Enhancing Student Learning:
A Strategic Plan for the Division of Student Affairs
I. Fostering an Intellectually Centered Student Culture
II. Preserving and Advancing the Unique USC Student Experience
III. Inventing the Future of Student Services
IV. Promoting Local and Global Citizenship
V. Creating a Culture of Evidence
Strategic Planning Project Teams Proposals:
I. The Renaissance Challenge
III. The Freshman 15
IV. Transfer and Commuter Student Resource Center
The Central Mission of the University of Southern California is the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.
Student Affairs is devoted to creating an integrated learning experience that helps students reach their educational, personal, and professional aspirations. We help create a campus community where students are prepared to contribute to a changing world.
To do this we:
- Provide leadership and support for university-wide student affairs programs;
- Support students in their development: intellectual, moral, ethical, social, cultural emotional and physical;
- Challenge students to create a diverse community of mutual respect through cultural exploration and social interaction;
- Promote the common good while listening to the individual voice, encouraging independent thought and interdependent actions;
- Motivate students to contribute as leaders, team members, professionals, and world citizens through experiential learning opportunities;
- Utilize Los Angeles and Southern California as an educational environment where learning has no boundaries;
- Create local and global connections: academic, professional and personal;
- Design the future of student support services.
Over the past two years, The Division of Student Affairs has engaged in a process of self assessment and reflection. This process has laid the foundation for the development of the Student Affairs strategic plan. This plan is designed to align our work closely with the University’s vision for the future. That vision has the University’s future resting on three pillars:
- Meeting Societal Needs;
- Expanding Global Presence; and,
- Promoting Learner-Centered Education.
The University’s new plan, USC’s Plan for Excellence: Building Strategic Capabilities for the University of the 21st Century, states that to realize the vision of the future we must reinforce our core values though an emphasis on following four strategic capabilities:
- Span Disciplinary and school boundaries to focus on problems of societal significance
- Link fundamental to applied research
- Build networks of partnerships
- Increase responsiveness to learners
The Division of Student Affairs will play an integral role in reinforcing the core values of the university. The Division’s plan emphasizes student learning as the primary outcome of our work. It also stresses the importance of assessment and planning being conducted simultaneously. The necessity of continuing and strengthening our partnerships with faculty, academic departments, alumni, community members, parents and students both graduate and undergraduate is of critical importance in realizing our strategic plan as a division.
The Student Affairs plan sets forth five strategic initiatives/principles that will guide our work for the next several years. They are:
- Fostering an Intellectually Centered Student Culture — Providing students with opportunities for meaningful intellectual interactions.
- Preserving and Advancing the Unique USC Student Experience — Maintaining and advancing the unique USC student experience (leadership; community; traditions; spirit; social interaction) through the strategic investment of fiscal and human resources in facilities, staff and assessment.
- Inventing the Future of Student Services — Maintaining the Division of Student Affairs’ commitment to deliver and coordinate excellent student services across the institution and to take a leadership role in the coordination of student services to meet the needs of diverse learners in a technologically sophisticated academic environment.
- Promoting Local and Global Citizenship — Challenging students to be active in, and make contributions to, their local communities and to the world beyond in ways that make a positive impact on their neighborhoods and on the world-at-large. Modeling for our students behaviors and conversations that support the spirit of this strategic initiative.
- Creating a Culture of Evidence — With an eye toward continued improvement of our work and to contribute to the university’s body of knowledge about student learning/experiences, we must learn to base the strategically-important decisions we make as Student Affairs professionals on verifiable evidence.
Intellectual engagement is a core value of a university educational experience. Research indicates that student-faculty interaction is strongly related to a number of important educational outcomes, including intellectual engagement, and that student faculty interaction outside of the classroom is of critical importance in achieving intellectual engagement. Given the Division’s role and purview for facilitating student learning and experiences outside-of-the classroom, more explicit focus on intellectual engagement in co-curricular programs and activities will enable USC as an institution to realize our maximum potential for enhancing the total learning environment for USC students.
The Student Affairs Division already contributes to creating intellectually centered experiences for students by partnerships with faculty (e.g., Academic Culture Initiative; residential college and resident faculty programs; faculty mentoring programs, etc.), and by sponsoring activities (honor societies; academic recognition programs; Spectrum series, etc.) which keep intellectual and academic achievement as our central focus.
Our objective is to increase the intellectual component of student life through their co-curricular experiences. Special attention will be given to enhance interaction with faculty outside of the classroom for Graduate and Professional students also while strengthening the overall intellectual experience for undergraduates. Current programs and activities will be reviewed for potential faculty participation and partnership, as well as for introduction of more explicit intellectual and academic content and learning outcomes. New programs will be explored as resources permit and core functions make relevant. All our programs and activities will be assessed for effective learning outcomes related to intellectual development.
a. Specific Learning and Other Outcomes for Students:
- become active learners by engaging in student affairs sponsored activities;
- develop the habit of learning and both the desires and skills to sustain and direct their lifetime learning;
- learn to reflect on their experience and to analyze that experience intellectually.
b. Sample Activities1 :
- Increasing our investment in student-faculty interaction programs.
- Expanding partnerships with academic units in support of enhancing the intellectual focus of various Student Affairs programs.
Every institution has its unique culture its students and faculty; bricks and mortar; traditions; and “just the way we do things here” perspective — which in sum total makes University X different from University Y. “Institutional culture shapes, and is shaped by, the ongoing interactions of people on and off campus; is reflected in interactions among history, traditions, organizational structures, and the behavior of current students, faculty, and staff; and is revealed through espoused and enacted values and the core beliefs and assumptions shared by institutional leaders, faculty, students, and other constituencies, such as alumni and parents.” (Kuh and Whitt, 1988)2.
USC’s particular culture is characterized by its engaged student body; urban location; proximity to the Pacific Rim; large international student community; diversity; alumni loyalty; and the esprit de corps of the Trojan Family. As a Division, we are committed to providing all students, both graduate and undergraduate, a positive and distinctive experience through reinforcing USC’s core values of free inquiry; caring and respect for individuals; appreciation of diversity; team spirit; strong alumni networks, and a commitment to service. These values define “what is USC” and provide a sense of cohesiveness, between current students, alumni and parents — connecting us to our past and to our future — one of the important elements of the University’s Plan of Excellence.
As USC continues to increase its profile as one of the most prominent universities, key to our ability to continue to attract the best and the brightest students is to preserve and advance the unique USC experience. To achieve this goal, we will encourage and expand student participation and exploration in the arts, in university leadership experiences; maintain, celebrate, and create the spirit and form of university traditions that are the hallmark of USC; enhance social and recreational opportunities, particularly those that maximize student health and safety; and ensure that all members of our wonderfully diverse student body and their significant others feel a part of the Trojan Family.
We also believe that critical to achieving our goal of preserving and advancing the USC student experience is that USC students be part of a community rooted in interpersonal relationships, supported by quality facilities, advised and supported by educated staff who are informed in best practices, marked by programs that are regularly assessed to assure that students receive a quality experience.
a. Specific Learning and Other Outcomes for Students:
- develop and hone critical skills (communication; leadership; group dynamics; critical thinking) through student involvement and peer leadership opportunities.
- develop a greater respect for and commitment to community.
- develop practical competence and make effective choices regarding personal health and wellness management.
- increase their loyalty and commitment to USC as an institution and report greater levels of satisfaction with their USC experience.
b. Sample Activities:
- Increasing investment in programs and facilities that foster student community, health and wellness (e.g., new campus center; new health center; refurbished rec center).
- Enhancing ongoing orientation (broadly defined) programs for students at each class level to enhance student involvement in university activities and connection to the Trojan Family.
- Facilitating increased student participation in various aspects of campus life (clubs and organizations; athletic events and recreation; various student affairs and campus programs).
- Promoting intentional collaboration between offices and departments to provide parents and families with information, resources, and services to facilitate student success.
In discussing the strategic capacity on “increasing responsiveness to learners,” the university’s strategic plan recognizes the role and importance of responsible and flexible student services at learner-centered institutions. Efficient and high quality student services, from streamlined registration processes to effective student health care delivery, are important in creating a successful learning environment. The Division of Student Affairs plays a significant role in the delivery of these services.
Our grand challenge is to invent the future of student services through the effective use of technology, while also maintaining the personal touch which currently characterizes our work. Division-wide responsiveness to the diverse and dynamic needs of students and parents is a determining factor in our ability to meet this challenge. In addition, effective coordination and collaboration with campus colleagues are crucial in this regard.
a. Specific Outcomes for Students:
- have access to timely and accurate information about campus policies, administrative procedures, and student support resources.
- be able to monitor their own academic progress and personal development, and as a result encounter fewer administrative obstacles that hinder progress towards degree completion.
- report greater levels of satisfaction with the quality of student services and the impact of these services on their overall university experience.
- be encouraged to seek appropriate assistance when they have encountered difficulty.
b. Sample Initiatives:
- Increase our investment in programs and services that encourage student involvement in their educational plan such as the myUSC portal and OASIS.
- enhance services that support students in their transition to the university.
- partner with academic and other campus departments to support and encourage interdisciplinary educational activities.
- increase responsiveness to students enrolled at the Health Sciences Campuses, the Orange County Center, distance learning sites, and the University’s various remote locations.
Citizens of the world are becoming increasingly interdependent and cross cultural. For students to function in this “world community”, the university must promote responsible and ethical local and global citizenship. The Division of Student Affairs is uniquely positioned to achieve this objective because of its oversight responsibilities for residential education; student organizations and leadership programs; volunteer and public service; international student programs; ethnic and cultural centers; and other programs that bring diverse groups of students together.
Our goal is to infuse the campus culture with an understanding of our place and purpose as a university and campus community in a conflicted yet interdependent world. Students will engage each other in meaningful discussions and activities designed to combat self-centeredness and complacency. A key aspect of this goal requires that students continually engage in ethical behaviors and develop emotional competencies that lead to good decision-making.
a. Specific Learning and Other Outcomes for Students:
- expand their personal frame of reference to include different perspectives, values, and cultures
- develop an understanding of their roles and responsibilities in the global society
- enhance their ability to interact effectively with individuals from different cultures
- contribute to an ethical environment in which mutual respect and tolerance are nurtured.
b. Sample Initiatives:
- Supporting and enhancing ethnic and cultural centers and the
Office of International Services, and develop additional programs to increase diverse student interaction and awareness of diversity issues.
- Further developing programs on campus through which students can capitalize on USC’s large numbers of international students as well as on the myriad local cultures in Los Angeles.
- Creating a campus climate of volunteering in the community that capitalizes on established partnerships and university programs (such as Friends and Neighbors Day & Alternative Spring Break).
- Supporting and encouraging participation in the National Student Exchange and the Study Abroad programs.
- Increasing breadth and depth of student involvement in co-curricular programs and activities and promoting diverse involvement in student leadership roles.
- Involving students in programs and activities that challenge them to think, act, and lead ethically (e.g. lectureship on ethics and values; social issues debates for freshmen students).
Basing strategically-important decisions on verifiable evidence requires that such evidence be collected in a systematic manner. The development of a comprehensive program of assessment (a ‘Culture of Assessment’) is a necessary prerequisite to the establishment of a ‘Culture of Evidence’. Developing a Division-wide program of assessment will provide:
- Essential feedback for our strategic plan, ensuring that, at any point in time, we are doing the best we can with the resources available to us to achieve our objectives.
- Clear evidence for the value of Student Affairs as pertains to the academic mission of the university.
- A link to the new WASC Standards of Accreditation which requires institutions to create “an understandable and coherent plan for assessing the attainment of educational objectives.”
a. Specific benefits for students:
- To the extent that Student Affairs programs and services are continually revised to enhance learning, students’ capacity to learn will be increased.
- Our continuous assessment of student services will enhance students’ ability to achieve important outcomes:
- Student retention and graduation
- Satisfaction with their university experiences
- Increased likelihood that students become active members of the Trojan Network after graduation
b. Specific benefits for the Division of Student Affairs (Bresciani et al., 2004):3
- Reinforces and emphasizes our mission
- Helps us improve our programs (formative evaluation) and estimate their value (summative evaluation)
- Assists in the request for additional funds from the University and external community
- Assists in meeting accreditation requirements, models of best practices, and national benchmarks
- Helps us celebrate successes
- Helps us reflect on the attitudes and approach we take in improving teaching and learning
c. Specific benefits for the University:
- Helps to ensure that USC offers the highest quality co-curricular student experience
- Helps to establish USC as experts on student experiences and student learning outcomes in student affairs
d. Assessment Plan:
- Initially focus on gathering information related to the first three strategic initiatives:
- Eventually include all components of a comprehensive Student Affairs assessment plan (Upcraft & Schuh, 19964 ; see Appendix X1).
- Be based on principles of good practice in assessment
(Upcraft & Schuh, 19963; Astin et al, 19935 ; see Appendix X2).
e. Sample Activities:
- Mini-divisional retreat on assessment
- Formation of a Division-wide assessment committee with at least one representative from each major office
- Development of an initial outcomes-focused assessment plan for each unit
- Development of a common format for sharing assessment results and the collection of existing assessment data from each unit in this format
1Each section provides a list of sample activities to meet the learning outcomes for each strategic initiative. These activities are provided as examples only and not as limitations to the ideas that may be generated through our strategic planning discussions.
2Kuh, G. and Whitt, E. (1988). The Invisible Tapestry: Culture In American Colleges and Universities. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1. Washington, D.C.: Association or the Study of Higher Education. p. iv
5Astin, Trudy W. Banta, K. Patricia Cross, Elaine El-Khawas, Peter T. Ewell, Pat Hutchings, Theodore J. Marchese, Kay M. McClenney, Marcia Mentkowski, Margaret A. Miller, E. Thomas Moran, and Barbara D. Wright (1993). Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning.