4 Basic Business Practices You Should Use as a Student Affairs Professional

Working in student affairs can be incredibly gratifying. 

We get to interact with people from all walks of life and educate them along the way. We can truly see students for who they are and assist in shaping their futures. I don’t know about you, but that’s a huge reason why I got into this field. 

But, although we are student-focused, we cannot overlook the behind-the-scenes work we must do. 

All of us can better develop ourselves in the business area. Some people may find it scary, but you’re probably already engaging with business practices every day without realizing it. 

So, here are four recommendations for enhancing the administrative side of your work so that you can focus more time and energy on human interactions.

4 Critical Practices

1. Maximize and fully understand your budget

Even if you don’t manage a departmental budget, it’s important to understand what financial resources are available to you, and more importantly, to your students. 

Take some time, ideally when your office is not too busy, to analyze and forecast your budget. Once you understand what funds are available, and for what purposes, you can further advocate for more effective use of the budget. 

counting out money gif

Forecasting allows for you to think years or months in advance to plan for larger purchases. There are many tools available for forecasting, such as QuickBooks, NetSuites, and Gusto.

Alternatively, if you have direct oversight of funds, create line items (AKA mini-budgets) within the larger pot. Doing so will allow for transparency of the overall budget for the entire office, which will help you navigate and understand which funds are used for which programs or initiatives. This, in turn, will help you to plan out purchases for more opportunities.

It’s all too easy to spend money throughout the year without thinking of how it will affect students long term. So, it’s crucial to update your budget as you go — instead of all at one time when the fiscal year is closing out.

2. Examine your marketing strategy

Welcoming in Generation Z students requires a new approach to campus-wide communication. 

Paper fliers posted in common areas will still get information out there, but is that really the best strategy? I’m not sure. I’m not an expert on all campuses and students. Each institution operates differently, and students respond to marketing in unique ways.

What I can say, however, is that the majority of the students I’ve interacted with are entranced by social media and technology. While this is different from past generations, it’s okay! It just means that we, as information sharers and educators, need to take a step back and evaluate our marketing strategies.

I’ve found that presenting a consistent brand is vital. By no means am I saying that every digital poster or advertisement should have the same design. That will seem boring and lazy. 

Rather, I’m recommending that you and your team collectively decide what message you want to present. Your message could range from a collective set of values, an idea relating to your mission, or simply an idea that you want the consumer to connect with.

Clever slogans that convey a sense of belonging are a good area to start. Find a word or phrase that truly represents your office and build the strategy around that. This is an example of people not always buying the product you are selling; they buy the message you are presenting.

3. Manage and support people as individuals

We see our students experience a great number of challenges and triumphs in a relatively short amount of time. Yet, it’s all too easy to lose focus on viewing our students as wonderfully unique people. 

I’m especially guilty of this whenever I’m in the midst of a three-week training, dealing with a severe roommate conflict, or have a lot going on in my personal life. After all, student affairs professionals are human, too, so we’ll inevitably lose focus from time to time. 

Many of us supervise, advise, manage, and mentor students. As the amazing Peter Parker (AKA Spiderman) once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” It is our responsibility to educate and support students to the best of our abilities, which can look different for each of us.

As it relates to student employees, a great way to support students is by setting clear expectations, creating a sense of pride in their work, and by providing quality training.

Carefully planning your approach to onboarding and continual training is crucial to the student performing to the expectations you have set. In the business world, yearly semester or yearly training doesn’t exist. Training occurs in the first couple of weeks or months of the position, followed by specific development activities.

Sadly, not every office, department, division, or institution has the time, energy, or interest in conducting evaluations. But they should. Frequent evaluations encourage staff to continue to grow and give student leaders a pulse-check on how they are doing.

4. Seek out opportunities to improve your skills

No one knows your strengths and opportunities for growth better than yourself. For example, I know that I can still improve my administrative skills and educational approaches. 

Every institution offers opportunities for enhancing and building upon your skills. But, it’s up to you to seek those out — hopefully with the enthusiastic support of your supervisor and other support systems. 

Inquire within your department as to whether you can be granted financial and logistical support to enroll in an MBA program or complete an excel certification class, for example. Seek out opportunities to learn from resources and people around you. Conferences and webinars, especially ones that aren’t specific to higher education, can especially be helpful for your professional growth.

You can never stop learning and improving your skills and techniques within student affairs. Integrating business techniques into my higher education practice has allowed me to feel validated in my work. 

Adopting a business mindset or implementing business techniques into your work may feel uncomfortable, but you should never stop learning. 

How have you integrated business practices into your work? We’d love to hear from you on Twitter @themoderncampus.

Matthew Linton

About the author: Matthew Linton (he/him) is the Assistant Director for Community Standards & Wellness at California State Polytechnic University—Pomona. He is also a proud husband, father (to his fur baby), friend and advocate for change. Learn how we can help get your students involved.