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'Student Development'? I wish I knew what that means.

Posted on Sep 27, 2011
As curricular and co-curricular partnerships continue to be embraced and enhanced at UW-Superior, there is often a disconnect or misunderstanding when Campus Life professionals begin to talk about student development.
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Student Development? I wish I knew what that means.

© 2010 Allison Gerland

The term student development gets used in many ways in our daily work: as a body of scholarly work, as a process students engage in during college, or as the foundation for a program or intervention.

A commonly agreed upon framework for the notion of student development was developed by R. F. Rodgers (as cited in Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, & Renn, 2010) as "the ways that a student grows, progresses, or increases his or her developmental capabilities as a result of enrollment in an institution of higher education " (p. 6). These developmental capabilities are focused into student development theory that is generally organized as:

  • psychosocial development
    • development of character, emotions, interactions with others, etc
  • identity development
    • development in relation to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc
  • cognitive-structural development
    • the way people think
  • integrative theories
    • ecological influences, faith, self-authorship, transitions, etc

Student development theories are used as the foundation for preparatory programs for student affairs practitioners. These preparatory programs are relatively new in comparison to how long the profession has been around. The first student affairs practitioners were seen in the 1880s as Deans of Men and Deans of Women at colleges across the world (Brubacher & Rudy, 1976), however the first official notion of student development as the profession known today as student affairs was seen in 1937 with the publication of "The Student Personnel Point of View" from the American Council on Education. It took until 1964 for the Council of Student Personnel Associations in Higher Education to draft "A Proposal for Professional Preparation in College Student Personnel Work" (CAS, 2009).

These founding documents have helped to not only set the stage for the student affairs profession, but also the scholarly research and academic discipline of student development. Student affairs practitioners have a long, rich history in the academy and continue to work to educate students along with faculty partners.

Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. (2009). CAS professional standards for higher education (7th ed.) Washington, DC: Author.

Brubacher, J. S., & Rudy, W. (1976). Higher education in transition: A history of the American colleges and universities, 1636-1976. (3rd ed.). New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1976.

Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F. M., Patton, L. D., & Renn, K. A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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