Core Competencies for the profession are quickly becoming a reality

Core Competencies for the profession are quickly becoming a realityJoel R. Zarr2003-09-0152Association Newsfalse

As a college union and student activities professional, it is likely that at some point you have been asked questions such as: "What makes one successful in this profession?" "What skills do I need if I want to go into college union and student activities work?" and "What can I work on to eventually become a director of a college union or student activities program?"

In 1999 ACUI commissioned a task force to develop core competencies for the college union and student activities profession. This task force was led by Jan Javinar, University of Hawaii–Manoa, and had its initial meeting in March 1999 at the annual conference in Dallas. A preliminary report to the ACUI Board of Trustees and Central Office staff was submitted in March 2002. The task force conducted a literature review on core competencies in the profession and an initial framework for ACUI to work from. Finishing this work then became a major goal of ACUI's newly formed Education Councils. To complete the work, the ACUI Education Councils Task Force on Core Competencies was established.

The task force has worked diligently during the past year and a half to complete this vital component of our profession. The timeline to complete this task calls for the establishment of "core competencies" for the college union and student activities profession by July 2004. This work can only be completed through continued engagement of ACUI's members.

The final product of the ACUI Education Councils Task Force on Core Competencies will focus on awareness, development, engagement, and involvement. Implementation and evaluation of the work completed will be needed to continue the validation of the identified core competencies.

In developing a framework for identifying core competencies, the following definitions were established based on a search of the literature on the subject matter.

Competency area:

Refers to category or theme. In this case, ACUI identified competency areas through its reinvention plan. They include administration, finance, and management; auxiliary services; facilities and operations; and campus life and program management.


Refers to a complete set of skills, related knowledge, and exhibited behaviors that lead to the successful accomplishment of, and purposeful performance in, college union and student activities work.

Core competency:

Refers to a set of composite skills, knowledge, and behaviors that provide the basis for successful professional practice in college union and student activities work.

The following process to develop core competencies, modified from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, has been adopted by ACUI's task force. Work completed to date and proposed tasks to be completed are listed under each phase.

Phase 1:

Determine how the Association will use the competencies.

•   Basis to structure ACUI's educational programs and the development of a purposeful "curriculum"

•   Identification of skills and experience needed for the profession

•   Refinement of position descriptions

•   Development of campus training programs

•   Enhancement of graduate program curricula

•   Assessment tools in the hiring process and performance evaluations

•   Career ladder and promotion tools

Phase 2:

Cultivate member involvement.

Completed to date:

•   Initial task force formed with a diversity of professionals in the field in 1999 and a framework for discussion

•   ACUI Education Council chairpersons established the completion of the development work as a major goal at their summer 2001 meeting

•   ACUI Education Council chairpersons refined the framework needed to develop competencies for the profession at their summer 2002 meeting using the report developed by original task force. Discussion among the Education Council chairpersons identified the following potential core competencies needed by the college union and activities profession:

••   Student development

••   Organization advising

••   Interpersonal skills

••   Fiscal management

••   Teaching and training

•   Solicited feedback on the work completed by the Education Council chairpersons during their summer 2002 meeting via the November 2002 Union Wire, ACUI_NET listserve, regional conferences, and January 2003 Bulletin

•   January 2003 Bulletin article, titled "What do we need to know? Competencies for union administrators," was written by Clarresa Morton, Administration, Finance, and Management Education Council chairperson

•   Rob Rouzer, 2002–03 ACUI president, dedicated his presidential column to this topic in the January 2003 Bulletin

•   Solicited feedback and discussion from each Education Council regarding core competencies during the 2003 annual conference and via their respective listserves. Compiled feedback received from each of the Education Councils

•   Updated members on work done to date in the August Union Wire, referring people to the ACUI Forum to continue the discussion

Continuing member involvement process:

•   Review core competency lists developed by each Education Council and identify common core competencies among the four competency areas

•   Request additional feedback via ACUI_NET and the ACUI Forum

•   Conduct focused discussions at regional conferences with the general membership and among the Regional Leadership Teams regarding the identified core competencies

•   Invite participants to engage in a focused discussion at the annual conference in Washington, D.C., regarding the identified core competencies

•   Present to the ACUI Leadership Team the work of the core competency task force; engage the team in a focused discussion of the findings and identified core competencies

•   Refine core competencies after the annual conference and send out to entire membership for final input via such methods as the ACUI Forum, Union Wire, and The Bulletin

•   Present final document and solicit confirmation of the work completed at the summer 2004 ACUI Leadership Team meeting

Phase 3:

Conduct an environmental scan of existing materials.

•   Literature search by Javinar completed in spring 2000, which will soon be updated

Phase 4:

Consistently validate information.

•   Focused discussions at the 2004 annual conference as described in Phase 2: Continuing member involvement process

•   ACUI Board of Trustees and Education Council chairpersons confirmation

•   Survey the profession on the identified core competencies (college union and student activities staff, student affairs administration, graduate program faculty)

•   Incorporate as groundwork in developing ACUI educational programs

•   Develop materials to use competencies at the institutional level and within graduate programs

•   Review at least every five years

Phase 5:

Present a final report to the ACUI membership—and possibly to student affairs administrators and graduate programs—identifying core competencies for the college union and student activities profession.

Will be published in different formats, such as a brochure, in ACUI publications, on the ACUI Web site, in related professional journals, on ACUI listserves, etc.

As a member of ACUI and, more importantly, as a professional in the college union and student activities field, it is vital for you to become engaged in this process of defining our core competencies. The development of core competencies for the profession is long overdue and will have a significant impact on day-to-day work in this field. You can log on to to join a discussion on the topic. Also, if you are interested in being part of the focused discussion groups at the annual conference in Washington, D.C., please contact Joel Zarr at (406) 243-5808 or During the next six months you will have opportunities to respond to listserve inquiries and provide input at your regional conference. Rouzer stated in his January 2003 column: "This gap between what is learned in college and what is needed in the work place is best filled by development efforts shaped by working professionals." Be part of this development effort of core competencies for our profession. Keep an eye open for the first draft of identified core competencies at the end of September.

Updated Nov. 9, 2012