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.
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.