Welcome, my name is Jody Donovan. I serve as the Assistant Vice President for Student
Affairs and the Dean of Students. I also teach Student Development Theory in the Student
Affairs in Higher Education graduate program.
This is an overview of student development theory. Student development theory is really
an area of study that explores why students do the things they do. It helps us understand
students, it helps us predict and anticipate student behavior, it helps us understand what
we can do to help students grow, and learn, and maximize their educational experience
at a college or university.
Student development theory is broken into four different areas. Psychosocial, which
is sort of how students interact with one another, how they come to understand themselves,
that's psychosocial. The cognitive areas are helping us understand how students think and
how they make decisions. Then the third area is the typology theories. That's basically
an understanding of the traits and characteristics of students that then lends us to help them
understand where they might enjoy working, how they interact with others. Their traits
and characteristics. The last is person-environment theory. That's how they interact with the
environment, how the environment shapes students' behaviors.
Some examples: student development theory can help us understand how students come to
figure out their identities: their racial identity, their sexual orientation, their
gender identity. How they figure out who they are. That also helps us understand how students
come to determine how they make meaning of their lives. What's their purpose? What do
they believe in? What's most important to them? Student development theory can help
us understand how students make ethical decisions. When a person is confronted with a moral dilemma,
there are theories that help us understand why a student would choose a decision so as
not to be punished versus maybe a higher order thinking of, what's best universally for all
Then there are some fun parts of student development theory such as person-environment theory,
that helps us understand when a student lives on a residential floor, why their experience
is different if they live at the end of the hall versus near a restroom. There's a lot
more community happening around that restroom. Students who live in the middle of a floor
are going to be much more engaged, and social, and know more people than students who are
living at the end of the floor. If we know all of those things, that helps Student Affairs
professionals design programs and services to better meet students' needs.
That is what student development theory is all about.