When Did Student Affairs Begin Discussing Technology as a Competency?

At a presentation I attended at this year’s ACPA conference, the presenters discussed technology as a competency for student affairs professionals.  It’s a discussion that’s been going on for many years but I don’t know if many people – particularly younger professionals – know just how long it’s been going on.  The presenters of this particular session asserted that formal discussion of technology as a competency began in 2002.  Maybe they’re right but informally and on different levels this conversation has been ongoing for decades. To provide historical context for this discussion (and to substantiate some glib comments I made to those sitting next to me in the presentation), I skimmed through my historical documents to find the earliest occurrences of this discussion.

Although there is foreshadowing in the middle of the 20th century of calls for technology competency in student affairs professionals, the first explicit calls I found begin in the middle of the 1970s.  In “Dealing with the Computer,” Penn (1975) asserts that “If the modern student personnel administrator expects to provide leadership and to have an impact on his or her campus, it will be necessary to understand computers and to communicate with computer technicians” (p. 56).  He goes on to write that “the functioning of computers is still a mysterious process to many individuals” (p. 56) before going on to define and briefly discuss topics such as “hardware” and “software.”  Similarly, Peterson’s 1975 NASPA Journal article “Implications of the New Management Technology” recommends that student affairs professionals not only “familiarize [themselves] with [their] institution’s data base, its automated technology, the major administrative analytic offices, and the major reports they generate” (p. 169) but they also “develop [their] own capacity to assess, analyze, and/or use some of the more basic data sources at your disposal” (p. 169).

By the 1980s, technology as a competency was a clear concern for student affairs professionals in the U.S. In the mid 80s, several student affairs departments were engaged or interested in increasing the computer literacy and comfort of their staff (e.g. Barrow & Karris, 1985; Bogal-Allbritten & Allbritten, 1985).  In a 1983 survey of 350 student affairs departments at 2-year colleges (with 141 respondents), the second need most frequently expressed by chief student affairs officers (CSAOs) was “information about basic computer functions, computer literacy, and how to write microprograms” (Floyd, 1985, p. 258).  In 1987, Whyte described the results of a similar survey of 750 colleges and universities (with 273 respondents):

Many student affairs professionals have expressed mixed emotions regarding computerization in the educational realm. There seems to be a need for direction regarding how to coordinate computerized management, instruction, and evaluation capabilities into a meaningful, comprehensive package to assist students….Coordination of the fragmented computerization efforts of most student affairs offices into a comprehensive plan is the next logical step. (p. 85)

In describing the “Three Rs” of recruitment, referral, and retention, Erwin and Miller (1985) wrote that “to meet the changing times and increased demands for excellence, student service professionals must look for new tools to assist in problem solving. Administrators will find management information systems particularly useful…” (p. 50).  Finally, MacLean (1986) explicitly calls for computer technology (then referred to as “management information systems”) to become “integral parts of all student affairs offices and departments” (p. 5).

Calls for student affairs professionals to develop and increase their knowledge of and comfort with computer technology are decades old.  Even a quick glance through my limited resources shows implicit and explicit calls beginning in the 1970s and blossoming in the 1980s as (micro-)computers became widely available and mainstream.  The discussion has changed tenor and intensity as technology has become more intertwined with our lives but the discussion itself is not new and dates back at least 35-40 years.


Barrow, B. R., & Karris, P. M. (1985). A hands-on workshop for reducing computer anxiety. Journal of College Student Personnel, 26(2), 167–168.

Bogal-Allbritten, R., & Allbritten, B. (1985). A computer literacy course for students and professionals in human services. Journal of College Student Personnel, 26(2), 170–171.

Erwin, T. D., & Miller, S. W. (1985). Technology and the three rs. NASPA Journal, 22(4), 47–51.

Floyd, D. L. (1985). Use of computers by student affairs offices in small 2·year colleges. Journal of College Student Personnel, 26(3), 257–258.

MacLean, L. S. (1986). Developing MIS in student affairs. NASPA Journal, 23(3), 2–7.

Penn, J. R. (1976). Dealing with the computer. NASPA Journal, 14(2), 56–58.

Peterson, M. (1975). Implications of the new management technology. NASPA Journal, 12(3), 158–170.

Whyte, C. B. (1987). Coordination of computer use in student affairs offices: a national update. Journal of College Student Personnel, 28(1), 84–86.

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  1. This is really good Kevin. Thanks for putting things together…we have to know our history.

  2. Thanks Eric. I’m beginning to feel more and more like I bear significant responsibility and blame for us not knowing about this particular part of our history. I know that I certainly haven’t done all that I can or want to do, particularly in the area of formal publication and presentation.

  3. Great post Kevin! I appreciate the reference to uniting the fragmented pieces of a department’s technology (whether it’s programs, tools, procedures, etc.). I’m finding similar challenges in working through my departments assessment activities, and I can see some viable links here between technology and assessment. Assessment and evaluation as a practice has been around for decades, but the tools we use seem to only recently be coming under ‘scrutiny’. In both cases, we discuss the ideal and the theory but we haven’t dug deeply enough into the associated practice and competencies that can support it. I wonder if building competency in technology could support competency development in assessment (and vice versa). Thanks for getting me thinking!

  4. Kevin, this is awesome, thanks so much for pulling this together. Perspective is always important when talking about the history of our profession and you’ve given us a great one in this post. Thanks again!

  5. Thanks Ed. Daryl Healea mentioned that there are even antecedents of this in the 1937 Student Personnel Point of View. He’s right; there are older antecedents than the very direct ones in this post, including some suggestive hints in the participation of some very advanced U.S. corporations in the earliest meetings of ACPA.

  6. You’re right, Lisa: “Nothing new under the sun,” right? I imagine that there are very few genuinely new and innovative practices created in any given decade. Let’s not that take away from the power or usefulness of new old ideas! But at the same time let’s try to keep a healthy view of the contributions of those who came before, even if history has largely overlooked them.

  7. Pingback: Technology in Student Affairs Course | Joe Sabado - Student Affairs & Technology LeadershipJoe Sabado - Student Affairs & Technology Leadership

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