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Student Affairs Administrators without a Campus: Envisioning Careers in Student Affairs in the Emerging Future (part 2)

For Careers in Student Affairs month and my contributions to The Defectors series, this month I’m writing a series of posts exploring the future of the higher education administration in light of the emerging futures of education and work. Last week I shared the notion of the Networked University, which suggests administrative infrastructure that connects several universities centrally rather than working for one specific institution, to provoke thinking about the implications for student affairs professionals in that model (click here to read my introductory post if you haven’t already). And while it’s presented as a future state, there are reasonable elements of the proposed “Network University” that very much exist today.

In fact, the diversity and breadth of functions of the Outsourced University continues to grow. Given the evolution of online education, advising, and coaching, you can enroll, coach, advise, train, or teach students without working at any one particular University.  With the evolving role that technologies and services are continuing to play on behalf of Universities, you might even be focusing your work on degree wayfinding or acceleration for students.  And stepping outside of the campus itself to support and inform Universities you can use those grad school writing and presentation skills to research best practices (like here, here, and here), partner on strategic planning initiatives, or design new offerings. Depending on your role, background, skill set, and relationship with these focus areas, you might even do several at the same time.

That said, recognizing the new reality of the education landscape (with decreasing full-time enrollments and more and more students opting to take courses online), despite the introduction of technology competency in student affairs programs, this practical need that might also be met with a changing landscape of where education administrators go to work.  

Peloton University, for instance, is an in-person campus that doesn’t offer degrees, but rather, advising and coaching services and a physical space to pursue an affordable, career-oriented degree. It’s built for learners who are looking for a community of academic support, mentoring, and coaching, but without the broad array of functional areas beyond academic and student support. As more institutions ‘go where students are,’ I believe this will be an emerging delivery model with implications for how student affairs administrators go to work.

Coding Bootcamps, like the one I worked at, are among a new and emerging set of college “college-alternatives” that are establishing a new and evolving model of higher education institutions that are short, punctuated across a career, and workforce-driven. In my role as a campus director, I supported students from admissions to job placement in their engagement with the DC campus, providing student support across an array of student support services: admissions, enrollment management, advising, academic support, campus life, skill and leadership development, and career services. In this new and emerging model, there are endless ways in which student affairs professional might marry an interest in student support and integrate the broad range of skill sets developed in student affairs preparation programs.

In similar fashion, as Universities services and support structures expand beyond the physical campus and therefore to a wider audience of learners, higher education professionals must expand and reposition their toolkit and knowledge to address the new realities of the learning environment and students, which in some cases mean considering roles that are no longer “on campus.”

I believe that preparation of the next wave of higher education pros is preparation for the future of work more generally; one that is impacted by changing job responsibilities because of automation, evolves with and considers the democratizing of learning and unbundling of the University’s programs, offerings, and services, while also aligning its’ offerings for the realities of the evolving population of learners to prepare them for the workforce.

A few implications begin to emerge in this future state:

  • Purely ‘administrative’ aspects (that is, routine, predictable work like reporting) will become less a part of the role of the job description of student affairs professionals in light of automation
  • Student affairs pros as we know them today may work directly for a single University less and less, or at least less frequently on a traditional campus in light of organizations serving a network of Universities centrally
  • Professionals might be prepared in a wider array of “preparation” programs, deferring formal pursuit of an advanced degree by gaining certifications in specific specialty areas that reflect deep knowledge in areas like coaching, counseling, or curriculum development set in the context of the needs of the new and emerging learner profile.

With the necessity facing student affairs programs to prepare graduate students for the realities of their graduates’ job prospects in light of the “unbundled” university, how might the skills that graduate programs address in their curriculum continue to evolve and adapt?

I’d love to hear what’s on your mind. Share your reactions in the comments below!

Building Education’s Future

First, a little about me.  This isn’t a story about me, it’s about something much bigger- but I think setting the stage for where a community grew out from might just make it more real.

When I moved to DC in 2013 to join EAB, I was excited to contribute to a growing movement focused on student success, enabling advising at institutions like MTSU with predictive data and organizing institutional efforts around the use of data and technology to help students succeed. With this broadening perspective around the forces at work within higher education around enrollment, alternative pathways, and evolving relationship we have with learning in the context of work, I began to watch and explore the emerging trends.

Doing so, I decided to pursue a next step leading the DC Campus of The Iron Yard, a coding bootcamp, to see one expression of these trends first-hand. Now, a month into my work at the Education Design Lab, the macro-view across pathways had me thinking about how valuable it is to step into that view and perspective of education to ask fundamental questions, and reframe our thinking about the goals and values of education.

Enter Grant. Grant is a friend and former colleague from EAB. Every time he and I get together, there’s an energy that’s created around the momentum and promise that education has today, talking about:

  • the way that technology influences it’s direction and evolution,
  • the way that new delivery models are changing the way that people fundamentally approach learning and ongoing development;
  • the way that technology is fundamentally changing the economy and labor market, forcing us to reevaluate the skills people need to thrive in the 21st century, forcing education to adapt.

There are so many forces moving at such an incredible rate- there’s a lot to keep tabs on, get excited about (and adapt to) if you’re making a career out of the education space. He and I can hardly keep up with one another.

And since Grant and I have enjoyed these conversations, we wondered if there might be other people who might be interested in joining in as well. So we launched Education Experience Design DC to fill in a hole for discussions somewhere at the intersection of edtech, education policy, education administration, design thinking, user experience, and service design.

In short, we wanted to figured out how we can bring forward more discussions around the way we design policies, ecosystems, and technologies around the student, and what that shift might mean for the future of the future design, features, and function of education?

Further, what if we had a space to bring together people who were deliberately thinking about this leading edge of education design and innovation, and are building practices into their work? Grant and I decided that was a place that we wanted to be…and that it didn’t already exist. So we set it up. As our meetup espouses:

We’re bringing together education innovators working in every segment of education: educators, policy makers, administrators, design, and edtech pros for conversation, skill building, and sharing best practices around preparing students for success in the future of education and beyond. Expect a little bit of show + tell, a little bit of book club, and great connections.

With nearly a hundred members coming together in just a few days, with the vision, now comes the execution; and I’m hoping that it might inspire and provoke those who see themselves invested in being part of this movement to stand up and raise their hand in one way or another. If that’s you, Grant and I have a few favors to ask (after you go and join the Meetup group, that is).

  • We need a space (ideally, free) to bring together this bunch of education innovators.
  • We want to build the network of folks involved, and find presenters and facilitators who are interested in provoking a conversation, leading a workshop, or presenting their vision for the future of education.
  • We’d love to find creative ways to document the conversations that take place to share them beyond the limitations of space and time at our events.
  • We’d love a sponsor to help keep the lights on to list our Meetup page, to support our speaker’s (in-kind buys of books, gear, or the like), supplies, and to help feed the (hopeful) masses as people join us on the journey.  We’ll likely ask for a couple of bucks to hold your seat as a show of good faith and a commitment to the community, but unfortunately it will take more than that to feed the crowd.

We know they’re big asks, but to chase after work that can bring such an important group together to have big discussions around the future of education, Grant and I are willing to step up and be the advocates for that space.

So, with that:

Have a space you’re willing to offer up? Know a presenter who would be compelling in front of this group of education innovators? Think your company might be willing to pitch in and sponsor an event or a series? Want to give your time and talents?

Send Grant or I a message, and let’s get started!