When I tell people that I have been granted a sabbatical (which I feel obliged to tell you is officially called “leave for professional advancement for the benefit of the College” by my institution), they often appear surprised that I, a non-teaching professional staff member, am eligible for such a thing. Being on sabbatical seems to convey a sense of scholarly import not usually associated — at least by outsiders — with student affairs, or with community colleges.

I’ll let my dissertation committee judge the scholarly importance of my work while I’m on leave. And hopefully my college will find my results beneficial. Meanwhile, I want to get the word out that community colleges often accord the work of student affairs a great deal of respect. I’ve worked at several other institutions, all of them four-year colleges or universities serving more traditional student populations, so I have some basis for comparison. None of those four-year institutions offered a leave for professional development to anyone except teaching faculty members.

In addition, collaboration between teaching and non-teaching faculty and staff members is both collegial and commonplace on my campus. The work of student affairs is to assist students in achieving their academic goals and to support faculty members in creating an effective learning environment. Over all, faculty members and administrators understand that our work with students outside of the classroom — whether through leadership programs, counseling services, conduct and conflict resolution, financial aid, or career and transfer advising — supports the academic mission of the college.

And, yes, my research engagement has direct and indirect benefits on my work. My results will provide additional information about community-college students and what helps or hinders their progress. In conducting interviews, I’ve been able to direct students to resources for financial aid or other services, which they may not have gotten otherwise.

This type of environment is not only more satisfying and rewarding as an employee, it also benefits those who ultimately matter: the students. When an adviser helps a student select the right course for transfer, when a professor walks a distressed student to the counseling center, when a financial-aid staffer helps a student in need, everyone wins.

So if you’re in student affairs and looking for an environment where your professional development will be supported, where your work will be respected, and where you will encounter a diverse array of inspiring students, a community college might be perfect for you.

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