Posted 11:43 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023
A tradition of scholarship + practice
In UWL’s Student Affairs Administration master’s and doctoral program, students prepare for careers in higher education administration whether working in university leadership; housing; advising; equity, diversity, and inclusion; and many other university co-curricular activities.
UWL’s program has strong roots as one of the first programs in the Midwest. It has continually innovated, becoming an early adopter of online learning in 2007. Even in a remote learning environment, the program blends scholarship with practice. Students must work in higher education at least half-time while in the master’s program and full-time in the doctoral program. Master’s students complete a two-semester capstone project, while doctoral students complete a full dissertation. Both represent scholarship and practice put together.
Capstone projects often result in changes at students’ home campuses. In the last year, capstone projects that have been implemented led to:
- Revamped emergency loan process at a technical college
- New campus bereavement policies at a public university
- New mentorship program for diverse students at a private university
“Students should be able to apply what they are learning to their everyday practice at work,” says Tori Svoboda, Student Affairs Administration department chair. “It’s fun to see when students become really invested and they can see the payoff of this scholarship and practice coming together. Students’ work towards improving access to and experiences in higher education gives me hope about the future of our field.”
While students are able to make important contributions to their workplace through SAA projects, the program instructors do not presume the SAA program is a student’s No. 1 priority. Instead, family, community, personal health and working career are priorities.
“Students routinely describe the level of support they receive from our faculty to be much higher than expected, and I think that’s why we have such high graduation rates," says Svoboda.
About the program
Time to degree
Master’s = 2 years
Doctoral = 3-4 years
Flexible for working professionals
The master’s program is offered hybrid or fully online.
The doctoral program is offered fully online (plus optional on-campus summer writer’s retreat after the first year).
4th in the nation to offer an online SAA master’s
UWL’s online master’s program started in 2007; the online doctorate began in 2017.
Strong staying power
82% — retention rate for doctoral students who began in 2017-2020
Small cohorts = tighter bonds
Total fall 2023 enrollment
- 48 master’s students
- 54 doctoral students
- Average cohort size = 14
Racial and geographic diversity
Average enrollment of students of color, 2018-2023
- 25% master’s students
- 40% doctoral students
Total states that online students join from, 2018-2023
- 29 states
Students learn at all ages
- Master’s age range 21-50
- Doctoral age range 27-57
First in their families
- 42% — first-generation students as undergraduates
Learn from experienced professionals
- 4 full-time faculty who averaged 20 years in field before becoming faculty
- 16 ad hoc faculty working at institutions nationwide
- 50+ graduate faculty nationwide who serve on dissertation committees
Student launches speaking career based on SAA research
Student Affairs Administration graduate student Lo Klink has become an educator locally and nationally on implicit bias after completing her capstone research in UWL’s Student Affairs Administration program in 2021.
Her research on how implicit bias impacts scholarship awarding was published in the Journal of Student Financial Aid. In the last two years, Klink has presented to over 2,000 people.
"Having concepts of social justice incorporated into every class really helped me advance my work relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion, which launched my speaking career as an expert in implicit bias,” says Klink.
Her research has also led to many positive changes at the institution where she works, UW-Madison, where they have continued to remove barriers in the scholarship application process.
Changes include reducing the need for review committees, leveraging existing data versus asking students to submit supplemental scholarship materials, and providing campus unites with the ability to examine scholarship applications with tools to remove bias in the wording as well as review processes.
Now in the SAA doctoral program at UWL, Klink will continue examining the impacts of implicit bias in funding higher education.
“I've been incredibly grateful to the professors and my peers in the program. I attribute much of my success to all of them,” says Klink. “My professors will tell me I always had it in me, but they were instrumental in my ability to find my passion and voice through research.”
After graduation, Klink would like to continue to educate people on implicit bias and other ways to reduce inequality in our society, particularly at the college level.
"This work is truly never done, but if I can be a guide or someone who helped someone else along in their journey, that is something that truly makes an impact,” says Klink.
Student grows in her current student affairs role through SAA
Hleeda Vang has been applying student development theories and other knowledge from the SAA program into her everyday work supporting students as a student success coach for the Rising Phoenix program at UW-Green Bay.
"I have been using student development theories to help better understand and develop learning outcomes that strengthen purpose in course lectures and assignments for the courses we teach our students within the Rising Phoenix program” she says.
Now in her first year of the SAA program, Vang aims to use her degree to continue to grow as a leader in student affairs roles. Learning more about the professional competency areas within higher education have helped her recognize areas for professional strength and growth.
“My colleagues and I are working to incorporate these competencies into the continued development of our team and build more awareness of these competencies,” she says. “I'm excited to continue in this SAA program and to see the value it brings to the work we do within student affairs.”
Recent faculty awards and service in SAA
- Tori Svoboda, SAA department chair, received the Wisdom Award from the Commission for Women’s Identities, one of many entity groups within ACPA - College Student Educators International, one of two leading international professional associations for those working in student affairs/higher education.
- Becki Elkins, an associate professor in UWL’s SAA Program, received the CASSH Faculty Recognition of Excellence service award, recognizing outstanding contributions by the College of Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CASSH)/Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) faculty, staff, and students.
- Adele Lozano, associate professor of SAA, received the 2021 NASPA Region IV-East Research and Practice Grant from NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators) Region IV-East. She also has a publication coming out, “Reimagining Validation Theory Through a ‘Space and Place’ Lens.”
- Dre Domingue, lecturer in SAA, served as president of ACPA College Student Educators International.
- Charlotte Davidson, lecturer in SAA, is the NASPA Indigenous Relations chair.