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Theoretical Foundations

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The Student Retention and Success (SRS) team is composed of a multi-disciplinary team of professional staff delivering a comprehensive range of programs and services through the Office of the Vice Chancellor Student Affairs. Our work with students at UC San Diego is grounded in theory, professional standards, and the best practices promoted within our professional associations.

Student Retention and Success units delivers programs and services that align with the Council for the Advancement of Standards in the following functional areas:

  • Learning Assistance Programs teach the skills and strategies to help students become independent and active learners and to achieve academic success. (CASP, OASIS, Student Success Coaching Program)
  • TRIO and Other Educational Opportunity Programs encourage and assist people who are traditionally under-represented in post-secondary education because of income, family educational background, disability, or other relevant federal, state, provincial or institutional criteria, in the preparation for, entry to, and completion of post-secondary education. (OASIS, Hope Scholars, Chancellor’s Associates Scholars Program (CASP), Undocumented Student Services Center, Student Veterans Resource Center)
  • Multicultural Student Programs and Services promote academic and personal growth of traditionally underserved students, work with the entire campus to create an institutional and community climate of justice, promote access and equity in higher education, and offer programs that education the campus about diversity. (Student Success Coaching, OASIS, CASP, USSC, SVRC)

History of the Student Affairs Profession

Higher education dates back to the Colonial period; however, “student affairs” was not formalized across college campuses until the 1970s. According to Dr. Adam Weinberg, Dean of the College at Colgate University (2005), “Before the 1970s, ‘student affairs’ consisted of some athletic programs and a few administrators who essentially acted as surrogate parents (in loco parentis), enforcing rules and order. In the late 1960s, however, as institutions struggled to confront race relations, sexual violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and other controversial issues, they hired professional administrators to deal with those concerns. By the 1990s, that trend led to an explosion of student ­affairs offices and departments, charged with managing programs, residential units, cultural centers, campus safety, career services, and virtually all other nonacademic aspects of campus life” (The Chronicle of Higher Education: An Alternative to the Campus as Club Med, Adam Weinberg, September 2, 2005).

Student Development Theory

According to DiCaprio (1974, in Forney, Evans & Guido­DiBrito, 1998), the field of student development theory and research justifies the profession of Student Affairs and legitimizes relevance of student affairs professionals in the college setting. It also provides qualitative and quantitative data from which to base our work with students, and helps us understand where students are within a human development continuum (where they are and where they are going, developmentally).

Through student development theory we come to understand how to address the “whole person,” and complement academic progress (what students learn “in class”) with co-­curricular initiatives (what they learn and how they develop “out of class” and the knowledge and skills they develop to prepare for life after college and their chosen professions, and account for the development and needs of special populations (e.g., minority groups, international students, athletes, Lesbian Gay Bi­sexual Transgendered Allies or “LGBTA” students, et al.).

Finally, student development theory provides description, explanation, prediction and control.

Basic Assumptions and Concepts Related to Student Development

  • The individual student must be addressed holistically (“considered as a whole”). Understanding holistic learning is essential, including taking an overall, inclusive approach concerning physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual factors that affect health.
  • Each student is a unique person and must be treated as such, taking into consideration physical, social, biological and cultural distinctions.
  • Behavior is a function of the person and the environment (Lewin, 1937). The total campus environment of the student is educational, and must be used to help the student achieve full development. The major responsibility for a student's personal and social development rests with the student and his/her personal resources (U. Texas Dallas).
  • Optimal student development requires an environment which provides a proper balance of challenge and support (Sanford, 1967). Developmental tasks are skills and competencies that are mastered and acquired by an individual as he/she gains increasing mastery over their environment.
  • Crisis often results from disequilibrium (when one does not have the skills to manage a situation). In context, today’s traditional­ly-aged college students often lack the coping skills to manage their environment independent of assistance from their primary caregiver (parents / guardians).
  • Hierarchical stages are a series of developmental stages that one must ascend in a certain order; mastery of each stage must occur before progressing to the next.
  • Equilibrium/disequilibrium is associated with a person beginning to question beliefs and competencies as the result of a crisis. Perhaps she or he is not equipped with the skills to deal with the situation. When this disequilibrium occurs, the student must strive to develop the skills necessary to progress to the next developmental stage and again establish equilibrium (translated as a resting stop before the next crisis).
  • Sequential stages are a series of stages that are in a certain order, but not necessary for one to master in any particular order before progressing to the next.
  • Differentiation / integration is much like the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang. Differentiation occurs when one comes to see parts and concepts once seen as similar as separate and independent. Integration is realizing the relationship that exists between the parts that make up complex wholes (in Forney, Evans & Guido­DiBrito, 1998).

Diverse Learning Environments

The Racial Climate Model and New Developments Hurtado et al. (1998b, 1999) introduced a multidimensional, multicontextual model for the climate for racial / ethnic diversity. The model was based on a synthesis of nearly 30 years of research on underrepresented populations in higher education. Its main goals were to:

  • Transform notions of the campus climate from an intangible concept to one that was tangible (documented and measured) with real consequences for students of color and majority students,
  • Highlight the unique experiences of American Indian, Asian American, Black, Latina/o, and Native American students in higher education, although there was great unevenness in research at the time, and
  • Provide research-based evidence regarding the multidimensional nature of the climate that clarified what we mean when we talk about diversity in higher education.
  • Put research in the hands of practitioners — academic and student affairs professionals, faculty, chief diversity officers, institutional researchers, and program coordinators — to guide them in improving the climate.

Hurtado et al.’s (1998b, 1999) model made several assumptions — the first was that students were educated in distinct racial contexts within institutions that were often influenced by the larger sociohistorical and policy contexts.

A second assumption was that the campus climate could be assessed, and indeed, the research synthesis showed how many scholars over the years had undertaken studies to understand the experiences of diverse students and faculty.

Perhaps the model’s greatest contribution was indicating how structural diversity (the number/representation of individuals from diverse backgrounds) was a central focus on campuses that lacked diversity, when really most institutions also possessed historical legacies of inclusion and exclusion, as well as a psychological dimension based on different perceptions associated with the positionality of individuals within the institution, and a behavioral dimension based on interactions or intergroup contact experiences on campus.

These distinct and measurable dimensions of the climate for diversity occur in an institutional context that is also informed by sociohistorical change and policy contexts that shape diversity dynamics within an institution.

Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) Professional Standards in Higher Education

Founded in 1979, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) is the pre-eminent force for promoting standards in student affairs, student services, and student development programs. CAS creates and delivers dynamic, credible standards, guidelines, and Self-Assessment Guides that are designed to lead to a host of quality programs and services. CAS aims to foster and enhance student learning, development, and achievement.

CAS Standards respond to student needs, the requirements of sound pedagogy, and the effective management of 45 functional areas. Individuals and institutions from 42 CAS member organizations comprise a constituency of over 115,000 professionals. Representing a significant majority of higher education practitioners in student programs and services throughout the country and beyond, CAS provides tools to higher education leaders assessing institutional effectiveness, student learning, and outcomes.

Additional Resources

Read these scholarly articles (PDFs) and learn more: