What is a Higher Education Student Affairs Administrator?

The work of student affairs administrators is focused on one, fundamental concept: higher education extends far beyond classroom learning.

These post-secondary professionals understand that a successful student experience depends on a rich learning environment, which can only be achieved when wellness, development, diversity, and support are considered.

Student affairs administrators are committed to the promotion of diversity and inclusion, the support of students at all stages of their learning experience, and the removal of barriers to student success. Their overarching goal, according to NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, is to help students “begin a lifetime journey of growth and self-exploration.”

Student affairs administrators consider all aspects of the student experience:

  • Housing
  • Student enrollment/admissions
  • Health and wellness
  • Safety
  • Financial aid
  • Mental health and wellness
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Campus clubs
  • Campus resources
  • Career preparation
  • Service learning
  • Alumni relations

They also consider all types of students:

  • Traditional students
  • Adult students
  • Graduate students
  • Part-time students
  • Commuting students
  • Minority students
  • LGBTQ students
  • Students with disabilities
  • Veteran students
  • Disadvantaged students

The Work of Student Affairs Administrators: What They Do and Where They Do It

With the goal of improving the student experience, student affairs administrators are tasked with overseeing the development and implementation of programs, policies, and services related to everything from academics to enrollment.

An array of topics exist within each of these areas. For example, student affairs administrators focused on student health may implement and oversee policies, procedures, programs, and initiatives aimed at issues such as sexual violence, alcohol abuse, campus health clinics, mental health resources, and athletics. Given the broad range of issues within student affairs, it is common for student affairs administrators to focus their work on a specific area, such as housing, campus programs, athletic events, or career services.

Typical job duties for these professionals include:

  • Advising students
  • Communicating with parents and families
  • Designing and implementing programs and activities
  • Overseeing conflict resolution
  • Assessing and evaluating current policies and procedures

Student affairs administrators work in every type of post-secondary institution, including colleges and universities, trade schools, research universities, and for-profit institutions. Just a few of the job titles for these professionals include:

  • Student housing director
  • Financial aid administrator
  • Student services administrator
  • Admissions specialist
  • Academic affairs coordinators
  • Academic support services administrator
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How to Become a Student Affairs Administrators

Most entry and mid-level student affairs administrators hold a bachelor’s degree. While a specific undergraduate degree usually isn’t a requirement in this field, many professionals hold a bachelor’s degree in the human services field (e.g. counseling, psychology, social work).

Deans and other higher level professionals in student affairs usually hold a master’s degree (MA, MS, MEd) in student affairs administration, postsecondary education administration,  higher education/student affairs, or a similar field.

Some of the courses found in these programs include:

  • Student Development Theory
  • Counseling in Student Affairs
  • Historical Foundations of Higher Education
  • Financial Management in Student Affairs
  • Ethical and Practical Issues
  • Trends and Issues in Higher Education
  • Higher Education Administration

Salaries for Student Affairs Administrators

According to May 2018 statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for postsecondary education administrators is $94,340, with the top 10% earning an average salary of $190,600.

The top-paying states for these professionals, according to annual mean salary, is:

  • New Jersey: $153,760
  • Delaware: $147,160
  • Maryland: $137,250
  • California: $128,090
  • New York: $124,350

The top-paying metro areas for postsecondary education administrators, according to annual mean salary, is:

  • Ithaca, NY: $186,080
  • Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC: $170,400
  • Lansing-East Lansing, MI: $160,210
  • Charlottesville, VA: $160,120
  • Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO: $152,710
  • Lubbock, TX: $151,130
  • Kalamazoo-Portage, MI: $147,810

Recent job posts are also an excellent source of information regarding current salaries for student affairs administrators:

  • Coordinator for Sexual and Gender Diversity, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, Bloomsburg, PA: $41,526
  • Specialist, Area of Study Advising, Student Affairs, Austin Community College, Austin, TX: $33,316-$47,593
  • Academic Support Services Coordinator, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, FL: $31,000
  • Director, Learning Resource Center, University of the Potomac, Washington, DC: $50,000-$55,000
  • Executive Coordinator, Academic Affairs, Solano Community College, Fairfield, CA: $59,782
  • Student Life Advisor for Student Organizations & Activities, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA: $51,648-$73,440
  • Senior Student Support Advisor – Advising & Disability Resources, Madison Area Technical College, Portage, WI: $62,048-$77,560

Professional Resources for Student Affairs Administrators

While no professional certification opportunities exist for student affairs administrators, this profession is supported through strong professional associations, such as:

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Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2018 – (https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_stru.htm). BLS salary data represents state and MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Individual job listings with educational requirements and salary information accessed directly from internet job boards and directly from the sites of employing agencies and do not constitute offers of employment.

All salary and job growth data accessed in December 2019.