What We Do in Student Services

Iím a graduate student at Western Illinois University working on my Masters degree, training to be a Student Services professional. Boy, what a mouthful. What does all that mumbo-jumbo mean? To most people, the term "Student Services" is ambiguous--it doesnít paint a concrete mental picture compared to terms like "chemist", "psychologist" or "teacher".

Student Services professionals are employed on college and university campuses. The term "Student Services" is ambiguous because the field encompasses a wide variety of functions and services within the college setting. A few examples of jobs are: Admissions, Financial Aid, Placement Services, Residential Life (college housing), Student Activities, Counseling/Advising Services, Student Judicial Programs, and Health Services. At a large university, Student Services professionals may be specialists in one of these areas, whereas at a smaller college, his/her job position may be more general, and encompass duties from several of these areas.

Prior to the latter part of the 19th century, student services functions were handled primarily by college faculty. As colleges grew and academic subjects became more diverse and complex, "specialists" were hired and trained to relieve faculty of the many burdens associated with issues "outside the classroom". Hence, specialized administrators, "house mothers", and disciplinarians stepped in to fill the roles often thought of as less desirable by college faculty. The Student Services professional of the 1990s plays an integral part in college life. The field has become much more diverse and complex, providing three basic functions.

First, the Student Services professional is actively involved in the process of student development. Basic to the philosophy of development is the concept of the "whole person". This means that Student Services professionals are not only concerned with academic development, but also a studentís emotional, social, and physical development and enhancement as well.

A good example of this is the studentís experience in a residential hall. Moving to a new town, sharing a room with a stranger, and living away from mom and dad for the first time can be a frightening experience for college freshman. The Student Services professional in charge of the residential hall meets these issues head-on by developing educational programs, seminars and workshops, and providing counseling services to ease the sometimes difficult transition into a new lifestyle. Far from just managing a residence hall, the Student Services professional is concerned with every aspect in a residence hall that will aid in the studentís growth and development.

Another example of student development is the emphasis that Student Services professionals place on student autonomy and the development of professional skills. Students receive hands-on experience in developing, planning, and organizing programs and services. Theyíre involved in student and residence hall government. They plan and direct the activities of a variety of student organizations. In other words, students put the leadership and management concepts they learn in the classroom into action, under the guidance of the Student Services professional.

The second function of a Student Services professional is that of counseling and advising. In the above example, we saw how personal counseling can help ease the burden of seemingly unbearable problems. Academics can be a problem, too. College course work can sometimes be overwhelming for new students, causing worry, frustration, and a drop in self-worth. The Student Services professional termed "academic advisor" is a skilled counselor trained in this area. He/she can help the student in a number of ways, including developing good study habits and time-management skills, reducing test anxiety, and providing encouragement, praise, and motivation. Career counseling is also very important to the student as he/she steps out into the work world. Here, the Student Services professional assists the student in developing and writing resumes, learning interviewing techniques, and ultimately finding a job.

The third function of a Student Services professional is that of administrator. Providing well-managed, creative, and fiscally responsible programs and services is a responsibility the Student Services professional has not only to the student, but also to the educational institution and community. Admissions counselors are concerned with increasing enrollments, financial aid advisors are focused on managing state and federal funds, and Student Activities personnel are concerned with providing entertaining, educational, and profitable programs for students and the surrounding community. All of these examples demand that Student Services administrators possess skills in organizing, problem-solving, leadership, and management of resources.

I hope that the term "Student Services" is less ambiguous now, and you understand the important role that Student Services professionals play in the positive growth and development of Americaís college students.

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