Don’t forget the graduate students!

As a leader of a student affairs unit, I was excited to read that graduate student advising took center stage at the American Historical Association and Modern Language Association meetings last month. Inside Higher Ed’s subsequent article, however, left me disappointed. The piece, with a title referencing “graduate education,” was only geared toward doctoral education. Where is the much-needed conversation about Master’s students?

While it is undeniable that doctoral students have specific needs like dissertations, anchored around faculty mentorship and other support systems (Mansfield, Welton, Lee, Young, 2010), not all of those are applicable to Master’s students who often face their own set of unique challenges. Master’s students are often busy working professionals trying to juggle the demands of their lives with their curricular goals (whereas many doctoral students are often full-time students).

The root of the issue is that as undergraduate student services increase in scope and responsiveness, the graduate student population (inclusive of masters and doctoral students) is often not adequately supported by campus student affairs units. We have to change this.

While undergraduates still represent the overwhelming majority of students attending universities, graduate students are still a sizeable population. According to a 2016 NCES Digest of Education Statistics report, a total of 1,920,718 students were enrolled in a bachelor’s program, 785,595 in a master’s programs and 177,867 in doctoral programs.

In my role overseeing student affairs and student success initiatives with Noodle Partners, I work with student affairs colleagues in graduate schools at universities across the nation. As we begin our launch efforts with student affairs, we conduct a gap analysis with them to understand their readiness to support online graduate students. We need to understand which services are provided by the school and by the central campus student affairs units.

It is not uncommon in these conversations that we hear: “Central student affairs does not support graduate students,” “We need to have a conversation about graduate student support before we can talk about online students,” or simply, “It may as well be called undergraduate student affairs.”

“It may as well be called undergraduate student affairs.”

I, too, have said these words. I am not surprised by these comments having worked in campus-based student affairs positions for 15+ years. I recall one time when I was overseeing the career development office at a university, we were asked to provide guidance to graduate students. I immediately pushed back– “we’re not funded to support graduate students, are we?”

Graduate student support always feels like an afterthought. My response derived from the feeling that our unit was at maximum bandwidth and it was hard to envision how we would level-up our knowledge of graduate students’ career needs, let alone take on supporting additional students. I suspect the campus colleagues with whom I have met to discuss graduate student support feel the same way.

We cannot just throw our hands up in the air and say that we have time for some, not all, students.

We must embrace students—all students—as key members of our campus community, who need our support and engagement opportunities.

Fostering student success, supporting mental health and kick-starting career momentum are our collective responsibilities. These are our students, these are our future business leaders, healthcare providers, and higher educators. Let’s come together to build up the individuals who are tasked with building upon society, now and for years to come.

Mansfield, K.C., Welton, A.,  Lee, P., Young, M.D., (2010). The lived experiences of female educational leadership doctoral students. Journal of Educational Administration, 48, 6, pp.727-740,


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