I have always believed that the field of student affairs would be better served by one comprehensive association composed by merging ACPA and NASPA. Now that I work abroad in higher education, the critical importance of unification is even more obvious. I was unable to attend the 2010 ACPA conference but I did attend NASPA. Attending NASPA offered the opportunity for me to participate in one of the open forums on “Envisioning the Future of Student Affairs.” I commented at this form that those of us attempting to adapt student affairs in other cultural settings need a central, authoritative organization. It’s hard enough to explain student affairs work to colleagues in international settings without having to explain the historic evolution of the field and how two competing organizations ended up representing the field in the U.S.A. ACPA and NASPA histories are important and make sense to Americans who experienced the emergence of student affairs practice in the 20th century. However, there is little place for competition (and divisiveness) in the globalized environment of the 21st century, a time when coherent and purposeful focus is so key.
I was surprised by the lack of response to my comment at the NASPA forum, which led me to believe that the attendees may not have understood that the global community no longer revolves around the U.S.A. There are many more players in the global community and higher education is expanding more rapidly outside of the U.S.A. than it is inside it. Those of us advocating for the importance of student affairs in international settings are making a difference but we need the help of ACPA and NASPA and we need most of all for them to understand their global responsibility to provide a unifying worldwide voice. Neither ACPA nor NASPA are international organizations. As an international participant in Chicago with other Arabian Gulf colleagues at my side, I was embarrassed and had to apologize on numerous occasions for the lack of useful content or sensitivity in keynotes, introductions, and programs. I want to make it clear that this is not a criticism of NASPA; I am fairly confident that I would have felt the same way at ACPA. Both are equally negligent in understanding the importance of their role in the global higher education community.
Envisioning the Future of Student Affairs (February, 2010) recognizes the importance of globalization and the demand for higher education throughout the world as its first two points under “Today’s context on the future.” I doubt that the placement at the head of the list was an accident and I hope that this is reinforced as the unification considerations continue. Reference is also made in the report to student engagement and how it is impacted by student demographic diversity, a dynamic that is heavily influenced by the trend of students moving throughout the world among the U.S.A., Europe, Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere to study. ACPA and NASPA have an opportunity at this critical juncture to bring great value to the international higher education community. However, if ACPA and NASPA members are unable to transcend their own vested interests, the rest of the world will likely define higher education without the important voice of U.S.A. student affairs professional associations.
Dennis C. Roberts, Ph.D.
Assistant Vice President for Education
Faculty and Student Services
Education Division, Qatar Foundation
past-President and former Senior Scholar