Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Higher Education (EdD)

Degree Level



Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders


John Murry

Committee Member

Katevan Mamiseishvili

Second Committee Member

Michael Miller


Senior Level Student Affairs, Student Affairs, Student Affairs Leadership, Women in Student Affairs


Women account for over half of the populations of enrolled students and employed staff and administrators in higher education. In student affairs, women current accounts for over 60% of employees at the entry and mid-levels of administration, but less than half of all senior-level executive positions are filled by women. Furthermore, the majority of the women in senior-level student affairs administrative roles work at two-year institutions; doctoral granting research intensive universities have the lowest numbers of women student affairs professionals in senior-level positions. The career pathway to advance from entry-level to senior-level positions is unclear, and as a result, many women are remaining stagnant at the mid-level without a clear understanding of how to advance. The purpose of this study was to gain an understanding of how women professionals entering the field of student affairs in public research universities can chart a career pathway from their entry point to senior-level student affairs administrator positions. Because the numbers of female students and women in student affairs administration is continuing to grow, it is important that women are equally represented at the senior-levels at the top institutions in the U.S.

Five current senior-level student affairs administrators, holding jobs at public four-year doctoral granting research universities in two states in the south central region of the U.S. were the participants for this study. Through purposeful sampling, the participants were identified to engage in this qualitative comparative case study inquiry. Various methods of data collection were used including: face-to-face semi-structured interviews (the primary source of data), document collection, and journaling. The research questions for this inquiry encompassed three broad inquiries including: (a) the reason female senior-level student affairs administrators choose to enter and remain in the field of student affairs, while attempting to chart a career pathway to senior-level positions at public four-year doctoral granting research institutions; (b) the experiences of women senior-level student affairs administrators, and how these experiences impacted their successful advancement to their current roles; and (c) advice for aspiring women senior-level student affairs administrators.

The findings suggested that women can expect to experience both positive and negative encounters that will affect their career progression. The participants provided insight and advice for women in student affairs who aspire to become senior-level administrators that incorporated the importance of building a strong professional network of colleagues, embracing and leading change, and continuing education and professional development. Women must be intentional in creating a meaningful and rewarding career in student affairs and play a major part in developing their pathway to the top.