculty, collaboration is often devalued in comparison to research and teaching, with the opposite true in student affairs: Scholarly activity is devalued and recognition is based on evaluation and performance in meeting student needs. Other barriers include: 

Differences in Culture & Mission 

Student affairs culture usually follows student schedules, often deals with unpredictable situations, and can immediately effect students’ lives, while faculty culture evolves around professional autonomy, involves the pursuit and sharing of knowledge, often independently and structured. 

Competing Assumptions About Fostering Learning and Education 

Cultural norms created around a historical and structural separation of formal and informal curricula and with student affairs often being viewed as ancillary, can serve as barriers institutionalized beyond individuals and departments. 

Identifying Support for and Identifying sources of resistance to collaboration 

Competition for resources, particularly financial resources, can increase instances of territorialism and ownership, even though it’s often recognized that collaboration can reduced costs and eliminate redundancies. 

Recipes for Successful Collaboration 

Collaboration Classification Model ChartO’Halloran noted that existing research uncovered three factors that contributed to successful collaborative experiences between student affairs and faculty: the existing structure and resources, support from leadership, and a common understanding of the educational experience. 

Developing structural partnerships that include representatives from both academic and student affairs roles and that are designed to address numerous issues likely to outlast specific issues or individuals will be more likely to succeed. Individual and departmental partnerships are a requisite, but it’s structural partnerships that ensure long-lasting and institutionalized collaborative frameworks. These types of partnerships foster inclusive cooperation as they most likely require a linking of varied resources like space, time, finances, technologies, and staff. 

It’s not enough for institutional leaders to call for increased collaboration between academic and student affairs, they must serve as models as well if collaboration is to become an institution-wide innovation. “This may include changing evaluation mechanisms to measure levels of collaboration and modifying reward systems,”
she noted. 

Classification of Collaboration Between Academic and Student Affairs 

CLUSTER ONE
(52 institutions) 

Strong Collaboration Led by Academic Affairs 

This cluster includes institutions that tend toward strong academic affairs leadership in almost all collaboration activities. Partnerships are collaborative (significant involvement of both academic and student affairs professionals) and exist throughout the organization. Student affairs led only for residence life activities with advisory relationships (one area is responsible and other is involved to a lesser degree) between departments. 

CLUSTER TWO
(15 to 30 institutions) 

Strong Collaboration Led  by Student Affairs 

This cluster includes institutions that tend toward strong student affairs leadership in almost all collaboration activities. Student affairs led in academic support functions through advisory relationships across departments and in traditional student affairs functions through collaborative relationships across the organization. 

CLUSTER THREE
(Four institutions) 

Limited Collaboration Between Academic and Student Affairs 

This cluster includes institutions that tend toward limited collaboration between academic and student affairs and where collaboration did take place, and leadership was split along traditional lines. Academic affairs led in academic activities through advisory or minimal relationships (exchange of information with isolated interaction) between departments. Student affairs led in traditional student affairs functions and planning activities through minimal collaboration across the organization or advisory relationships between departments. 

CLUSTER FOUR
(15 to 30 institutions) 

Traditional Split Between Academic and Student Affairs/Partnership 

This cluster includes institutions that tend toward a split of leadership roles for collaboration along traditional functional lines, yet was marked by stronger collaborative leadership from academic affairs. Academic affairs led in academic issues through collaborative relationships across the organization, while student affairs led in traditional student affairs functions through advisory relationships across departments and curriculum supplemented activities such as freshman interest groups and residential colleges, through minimal collaboration between Individuals. 

CLUSTER FIVE
(15 to 30 institutions) 

Traditional Split Between Academic and Student Affairs/Advisory 

This cluster includes institutions that tend toward a split of leadership roles for collaboration along traditional functional lines, yet was marked more by advisory relationships across departments. Academic affairs led in activities related to curriculum, teaching, academic support, and academic policy through advisory relationships between departments. Student affairs led in traditional student affairs functions such as cocurricular activities, community service and residence life through advisory relationships across departments. 

O’Halloran did determine aspects of the study inconsistent with the goals of academic and student affairs collaboration that was recognized in the literature. First, she noted that partnerships are sometimes more advisory than collaborative (Cluster Five), and more department-focused than organization-wide (Cluster Three). And in a small number of cases (Cluster Three), collaboration is minimal and only takes place between individuals. 

Another inconsistency she found was in which group was more likely to initiate collaboration. The literature repeatedly mentioned that student affairs was more likely to be initiating such innovations, but her work concluded that initiation and responsibility was more likely to be undertaken by academic affairs or to be split along traditional functional lines. That contradicts previous literature and should be considered particularly surprising as the survey respondents were chief student affairs officers. 

“There were more than 50 institutions where the strongest collaboration activities between academic and student affairs were being initiated and led by academic affairs. This finding is especially interesting since the survey reflects the perception of the chief student affairs officers who completed it. Considering that leadership support at the uppermost levels of the institution was cited in the literature as an important factor for innovations in collaboration, chief student affairs officers did not perceive that they or members of their division staff were taking the primary leadership role in collaboration activities, and this leadership role was instead assumed by their academic affairs colleagues,” O’Halloran noted. 

It also appeared that leadership for innovation in collaboration activities for the most part remains connected to traditional areas of responsibility. Student affairs tends to assume leadership roles for collaboration activities in cocurricular areas such as orientation, residence life, and student activities, while academic affairs tends to assume leadership roles for activities related to curriculum development, implementation, and policy. 

O’Halloran finally determines that where collaboration is taking place in meaningful ways, it is taking place through leadership across traditional functional lines, and through primary leadership by academic affairs. She recommends that: 

  • Institutions with a goal of implementing innovative academic and student affairs collaboration utilize elements in the results as benchmarks in an evaluation and planning process. 
  • The classifications may be used as a diagnostic framework in seeking to compare their approach to collaboration with other institutions. 
  • Examine the individual organization’s goal or goals for implementing collaboration, and determine the extent to which current collaboration activities are meeting this goal. 
  • Secure the support of campus leadership with respect to academic and student affairs collaboration. Student affairs officers may initiate dialogue with academic affairs counterparts, or vice versa. Some leaders may aim to educate more senior leadership regarding the potential positive outcomes associated with increased collaboration. 
  • Senior level administrators may consider revisions or organizational structures to positively impact collaboration activities. 

 

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