In Class: Student Counselor
I teach master’s and doctoral students in our graduate programs in higher education and diversity and equity. Many of the master’s students in higher education are interested in being student affairs practitioners. They may already work in administration, counseling, advising, financial aid or admissions. Many work on campus. Others are recent graduates.
What is a college student? That’s one of the overarching questions that we tackle in the higher education program. I teach a class on the subject. We begin by addressing the idea of the “traditional” college student, who comes to college three months after graduating high school, lives in a residence hall, may work a few hours a week and will graduate in four years. The idea of the “traditional” college student is a mindset. Yes, some are coming from high school. But others are coming from the military, from the workforce, from getting a GED, from a lot of different places. It may have taken them months, years, even decades, to make it to college.
We talk about how students fund their education. When students in my class throw around generic terms like “first generation” or “low-income” students, I get them to think through what these terms mean. It’s very important for my students to get out of their own headspace. That is, “I was a college student, and all college students are just like me.”
We talk about student identities. We talk about non-binary ways of thinking about gender. It’s not just that some students identify as heterosexual and some students identify as LGBTQ+. There’s a wide range in between, and college is often the time when young adults (and not-so-young adults) are figuring all that out.
We talk about race and ethnicity. We talk about language. We talk about international students and about social class and economic markers. We talk about students and disability. Because if we ignore these issues, it does not bode well for student satisfaction, for student retention or for graduation.
The students either don’t come to college, or they come and they don’t stay. And it’s disastrous for the students who leave with thousands of dollars of debt and still no degree.
Resources are an important piece. The Counseling Center, McKinley Health Center, the ARC [Activities and Recreation Center]: these aren’t just amenities that look nice in the videos. These are critical to the overall well-being of students. That’s one advantage a large institution such as the U of I has. Those resources are available.
# When we identify a student segment that we’ve been underserving, whatever we do to remediate the situation helps all students. Everybody benefits. Our students’ education isn’t abstract, you know. It boils down to real people and real policies that impact the lives of real students on college campuses.
Edited and condensed from an interview on June 16, 2021