Field experience

A page within Student Affairs Administration, Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.)

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The importance of field experience / supervised practice

The Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) provide guidelines for master’s level student affairs professional preparation programs. The guidelines have indicated that programs should, among many other things, include a minimum of 40-48 semester credit hours OR two years of full-time academic study and at least 300 hours of supervised practice with practicums and/or internships in at least two distinct areas. Although CAS has lightened the hours more recently, the supervised practice expectation is one way student affairs professional preparation graduate programs are different than other higher education administration or policy programs that can be completed in less time. We believe SAA graduates have been successful because of the breadth and depth of experience they complete in our program.

Primary Professional / Field Experience

The SAA program requires students to work at least half-time in higher education settings while enrolled in the program (20 hours/week during the academic year (30 weeks) for two years, so students have at least 1200 hours of field experience by the time they graduate). Students meet the program’s general field experience requirement through graduate assistantships or internships, or through a primary part- or full-time job.

Students to use this primary field experience as a site to practice what they learn in classes, and to teach peers what it is like to work in a particular functional area at a particular institutional type. Students also share their knowledge and experiences through an ePortfolio requirement, which gives them an opportunity to document and reflect on their growth throughout the program.

Students create the ePortfolio in the SAA 700 Foundations course, sharing their initial reflections on the ten ACPA/NASPA professional competencies, then add more comprehensive reflections and artifacts in subsequent courses in the program. The ePortfolio concludes in the SAA 790 Capstone course, where students add final reflections on their growth in all ten areas. 

Additional Supervised Practice

According to CAS, “Students must gain exposure to both the breadth and depth of student affairs work.” Even if one has worked in a specific area of higher education for some time, they may not have exposure to other functional areas, institutional types, offices/units, etc. At UWL, our goal is to help students explore the richness of student affairs practice, so we require to complete one practicum (supervised field practice) in addition to their two years of primary field experience while enrolled in the program.

A single practicum credit (SAA 775) is typically completed in a student’s second-year in the program, and reflects a 70-hour investment in a functional area or institutional type not yet well-known to the student. Students must enroll in SAA 775 during the academic term in which their hours will be completed, and the experience must be supervised by a qualified professional.

The goal is to help students learn about a distinctly different area than the ones with which they are most familiar, and often, that can be done during the “other duties as assigned” part of a full-time job (e.g., by serving on a professional organization’s conference planning committee to deepen one’s competency in social justice/inclusion, or serving on a campus-wide initiative or campus governance entity to deepen one’s competency in partnering with others in advising/support).

The practicum does not have to be spent in a traditional unpaid 5+ hours/week role in a different office. In fact, it can only be unpaid if the student is gaining more from the educational experience than the supervisor/site is gaining from the student’s labor. We encourage students to find paid opportunities, even if the site cannot offer a salary/stipend but could offer other resources (e.g., support to attend a conference).

As noted on the practicum page, students who have two years of full-time experience in higher education / student affairs prior to joining our program, and also have experience in two distinctly different areas, can apply to substitute a different special topics course for a practicum credit, should they wish to gain more content / scholarly knowledge rather than more experience.

New in 2022!

Starting in Fall 2022, we are launching a credit for prior learning option, which we're calling the Portfolio Review Assessment (PRA).  This will allow those with two-years of full-time experience in two distinctly different areas of higher education / student affairs to reflect on their prior work and provide evidence of growth and learning through their ePortfolio.