How the University of North Florida Integrated Academic and Student Affairs

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By Daniel Moon, Associate Provost and Professor, University of North Florida

Higher education institutions are facing pressure to increase student success measures and become more efficient. Each of these can present significant challenges for universities but having to solve both challenges simultaneously can be daunting. The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to add layers of complexity and urgency to this challenging puzzle. A potentially powerful mechanism for addressing this challenge is integrating Academic Affairs and Student Affairs into one cohesive unit. Doing so at the University of North Florida has contributed to all-time high retention and graduation rates, and yielded more than $2 million in savings and reallocation.

The challenges we faced

Higher education is focused on student success now more than ever, with unprecedented layers of accountability to students, parents, boards, and others (e.g. see Kelchen, 2018). This accountability is increasingly tied to a university’s bottom line. For example, most states have a performance-based funding mechanism that explicitly ties funding to student success measures. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the challenges that students face in pursuit of their degree, making this problem even more urgent for universities to solve. Significant shifts in improving student success measures require a more holistic and integrative approach, with different divisions of the university working more closely than ever before. This is especially true for Academic Affairs and Student Affairs. At the University of North Florida, as is the case at many institutions, we had two strong divisions, each working hard to help make our students successful. There was collaboration between the two divisions when needed, but each operated independently. We saw tremendous opportunity to improve the student experience if we could bring these two divisions closer together.

Universities are also operating in an increasingly resource constrained environment. The pressure on universities to become more efficient is not new, but it has taken on new significance. For many institutions, this shift to become more efficient ramped up in 2008 during the great recession, and this push has coincided with the greater accountability that is expected of universities. Now, because of the wide-ranging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly every institution of higher learning is facing budget challenges. Moreover, predictions suggest that we have yet to see the full economic impact of the pandemic on our universities, and there will likely be effects on their financial futures for many years to come. In 2018, UNF was not yet facing budget cuts, but we were seeking ways to be more efficient, to reduce costs where possible, and to reallocate resources to areas of higher need. To address these challenges, our university integrated Academic and Student Affairs, merging the two divisions into one: “Academic and Student Affairs.”

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