Collaborating between Academic and Student Affairs in the Community College

by Lisa S. Kelsay / Nov 1, 2016

Reflecting on Careers in Student Affairs Month, I would be remiss if I did not draw additional attention to the many rich professional opportunities in student affairs that allow practitioners to foster student growth and development in two-year institutions. There is less attention focused on the career pathways/trajectories in student services at community colleges and little recognition of the importance of student affairs as co-curricular partners in advancing student learning outcomes.

Working in student affairs or student development requires one to be cognizant of the interworking of academic affairs, but it is also important for academic affairs leaders to have an appreciation for how student affairs aids in student persistence, retention, and completion. I have been fortunate through the years to see some great collaboration between what is perceived by some as two “silos” in advancing student success. In particular, I would like to comment on two examples of great collaboration within the community college system – internships and co-curricular activities.


As many know, completing an internship provides a student with hands-on experience, gives them a step up in the job market, and teaches life skills to be a successful employee and individual. The Cooperative Education and Internship Association (CEIA) believes “that education can be enhanced through application in a structured work environment and that work provides an environment for continuous learning” (Cooperative Education and Internship Association, 2016, para. 3). To accomplish this goal, both academic and students affairs must work together to create a program that will benefit students. At Moraine Valley Community College, the internship program grew out of an interest in providing students with hands-on experience (225 hours), a chance to earn academic credit (3 credit hours), and a way to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world experience.

Collaborating on this initiative are career program faculty, administrators from both academic and student affairs, Resource Development staff, and community employers. Now students may start an internship as early as their 2nd semester, earn credit, build their resumes, and become successful applicants for future jobs. Students are required to have a resume and cover letter approved by the Job Resources Center prior to applying. Additionally, a contract is signed between the student, employer, and faculty member teaching the internships course, and students work no more than 20 hours per week at their internships. Students are managing projects, leading teams, creating new programs, and developing systems to assist co-workers and clients. Students are also earning college credit, meeting with the instructor and classmates, completing journals, and submitting assignments on what they have learned on the job and how they applied the material to the real world.

An intern of the year and internship employer of the year are named, internship panels are held, and internships are now included at the job fair. Student affairs assists students in preparing for the internship interviews and reviewing their resumes. Student affairs interacts with the faculty to share information and to visit the classrooms to teach students how to create resumes and learn interview skills, and faculty members assist the students in making the connection from the classroom to the real world. This is a great collaborative effort that benefits the students.

Co-Curricular Activities and Athletics

The Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference (ISCC) is a collaboration between eight colleges: College of Lake County, Elgin Community College, McHenry County College, Moraine Valley Community College, Morton College, Oakton Community College, Prairie State College, and Waubonsee College.  The mission statement of the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference (ISCC), which was established in 1970 and received the 2016 ACPA Collaborative Excellence Award, states, “member institutions of the ISCC are committed to the fostering of the ideals of amateur athletics and student activities within an environment of high academic standards.” The only one in the country of its kind, the ISCC is a collaboration between faculty, administration, and coaches with the shared aim of assisting students with engaging in co-curricular activities and athletics. From research, we know that the more students are engaged, the more likely they are to persist in and complete their education. Bridging academic, athletic, and co-curricular components is unique and important. Research studies have supported the view that out-of-classroom experiences contribute to student development and learning, persistence to graduation, and enhancement of leadership skills important for success in the work force (Astin, 1999; Elkins, Forrester, & Noel-Elkins, 2011; Kuh, 1995; Moore, Lovell, McGann, & Wyrick, 1998; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).  

The mission continues and states, “the members of the conference value the ways in which athletic skills, ideals of sportsmanship and artistic competition support the intellectual and social growth of their students.” The ISCC is unique in that there must be participation by students through twelve athletic competitions and four co-curricular competitions each year by eight colleges to remain in the conference. Co-curricular events include Art, Jazz, STEM, and Writing. Athletic events include Women's Basketball, Cross Country, Soccer, Softball, Tennis, and Volleyball; and Men’s Basketball, Baseball, Cross Country, Golf, Soccer, and Tennis. For each of the co-curricular events, there is a co-curricular representative (student or academic affairs) and a faculty liaison for the specific discipline. In addition, professionals in the field serve as judges for competitions, which allows students to learn from those currently in the field. This provides a bridge between academics and the student affairs areas. Communication and relationship building are key to making this a successful partnership for the implementation of each event. The representatives need to balance the needs of the overall conference, their institutional needs, and the needs from the respective faculty. One example of collaboration is when a co-curricular representative will work with the STEM faculty to coordinate the STEM poster competition. The co-curricular representative may be in a different department on campus (such as student affairs). Each person brings their strengths to the table to create an engaging day of learning for participants.  

The ISCC provides a structure for collaboration across many areas of an institution. Athletics, student affairs, academics, and administration are encouraged to interact to fulfill the institutional commitment. These areas may or may not intersect at institutions on a regular basis, so this conference is a good tool for building relationships across divisions, areas, and individuals when often times many areas can be silos. It also provides an arena in which to think holistically about how student learning and co-curricular activities contribute to a student's engagement. Students truly do learn from these events. A student at the Jazz Festival recently stated that the “clinician was great, enthusiastic and helpful.” He went on to state, when speaking about the clinics and music sessions offered to participants, that, “classes were informative and gave good tips and concepts for practice.” Following a recent STEM poster competition, a student stated that their supporting faculty member “encouraged me; helped me arrange transportation; and critiqued my project offering guidance for the weeks before the event.” The co-curricular events that are held are above and beyond what a class may require and provide opportunities for students and faculty to engage in active learning.  

These are just two examples of how academic and student affairs have collaborated to advance student-learning outcomes and promote student success. In both examples, students have become more engaged, some have found a new passion and therefore changed their majors, and many have had the opportunity to interact with professionals in the field they are considering. These collaborations also allow for faculty and staff to work together to assist students in the successful completion of their goals. What collaborative programs have you heard about, or which collaborative programs have you participated in?

Dr. Lisa S. Kelsay is the Assistant Dean of Liberal Arts and Director of Academic Arts at Moraine Valley Community College in Illinois. In addition, she serves as a 2016-17 Vice-Chair of the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference Co-Curricular Directors. 


  • Astin, A. W. (1999). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Development, 40(5), 518-529.
  • Cooperative Education & Internship Association (CEIA). (2016). Mission, vision, values.
  • Elkins, D. J., Forrester, S. A., & Noel-Elkins, A. V. (2011). Students’ perceived sense of campus community: The influence of out-of-class experiences. College Student Journal, 45(1), 105-121.
  • Kuh, G. (1995). The other curriculum: Out of class experiences associated with student learning and personal development. Journal of Higher Education, 66(2), 123-155.
  • Moore, J., Lovell, C. D., McGann, T., & Wyrick, J. (1998). Why involvement matters: A review of research on student involvement in the collegiate setting. College Student Affairs Journal, 17(2), 4-17.
  • Pascarella, E.T., & Terenzini, P.T. (2005). How college affects students: A summary. In How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research, Volume 2 (pp. 571-626). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.