Research Update: Christ Enlivening Student Affairs

By Ted Cockle, elijah jeong, Britney Graber, Perry Glanzer

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    Last year, ACSD provided our team with a research grant to explore how the Christian faith animates student affairs practice. Those of you who were at Biola University for ACSD 2018 may recall participating in an interview or hearing an announcement about the project in one of the main sessions. We wanted to share a brief update of the project in advance of our ACSD 2019 presentation at Wheaton College. 


    There are two specific goals for this project: (1) discover the thinking and practices of Christian student affairs professionals across the nation through a rigorous mixed-methods study; and (2) provide a Christian assessment and analysis of the state of Christian student affairs thinking and practice.  Since we currently do not have a resource that systematizes the best practices from the whole field of Christian student affairs, we often base our work on anecdotal evidence.   We hoped that this project could catalog the best thinking and practices in the field in order to help us discover what works and why. To do this, we needed to hear from you, and you responded. 

    Phases of Data Collection

    In accordance with a grounded theory approach to research—where themes emerge from the data, rather than being imposed through a prior conceptual framework—we collected data in multiple phases.  This provided us with the opportunity to allow your responses to shape and define the next phase of inquiry at each stage of the process. 

    Phase I: In Phase I, we conducted an extensive review of the Christian student affairs literature on Christian.  Our “search for God” in student affairs literature was really an effort to discover how leaders writing about student affairs overtly connect theology and the biblical narrative to their work.  This review would provide the basis and building blocks for the rest of our project.

    Phase II:  Based on the findings of our literature review, we formulated an initial survey for chief student development officers, typically a vice president of student life/development.  We asked these upper-administrators about their educational backgrounds and what makes their practice(s) distinctly Christian.

    Phase III: The Phase II survey responses informed the types of questions we eventually asked during our in-depth interviews in Phase III. Our interview protocol included questions about who Christian student affairs professionals are, who they hope their students become, why they desire that outcome, and how they help students achieve said outcome. We also asked a series of topical questions that included questions regarding residence life, student conduct, student vocations, multicultural affairs, and sexuality.  Overall, we conducted in-depth personal interviews with over seventy student affairs professionals at CCCU institutions across the nation.

    Phase IV: The most recent phase of our research involved an in-depth mixed-methods survey of student affairs professionals (at all levels) that many (over 300!) of you took.

    Data and Analysis

    Between each phase of inquiry, we analyzed some of the data, debriefed our analysis as a team, and determined which questions would help us discover how faith informs the practice of Christian student affairs professionals. All of these phases combined have led to input from well over 400 of you, which amounts to over 1,000 pages of transcribed data.  We are well underway with our analysis, frequently checking and re-checking our emergent theories against more data. As we’ve collected the voices of so many in the Association, we have found some amazing things that we are excited to share! 

    Forthcoming Output

    Because there are so many facets to Christian student affairs, we will be publishing our results in various forms in the near future.  Here is an initial snapshot of how we will share our findings:

    ACSD 2019 Workshops

    We look forward to sharing some of our preliminary findings with you all at Wheaton College next week!  We are hosting two workshops based on our national study:

    Tuesday, June 4 at 11 am
    How Does Christ Animate Student Affairs? Results from National Research 

    Wednesday, June 5 at 1 pm
    Can I Call This Place Home? Challenges and Opportunities to Creating Inclusive Racial Climates

    ASHE Conference

    A number of us have submitted proposals to the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) drawing on data from this project.  Our proposals are currently under review. 

    Journal Articles

    Our review of the literature has been accepted by the International Journal of Christianity and Education and is forthcoming.  Other articles are currently under review including an article on supporting students of color at CCCU institutions, the state of Title IX at Christian colleges, and a sociological analysis of the Christian Student Affairs Identity.


    At ACSD 2020, we will release the publication of our findings in full! The book release from Abilene Christian University Press will coincide with a presentation (likely in a pre-conference session) on the state of Christian student affairs.

    Thank you

    Thank you to all who have participated in the study thus far, and we look forward to reflecting your voice back to you—to help define and defend the unique contribution of Christian student affairs.


    Ted Cockle, Doctoral Student, Higher Education Studies and Leadership at Baylor University

    Elijah Jeong, Doctoral Candidate, Higher Education Studies and Leadership at Baylor University

    Britney Graber, Doctoral Candidate, Higher Education Studies and Leadership at Baylor University

    Perry L. Glanzer, Ph.D., Professor of Educational Foundations and a Resident Scholar with Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University


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