Principles of Good Practice for Student Affairs

  • Engages students in active learning.
  • Helps students develop coherent values and ethical standards.
  • Sets and communicates high expectations for student learning.
  • Uses systematic inquiry to improve student and institutional performance.
  • Uses resources effectively to achieve institutional missions and goals.
  • Forges educational partnerships that advance student learning.
  • Builds supportive and inclusive communities.


Today's context for higher education presents student affairs with many challenges. Among these are new technologies, changing student demographics, demands for greater accountability, concern about the increasing cost of higher education, and criticism of the moral and ethical climate on campuses. Institutions of higher learning are also influenced by social and political issues, including multiculturalism, personal responsibility, and equal opportunity. Our response to these challenges will shape our role in higher education. The choice of student affairs educators is simple: We can pursue a course that engages us in the central mission of our institutions or retreat to the margins in the hope that we will avoid the inconvenience of change.

Others in higher education have recognized these challenges and have responded with calls to concentrate "on the core function of the enterprise, that is, focusing on student learning" (Wingspread Group, 1993). Focusing on learning rather than instruction is a fundamental shift in perspective. If the purpose of education is learning, then institutional effectiveness should be measured by specific educational benefits and outcomes rather than by the number of computers, books, faculty, or the size of endowments.

Creating learning environments and learning experiences for students has always been at the heart of student affairs work. The Student Learning Imperative (American College Personnel Association, 1994) asked us to embrace the current challenges as an opportunity to affirm our commitment to student learning and development. As a first step in that direction, the Student Learning Imperative articulated the need for an emphasis on student learning and the value of student affairs educators working collaboratively with students, faculty, academic administrators, and others. The next step is identifying practices that will move our profession forward in its focus on learning and guide us in meeting the challenges with which we are confronted. For this purpose, we have identified principles to guide the daily practice of student affairs work.

Defining Principles of Good Practice for Student Affairs

In 1986 in the wake of reports critical of undergraduate education, the Lilly Endowment and the Johnson Foundation sponsored an effort by higher education leaders to identify the most effective approaches to educating undergraduates. From this discussion, Chickering and Gamson (1987) developed seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education: (1) student-faculty contact, (2) cooperation among students, (3) active learning, (4) prompt feedback, (5) time on task, (6) high expectations, and (7) respect for diverse talents and ways of learning. These principles established a concise statement of behaviors associated with high quality undergraduate education that practitioners, scholars, and the general public could understand and use.

Student affairs lacks a comparable statement of good practice. If we are to collaborate with others in higher education to advance student learning, we need clear and concise guidelines for how to proceed. This document -- Principles of Good Practice for Student Affairs -- is intended to provide those guidelines. Some of the principles identified for good student affairs practice are similar to those proposed by Chickering and Gamson (1987). The two sets of principles share a commitment to student learning, but the primary audiences for each document and the scope of learning activities addressed are different.

Contexts of Student Affairs Practice

Student Affairs Commitments and Values

To be meaningful, principles of good practice for student affairs should be consistent with our core values which have been documented throughout the literature of the profession. Since 1937 when the American Council on Education published the first Student Personnel Point of View, our field has produced many documents about student affairs work. These works span seven decades, examining student affairs from different perspectives and for different purposes. They demonstrate our long-standing belief that higher education has a responsibility to develop citizens capable of contributing to the betterment of society. These documents affirm our conviction that higher education has a duty to help students reach their full potential.

Our beliefs about higher education serve as the foundation for our commitment to the development of "the whole person"; our collective professional values are derived from that commitment. Values evident across the history of student affairs work include an acceptance and appreciation of individual differences; lifelong learning; education for effective citizenship; student responsibility; ongoing assessment of learning and performance (students' and our own); pluralism and multiculturalism; ethical and reflective student affairs practice; supporting and meeting the needs of students as individuals and in groups; and freedom of expression with civility. Any statement of principles of good practice for student affairs must be consistent with our profession's values and must help us meet our founding commitments.

The Importance of Context

Our history also reminds us that good student affairs practice must be considered within the context of issues that influence higher education and its missions. Societal concerns and needs, economic conditions, and external political agendas shape the parameters for student affairs work. These conditions emphasize the need for our practices to be informed by research and writing not only about teaching and learning but also concerning the most pressing issues confronting our students and their families.

Institutional contexts influence how principles for good practice are applied. Such contexts within higher education include institutional missions, expectations, and student demographics. In realizing institutional goals, each student affairs division is responsible for managing its resources effectively in support of its institution's mission. This document provides a framework to aid student affairs in meeting these challenges without sacrificing the individuality of their institutions.

Using the Principles

The Principles of Good Practice are not immutable rules, nor do we offer specific instructions for their use at particular institutions. The principles are means to conducting learning-oriented student affairs work, based on extensive research about the impact of college on educational outcomes. As such, they offer unambiguous, yet adaptable, guidelines for productive use of resources for learning.

The principles were written to be incorporated into everyday tasks and interactions with students, faculty, academic administrators, and others. They are intended to shape how we think about our responsibilities, communicate our purposes to others, and engage students. Using the principles as a one-time topic for staff orientation or setting them aside until a crisis occurs for which they might be useful serves little purpose. Rather, the principles should create a continual context for examining and implementing student affairs missions, policies, and programs. They should provide both a guide for assessing the contribution of student affairs to student learning outcomes and a curriculum for ongoing in-service education.

Principles of Good Practice

  1. Good practice in student affairs engages students in active learning.

    Active learning invites students to bring their life experiences into the learning process, reflect on their own and others' perspectives as they expand their viewpoints, and apply new understandings to their own lives. Good student affairs practice provides students with opportunities for experimentation through programs focused on engaging students in various learning experiences. These opportunities include experiential learning such as student government; collective decision making on educational issues; field-based learning such as internships; peer instruction; and structured group experiences such as community service, international study, and resident advising.

  2. Good practice in student affairs helps students develop coherent values and ethical standards.

    Good student affairs practice provides opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and student affairs educators to demonstrate the values that define a learning community. Effective learning communities are committed to justice, honesty, equality, civility, freedom, dignity, and responsible citizenship. Such communities challenge students to develop meaningful values for a life of learning. Standards espoused by student affairs divisions should reflect the values that bind the campus community to its educational mission.

  3. Good practice in student affairs sets and communicates high expectations for learning.

    Student learning is enhanced when expectations for student performance inside and outside the classroom are high, appropriate to students' abilities and aspirations, and consistent with the institution's mission and philosophy. Expectations should address the wide range of student behaviors associated with academic achievement, intellectual and psychosocial development, and individual and community responsibility. Good student affairs divisions systematically describe desired levels of performance to students as well as to practitioners and regularly assess whether their performances are consistent with institutional expectations.

  4. Good practice in student affairs uses systematic inquiry to improve student and institutional performance.

    Good practice in student affairs occurs when student affairs educators ask, "What are students learning from our programs and services, and how can their learning be enhanced?" Knowledge of and ability to analyze research about students and their learning are critical components of good student affairs practice. Student affairs educators who are skilled in using assessment methods acquire high-quality information; effective application of this information to practice results in programs and change strategies which improve institutional and student achievement.

  5. Good practice in student affairs uses resources effectively to achieve institutional missions and goals.

    Effective student affairs divisions are responsible stewards of their institutions' financial and human resources. They use principles of organizational planning to create and improve learning environments throughout the campus that emphasize institutions' desired educational outcomes for students. Because the most important resources for learning are human resources, good student affairs divisions involve professionals who can translate into practice guiding theories and research from areas such as human development, learning and cognition, communication, leadership, and program design and implementation.

  6. Good practice in student affairs forges educational partnerships that advance student learning.

    Good student affairs practice initiates educational partnerships and develops structures that support collaboration. Partners for learning include students, faculty, academic administrators, staff, and others inside and outside the institution. Collaboration involves all aspects of the community in the development and implementation of institutional goals and reminds participants of their common commitment to students and their learning. Relationships forged across departments and divisions demonstrate a healthy institutional approach to learning by fostering inclusiveness, bringing multiple perspectives to bear on problems, and affirming shared educational values.

  7. Good practice in student affairs builds supportive and inclusive communities.

    Student learning occurs best in communities that value diversity, promote social responsibility, encourage discussion and debate, recognize accomplishments, and foster a sense of belonging among their members. Good student affairs practice cultivates supportive environments by encouraging connections between students, faculty, and student affairs practitioners. This interweaving of students' academic, interpersonal, and developmental experiences is a critical institutional role for student affairs.

Concluding Thoughts

The Principles of Good Practice for Student Affairs is intended to guide student affairs practice. The principles are grounded in the research on college students, experiences with effective educational institutions, and the historical commitment of student affairs to students and their learning. Ongoing discussions and research on the principles will further develop our understanding of good practice in student affairs. These principles should not limit or restrain other proven means to enrich the education of students. They are intended not as an end in themselves, but as a means to our common goal: achieving the educational missions of our institutions by focusing on student learning.


American College Personnel Association. (1994). The student learning imperative: Implications for student affairs. Alexandria, VA: Author.

American Council on Education. (1937). The student personnel point of view: A report of a conference on the philosophy and development of student personnel work in colleges and universities (American Council on Education Study, Series 1, Vol. 1, No. 3). Washington, DC: Author.

Chickering, A.W., & Gamson, Z.F. (1987, June). Principles for good practice in undergraduate education [Special insert to The Wingspread Journal, June 1987]. Racine, WI: Johnson Foundation.

Wingspread Group on Higher Education. (1993). An American imperative: Higher expectations for higher education. Racine, WI: The Johnson Foundation.


In 1996 Paul Oliaro, President of the American College Personnel Association (ACPA), and Suzanne Gordon, President of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), initiated a joint association effort to draft Principles of Good Practice for Student Affairs. This final document is the result of the efforts of two groups of dedicated professionals, who developed the core content of the document, and numerous professional colleagues from around the country who aided in the revision and fine tuning of their work.

Principles of Good Practice Study Group Members:

  • Greg Blimling, Co-Chair Appalachian State University
  • Elizabeth Whitt, Co-Chair University of Iowa
  • Marcia Baxter-Magolda Miami University
  • Arthur Chickering Vermont College, Norwich University
  • Johnetta Cross-Brazzell Spelman College
  • Jon Dalton Florida State University
  • Zelda Gamson University of Massachusetts
  • George Kuh Indiana University
  • Ernest Pascarella University of Iowa
  • Linda Reisser Suffolk County Community College
  • Larry Roper Oregon State University
  • Charles Schroeder University of Missouri-Columbia

The inventory team that developed the Inventories included the following:

  • Paul Oliaro
    ACPA President 1996-97
    West Chester University-Pennsylvania
  • Suzanne Gordon
    NASPA President 1996-97
    University of Arkansas-Fayetteville
  • Louis M. Barsi
    NASPA Consultant
  • Susan Salvador
    Monroe Community College (NY)
  • Gregory Roberts
    University of St. Thomas (MN)
  • Karl Beeler
    University of Missouri-St. Louis

We also want to acknowledge previous work on inventories created by Arthur Chickering, Zelda Gamson, and Louis M. Barsi, developed in conjunction with their document, Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, 1987.