There is no doubt that the role of the SSAO (senior
student affairs officer) has changed quite dramatically
in the last few years in response to economic trends,
campus tragedies, legal rulings, technology, international competition, and much more.
Community college SSAOs, often referred to as chief student
services officers (CSSOs), have been forced to re-evaluate
their roles and associated responsibilities to survive these
challenges. While managing budgets, overseeing business
operations, and protecting our leadership roles in college
management have been significant tasks for some time, new
challenges unique to community colleges are on our lists.
CSSOs have led very successful efforts to make education
highly accessible, yet student retention and success rates
continue to be a concern. Student learning outcomes for every
support service must be developed and implemented not only
for accreditation purposes, but also to determine solutions
for enhancing student accomplishments. The commitment to
open access for all individuals has brought to our campuses
unprecedented numbers of students with special needs, including those with mental illnesses, who tax our support services
to breaking points. Academic counseling, a major component
in student success, is stretched to its limits with counselor-student ratios often as high as one counselor to 1,800 students.
Underprepared students are entering the first year of community college at epidemic rates with 55 to 60 percent testing
into remedial mathematics or English, leading to the creation
of accelerated programs focused on building basic college
skills. Add non-English speaking and immigrant students into
the mix, and you have student bodies with demographics very
different than most four-year colleges and universities.
So while CSSO participation in fundraising has not reached
the levels indicated by our counterparts at four-year institutions, CSSOs have made other transitions to find shared
resources, including greater involvement in grantwriting and
local business partnerships. Successful CSSOs understand
on FERPA. This year the training will deal with veterans. In
the spring, it will be on ‘age 21.’ We play a strategic role in
providing information to the campus community.
MJ: Whenever there are major controversies, we are on point.
When I am on point, as the university spokesperson, I need
to make sure other campus leaders are lined up and support
the institutional position I will advocate. I am an institutional soldier, but I do not want to be put in a position where
university leaders back away from my comments and abandon
me. Your participation in situations like these also enhances
your credibility in other areas.
DB: The reality is that at a big institution you must delegate.
You can’t be involved with the day-to-day operation if you
want to be involved with students. When I arrived, each
director was dependent on day-to-day guidance. They felt they
had been abandoned when I began to delegate, but it was a
the critical need to blend student services with instruction to
deliver programs that ultimately support improved student outcomes. We know that we have to constantly reassess programs
and services, make data-informed decisions, and incorporate
accountability as we drive changes to meet strategic goals
while remaining strong student advocates.
Young professionals interested in joining the ranks of CSSOs
in the nation’s almost 1,200 community colleges will need to
become involved in college committees and task forces that
support initiatives focused on positive student outcomes.
They must utilize research to make business-related decisions
to develop and implement new programs and services; take
advantage of professional development opportunities to identify innovative model programs with demonstrated positive
outcomes; and remain technologically savvy and well-versed
in the many issues that will continue to impact our abilities to
successfully serve highly diverse student bodies. By leveraging
their resources and their talents in the key areas of research,
professional development, and technology, aspiring CSSOs can
best prepare to meet the future needs of both students and the
institutions they serve.
Hot Issues for Community College CSSOs
• Campus safety and security
• Student mental health and lack of campus resources
• Underprepared students
• Immigrant students
• Returning veterans and Baby Boomers
• Student services delivery
• Online education
• Student learning outcomes and accountability
• Blending instruction and student services
Denise Swett is the dean of the Middlefield campus and non-credit division for Foothill College in California. She is also a
member of NASPA’s Community College Advisory Board and
chair of the Community College Institute for the 2009 NASPA
necessity. Running our operations with a business orientation
empowers us to do our jobs and serve our students better.
Q: How do you continue to ensure a leadership place
at the table with your colleagues?
BS: We are really an integrative agency. We have to deliver
what we say, and certainly student affairs must prove its
ability to manage different parts of the portfolio and then
some. You have to be perceived as the person who gets things
done. You will be left out of the loop if you are not a consistent leader. It builds confidence and expands your opportunities to be at the leadership table when important institutional
decisions are being made.
If SSAOs do not have business acumen, then they are not
going to be at the table with their colleagues. That is the filter
through which many of our colleagues at the cabinet level are
viewing their work, not just for student affairs.