Monday, September 23, 2013

Collaborative Efforts: Maximizing Opportunities for Program Success

By: Trent Ball, Associate Dean of Students/Director of Retention
Valdis Zalite, Director TRIO/Student Support Services
Academic Support Centers
Southeast Missouri State University

After considering this year’s conference theme: Collaboration and Innovation: The Journey of Transformation, we thought we would share how collaborative efforts and actions helped the Academic Support Centers at Southeast Missouri State University earn the Innovative Academic Support Initiative from the American College Personnel Association (ACPA)’s Commission for Academic Support in Higher Education (CASHE) in 2012.

Academic support services often exist as a separate entity on most campuses, positioned to provide support to students across multiple disciplines and requiring a staff that is prepared to assist students “where they are” to get them “where they want to be”.  The challenges faced by the staff and administrators in academic support vary, but two common obstacles are resources and reputation.  Funding is consistently an issue that impacts hiring, salary, and functions. Reputation can often be connected to institutional placement and understanding the true role of academic support.  The focus of this article is to highlight the importance of collaboration within and between institutions as a means to extend our resources and reinforce the vital services that academic support programs provide to students.
Credibility and Membership
Collaboration among the departments, institutions and professional organizations in the field of higher education is no longer a choice, it has become a necessity. When reviewing potential partners in the academic support realm we must begin with forming relationships that strengthen our credibility and extend our “reach” beyond the provision of service and into the professional development and preparation of our staff and student assistants. 
The following information provides potential opportunities to increase credibility at the institutional, program, services, and the individual level for professional staff in addition to providing guidance, support and certification for student, clerical and administrative assistants. We are often familiar with the programs and activities of ACPA and NASPA, this is an attempt to broaden our base of information.  When the staff is informed, engaged and connected the challenge of collaboration becomes less daunting and more attainable. This list is not exhaustive, and includes organizations that you may be working with currently. The goal is to offer insight or to encourage research into credibility driven connections that increase the likelihood of stronger and longer lasting collaborations both on and off your campus.  
The Center for Student Opportunity
At the institutional level, The Center for Student Opportunity (CSO) provides information and resources that guide and assist underserved, first-generation college-bound students in addition to increasing the capacity for partner institutions to identify and connect with the targeted population.  By becoming a partner with CSO, your institution promotes their support of college access for this critical population.  As a provider of academic support your program/center can partner with the CSO to increase your access to resources that provide insight and knowledge that can be used in designing activities and services for your students from the target populations in specific and all students in general.
 Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education
At the program level, the Council for Advancement of Standards in Higher Education provides programs and services with the opportunity to engage in self-assessment to improve management, policy, procedures and information sharing. This process allows staff members to review current protocol, discuss new initiatives and to identify areas of strength and weakness to better assess the state of programs and services provided.
 The College Reading and Learning Association
At the service level, the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA) offers a student-oriented focus in reading, learning assistance, developmental education, tutoring and mentoring. In addition to being an outstanding resource, CRLA also provides academic support and tutorial programs with the opportunity to become certified. At the tutoring level, once a program is certified collaboration with faculty and staff becomes easier to develop based on the recognition that the programs and services being provided to students have been reviewed and have received certification as meeting standards approved by professionals in the field.

Mid-America Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel
At the individual level, individual membership provides professionals with the opportunity to connect, network and address common strengths, challenges and goals among programs and services.  One example of this at the regional level is the Mid-America Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel (MAEOPP). Through active membership, individuals are provided multiple professional development, networking and mentoring opportunities, as well as conferences and seminars designed discuss best and promising practices with other professionals serving similar student populations.
International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP)

 Improving the professional qualifications of administrative assistants and secretaries is a key component to improving the credibility of any office. Professional certification as a secretary or administrative assistant provides those who complete the testing with Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) and the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) credentials. This process improves skills, knowledge and assessment. 
As higher education continues to evolve, we as staff need to consistently seek opportunities to develop professionally to prepare to meet the increasing needs of the students we serve.  Taking steps to increase the credibility of the staff providing academic support services and programs provides the basis for reaching out to other departments and our colleagues at other institutions to start and sustain collaborative relationships.  Earned credibility brings to the table many important pieces to collaboration, especially the ability to network, the initiative to be progressive and the desire to consistently improve services provided.

Collaboration and Execution
In order to address the need for collaboration among diverse programs providing academic support at Southeast Missouri State University we developed the Academic Support Centers. Bringing together two university-based programs, two federally funded TRIO programs and two Missouri Department of Higher Education (MDHE) grant funded programs provided the opportunity to assist students in the targeted and general student population with supportive services and the common link is the provision of academic and learning assistance.  Collaborative partnerships between the university-based, state funded and TRIO programs has lead to increased student success, increased resources, a decrease in duplicated services and academic assistance programming for students that are more accessible and effective.

The Academic Support Centers consist of The College Access Challenge Grant (CACG), from MDHE – the Plan for College Initiative, The Default Prevention Grant, from MDHE, Educational Access Programs (university funded), Learning Assistance Programs (university funded), TRIO/McNair Scholars Program (federally funded) and TRIO/Student Support Services (federally funded). 

Beginning with the focal point of academic support and learning assistance, joint programming and initiatives provide students’ access to College Success Seminars, Mentoring and Networking Activities, Supplemental Financial Assistance, Financial Literacy Education, Performance Based Grants, Work Opportunities and the cornerstones of our academic assistance Supplemental Instruction and Tutorial Services.

This formal collaborative partnership connects students to academic assistance, reduces program expenses and designs trainings for the learning assistants that involve collaboration from faculty and staff throughout the campus. Successful collaborative efforts have produced stronger and more efficient services resulting in enhanced student learning and improved academic performance.

The collaborative efforts of the Centers extend to other departments across campus and to colleagues at other universities and colleges.  Working closely with the staff of key departments on campus designed to support students (Advising, Admissions, First-Year Experience and Student Transitions, Student Financial Services, Counseling and Disability and Registration) the activities noted above are planned with facilitators and professionals from those departments to both extend our resources as well as develop the partnerships necessary for proper referrals and support for students beyond the scope of academic assistance.
Integration and Advocacy
Developing collaborative partnerships can set the foundation for integrating the academic support services into the mission of the college or university.  Earlier we mentioned that often academic support services exist as a separate entity, and at times the services can appear detached from academic affairs, leaving us as an area that is an “add-on” versus a key player.  Collaboration with faculty must move beyond just providing referrals to services and into active program support.  Faculty members serving as seminar or workshop presenters, members of our advisory boards, or mentors to our learning assistants integrates academic affairs into academic assistance, and can create the type of advocacy for our programs that services alone cannot.

The goal of this article was to highlight the many opportunities we have as providers of academic support to bring added credibility to the crucial services we provide in the students’ journey to their degree.  Our discussion of the Academic Support Centers at Southeast Missouri State University was given to provide an example of a collaborative model that links similar programs from different funding sources and our final goal is to encourage the continuation of the discussion of integrating academic support services and academic affairs.  Below is a list of links that explore these points. 

Collaboration in Delivering Higher Education Programs: Barriers and Challenges:
Lessons Learned: Eight Best Practices for New Partnerships:
Powerful Partnerships: A Shared Responsibility for Learning:
The National Dialogue on Academic and Student Affairs Collaboration:
The Student Learning Imperative: Implications for Student Affairs:
Academic support and assistance is geared toward developing and supporting student learning as defined in Learning Reconsidered (1994). Learning Reconsidered defines learning as a comprehensive, holistic, transformative activity that integrates academic learning and student development.  A focused collaborative effort, joining credible, certified services and resources to academic affairs and pursuits continues to redefine learning in higher education.
To continue the conversation, please feel free to contact us at the email addresses below.
Trent Ball (
Valdis Zalite (
Adapted from an article previously published in the ACPA’s Commission for Academic Support in Higher Education (CASHE) Corner Newsletter


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