Incorporating the ACPA/NASPA Technology Competency into Your Student Affairs Role

The American College Personnel Administration (ACPA) and Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education (NASPA) published a revised version of professional competencies for student affairs educators along with the new technology (TECH) competency last year.

The entire document of competencies are a compilation of past competencies built by the Council of Advancement Standards in Higher Education (CAS) with other studies from ACPA. Each professional competency provides outcomes and descriptions that are divided into three levels for student affairs practitioners to integrate into their work over the course of their career in higher education – foundational, intermediate, and advanced.

Technology leaders and proponents of social media strategies were excited for the development and implementation of a tech competency. There’s a group of people in the field who were already integrating these efforts into work and presenting information about best practices at conferences: this competency development allows for intentional practice alongside all professional competencies.

The technology competency for student affairs practitioners is a monumental leap forward in the advancement, and overall attitude, of technology within the field.” – Eric Stoller

NASPA & ACPA review how technology efforts were implemented before this new competency was published:

“In 2010, technology was included as a ‘thread’ or ‘an essential element of each competency area’. However, an unintended consequence was that technology was often omitted from practical applications of the competencies. Responding to similar observations, ACPA’s Digital Task Force and NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community each submitted recommendations to add technology as a distinct competency area.”

When developing the tech competency, the 2014-2015 Joint Task Force On Professional Competencies had to be mindful of balancing what to include and exclude in the new competency while keeping this question in mind: what do we incorporate into the competency that student affairs professionals need to be successful?

To brush up on the ACPA/NASPA competencies dive into the document here.

As a software company in higher education, we’ve already started to adopt competency practices and decided to compile ways professionals can incorporate deliberate efforts into their work individually and divisionally.

Implementing the Tech Competency

Student affairs departments are naturally resistant to change. Along with the other competencies, the technology competency needs to be wove through student affairs daily work. The first ‘to-do’ is identifying what’s most important to get you and your team started.

We’ve highlighted specific areas to implement the tech competency to help focus your energy.

Update Job Descriptions

Make utilizing tech an expectation from the beginning. Job position descriptions communicate with prospective employees how they prioritize institutional visions, goals, and how they make efforts to stay up-to-date with college students.

This new competency solidifies technology as an essential part of our work, not just a fad that can be embraced by some and not others.” – Josie Alhquist

Although we couldn’t find any specific job responsibilities (yet!) we found some institutions using specific language surrounding tech. Weber State University included these expectations for their student affairs division:

1) Recognize the importance of and benefits/drawbacks of various technologies

2) Learn new technologies as needed for effective functioning in the workplace

3) Be aware and understand how students use technology and it’s impact on their development

Take a moment and casually look at job descriptions on HigherEdJobs and other job search sites. What can you learn from these job descriptions?

Activity: Have your student affairs team help you. Print off job multiple job descriptions (or your own) and identify what matches up with the responsibilities that are actually carried out in the said position. Chances are, you’re a director or senior leader in your department and may miss a few of the “other duties as assigned” that should be incorporated into the description.

This gives student affairs departments the opportunity to update job descriptions to intentionally reflect competencies they want new hires to possess or expect to develop when they arrive to the institution.

Provide On-Going Professional Development #ProDev

“No single person has all the skills and knowledge of all components of the competency (theories, technology, practice) so partnership with campus colleagues (scholars, practitioners, IT professionals) must happen for professional development and collaboration opportunities to develop the outcomes.”

Joe Sabado

Have an honest conversation about how comfortable your team feels about implementing new technology or social media in the department. Give social media and technology presentations or workshops in-house – it’s an opportunity to tap into the resources of your team while strengthening relationships.

Create a social media committee or technology committee to help your department focus on new initiatives and invite students to be part of the conversation. Incorporating perspectives from students allows students to teach professionals about new technology and social media – and unique insight about how students on your campus specifically utilize them.

If you’re in a place where your unsure where to begin, it would be a good idea to bring a higher education technology speakers to campus. There are a few mentioned in this post, whom are available to give presentations all over the country and the world on digital identity, digital citizenship, and how to further leverage social media and technology personally and professionally.

Create a Professional Development Template

Assess where you’re at and be honest with your abilities. We’ve started with some examples of the tech competency for you.

Although we’ve specifically focused on the tech competency, you can use this template for any of the competencies.

Creating Buy-In

Your colleagues may not understand why this tech competency (or the competencies in general) are important to the field. They help create student affairs positions, policies, and are a guide for creating job responsibilities, among many other things. You (as a tech leader, divisional leader, or supervisor) have the unique responsibility in helping them develop a clear vision of how the use of technology is shifting with the modern college student.

Make sure your non-technology savvy folks understand terms, concepts, and reasoning – in their position and the larger picture in student affairs – so they feel like they’re being on-boarded to something that doesn’t seem intimidating.

Use examples of how other universities are using the tech competency and have success with it. Tell a story about how the competency can help reach your student affair’s team goals. When people see real-world examples, they’re more likely to adapt to something because they see what happens when other teams change and it builds trust with your own team.

Implications for Student Affairs Practitioners

If we assume each competency area grows with a professional over time when incorporated into a professional development competency plan, student affairs leadership will want to consider all competencies when hiring and promoting professionals holistically into new positions. Which means, each student affairs practitioner is expected to be consistently working on each competency throughout their career, identify strengths individually, and work to improve upon competency areas they need to develop.

“As higher education moves further online, student affairs educators must grapple with the question of what developmental holistic education will look like in the future.” – Paul Brown

Through the creation of the technology competency, it’s no longer a side responsibility, but a consideration for all student affairs practitioners to incorporate efforts into their daily work. Ongoing discussions about the technology competency will be critical as we continue to maximize new technologies, practices, and strategies and truly understand the impact on students and their development.

How are you planning on implementing the technology competencyHave you already started to implement it?

Which area(s) of the technology competency do you feel you’re advanced? Intermediate? Foundational?

Have you created or found student affairs job descriptions that reflect the tech competency?

Share your ideas or comments with us @CheckImHere!


Ahlquist, J. (2015). Grounding student affairs work in technology : ACPA/NASPA approves updated competencies.

Brown, P. (2015). Overview (part 1): The technology competency for student affairs educators.

Sabado, J. (2015). Thoughts on ACPA/NASPA technology competency area.

Vaccaro, A. (2013). Personal communication.

Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham is the former Community Engagement Manager at Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

Check I'm Here is now Presence. Learn more about this change in our blog post here.