Progressing as institutional leaders through deliberate engagement in student development and experiential learning

From an operational standpoint, auxiliary services directors and staff members have been recognized as higher education professionals for many years. Campus service specialists have consistently handled the important work of providing a wide range of goods and services at colleges and universities.

From an operational standpoint, auxiliary services directors and staff members have been recognized as higher education professionals for many years. Campus service specialists have consistently handled the important work of providing a wide range of goods and services at colleges and universities. In so doing, they have helped to contribute outstanding service and significant financial support to higher learning. In the past, student demographics and the traditional higher ed economic model worked together to provide an increasing number of prospective students seeking higher education. This steady student stream helped nudge colleges to evolve into silo structures administratively. Individual units evolved with increasing specialization in various areas: academic affairs, student services, business operations, and institutional advancement efforts, to name a few. Auxiliary services excelled in this period by staying in tune with societal trends, innovating, and using sound business practices. Auxiliaries still excel in these areas – providing quality goods/services in a convenient manner to students, college employees, and campus visitors. However, the needs of higher learning institutions and their students are changing. No longer is it enough to operate a successful on-campus business. Now, there is an increasing need to engage with prospective students, retain existing students, and provide a heightened level of non-financial support to our college and university employers.

Promotion of 
Successful Leadership

Auxiliaries strive to excel in the activities in which they engage producing profits, good public relations, and satisfied student and campus customers. Isn’t it time to purposefully engage in demonstrating these successful leadership techniques and strategies in an expanded way to a broader audience? Such a strategy can be a win – win for auxiliary units and their higher learning institutions.

Change Brings Challenges 
and Opportunities

As higher education changes, and have no doubt that we are in a period of dramatic transformation, auxiliary leaders need to play an even more prominent role in campus leadership and student development. This suggested change in viewpoint may sound like a call for a dramatic shift requiring an overwhelming adjustment to the business strategies and practices traditionally used in auxiliaries. A huge transformation isn’t necessary for your operating units. However, auxiliary directors need to adopt a shift in perspective, an intentional focus on the broader issues facing the campus, and a heightened interest in collaboration. Operating an effective business and generating revenue remain primary tasks, but reaching outside of existing operations can yield image-enhancing benefits for students and auxiliaries that will be recognized by senior administrators. Why not utilize some every day current practices to help make this transformation a reality? For example, as a major on-campus employer of students, auxiliaries are already providing a tremendous benefit to the campus community. Developing some focused strategies in training and engagement with employees can further highlight and even expand this often overlooked value-add contribution by campus service units. Colleges are facing some challenging times in attracting and retaining students, but adapting some new practices can positively impact auxiliaries and aid institutional success.

An Expanded Leadership Strategy to Address Changing Students and Difficult Times

Auxiliaries have become adept at developing relationships with and partnering with private businesses in recent years. Shouldn’t this same approach be initiated and developed with on campus entities, such as academic and student affairs? Contemporary students, especially younger undergraduates (18 – 24 year olds), are exhibiting a number of characteristics that make it difficult to keep them in school and inhibit many of them from making satisfactory academic progress. The millennial generation is much different from previous generations. Three issues are of particular note as we consider today’s students. First, students see themselves as consumers to a greater extent than any time in history. “Students are increasingly bringing to higher education exactly the same consumer expectations they have for every other commercial enterprise with which they deal. Their focus is on convenience, quality, service, and cost (Levine and Cureton, 1998, p. 50). Second, younger undergraduates on the whole are not as mature as their predecessors. In psychological terms, today’s traditional aged college students are viewed as adolescents (Pittman and Jackson, 2014). Finally, contemporary students are exhibiting an increasing level of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies (Wilson, 2015). Working in silos on campus no longer yields the efficiency and effectiveness of former days. Partnering is a solid strategy for auxiliaries that should be welcomed and will likely be greatly appreciated by administrators in other campus divisions who are faced with the growing dilemma of helping to ensure student learning and appropriate development. Reaching out to other departments to creatively brainstorm and devise learning opportunities and practical skill experiences within auxiliary operations can be a valuable resource for student programming and individual students alike. Academic and student affairs offices need a boost in their efforts to reach and impact students. Campus service units can help fill this increasing gap by providing an excellent venue and support system to promote a winning environment on campus.

A More Prominent Leadership Role

While ensuring continued revenue generation and effective operations is, of course, critical to auxiliary success. Adjusting some practices and incorporating a few additional ‘real world’ learning tactics into the operating scheme is not unrealistic. For example, training a cashier to operate a cash register and to interact with customers are elementary training aspects. Why not expand the conversation a bit by including discussion of retail costs, product costs, direct-operating costs, overhead charges, sales taxes, and net revenue as part of basic training? This approach to employee training should help further equip student workers to excel in their required duties, but also provides a bigger discussion and broader understanding of how their work impacts the business enterprise. Additional training on foundational business concepts is a routine function of auxiliary daily operations. While perhaps not a direct connection, including training on being respectful of those from other cultures, ethnicities, and genders could be eye-opening for a student employee. Such training enhances a student’s understanding and perspective. Moreover, providing opportunities to experience interactions in the workplace accompanied by appropriate discussions and evaluation of performance provides skill building and personal development beyond just doing a specific task.

Partnering with other campus offices to provide on the job experiences to student employees provides a tremendous value and significant boost to student learning. Additionally, such efforts and programs demonstrate a concern for overall institutional success by the training provider. By sharing the challenge of serving as role models and mentoring students, auxiliaries can promote themselves as concerned, forward-thinking partners in student and college success.

Making the Transformation, Enhancing Leadership Impact, and Aiding Success

Even a slight adjustment in staff training and evaluations procedures can evolve into a calculated strategy to partner with other campus offices in enhancing student engagement. The maturation issues and career focus of many of today’s undergraduates provides a prime opportunity for auxiliaries to get more involved with student development and experiential learning. Increasingly academic affairs and student services offices are collaborating on a growing trend to develop and implement service learning programs. Many of these activities are conducted off-campus. Auxiliaries offer equally attractive potential experiences that could work with such programming initiatives in an on campus setting. This is an ideal time for auxiliary professionals to communicate, collaborate, and implement programs for student workers and/or student volunteers. Opening the door for students to garner greater work and life skills and to gain experience with interacting with professionals and customers alike is a growing need. By participating and fully engaging in such efforts, auxiliary leaders can demonstrate their awareness and concern, not only for student needs, but also in supporting institutional efforts at student recruitment and retention. Auxiliary professionals can expand their leadership impact beyond their operations to the larger academic and student community. Such an approach will clearly show that auxiliaries are more than just money makers. Auxiliary leaders can establish themselves and their operations as involved and invested members of the campus community. Helping students succeed in their academic work through development and experiential education will only serve to show that auxiliaries are a part of the bigger campus picture and are consistently adding value to the campus, in addition to continuing in their traditional role as critically important campus enterprises.

Levine, A., & Cureton, J.S. (1998). When hope and fear collide: A portrait of today’s college student, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc. Publishers.
Pittman, J.S., & Jackson, LD. (2014). Changing college student development and learning styles: Campus Implications. National Social Science (NSSA) Technology Journal, 2014, Volume 42, # 1.
Wilson, R. (2015, September 4). An epidemic of anguish: Overwhelmed by demand for mental-health care, college face conflicts in choosing how to respond. Chronical of Higher Education, pp. 38-40.

Dr. Jeffrey Pittman
Dr. Jeffrey Pittman was NACAS president in 2005. Currently, he is on the faculty and program chair of the m.Ed. in Student Affairs program in Regent university’s School of Education. His primary academic interests are in higher education administration and leadership. Prior to his faculty appointment he served as vice president of student services at Regent for over nine years.

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