Eric Stoller's blog

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Higher Education Administration Q’s/A’s

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Lately, I have received several emails asking me about my experiences as a higher education administrator and regarding my experiences as someone who has graduated from a college student services administration graduate program. I decided to attempt to answer all of them in a giant college student services / higher education administrator, question/answer blog post. The questions were sent to me via email, Twitter and Facebook. I’ve taken out the identifying bits of info and hopefully, some of my answers will be useful to folks who are thinking about working in higher education or pursuing a graduate degree in higher education administration / college student services…

What are you doing now that you’re done with your master’s degree?
I’m currently working at Oregon State University’s College of Health and Human Sciences as an Academic Advisor & Web Coordinator. I advise students majoring in exercise & sport science, nutrition, and human development & family sciences. I also advise pre-medical students in the college.

Is the CSSA program really as awesome as it sounds?
CSSA at Oregon State University was a great fit for me. Accredited graduate programs all have their ups and downs. I moved from Chicago, IL to Corvallis, OR. It was a massive transition, but the faculty, my CSSA cohort, my assistantship experience, and the overall climate of the university made for an enjoyable experience.

Working on a campus with passionate students is a dream, I’m trying to figure out what the catch is :)
I think the only “catch” is that you will end up explaining what it is that you do to your parents over and over again. Higher education administration is the most rewarding and fulfilling career experience that I’ve ever had. Each day, I get to be a part of someone’s successes as they navigate through their higher education experience. Advising, teaching, supporting, mentoring, listening, etc. it’s all part of what I get to do on a daily basis.

I went to college at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. It’s an interesting city with a lot of personality, so I’d have to say that my standards for college towns are pretty high. What is the city of Corvallis like? What makes this city so unique? What’s appealing to someone who likes the draw of local businesses, proximity to wilderness, and a great sense of a community?
I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, IA. I loved it. Corvallis is definitely a college town. It gets a lot of press for being safe, environmentally conscientious, and bike friendly. Corvallis is not perfect though.

What sets Oregon State U. apart from other colleges?
Oregon State University has a lovely campus aesthetic. It’s a beautiful place. Orange is a bit overused though! Athletics are definitely a large part of the dominant OSU campus culture.

I know the school is a large university. How does having such a large student body affect you? What can a graduate student from a moderately-sized university expect?
Oregon State University may have 20,000 students, but each CSSA cohort only has about 20 students in it. My cohort was my family during my graduate experience.

I believe I was successful in school because I could approach the instructors and staff that I needed without feeling intimidated. How do you feel the lines of communication are between students and staff/faculty at OSU?
Most (99%) of the faculty/staff that I interacted with during my graduate program were very approachable. I never felt that they were unapproachable.

What makes the OSU CSSA program top-notch?
I’m not really big into hierarchy-based questions…it’s more about fit. An Ed.M. or M.S. from a college student services program will give you the basic structures/theories/concepts no matter where you go. For me it was all about the campus environment, the cohort-system, the assistantship and feeling welcomed. That’s what made OSU’s CSSA program top-notch for me.

What is the advantage of a cohort-style program, vs. non-cohort programs?
I relied on my cohort for a lot of support. Personally, professionally, and academically, my cohort provided a tremendous advantage to my overall graduate success.

What’s the advantage of studying in Corvallis, vs. more urban school settings? (ex: Seattle, WA)
It’s unbelievably quiet in Corvallis… There definitely aren’t as many “distractions” – concerts, museums, events, etc. I missed all of the variety of things that I could do in Chicago during my grad program, but I also saved money and was able to focus on my studies.

What kind of financial aid (other than student loans) is available to out-of-state CSSA students? In other words, how do I make an out-of-state program affordable?
The only reason that I was able to afford to move from Chicago to Corvallis was because of my graduate assistantship. My assistantship provided me with a full tuition waiver, insurance, and a monthly stipend (paycheck). The tuition waiver with an assistantship makes out of state tuition a moot point. All you would have to pay for would be fees, books, rent, food, etc.

How is housing in Corvallis in terms of pricing and quality?
Housing in Corvallis is a sore subject for me. There are a lot of rental properties. Unfortunately, the number of dumpy rentals outnumbers the limited number of nice places for rent.

What kind of internships are available to a CSSA student in the area?
Internships = Assistantships? There are a lot of assistantships for CSSA students.

What is the courseload like in the CSSA program?
Here’s a list of the courses that I took while in the CSSA program and a general list of courses from the CSSA program website. If you have a .49 fte assistantship (about 20 hours per week), you are required to take 12 credits per term.

Would I have reasonable time to pursue recreational sports on my own time?
Absolutely. Intramural sports, anything at the Dixon Recreation Center, hiking / biking around Corvallis, ultimate frisbee, there are tons of recreational options.

What are the differences in graduate work vs. undergraduate?
I think the biggest difference for me, from undergrad to grad, was the amount of reading and writing. Graduate work was definitely more rigorous than my undergraduate experiences. I also found that my public relations writing style didn’t exactly translate well to a more academic/scholarly style of writing. 4 years passed between my undergraduate and graduate experiences. I think that some of my scholarly muscles had atrophied. The first term of CSSA is definitely a lot of work.

Is the economic downturn affecting the program at all, in terms of budget cuts or the like?
That’s a great question. I would contact the CSSA program for the answer. My perception is that there are still a number of assistantships offered by a lot of departments.

I’m currently looking into switching jobs into an entry-level position in higher education. Right now, I work in the corporate office for a major retailer. OSU’s program requires one year of work in higher ed. or a closely-related field. My undergraduate track record is very good, showcasing great academic scores and involvement in student activites, among other things. What would you say my chances are of being admitted if worse comes to worse, I stay in my business administration support role?
The first step for getting into CSSA is how you look on paper. Do you have the necessary qualifications to land an interview for the program? Once you get the chance to interview, it’s up to you to make an impression. It’s basically just like a job interview.

What sorts of positions do CSSA alumni hold? What kind of job can a recent graduate of the CSSA program reasonably expect to hold?
CSSA alums are working in all sorts of higher education positions. Some of us are in Student Affairs while others are in Academic Affairs. Positions include: academic advising, student conduct, new student programs, multicultural affairs, student involvement / activities, residence life, financial aid, admissions, etc.

My bright-eyed plan is to get a job at a university in OR or WA that offers a graduate program with specialization in the [higher education administration]. Ideally, I could work here while pursuing a master’s at a fraction of the cost. My question is…how far off am I? Is there a more realistic plan you could share?
I would encourage you to look at the path that I took. Full time grad student with a .49 fte assistantship. I was able to pay the bills while completing my degree in 2 years. I didn’t have to pay tuition and I received about $1300 per month.

I know about NASPA, I also know I just missed the deadline to make it out to Seattle for the Placement Exchange/Annual Conference. Would this have been the best thing for me considering I am brand new to the industry? (Please say no please say no ahhaa) Should I join and network through the association online?
I would definitely encourage you to join the higher education association that fits your career choices. I have been a member of NASPA and ACPA for quite a while. I’ve recently been very involved with NACADA. It’s okay that you didn’t go the NASPA National Conference’s Placement Exchange :-) The majority of jobs at the placement exchange are for recent CSSA-type graduates who are looking for work in residence life. The variety, imho, is definitely lacking at that event.

I am determined to head in this new direction but am fearful I will have to relocate (first) in order to land a job (as opposed to applying and conducting phone interviews from out of state). Any advice here? I know this one is a little wishy washy.
I applied for the CSSA program at OSU and conducted my interview for the program via phone in my Chicago office :-) The CSSA program has an all day interview event called “campus days” that occurs each year. Selected students are invited to come to OSU for an on-campus interview. It’s okay to search for a full time position and then go to school part time. It just worked out best for me to go to school full time while utilizing the awesome benefits of my graduate assistantship.

I am so excited at the prospect of having found an alternative career path that will allow me to shine and plays to my strengths, that suits my personality. I am reveling in this turning point as I have been feeling like there’s just something missing and I think that something is a cause, something that makes me feel proud. Now I just need to move forward with it and any and all help is much appreciated!
My undergraduate degree is in communications / public relations with a minor in marketing. I think that most people do not dream of being a higher education administrator when they are an undergrad.

I hope this helped to answer some of the questions that people sent in to me…if you have further questions, please feel free to post them in the comments section of this post. Cheers!

  • http://www.theallygroup.org Brian C. Steinberg

    UNI has a great CSD MA Program and Student Affairs Division.

  • Joanna Means

    Love it, Eric! CSSA was a great fit for me, too. The nine competencies around which each student designs their program was a major factor for me in choosing CSSA and OSU.

    One thing I’d add: internships (also called “practica” for some of you earlier grads of the program) are in plentiful supply on campus at OSU and at nearby institutions and local service agencies. I did three internships: coordinating weekend classes and the summer conference for Saturday Academy; teaching Career Decision-Making for Academic Learning Services (twice); and designing and facilitating workshops around issues of difference, diversity, and power structures in the U.S. with Team Liberation. If I’d had time, there were another three internships I really wanted to do, but with an assistantship, full class load, and trying to keep some life balance, I decided to focus on choosing a few experiences to fully pursue. I know others interned in areas including the Women’s Center, Greek Life, Multicultural Affairs, academic advising, Linn-Benton Community College, other colleges in the Willamette Valley, athletic advising, leadership development programs, student activities, student health and wellness, and much more!

  • http://www.thechronicleof.com Jillian Reading

    Great post Eric!

    Spreading the word about careers in higher education is one of my goals as well. It’s often overlooked by students…I agree that its an incredibly rewarding gig (I won’t even call it a job…) and that being a part of students lives makes everyday fun.

  • http://clipsandchips.blogspot.com/ J. Clarence

    OSU is actually one of the school I decided I would apply when I picked my schools last year. Hopefully if and when I get in I could also get an assistantships in residence life. That gig looks really nice for a grad assistantships.

    I wholeheartedly agree, higher ed. is an amazing career path. Working as an RD now and getting to see the flip side of things have show me new joys (and vices) to the career, but I still love it. As I rack up the practical knowledge working full time now, I hope to gain more of the philosophical information in a grad program.

    Great post!

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