Student development theory is a group of theories that seeks to describe the internal processes and external environments through which college students learn and grow. Broadly, these theories describe or reference the process of moving from simpler to more complex ways of understanding one’s identity, relationship to others, and beliefs. Student development theories have evolved in purpose, focus, and theoretical underpinnings since holistic development of students became an explicit goal of higher education in the 1930s. These theories originated in a variety of disciplinary and epistemic perspectives, including psychology, sociology, women’s studies, ethnic studies, and, most recently, critical and post-structural perspectives. Higher education administrators, especially student affairs practitioners, draw on student development theories to inform their interpersonal interactions, programs, offices, and policies with and for ...

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