• August 29, 2015

2 Student-Affairs Groups Mull Possible Merger

Nearly 5,000 campus officials here this week at the annual conference of Naspa—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education are hashing out not only vital issues in their field but also the future of their professional association.

At a forum on Monday afternoon, the group's president, J. Michael Segawa, fielded financial and organizational questions about the possible consolidation of Naspa with ACPA—College Student Educators International. The two major student-affairs associations compete for members and clout but collaborate on some projects and hold simultaneous conferences every 10 years.

After the most-recent combined meeting, in 2007, the groups appointed a joint Task Force on the Future of Student Affairs to examine economic, political, and social trends in the field. To deal with new challenges more efficiently, the committee formally recommended last year that the two associations be unified. Such a move would realize an idea that has lingered for at least three decades.

Strong Memberships

Even in an economic slump, the primary drivers are not financial. Naspa has seen its membership grow to more than 11,000 this year, from 9,600 five years ago, and ACPA's ranks have swelled to 8,300, from 7,500 over the same period. Attendance at national conferences fluctuates depending on the site, but Naspa's numbers here rose over last year's, in Seattle, and ACPA expects about 3,500 members at its annual convention this month in Boston, an average turnout.

Still, both groups worry about sustained viability given financial strains on their individual and institutional members. Mr. Segawa, who is also vice president for student affairs at the University of Puget Sound, estimated an overlap in membership of 30 percent, which could prove tricky if colleges keep looking for cuts. ACPA has cash reserves of about $2-million, and Naspa, $6-million.

A former president of Naspa spoke out on Monday against a merger: "I do believe that Naspa is the stronger association," said Michael L. Jackson, vice president for student affairs at the University of Southern California. Mr. Jackson suggested a hasty consolidation may drive away some Naspa members. "I hope that whatever we do, we do not end up with a big rift," he said.

Naspa and ACPA have been around since 1919 and 1924, respectively. Naspa originally comprised deans of men and has retained a reputation for attracting upper-level administrators as members, although both groups have long served student-affairs officers of all ranks. Leaders say the associations have become more similar over time, and the joint committee's report points out the redundancy of two sources of professional development.

Advantages of Unification

"Competition and the related duplication of programs, resources, and efforts do not serve the profession well," the report says.

Other documents published by the groups identified split loyalties, unproductive rivalries, and confusion among outsiders. A unified group would be better positioned to compete for private grants, federal funds, and corporate sponsorships, a joint resolution says. One large student-affairs association, it says, could more efficiently collaborate with other higher-education groups and influence national policy debates.

"It would help us if we were able to speak with one voice as a profession," Gregory Roberts, executive director of ACPA, said in an interview last week.

Both groups are seeking feedback from their members in seemingly every possible medium: e-mail, blogs, and online discussion boards, as well as sessions at this month's meetings. They have also collaborated on statements of common values and frequently asked questions about the prospective merger.

At Monday's forum, the first of three sessions this week devoted to the prospective consolidation, some participants pointed to cultural differences between the two groups and expressed concerns over creating an organization that would be too big; others identified themselves as members of both Naspa and ACPA. One woman who said she was new to the field observed: "I don't really see the difference between the two."

The conference here this week will also allow members of a joint Consolidation Steering Team to discuss finer details of a possible merger, including publications, conferences, regional subgroups, and membership dues. If the process moves forward, the two general memberships may vote online this fall to dissolve their associations and form a new one.


1. honore - March 09, 2010 at 08:43 am

A perfect example of academic navel lint chewing before a large audience of all-expenses-paid conference fleas.

Put the egos away, join forces, address the real challenges we face in our professions (advancement, security, benefits, development) and do something that will actually change the very deteriorated status that we "labor" under on our campuses.

SA professionals for the most part as regarded as academic hangers-on and there is a lot we can do to improve our brand, our image and our lives, but arguing over whether this jumble of letters is better than that jumble of letters is just a waste of time.

2. tac3017874742 - March 09, 2010 at 09:48 am

I'm not convinced that a merger is the answer. The two organizations have existed for substantive reasons and I don't think we should dismiss the possibility that they both allow more participation than one organization might do. I am very familiar with the effect of 'in crowds' who control the leadership of such organizations in order to promote their careers. Don't be so naive as to think this does not occur in student affairs professional development organizations.

3. robertstephenjones - March 09, 2010 at 10:30 am

I wonder if the merger of Educom and CAUSE back in the 90s, to form EDUCAUSE, serves as a good parallel here. I presume the working group studied this case.

4. nmsgg3 - March 09, 2010 at 12:20 pm

There are a few reasons that I do not believe a merger would be beneficial. As someone who attended that last joint conference between NASAP and ACPA, it was overwhelming. To have that be the conference every year, would not only make it difficult to find locations that would accommodate that large of a conference, but be incredibly overwhelming for those new to the profession. Having one organization would also significantly cut the number of conferences to submit presentations to and journals to submit papers to, because there is no way a merged organization would keep all of them. Honestly, I like the options that having two large organizations present.

5. zbtexp1 - March 09, 2010 at 04:23 pm

I think this article does not do justice to the thoughtful manner in which both organizations are considering their options.

While one option would be to create a single, monstrous annual conference, the groups are considering how a merger would allow for a a creative re-examination of both groups' conference traditions. One option they are considering is having several more regionally-based conferences. With fewer institutional dollars for cross-country plane trips, such a change could allow for increased participation even when resources are scarce.

One model to look at is the American Psychological Association. In addition to being it's own major organization, it serves as an umbrella to several dozen field-specific associations, each with their own conferences, journals and membership benefits. In some cases, a member's primary affiliation is with APA as a whole and in other cases that affiliation is with one or more of the sub-groups. A similar model could work well between a combined association and the several function-specific associations in which many of ACPA's and NASPA's members are involved.

6. mfulford - March 09, 2010 at 11:57 pm

The question I pose is whether or not a conference makes an association. The comments here and in other places has surrounded the conference and how big it would be. Making an historical change like this one also means leaving parts of our history behind. Coming together allows us the OPPORTUNITY to step back and look at our professional development in a different way. It gives us an OPPORTUNITY to focus on what an association should be doing to help its members develop in their chosen profession. Having us all at the table can create an OPPORTUNITY to really progress in areas like certification, competencies, and establishing a new view of this profession. Since 9/11 our profession as become so reactionary. We have not stopped to reflect on how the current climate in higher education is impacting the quality of life of people in our profession. Our guiding professional association should be leading the way and setting the tone for how Senior Leadership works with students and treats the people who work for them. We have been talking a very big game and we do it well at our conventions. However, we still return to our campuses and face a world that doesn't quite understand what we do. I can't blame the faculty and other offices for their confusion. We struggle with articulating who we are and what we do because we can't agree on common language. I attended a session at ACPA as a grad student on a department changing its title and descriptions from Student Affairs to Student Success. So my question was, does this mean we should all now be student success professionals? If we want to look at a profession as a model for unifying, I recommend the AICPA. Once they unified and codified their profession into a common language and promoted it that way, they became the keepers of the language of business. Why is it that we are afraid to share, prove, and argue with colleagues on our campus and across the country that we ARE the keepers of language of college student development? I would say it's because we aren't sure if the leg we're standing on (NASPA vs. ACPA vs. other functional area associations) is the right one. If we can't get this one right, we will just continue to be sitting at the children's table fighting over our own little table instead of sitting at the adult table making real change.

7. unidentified - March 12, 2010 at 11:05 am

I find it very interesting that this article states that finances are not an issue in this merger. NASPA not only has laid off staff in the past year, its employees have had to take involuntary furlough days.

8. zdaver - March 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I agree with this merger. I used to work for NASPA, but now find myself more in the higher education policy world of Washington, DC and I better understand all of the politics. I am always trying to bring student affairs into the higher education world because I strongly believe that learning occurs inside and outside the classroom, but I find it extremely challenging when there are two associations. Which one do I invite to be part of a grant application, which one do I ask for feedback, which one do I invite to be a part of a meeting. I can't always go to both. If I pick one or the other what message is that sending? Am I favoring one or the other?

I find myself often trying to explain why there are two groups to the other higher education association professionals, but I don't really have a good reason to give them. When resources are scare and equal representation is important in the DC policy world, it really makes it hard to pull in student affairs. I agree with Greg Roberts in that having one group would give the field a much stronger voice in DC, and nationally, in policy and in understanding what student affairs professionals contribute to student learning. I think one association could really elevate the importance of what the field does and contributes to the education of college students.

I would also like to say that I am greatly disappointed by the professionals that claim one association is better or stronger than another. Both associations have their strengths and weaknesses, but one is not better than the other, they are just different. I find it somewhat disturbing that in a field that educates students to be better citizens - to learn to collaborate and respect differences - that some professionals are not modeling this same behavior when it comes to this issue. What message are you sending to your students? Yes, you should speak up and share your views, and add comments that help people think more critically about the issue and make the decision that is best for the entire field, but don't put down one of the associations in the process.

In the end, I hope that when it comes time to voting within the memberships, that members vote based on what is best for the entire field and not one what is just best for them.

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