Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


Those Who Just Said “NO!”: Career-Life Decisions of Middle Management Women in Student Affairs Administration

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Carney Strange (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Dafina-Lazarus Stewart, Ph,D, (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Maureen Wilson (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Steven Langendorfer (Committee Member)


This study examined the experiences of six female middle managers in student affairs who, while otherwise qualified with experience and an earned doctorate, turned down the opportunity to serve as vice president of student affairs. In-depth purposeful interviews were conducted with each participant, using naturalistic qualitative research methods grounded in the constructivist paradigm (Guba & Lincoln, 1989; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). From a backdrop of related research (Aleman & Renn, 2002; Blackhurst, Brandt & Kalinowski, 1998; McKenna, 1997; Nobbe & Manning, 1997), interview probes guided the examination of personal and professional experiences that led these women to their current status and their perceptions of any consequences they may have faced as a result of their career decisions. Data revealed emergent themes, which were used to craft individual case reports and to assemble an aggregate construction in response to the primary research questions.

Findings indicated that, while participants once aspired to the vice presidency as their ultimate goal, a number of personal and professional reasons led each to make a conscious decision to forgo the next step on the student affairs career ladder and remain in their current, middle management position. Personal reasons included the need to attend to relationships with significant others (e.g., spouse, partner, children); professional reasons included levels of anticipated stress and undue expectations and time commitments that placed their family-work balance in jeopardy. A combination of motives related to their rejection of advancement as well as their desire to maintain their current level in the organization led to their revision of occupational aspirations and a reclaiming of a more holistic life pattern.

Themes generated in these data resulted in a number of recommendations for student affairs administrative policy and practice, as well as suggestions for future research. From a perspective of policy and practice student affairs could benefit from reconsidering current work expectations, with an eye toward alternative models to accommodate a broader range of career patterns. Further research is needed to consider in greater depth the role significant others play in career decisions, especially as it intersects with influences of race, culture, and gender.