A Student Affairs Model
From the Land Down Under
Last summer, 41 graduate students and student affairs professionals, including me, journeyed to Australia as part of a study tour sponsored by the American College Personnel Association, the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators and the Association of College Unions International. The purpose of the trip was to expand our view of student affairs from the perspective of Australian higher education. Our group traveled to eight of Australia’s 39 colleges and universities and learned the Australian interpretation of “student services.” As we discovered, there are some distinct conceptual and structural
differences between the Australian and American approaches to student affairs.
Australian colleges generally have anywhere between 10,000 and 60,000 students, 90 percent of whom are commuters who work either full or part time. International students also make up a significant number of students in Australian higher education. For example, foreign students make up more than 30 percent of the student population at Monash University. Unlike in the United States, where academic stratification is the rule, some Australian campuses offer a full range of program from certificates to doctorates. And yet, Australia’s student affairs professionals have found a way to meet the needs of such a diverse student population.
The concept of student development, which is often the focus of student affairs professionals in the United States, is almost entirely absent in Australia. Instead, the Australian student services model seems to be more concentrated on maintaining their students (less on student development and more to provide services so they can get through college). Mission statements in student services offices generally include phrases such as, “to assist,” “to enhance” and “to enrich” students’ college experiences both personally and professionally. Because there are no graduate programs in student services, our Australian colleagues are largely unaware of the work done by theorists such as Arthur Chickering and Lawrence Kohlberg. They enter the field from a variety of backgrounds, and usually have little or no prior experience with higher education. But because they are so diverse from the beginning, they can effectively deal with the diversity of their student populations. Nonetheless the student service model capitalizes on the diverse background of staffs and students.
In the United States, the organizational charts of student affairs divisions can often be multi-tiered and complicated. In comparison, the structural breakdown of Australian student service departments is more simplistic and easier to understand.
For example, the three main headings of the student service department at Victoria University are, “Student Liaison Branch,” “Student Administration Branch,” and “Student Support Branch.” The liaison branch includes student advocacy programs, while the administration branch covers admissions and enrollment. The support branch, meanwhile, focuses on student counseling and athletics. Student services programs in Australia also include career centers, university health centers, disability services and international student services, not to mention children’s services to respond to the childcare needs of students with young children. Not surprisingly, in an academic environment where the vast majority of students are commuters, residential student services receive little or no attention.
Additionally, there seemed to be a greater expectation for the Australian college student to be self-sufficient, independent and responsible for their own needs. Australian student service professionals inform students of the services available, but tend to avoid seeking out and directing students to utilize a particular service. My Australian counterparts say American student service professionals tend to coddle students throughout their college careers. They cautioned that this approach may foster a sense of both dependency and entitlement.
Some of the theoretical differences between the American and Australian approaches are fascinating. Although skeptical at first, I’ve come to appreciate the Australians approach to student services as the most effective way for them to address the distinct needs of their diverse student bodies. Although our Australian colleagues may not necessarily view their work with students in the same way that we do in the United States, we have much to learn from each other that would strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of our student affairs and student service professions.
— Christina Anastasi recently graduated from Shippensburg University with a master’s in counseling-college student personnel.
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