Lower retention rate amongst young professionals in Higher Education

While higher education encompasses both academic and student affairs areas, for this blog post I want to focus on a contemporary issue specific to student affairs area in higher education. One of the biggest problems in student affairs functional areas is the retention of new professionals. Student affairs is known to have one of the highest attrition rates compared to a similar profession.

According to Renn & Hodges (2007), the reasons professionals leave one institution for another institution or one job for another job is connected with having heavy workload impacting their personal life, job dissatisfaction, lack of direct mentoring from a supervisor, inadequate supervision, and lack of professional development opportunities. Based on numerous research studies conducted to understand the reasoning behind lower retention rates amongst young student affairs professionals, lack of quality supervision is one of the biggest factors (Davis and Cooper, 2017). Just like many individuals in the workforce, Student affairs professionals highly value progressing in their functional areas while continue gaining knowledge and experience through participating in diverse practices/opportunities. However, this requires not only participation from new professionals but also supervisors. This practice is known as synergic supervision. Davis and Cooper (2017) describe synergic supervision as a dynamic process that requires participation from both the new professional(s) and the supervisor. Also, synergic supervision ensures that new professionals achieve their professional and personal goals as well as meeting organizational goals.

Unfortunately, most if not all of the professionals do not learn about supervision in their graduate program as well as their graduate assistantships. Thus, professionals try to perfect their supervision style through trial and error. This specific approach comes at a cost because a lack of quality supervision has been linked to young professionals leaving the department or the institution or the student affairs profession as a whole. Losing a professional comes at a very high cost to the department and/or the institution because you lose the diverse experience and the ideas they have but also resources invested after them.

In my experience thus far as a graduate student in the higher education program at Virginia Tech, I have not had as much experience supervising student leaders as I would have like to. Although, I have learned about other people’s supervising style, reflect on my supervision style, and the ways I can work to improve my supervision style through classes, and participating in training sessions and other professional development opportunities. Furthermore, I have had one opportunity in my time as a graduate student to directly supervise student leaders. During the summer of 2019, I served as a NODA intern at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg working in the orientation office. One of my responsibility as a NODA intern was to supervise 15 student leaders. Just as I mentioned above, I had no previous experience directly supervising students. Therefore, I had to follow a trial and error approach as well as the content I learned in classes to supervise students. Through this experience, I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge on how I can best supervise individuals. Moving forward, I will continue to seek out opportunities to further my knowledge in supervision and incorporate the knowledge I gained through my past experiences into my practice in the future.


Davis, T. J. & Cooper, D. L. (2017). “People are Messy”: Complex Narratives of Supervising New Professionals in Student Affairs. Journal of Student Affairs Reseach and Practice, 54(1), 55-68. https://doi.org/10.1080/19496591.2016.1219267

Renn, K. A., & Hodges, J. P. (2007). The first year on the job: Experiences of new professionals in student affairs. NASPA Journal, 44(2), 367–391. doi:10.2202/0027-6014.1800

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