One of the things that I love so much about the field of student affairs is its ability to unite professionals with interests in so many different areas under one common goal- educating and developing students. And even within the fraternity of SAPs (student affairs professionals), there are those who come from backgrounds other than student affairs.
Think about how often we speak to colleagues about their “unconvential routes to student affairs.” When meeting professionals from a variety of functional areas during my graduate program, everyone had a different story about how they arrived here. From musical performance, law enforcement, the courtroom, and a multitude of other disciplines. Does it affect their ability to practice? Not necessarily- some of the best SA pros I know have degrees in other areas. And their ability to serve students is unaffected by whether some credentialing agency (be it a university, governing body, or functional area organization) gave them a collection of letters after their name or a certificate to hang on a wall.
One of the definitions of “credentials” given during today’s #sachat alluded to a need for a set of requirements to fulfill in order to prove competency. My response to that is, does a credential actually signify competency? Or does it simply signify the ability to follow a set of guidelines resulting in said proof? For those without awareness of credentialing agencies, or the means by which to pursue said credentials, who’s to say that their ability to effectively practice would be “less than” those with the means to pursue those appending letters? As I remarked to a fellow #sachat’ter during today’s discussion, “you can be competent without credentials, and unfortunately incompetent with them.” I think at one point or another, we’ve all worked with someone that fits in each category…
When I think about fields that require significant credentialing, such as law, accounting, or medicine (or, to bring in student affairs, fields such as wellness promotions and education which have credentials such as Certified Nutritionist or Certified Health Education Specialist), what do these fields have in common? Law-based or life-and-death based consequences. In the absence of qualified law practitioners, plaintiffs and defendants run the risk of breaking the law. The same goes for those who are lured into unjust accounting practices or medical malpractice. Ultimately, there are a set of clearly defined practices and skills that conform to a standard of the profession. And in the absence of adherence to those standards, consumers risk serious harm.
Is it to say that we assume no risk in dealing with students? Not at all. But those risks are very different. We should adhere to competency guidelines, and ensure that these competencies can be demonstrated when hiring professionals. But exams such as the BAR or the CPA exams are designed to create a barrier between those who can adhere to the stringency of those professions, and those that can’t. Student affairs, a field often noted for its culture of inclusion, is fundamentally different from fields like that.
There is no one way to educate in our work. In fact, a diversity of approaches is encouraged, a wonderful way for us to challenge our students with alternate perspectives. We should follow the lead of the students we teach, and continue to foster a diversity of approaches in our own work. Should we be qualified? Yes. Competent? Absolutely. NASPA and ACPA have worked together to create a comprehensive list of competencies that we should continually strive to adhere to. As was repeatedly voiced this afternoon, as a field that supplements learning, we should never consider us “up to date” on our continued education. But married to a list of guidelines that could potentially homogenize the route into this work? I’m not so on board with that.