Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


The Council of Student Personnel Associations in Higher Education: A Historical Analysis of Inter-Association Collaboration in Student Affairs

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Michael D. Coomes (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Nicholas Bowman (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Maureen Wilson (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Jeanne Novak (Other)


In 1958, four professional associations in the field of college student personnel, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), the American College Personnel Association (ACPA), the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), and the National Association of Women Deans and Counselors (NAWDAC), gathered in St. Louis for a joint professional organization meeting. The participants discussed issues common to their groups and agreed to meet on an annual basis. This collaboration first called itself the Inter-Association Coordinating Committee (IACC) and later changed its name to the Council of Student Personnel Associations in Higher Education or COSPA. The Council would grow to include 16 member associations before dissolving in 1975. This study sought to explore this example of inter-association collaboration and provided an opportunity to examine the past to better inform decision making of today and tomorrow and add to the literature of the history of the student affairs profession.

Using Goodchild and Huk’s (1990) educational narrative research design as a methodological framework, this study used primary source documents contained in the archival collections of COSPA, ACPA, NASPA, and NAWDAC (later renamed NAWE – the National Association for Women in Education) housed in the National Student Affairs Archives in the Center for Archival Collections at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. The research established that the initiative grew out of a call for greater collaboration among professional associations in student personnel work. The Collaboration grew and prospered due to the efforts and commitment of key border spanners. This growth also led to increased communication challenges. Furthermore, COSPA faced the constant challenge of turnover, both in terms of representatives from the member associations and the Collaboration’s leadership. A combination of factors led to COSPA’s end, including a growing tension between generalist and specialist member associations, philosophical disagreements on its mission, and the impact of a large founding organization leaving the table. The Collaboration advanced efforts in professional preparation and student financial aid that continued after dissolution while simultaneously not being able to capitalize on opportunities on shared concerns such as placement.