After spending over 5 years working and participating in co-curricular activities, I have always been fascinated by is the idea of student life as a ‘privileged’ or ‘special’ opportunity reserved only for certain students. Beyond any discussions of marketing these activities to the non traditional student population (e.g. mature students, transfer students or other students who do not fit the ‘typical’ 18-24, direct from high school mold), what struck me was the notion that many students could simply not afford to participate in life outside the classroom as their time was taken up with academics and working to afford school and supplies.
This idea was brought up during a discussion of how to get more students involved in co-curricular activities. Many of my colleagues, myself included, thought that students simply didn’t see the value of these programs, and that it was therefore our job to convince them that spending time in these workshops, seminars and activities would help them develop skills and knowledge relevant to their career goals. What we failed to consider, however, was that many students were already working close to full time hours simply to pay for school. These students spend the time we would consider available for student life activities working so they can attend classes and take exams, the very things we consider to be only one part of the full university experience.
What strikes me as most compelling about this issue is the notion that students who work to afford university or college are somehow ‘missing out’ on the complete university experience. As most of the student affairs administrators I come across are passionate about their craft and will continually extol the virtues of getting involved in life outside the classroom. We consider this to be part of the ‘whole’ university experience, thereby implying that a student’s university experience is not complete without participation in co-curricular activities. Whenever we imply that someone is ‘missing’ something, the very connotation can make students feel like they are somehow different or that their own experiences are less valuable than others’.
What I would like to consider is that instead of a black and white conception of student development through co-curricular activities (i.e. participation or no participation), we must begin to view other student activities, even those outside the campus walls, as relevant to a students’ learning and growth. Many mature students present life and/or work experience when applying to academic programs, citing numerous skills that will support and enhance their own university experience. Those students who work, or even those that participate in programs that are similar to those offered at the university in their communities (e.g. charity work, volunteer activities), are developing these same life and work experiences that make mature students valuable additions to the classroom. Instead of assuming that only those activities offered by the institution provide meaningful development, it may be time to branch out and consider how these students who work and volunteer outside of the university can contribute to student life. Just as there is no longer one type of student, there must no longer be one type or method of involvement that we can expect to respond to a multiple of student needs. Moving the consideration of life and work experience beyond the admissions process and into the realm of co-curricular involvement remains an interesting new research direction I am looking to explore.