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Making Sense of Multiple Sets of Competencies within Student Affairs

Region IV-W
January 8, 2020 Dr. Brett Bruner Fort Hays State University

Professional competencies are the skills, knowledge, and attributes that are specifically valued by the professional associations, organizations, and bodies connected to your career. Every career has certain knowledge, skills, and abilities that are required to do accomplish the job. Some of these skills are task-oriented while others may be more personality-based, such as energy, attitude, integrity, etc.

Competencies serve a variety of purposes. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, competencies ensure that your team members demonstrate sufficient expertise, allow you to recruit and select new staff members more effectively, assist you in evaluating performance more effectively, and provide more customized training and professional development for yourself and your team members. NASPA (as our professional association) provides that the purpose of the ACPA and NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators is to inform the design of professional development opportunities for student affairs educators, provide outcomes that can be incorporated into the design of specific curriculum and training opportunities, and guide practitioners in making choices about professional development experiences.

Ultimately, competencies, in any career path, serve three simple purposes:

  1. They make everything more intentional.
  2. They establish continuity and consistency.
  3. They get you “unstuck.”

Over a decade ago, professional competencies for student affairs professionals were not nearly as prevalent as they have been within the past 10 years. ACPA and NASPA collaborated and released the original set of the Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators in 2010 and the updated revisions in 2015. These competencies have changed the current and future states of the profession as they identify the essential knowledge, skills, and dispositions expected of all student affairs educators, regardless of functional area or specialization within the field.

With a few exceptions to a few associations who have long had professional competencies before ACPA and NASPA’s work, the past nine years has seen a proliferation of professional competencies developed by functional specific-association for their specialty areas within the field. We have competencies for those working in collegiate recreation, campus housing, international education, orientation and transition, campus activities, and the list goes on. While I have been familiar with these functional specific competencies, I never had the “aha” moment until I attended the 2018 NASPA Region IV-West Conference and was presenting a different session about the competencies. An audience member asked me how functional area-specific competencies influence and intersect with our work with the ACPA and NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators. And I didn’t know what to say?

The question is a great way, and one that probably exists on many of our campuses. As student affairs administrators and student affairs divisions lead forward into creating the future of the profession, we must take the time to examine the intersection and connection of all these competencies and answer the question: “How do we make sense of multiple sets of competencies within our field?”

In thinking about my own team and the multiple functional areas that I supervise, I came back from the 2018 NASPA Region IV-West Conference and began a deep dive to explore more about the connection and possible intersection of these multiple sets of competencies. I read each set and began to note where outcomes might align with the 10 ACPA and NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators. I developed a visual for my team members to help them see the connections of their work with a functional specific competency and its relation to an ACPA and NASPA Professional Competency.

By making these visual connections between sets of competencies, we can now ensure that all team members see how we can make the competencies happen within our work. We can have those intentional conversations to explain why and how the overarching ACPA and NASPA Professional Competencies and the associated functional specific competencies influence work in our daily lives. We can connect our professional development plans and experiences that align to ACPA and NASPA Professional Development Competencies (thus, supporting divisional priorities) and our functional specific competencies (thus, supporting our units, departments, and roles). We can also engage in discussion related to competencies with those who work in other functional areas with functional specific competencies because we can see how all of the competencies connect to and intersect with the larger ACPA and NASPA Professional Competencies.