Press Release

October 29, 2018

New Report Highlights Successes and Challenges for the Higher Education Student Affairs Workforce

A recent report from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR), Focus on Student Affairs, 2018: Understanding Key Challenges Using CUPA-HR Data, conveys two key findings: Student affairs is ahead of the curve on workforce diversity and pay equity, and the fastest growing student affairs positions reflect higher demand for student mental health services.

Student affairs is exemplary in pay equity for women and minorities compared to the rest of higher education, and particularly in leadership roles. Among the findings:

  • About 71 percent of student affairs positions are held by women, compared to only 58 percent among all higher education professionals.
  • In student affairs, 56 percent of top officers are female, compared to only 51 percent among all higher education administrators.

The data also highlight important considerations for college and university leaders who expect student affairs professionals to address the challenges of an increasingly diverse student body. Student affairs staff are among the most diverse on campus and are generally representative of the students they serve. However, a significant projected increase in Hispanic students by 2026 should prompt action to ensure that there are more Hispanic student affairs staff in the pipeline. Hispanics currently comprise 8% of the student affairs workforce, compared to 17% of students.

Another trend affecting student affairs in higher ed is the growing demand for mental health services. Institutions have increased the number of new mental health counselor positions faster than other positions in student affairs for 2017-18. Compared to the overall 7 percent growth rate for student affairs positions in higher ed, the number of student counselors has increased 10 percent, and the number of student counseling psychologists has increased 8 percent from 2016-17 to 2017-18. In contrast, the number of student career counselor positions has only increased 2 percent.

Additional findings include:

  • Institutions employ a median of eight leadership positions and 14 frontline employees in student affairs, though these figures vary significantly by size and classification. In general, the number of leaders is higher and the ratio of students to frontline employees is higher as the number of students increases and institutional classification changes. Associate’s institutions, perhaps because of more non-residential students, have the fewest leadership roles and serve the highest number of students per student affairs group.
  • CUPA-HR’s analysis of age and years in position found that the median starting age for student affairs professionals was 32 years old, the lowest of any professional higher education group. This suggests a strong pipeline of individuals beginning their higher education careers in student affairs.

“This report confirms a mostly anecdotal observation that student affairs divisions and leadership represent one of the most diverse sectors in higher education,” said Kevin Kruger, Ph.D., president of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. “However, the report also makes clear that more progress is needed in order to ensure that the student affairs workforce is truly representative of the rich diversity of students who attend our colleges and universities. It is critical that we continue to increase pathways for access, pay equity and advancement for women and professionals of color in student affairs.”

Read Focus on Student Affairs, 2018: Understanding Key Challenges Using CUPA-HR Data and check out CUPA-HR’s other research briefs.


CUPA-HR is higher ed HR. We serve higher education by providing the knowledge, resources, advocacy and connections to achieve organizational and workforce excellence. Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, and serving more than 30,000 HR professionals and other campus leaders at more than 2,000 member institutions and organizations around the country and abroad, the association offers learning and professional development programs, higher education salary and benefits data, extensive online resources and just-in-time regulatory and legislative information.

CUPA-HR is the recognized authority on compensation surveys for higher education, designed by higher ed HR professionals for higher ed HR professionals and other campus leaders. Learn more about CUPA-HR research.

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Erin Rosolina
Marketing Manager – Communications and Marketing


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