The El Camino.

Emily Griffin Overocker, Enrollment Management Knowledge Community

June 24, 2019

I know I’m biased, but regardless of the formal organizational chart, higher education would not exist without Student Affairs.  Of course the purpose of higher education is to gain content expertise, but the entire system relies on the work we do day in and day out to function.  Most people think that the summers are slow in higher education, but most of us we are busy.  Very busy.  We are doing assessments, training staff, planning programs and events for the upcoming year, wrapping up one recruitment cycle and gearing up for the next, advising students, hosting orientation for our new students, tracking enrollment, …  On some campuses all of these important functions are housed together in a single student affairs unit.  On others, some of these functions are in an enrollment management unit separate from student affairs.  Ultimately, we do our best to collaborate because the goal is help students succeed.  We’re all on the same team. 

Or are we?  Sometimes a divide can emerge because some of the departments within student affairs can seem like all party.  Yeah, yeah, we know that there is critical student development work being done but “they” get to do the fun stuff – concerts, speakers, social events, etc.  Meanwhile the other side is taking care of the business – financial aid, holds, recruitment, enrollment, numbers, numbers, numbers.  Having worked on both sides myself, I know it is easy to feel resentful toward the other because of the perceived value of the work each does toward the overall goals of higher education. 

The truth of the matter is, we are an El Camino.  Wait, what?  Bear with me for a minute.  Once upon a time, long before our incoming students were born, some of us rocked an awesome mullet.  The El Camino is like a mullet from days gone by.  Business in the front.  Party in the back.  Some of you may be thinking that by categorizing the work we do as “party” and “business” we are only further supporting the stereotypes of the traditional student affairs and enrollment management functions and diminishing the critical work both areas do to support and develop students.  But wait, let’s shift our perspective.  The El Camino is a well-oiled machine.  From the outside we see a strong, fast car, with interconnected parts working in together to get the riders from point A to point B.  Inside, a person could drive alone but it’s designed to have a companion riding along.  There are wheels, lights, windshields, and seatbelts.  And, as an added bonus, the El Camino has ample cargo space in the back to carry the important supplies needed along the way.  The truth of the matter is, like any sophisticated machine, student affairs and enrollment management are not one end of the car or the other.  Regardless of organizational structure, they are not two “sides” but rather a whole machine that has to work together.  Honestly, the El Camino was just way to get your attention.  We could probably talk at length about which parts of any car (engine, wheels, driver, passengers, gasoline, trunk, lights, windshield, music, etc.) best represents which student affairs function, but the point is, no one is going anywhere unless these parts work together.

During this season of celebrating the past year and gearing up for the next, take a minute to look at the “other” side of the house and honor their contributions to the success of students on your campus.  We need sophisticated systems and processes and we need opportunities for belonging and mattering – the whole El Camino. 

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