Should the Chief Officer of Student Affairs Report to the University CEO? Critical Conversation #18

journal of college and character

Doris Ching and Amefil Agbayani

July 31, 2019

Our Focus Authors for this quarter (August 2019) are Doris Ching, University of Hawai‘i System, and Amefil Agbayani, University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa. Their article, “Student Affairs’s Voice, Visibility, and Relevance in Higher Education Administration,” will be published in the August 2019 issue of the Journal of College and Character.

Below, they respond to a question posed by JCC co-editor Jon Dalton:

Do you think it is important for the chief student affairs officer (CSAO) to report directly to the chief executive officer (CEO) of colleges and universities? Please give us your reasons.

Although there is no single optimal administrative or organizational structure that is appropriate for all institutions, we posit that the ideal campus framework to achieve student learning goals and outcomes is one in which the chief student Affairs officer (CSAO) leads a major campus unit, reports directly to the CEO, and serves on the CEO’s executive cabinet. Our perspective is informed by our decades of professional involvement as academic faculty, research practitioners, and student affairs administrators at local, national, and international levels. Our frame of reference is reinforced by recommendations and reports of major reputable national studies related to this question and by thoughtful responses to an informal survey by highly experienced, nationally respected CSAOs representing diverse colleges and universities of varied geographic areas. 

We are aware that some student affairs units thrive with full support from their campus administrations despite reporting to the chief academic affairs officer (CAAO) rather than to the CEO; however, we believe that such arrangements may be overly reliant on specific individuals, personalities, management styles, local experiences, and traditions and, therefore, not sustainable. Having the CSAO report to the top campus leader and serve as a member of the cabinet alongside the chief academic affairs officer and other administrators of major units provides a dependable structure for the CSAO to participate fully in decisions that impact the mission of the university to educate and develop students. This format enables campus leaders to hear the student affairs perspectives directly from the CSAO and communicate, collaborate, and support the CEO in decision-making and prioritizing in the resource allocation process.

It is imperative that the CSAO serves as a direct link to institutional priorities and is visible at the highest institutional executive level to assure that student services are effectively supported. All campus leaders, in addition to the CSAO, must clearly articulate student affairs’s fundamental mission and its relationship to the institution’s mission and programmatic impact on student learning outcomes and educational success. As key campus leaders, CSAOs can develop effective collaborations and partnerships with academic affairs and other administrative leaders to support student learning outcomes and implement a “campus-wide focus on the student experience.” The fundamental mission and role of student affairs as a distinct administrative unit led by a CSAO and reporting directly to the CEO is essential to the institution’s mission and educational success.

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