A joint task force is evaluating whether technology should be a required competency for student affairs professionals. 

Five years ago, the boards of two student affairs organizations — the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) and NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education — established technology as a thread that runs through 10 competencies for student affairs professionals. But a lot has changed since then as more students spend time online and take online or hybrid classes from different locations around the world.

"In 2015, students are literally all over the map, and technology allows student affairs professionals to engage without boundaries," said Eric Stoller, an England-based higher education consultant who previously worked in student affairs in the U.S.

While student affairs staff traditionally meet with students one-on-one in person for counseling, that's not always possible for online or hybrid students. That's why it's so important for these professionals to connect with students on social media and other digital communication tools.

Given the rapid pace of technological change over the last five years, the two student affairs organizations created a joint task force to modernize the competencies that student affairs professionals should have and specifically consider whether to make technology a separate competency. Later this summer, the two boards will decide which competencies to create, eliminate or revise, including the technology competency that's been proposed.   

This technology competency describes the knowledge and skills that student affairs professionals should be able to demonstrate at either the basic, intermediate or advanced level. While the two organizations don't expect everyone to reach the advanced level, they want to make sure that their members are keeping up with the times on at least the basic level.

Let's take a look at three of the 13 or 14 specific components of these competencies at each level. 

Adapting to change. At the basic level, student affairs professionals would be asked to demonstrate that they can adapt as technology continues to change rapidly. One level up, their responsibilities extend a little further to modeling as well as promoting the ability to adapt to change among students, colleagues and others. At the advanced level, they would be able to anticipate changes in technology and invest in helping other people become more adaptable, flexible and open to technological innovation.

Building digital citizens. Basically student affairs professionals will show that they're aware of their digital identity and connect students with activities that teach them how to be responsible digital citizens. At the intermediate level, they'll cultivate their digital identity and model how to be a positive influence online. In the last level, they'll train colleagues and students so they can create an appropriate digital identity.

Communicating online. As a first step, student affairs professionals will engage students on social media and other digital platforms so they'll learn about intervention services including advising. Next, they'll design and assess outcomes from social media and other digital communication promotion as they try to get students interested in learning interventions. Finally they'll integrate social media and digital communication with broader education efforts.

With these competencies, staff members can talk with students on social media about their experiences on campus, create learning communities of students around common interests and respond digitally when students share that they're struggling with something.  

"What this does by adding this competency is it syncs up the world of the student outside of the classroom with what their experience is inside the classroom," said NASPA President Kevin Kruger.

The majority of student affairs professionals have master's or doctorate degrees, and they're expected to continue their education once they land a student affairs job. If the two boards approve this technology competency, the NASPA would like to see graduate curriculum and professional development at the campus and national association level incorporate technology competence. This way, when professionals graduate or continue their professional education, they will be prepared to help students around the world in the digital environment.