Introducing Public Policy to Student Affairs Professionals, Part II of III

naspa divisions groups public policy division

Stacy Heldman-Holguin

April 19, 2017

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series being presented this month in which you’ll learn more about what comprises public policy, why student affairs professionals should pay attention to policy issues and conversations, and how to get informed and become involved in policy conversations relevant to your field. Check out last week’s post for more on what comprises public policy and be sure to come back next week for our last installment!

Why should we pay attention to public policy?

As senior student affairs officers (SSAOs) tracking public policy may seem like a standard part of the job. We are, after all, responsible for the implementation or updating of campus policies and programs in response to broader policy changes. The Campus SaVE Act[1], for example, was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2013. This legislative action required that any college or university, public or private, that received federal funding meet four requirements: increase transparency about the scope of sexual violence on campus, guarantee victims enhanced rights, provide for standards in institutional conduct proceedings, and provide campus community wide prevention educational programming[2] (Carter, 2016). While our campuses had some form of response to educate around and prevent sexual assault and harassment prior to the passage of the Campus SaVE Act, the SaVE Act set in motion a new more comprehensive set of expectations for our campuses to meet. While it would make sense that the Title IX Coordinator might have tracked this bill be for its passage, the implementation of the mandate would require the work of many more staff members. Who, for example, would provide the education that must reach every student? This would likely include orientation leaders, residential staff, and campus programmers. Who else would be impacted as this legislation was put in place? Counseling centers and health centers would be impacted by more calls for service. Police officers would need added training to a meet the new reporting requirements and Title IX teams enhanced to meet investigatory demands. As you can see the impacts of the mandates spreads throughout the Student Affairs and related service areas.

Once public policy turns into a mandate that has to be implemented on your campus, staff members who have a good sense of the issue and are knowledgeable about the genesis of the mandate are valuable to the implementation of the response. A current example illustrates this point. In California, the Department of Justice completed an investigation against the University of California, Berkeley for non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act because they had not adequately prepared videos with captioning or to be accessible to screen readers[3] (Straumsheim, C., 2017). Alert disability specialists on other campuses, including my own, were watching as information of this investigation became public and were evaluating the status of the website media on their campus. These campuses with alert staff are now more prepared to make improvements to serve their students and to avoid becoming targets of investigation themselves.

Public policy not only impacts the campus from a programmatic or risk management perspective, but it can also impact our students directly in such ways that may not require a compliance response but may require an administrative and programmatic response to support students. The Executive Order 13769: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States did not explicitly identify an impact on higher education nor mandate any specific action on higher education yet it had multiple ripple effects across our campuses. College students, faculty, and staff traveling abroad were prevented from returning to their campuses; some cancelled research agendas in fear of traveling; and other cancelled or delayed applying to US institutions due to the concern about coming to the US under these conditions. In addition, as the travel ban was announced, campuses throughout the United States experienced increased activism and student unrest[4] (Ali, 2017).  All of these effects, both real and perceived, required college and university staff knowledgeable in these areas to prepare a response on behalf of their campus. Even lacking an actual mandate, our collective campus goals of student success and creating a safe learning environment lead us to respond and address the concerns.

Not all reasons to be attentive to public policy are as dramatic as sexual assault, government agency investigations, or immigration reform. Many public policy issues are updates or slight changes to language that can impact our work. Financial aid officers must continually watch legislation about aid programs and annually update their policies and practices to assure they are awarding state and federal dollars appropriately as they prepare financial aid packages for students. The refresh of policy is an ongoing process and tracking issues related to your work is beneficial.

Looking to take the next steps and get involved in public policy conversations in your field? Check back next week for the final installment in this series for lots of links, tips, and resources!

[1] S. 834 — 112th Congress: Campus SaVE Act.” 2011. April 7, 2017

[2] Carter, S. D. (2016). Jeanne Clery Act Information.

[3] Straumsheim, C. (2017). Berkeley will delete online content. Inside Higher Ed.

[4] Ali, D. (2017). International Students: Executive order “travel ban” status, possible future policies. NASPA Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

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