Why They Stay: Variables Associated With Commitment Among Student Affairs Professionals
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Attrition of new student affairs professionals can be financially burdensome to an institution and simultaneously handicaps the continuity of service and engagement of student affairs. Factors related to the departure of student affairs staff have been studied; however, understanding how professionals who stay build commitment has remained unknown. This lack of understanding limits leaders’ abilities to proactively address a high rate of attrition among new student affairs professionals. The purpose of this study was to understand how satisfaction and dissatisfaction affect the development of commitment among student affairs professionals. This study was conducted using a qualitative methodology with a case study design. Using a purposeful sample, seven midlevel student affairs professionals shared their experiences of satisfaction and commitment relevant to their organization and the student affairs profession. Participants completed the Abridged Job Descriptive Index instrument, participated in a semistructured interview, and provided artifacts relative to their experiences. All collected data were coded, identifying common points of interest and patterns. Four primary themes emerged as having a direct connection to satisfaction and commitment: (a) The Work Itself, (b) An Employee’s Relationships, (c) The Perceived Level of Investment an Employee Feels, and (d) Benefits. Deep levels of affective and normative commitments were expressed by participants who worked with organization leaders who had recognized factors associated with satisfaction and the influence on commitment, demonstrated command of participants’ work, involved participants in policies and processes, and demonstrated investment in employees’ overall experiences. Financial and employment benefits, while valued, were not found to be a dominating factor for why a professional remains with an organization. Findings of this study can help student affairs leaders prioritize and emphasize the variables consistent with satisfaction and the building of employee commitment. Future research should look at the development of commitment of student affairs professionals who have been in the field longer than 8 years to determine if variables reflective of satisfaction and commitment remain constant or change over time.