How is this a threat?

Last week NASPA’s blog had a post called “Five Megatrends Threatening Student Affairs (and How to Turn Them Into Opportunities)” written by Laurence N. Smith and Albert B. Blixt. It was an interesting read, but I have to take issue with one of their points.

Trend #3: Changing student demographics

Overall competition for students will increase over the next decade as the number of high school graduates declines while the racial/ethnic/socio-economic makeup of entering students will shift. By 2020, 45 percent of the nation’s public high school graduates will be non-white compared with 38 percent in 2009. Students will be more likely to be the first in family to attend college and will have fewer economic means. In addition, more of those entering college will be foreign-born including immigrants and international students recruited actively by colleges and universities. Adult learners, often with jobs and families, are becoming a greater percentage of the student body. Finally, we are seeing the end of the millennial generation and a new “touchscreen” generation coming to campus. All of these emerging segments have different needs and expectations that have direct implications for what services student affairs needs to provide.

Here’s my issue: how is this a threat to Student Affairs? Now, I understand that they’re trying to make a rhetorical point to springboard into their ways to take advantage of opportunities but hear me out with my issue.

First, I’d like to say that every generation has it’s own preferred way of working but in reality every person is an individual and every person has their own preferred way of working.  I’ve talked before about my issue with being labeled part of the “Digital Native” generation and how it overly simplifies. If we were to assume that the “touchscreen” generation all thinks alike because (to take a random percentage with no basis in reality) 60% of them do then we are doing a huge disservice to 40% of the population. But even ignoring any focus on a monolithic concept of a generational movement this point still doesn’t make sense.

What they predict is:

  • more non-white, immigrant, and international students
  • more first generation students
  • lower income students
  • more mature students
  • students with different needs

Alright? How is that a threat? That seems to me to be the biggest reason to focus on Student Affairs. Helping students succeed is our mission. And if there will be more students who need us I see that as only an opportunity and I don’t see the threat in it.

More non-white, immigrant, and international students:

So white students will go from a large majority in post secondary to a small majority in post secondary, so what?  Who are the new students? Not being white isn’t a defining characteristic. The history, culture, and attitudes towards education of an Aboriginal student, a Latino student, and a Chinese student will be different. Not only that but the attitude of any one student and any other student will be different. We need to treat students as individuals. Yes there are some students who won’t need our help, but if the take away is more people will need our help that’s not a problem, that’s a pure opportunity.

More first generation students:

Maybe more than in the last decade, but this occurs every time there’s an increase in the number of people wanting to attend college. We have a history we can look back on, and in a lot of cases it’s a matter of increasing the scale of what we already do.

Lower income students:

Yes, that can be a problem, though the problem is more one of a limited amount of funding available.  I know a lot of low income students shy away from student loans because they don’t feel they will ever be able to repay them. We need to ensure that students know all of their funding options, and guide them through applying for bursaries and scholarships that are out there for them. Again it’s a case of needing to scale up what we do.

More mature students:

I’m afraid that this one is odd for me.  I work primarily with mature students so I’m used to students who are juggling work, kids, housing, and school. But I understand that a lot of SA pros are more used to the 17-20 crowd. Not a problem, it just means a shift in training for staff members. It’s not that hard, it’s just working with people who are juggling more, but on the plus side it’s working with people who are used to juggling more.

Students with different needs:

This seems to be what it comes down to. I’ve only been working in higher ed for six years but change has been a constant while I’ve been here. And looking back on my years in University myself it was a constant then.  The only threat posed by this change in demographics is if we try to make what we are doing unchangeable. I see Student Affairs as a profession rooted in responding to changes quickly. We’re the ones on the ground helping students succeed in their programs and helping with all of the out of class parts of their time in higher ed.

Of course I suspect that’s what the author is trying to get at, but I do take issue with calling it  a threat when it’s not.

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