October is Careers in Student Affairs Month and a month where I attended the Ohio College Personnel Association’s (OCPA) Careers in Student Affairs conference and decided that I was going to become a student affairs professional. That was over four years ago. A lot has happened within those four years that have shaped my career in this field. Recently, I have seen a lot of colleagues on Twitter discussing Careers in Student Affairs Month and they inspired me to write this post.
Careers in Student Affairs Month has a very heavy emphasis on recruitment of undergraduates into graduate programs for student affairs. OCPA’s conference was one such effort to give undergraduate students the opportunity to experience a conference setting where they could meet like-minded students, graduate students in programs, and other professionals who held an interest in recruiting “the next generation.” However, with the burnout rate in student affairs being quite large (40-50% within the first five years) and not enough positions for the number of recent graduates Twitter is filled with critiques about this month’s emphasis on recruitment. What about retention of current staff members? What is being done to promote a continued career in student affairs?
The subject of my post is not necessarily to discuss that. There are lots of great posts in #sachat and #sagrad on that exact subject. What I wanted to do was focus on a list: a list of reasons why not to go into student affairs.
Payment for Services Rendered
Student affairs positions are not always well compensated for the education required or for work outside 35-40 hours that goes uncompensated. If you check out this link you will see some average salaries for some careers (not specific student affairs). My context is primarily Residence Life where there is an emphasis to be visible at events, be visible in the halls, and be visible when students are around. This all translates to not working a traditional 9-5 (or 8-4:30) but these expectations are all in addition to being in the office during business hours. Having it both ways leads to burnout.
Years = Experience
There once was a time, in the functional area of Residence Life, where a professional would have a moderate chance of becoming an assistant director with three years of experience. That threshold has increased to 4-5 years of “progressive responsibility” for an assistant director job. If you recall earlier, I pointed out that the burnout rate is around 40-50% for persons within this same year category. Coincidence? Unlikely. Quantity of experience does not always yield a better professional.
I am an introvert. My blog post on training indicates that my experience with training was not built for introverts. Neither is the entire profession of student affairs. Extroverts are highly sought after and are usually the ones that are most heavily recruited because they are just so obviously good at people and that’s our job, right? That was sarcasm, in case it was not clear. Luckily for me, I have gained a lot of skills in increasing my capacity for other persons. Though, if you ask my coworkers it is still small.
Care & Concern is for Students Only
There is a lot of stigma with mental health in the world today, unfortunately. And although Student Affairs is moderately good at encouraging a general student to go to counseling we have a long way to go when it comes to ourselves and our peers. Overall, we may not be the best at taking care of ourselves, which is only exacerbated by the fact that we need to take so much care for ourselves to prevent stress overload every day that ends in “y.” In my relatively short career thus far I have encountered far too many situations where a senior level administrator asked if a person was qualified to do their job because of “insert mental health reason they elected to tell us about.” Where was the care and concern? Lost in liability concerns.
You are the Administration
One of the most important things that I struggled with when I became an administrator is that I no longer had student rights to voice my concerns about the administration. I am the administration. You are lumped into that category and all the responsibility (whether fair or unfair) that comes with it.
My intention is not to stop you from pursuing this career if you truly feel passionate about and the work that can be done. My only desire is to offer a view of the field without rose colored glasses. A career is an important and expensive decision and a person needs as much information as possible before deciding. If you have read this post and still feel strongly about entering the field – go for it. If you suddenly realize you want something else – go for it. It’s your life; you must live it.