The Mission of Student Services

June 1989

The primary purpose of Student Services is to develop programs and provide services which support and promote student-centered education. Student Services professionals have expertise in assessing and identifying the factors which can enhance the development of students. Student Services personnel act as informed partners in the shared tasks of shaping and maintaining a campus community where students can learn inside and outside the classroom.

The Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) has articulated this position paper on student services practitioners. The paper presents a philosophical and practical base for enhancing the experience of students in post-secondary institutions. It addresses a number of student issues and recognizes the wide diversity of the educational institutions represented by CACUSS.


The objectives of post-secondary education continue to be to seek, validate, transmit and enrich knowledge [1]; to encourage personal development; and to meet the needs of society. Colleges and universities are called upon to assist individuals in dealing with life transitions – from adolescence to adulthood, from dependence to personal autonomy, from one career to another [2]. Intellectual advancement and personal growth are the challenges for students today. Student Services help create an effective learning environment and are an integral part of educational institutions’ responses to these challenges.

Post-secondary education in Canada has expanded rapidly over the past three decades with over 1.2 million students now enrolled in 270 universities, colleges and technical institutions [3]. The post-secondary system includes programs ranging from undergraduate and graduate degree studies to adult literacy training and trades and technology education.

While approximately 10 billion dollars were spent on post-secondary education in Canada during 1987-88, the environment continues to be one of financial restraint [4]. Constraints on space and/or personnel have meant increased class size and depersonalization of the post-secondary experience for many students. Some loss of talent is taking place through student attrition.

Although traditional students continue to be in the majority on most campuses, there now are more women in traditionally male dominated fields, older adults, sole-support parents, part-time students, people with physical and learning disabilities, students from different cultural backgrounds, and students whose backgrounds put them at a disadvantage in the post-secondary education setting. More than one third of the post-secondary students in Canada are studying on a part-time basis.

As stated by the October 1987, National Forum on Post-Secondary Education, colleges and universities will have to be more responsive to students with diverse backgrounds, circumstances and readiness levels. Institutions must be flexible and adaptable to accomplish the task of fostering the intellectual and personal growth of students in an increasingly complex world. The dynamic responsiveness of colleges and universities to this task will enhance the potential of students to contribute in important ways to contemporary society in all its local, national, and international dimensions.

Institutions have to respond to many external pressures. An expanding worldview of education, advances in technology, the changing nature of work, increased personal mobility, and growing ethnic diversity all provide challenges to Canadian educational institutions. Universities and colleges have to respond to the needs of government, business and industry, while at the same time providing life-long learning opportunities. They also face the ongoing tension between the ‘practical’ and the ‘liberal’ educational viewpoints as well as the requirement for innovative delivery methods such as distance education. Post-secondary institutions are expected to meet demands for both excellence and accessibility.


A number of values and assumptions shape the work of Student Services and are shared by many others who work in higher education. The following are the essential premises on which Student Services units in universities and colleges base their work. These are interrelated and they are not ordered according to priority.

  1. The educational mission of the institution is paramount. Each university and college has its own focus and character, but all share the critical role of providing educational experiences for their students.
  2. Quality of life in a teaching and learning community is crucial to the educational mission. It is essential to provide a social and physical environment designed to foster the educational experience. An atmosphere which provides a balance of support and challenge for enhancing achievement should be established and maintained.
  3. Each individual has worth and dignity, and should be treated with respect. Universities and colleges are ideal places to provide people with the opportunity to understand and appreciate diversity. They can help students learn to value the worth and dignity of all persons regardless of their race, religion, nationality, sexual preference, age, gender, culture, or ability.
  4. Post-secondary education must be aimed at an individual’s total growth. Students use their intellect to acquire knowledge but they feel as well as think. Institutions should help to foster the student’s psychological, social, sexual, aesthetic, ethical, cultural, and spiritual development.
  5. Learning is contextual and is influenced by a wide range of individual and environmental factors. Interaction between students and their environments shapes attitudes, readiness to learn, and quality of the learning experience. The institution has a responsibility to provide a positive social and physical environment which can facilitate and encourage friendships, intimacy, and the taking of individual responsibility.
  6. Student Services professionals are educators. They have knowledge and expertise about students that makes them an invaluable resource in the students’ educational experience. The expertise of Student Services professionals is important in creating the climate to help students develop the necessary skills to optimize their learning opportunities.
  7. The educational goals of post-secondary institutions are best realized through a partnership of Student Services personnel with students, administrators, and faculty. Each partner in the educational enterprise brings to the task a variety of skills, professional expertise, and understanding. The value of each contributor must be recognized and respected.


The principal objectives related to the mission of Student Services are: 1) shaping the learning environment; 2) providing services to individuals and groups; 3) pursuing operational excellence; and 4) promoting professional development.

  1. Shaping the Learning Environment
    1. Integration of Intellectual and Personal Growth
      Student Services professionals contribute in important ways to understanding the educational experience and how the environment can be shaped to enhance that experience. This is achieved through such means as sharing knowledge of student development theory and practices with other members of the campus community and collaborating with faculty, students and staff in seeking ways to enhance the educational experience.
    2. Decision-making Processes
      Student Services professionals promote institutional decision-making which is sensitive to the needs of students. Student Services professionals should be members of governing bodies and involved in the development and implementation of programs and services which contribute to student-centered education and individual student development. Institutional decision-making must also involve students in a significant manner, so students can share responsibility for their own education and develop self-reliance.
    3. Student Characteristics and Needs
      Student Services professionals have expertise in assessing the needs and characteristics of students. Student Services professionals have a responsibility to generate, use and disseminate this knowledge to ensure that programs and services are targeted appropriately and that institutional policies and practice are responsive to student needs.
    4. Remedying Problems in Institutional Systems
      Student Services professionals collaborate with faculty, students and staff in helping identify and remedy systemic problems which interfere with the learning process.

  2. Providing Services to Individuals and Groups
    To satisfy both student needs and community development, it is vital that Student Services ensure provision of sensitive, timely, reliable and high quality services. Such programs and services increase students’ ability to achieve their learning goals; assist students in acquiring the academic and personal skills to learn and live more effectively in the educational environment; and promote full social, psychological and physical readiness for learning and life-style management. Many students, and in particular entering students, are able to maximize the educational experience through the assistance of these programs and services. Student Services activities are oriented toward providing education, support, regulatory measures and response to student requests.

  3. Pursuing Operational Excellence
    Student Services professionals seek to provide high quality programs and services which are effective and relevant to the needs of the students and the community. Student Services professionals also pursue operational excellence through appropriate reviews of the benefits and costs of the programs and services.

  4. Promoting Professional Development
    Student Services professionals are committed to enhancing their knowledge and understanding. This is realized through applying theory in practice; establishing and maintaining standards; providing professional development opportunities; sharing learnings with colleagues on campuses and at regional and national meetings; supporting confidence and self-respect in one’s professional identity and providing practicum and internship training.


The organization of Student Services should support a student-centered education and be consistent with an institution’s organizational patterns and terminology. The officer responsible for Student Services must be a senior administrator, to reinforce the commitment of the institution to students, their development and involved learning.

Two organizational options present themselves. In one structure, the senior Student Services administrator reports directly to the President. This “stand alone” situation enhances the visibility of Student Services and emphasizes the institution’s student orientation and commitment that students matter. In another organizational option, the senior Student Services administrator reports through the Vice-President (Academic). This model has the advantage of strengthening the partnership between the academic community and Student Services and enhances the connection between the intellectual development of students and their personal growth.

The programs, services and activities offered on behalf of students vary widely from campus to campus. There is diversity in organizational structures, and Student Services functions may be packaged in various ways. These activities fall into four functional categories: educational; supportive; regulatory; and responsive.

  1. Educational Functions
    Educational programs, services and activities help the student develop intellectually and personally.
    1. Provide information to students so they can make informed choices about:
      • academic programs
      • substance abuse
      • “wellness”/health
      • nutrition
      •  sexuality/safer sex
    2. Teach coping skills
      • study teams and cooperative learning
      • writing skills
      • reading and study skills
      • math proficiency
      • tutor registry
      • assertiveness training
      • exam skills
      • stress management
      • time management
      • coping with learning disabilities
      • financial planning
    3. Provide students with opportunities to grow and develop
      • leadership development
      • peer training programs
      • volunteer opportunities
      • citizenship development through involvement in the larger community
      • residence life leadership and programs
      • intercollegiate athletics
      • athletic and recreational skill development
    4. D. Provide students with opportunities to assess and develop their standards and appreciations:
      • making good use of leisure time
      • cultural and aesthetic appreciation
      • involvement in decision-making and appeals processes
      • discussion of ethical issues

  2. Supportive Functions
    Supportive programs, services and activities help the student deal with the challenges of intellectual, spiritual, cultural and personal development.
    1. Provide an appropriate environment for learning
      • orientation programs for students and parents
      • contributions to institutional policy-making and governance
      • retention programs
      • bookstore
      • support of student clubs
      • liaison with student government
      • liaison and recruitment activities
      • advocacy on student issues
      • promotion of “community” concept
    2. Assist student with financing their education
      • direct service
      • work study
      • financial crisis response
      • part-time employment opportunities
    3. Provide for the physical health and development of students
      • primary health care
      • health promotion programs
      • athletic injuries
      • athletic programs
      • physical recreational programs
    4. Provide for the physical comfort and safety of students
      • student residences
      • off campus housing services
      • sexual harassment and assault services
      • crisis responses to health problems
      • advocate for improvements to the physical environment
      • childcare services
      • food services
      • student union building
    5. Provide for the emotional support and development of students
      • developmental counseling
      • remedial counseling
      • individual or group counseling for presenting problems such as:
        • alcohol/drug problems physical/sexual abuse eating disorders
        • relationships grief self-confidence
        • loneliness sexual concerns
      • Chaplaincy services
    6. Provide support for special populations
      • students with disabilities
      • international students
      • women students
      • native students
      • part-time students
      • students with learning disabilities
      • mature students
    7. Assist students with career development
      • career counseling
      • aptitude and interest testing
      • life-long career management skills
      • goal setting and career decision-making
      • employment opportunities
    8. Assist students with transition from the institution
      • job search skills
      • alumni
      • placement services
      • employment opportunities

  3. Regulatory Functions
    Regulatory functions support standards of student conduct which reflect the best interest of the educational process and the individual student.
    1. Development of standards
      • admissions and student records policies
      • sexual harassment standards and policies
      • AIDS policy
      • codes of student rights and responsibilities
      • support for academic standards and controls
      • relevant contributions to institutional policy-making and governance
    2. Implementation
      • development of appropriate judicial services
      • ensuring provision of adequate security services

  4. Responsive Function
    Student Services personnel frequently are called on to respond to requests for programs and services or to respond to specific situations. The responsive function is supported by research, professional development and consultation.
    1. Research
      • student needs
      • student characteristics
      • campus environment
    2. Professional development
      • new developments in related fields
      • collegial support
      • generation of new ideas through collegial interaction
    3. Consultation
      Notwithstanding the organizational structure of Student Services on the campus, institutions should ensure that units providing services to students and sharing a common student development perspective have an opportunity to work together in fulfilling the university/college student services mission. To this end, a Student Services Advisory Council with broad representation is an ideal vehicle to enhance the collaborative effort between Student Services and students, faculty, staff and administrators, and ensure that the institution is responsive to students.


  1. Statement on Student Matters. AUCC, 1989
  2. A Perspective on Student Affairs. National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. Washington, D.C., 1987
  3. Access to Excellence: Being Canadian…Working Together for Post Secondary Education, Ottawa: Secretary of State of Canada. 1988.
  4. Access to Excellence: Being Canadian…Working Together for Post Secondary Education, Ottawa: Secretary of State of Canada. 1988.

This paper was developed by a committee representative of the six CACUSS regions:

  • British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan/Manitoba, Ontario, Québec, and the Atlantic provinces and the four CACUSS divisions
  • Canadian Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (CASFAA)
  • Canadian College Health Services Association (CCHSA)
  • Canadian University and College Counselling Association (CUCCA),
  • Student Affairs Division (SAD)

The committee included Bill Stewart (Chair), Lorna Cammaert, Brian Sullivan, David Morphy, Jennifer Orum, Doug Insleay, Tom Macfarlane, David Jordan, Doug MacEachern, Carolyn Larsen, and Peggy Patterson.

The paper was adopted by the Board of Directors on June 25, 1989.

While the CACUSS Board publishes monographs for the edification of its members, the monographs do not necessarily represent Board or CACUSS positions.

This paper is published by CACUSS, the Canadian Association of College & University Student Services, an association of approximately 750 professionals who are employed in various student service departments in 140 colleges and universities in Canada. CACUSS is composed of five divisions:

  • Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education (CADSPPE)
  • Canadian Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (CASFAA)
  • Canadian College Health Services Association (CCHSA)
  • Canadian University and College Counselling Association (CUCCA)
  • Student Affairs and Services Association (SASA)

Membership information and application forms for CACUSS may be obtained by contacting the Canadian Association of College & University Student Services Secretariat, PO Box 1570, Kingston ON K7L 5C8. Tel: 613-531-9210, Fax: 613-531-0626.

Copyright June 1989 CACUSS/ASEUCC. Additional copies may be purchased by contacting the Secretariat.

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