John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

A New Profession?

John N. Gardner
President

I have been in my profession long enough to note new nomenclature and/or the arrival of new professions, new sub specialties. Higher education is becoming ever more complex and specialized so new types of specialized professionals are inevitable. In fact, as the creator of “the first-year experience” as a legitimate field of teaching, administration, student services, and research, I know a new concept when I see one. Or one that maybe is more like old wine in a new bottle.

I am thinking about the relatively rapid proliferation of a new cohort of higher education administrators who are designated as “student success” professionals. So who are these people?

What do they do?

How and why did they evolve?

To whom do they report?

What is the career preparation route into this profession?

Is this really a distinct professional category?

Are they really the same as “Student Affairs” professionals? And if they are, why give them this new designation? Or are they more focused on “academic” administration? But that would assume that Student Affairs administrators are not focused on academic matters? And I don’t agree with that.

Does the arrival of this new profession mean that now it is they who are charged with “student success” and those of us in academic administration, student affairs or faculty work are somehow less responsible, less on the hook?

Does the establishment of “student success” as a professional genre somehow mean that the academy decided that people like me who have been working to increase student success for decades somehow weren’t doing enough and that a new profession was called for? I would agree that we have not been doing enough.

Or is “student success” really a more palatable euphemism, a code phrase for those higher educators exclusively focused on “retention”?

OK, so we have a new term. But is the student success work substantively different from whatever we were doing before? Or is it, as I asked above, a repackaging and the putting of old wine in a new bottle?And how are we sorting out the organizational relationships on campuses where there are “student success” units, which are somehow differentiated from “student affairs” and “academic affairs” units?

And what are the levels within this new career ladder, student success—advisors, counselors, deans, directors, professionals, vice presidents?

And how are these roles playing out differently as a function of institutional types where they are found? This is a cross sector phenomenon.

If “student success” had existed when I was getting started in my career in higher education, I wonder if I would have been drawn to it? Upon reflection, I think I was. It just wasn’t called that. It was called “professor.”

And I wonder where all this is going? Some of my readers will help produce the answer to that question.

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