The results from our 2016 topic poll are in

By Gabriella Perez

At the end of last year, the Student Affairs Forum launched our annual topic poll to learn what the most pressing areas of concern are for our members in 2016. The topics included in the poll centered on the four terrains of student affairs in which we focus our research:

  • Student success
  • Career development and workforce readiness
  • Student safety and wellness
  • Innovation in student affairs

Our members were asked to rank the topics based on the level of interest each one posed for their work in 2016. Rating options were "High," "Medium," and "Low." We then asked members to rank the top three topics that they rated "High" in order of importance.

Over half of Student Affairs Forum members responded to the poll. Each segment of our membership was represented including public and private institutions; colleges with small, mid-size, and large enrollments; and American and Canadian institutions. While there is still work to be done before determining which topics will be the focus of our research in 2016, we wanted to give you a sneak peek at the major areas of interest. So far, the most popular topics are:

2016 topic poll results

Further insight emerges by sector

After diving deeper into the data, we discovered that some topics resonated more with certain institution types. The following takeaways expand upon interest in the topics listed above and explore other key areas of concern for our members.

Capturing alternative forms of revenue
Over half of our members who participated in the poll ranked this as a high priority issue this year. Public universities, in particular, ranked this among their top three most important priorities for the upcoming year.

Supporting graduate students
Supporting graduate student needs also garnered votes as a high area of interest from over 50% of the poll-taking membership. Additionally, the topic ranked in the top three high priority issues for more than a quarter of members.

Enhancing the impact of divisional strategic planning
Eighty-five percent of members considered this an area of high or moderate interest this year. It was especially resonant for institutions with small and medium student populations.

Improving crisis management
Over 50% of members considered this an area of high importance, with an additional 38% ranking it of moderate importance. Our Canadian members, in particular, are extremely focused on this area and its implications for their work.

A divergence in interest between publics and privates

While some topics resonated across the membership, public and private universities differed in prioritization of their interests. Both considered serving graduate students a top priority. However, private universities considered creating a more effective divisional strategic plan a higher priority than all other areas, while that topic wasn't a top-priority topic for public universities at all. Public universities were more focused on finding new ways to fund their divisional efforts, an area that was important to private universities, but not as highly ranked.

Highest priorities by public and private

A spotlight on Canada

While most institutions in the United States are focused primarily on strategic planning and campus climate, our Canadian members had their top priorities set on a slightly different area of concern: proactive measures to enhance student safety.

Canadian Member's Top Three Most Important Topics

It is worth noting, however, that our Canadian members were equally interested in topics that were also highly ranked among United States members, such as capturing alternative revenues, which 69% of Canadian members ranked as an area of high importance, and meeting the needs of graduate students, which 49% of Canadian members also ranked as a high priority.

Moving forward

The topic poll is a first step among many in our annual research process. We look forward to spending the next few months determining where we can be the most helpful to our membership as a whole through in-depth conversations in follow-up to the poll results. We anticipate that these conversations will provide us with more detailed direction as to what your priorities are within each topic and where best practice research will be most helpful.

See one resource we produced based on member feedback in 2015

Student affairs practitioners increasingly look to experiential learning to help students prepare for life after graduation. Our infographic outlines six co-curricular opportunities for experiential learning. Download your copy.

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