What I Learned "Crashing" a Conference

I've recently been feeling in a bit of a rut and disconnected from the greater higher ed community. I knew I needed to do something to feel refreshed.

Knowing NASPA was coming to Philly, I reached out on social media to see who I knew that was going. That has always been the most valuable part of conferences to me; growing and maintaining my professional network. It also is always cool to meet people in person I know purely through digital means.

It would have felt like a missed opportunity to not see folks who would only be a short drive away. I never really felt concerned about "crashing" the conference (not paying to attend but meeting people who did). I didn't try to sneak into any sessions or anything. It just does not make sense to me to have to pay exorbitant fees to end up mostly just hanging out with people anyway and skipping the tired old sessions they offer. 

I've written before about my disdain towards national higher ed conferences like ACPA and NASPA. We're in need of a major change with how we provide professional development with these gatherings, which is (and probably will be) a whole other blog post. The cherry on top to all this was that most of the people I met with spoke with displeasure about the session offerings. This feeling is pervasive and indicative of where things are right now when it comes to professional development in higher ed. It's too expensive, it's not relevant, and it isn't giving many people what they want (or need) to grow professionally.

Regardless, what I ended up learning through this process is that you have to sometimes just do what you know is right and what you need. I learned the value of personal (and professional) relationships and that it's important to cultivate them in person when you can. I learned I have great people in my corner and that it doesn't matter how long it might have been since you saw someone last, they'll still be happy to chat if you reach out. I learned that nothing will ever change until we disrupt the status quo.

I feel like I might continue this renegade trend as much as I can. I'd be happy to welcome others as we subvert these outdated paradigms and blaze our own way making experiences that are more valuable and accessible.

I'd love to hear other's thoughts on this. Please reach out via the comments or on Twitter (@HigherEd_Geek).

What is the Value of National Student Affairs Conferences?

'Worth' highlighted, under 'Value' ACPA

Conference Registration = $600 (less if done earlier, $450 for early bird)

ACPA Membership = $93-149 (2013-14 Membership Rates from ACPA)


Conference Registration = $480 (less if done earlier, $430 for early bird)

NASPA Membership = $75-242


Hotel = $200/night (average for Tampa, higher for New Orleans)

Airfare = $200-700 (depends on several variables)

Total (average, estimated) = $1,900 cost per conference + food, parking, taxis, and misc. items

I'll be honest, I thought this would be a lot higher. While it could be a tad higher depending on individual variables, and food could also be a huge expense, I envisioned costs being much higher (and they most likely will be especially for ACPA in Montreal next year). With that being said, a lot of folks are not going to be able to just drop this sort of money on a conference without any sort of assistance. Many of us are going to have our own homes and families to keep afloat and a national student affairs conference (which has had dwindling returns and value in my opinion) just will not make the cut when there are plenty of cheaper (or free) and better professional development options out there. This goes too for the webinars I've seen out there for student affairs folks. Why are they so expensive? Is it assumed multiple people are sitting in on one registration? Isn't it just someone doing a presentation virtually? It seems absurd to me that it needs to cost professionals hundreds of dollars for at times just an hour presentation.

I'm very grateful to be able to have had the support of my institution to go to a national conference. This is a rarity though (especially to have most everything covered) and not to be assumed to be available to most folks. I presented at ACPA and appear to be one of a few in my Student Life office going to any conferences this year. I'm not competing for this funding with anyone so I haven't had to valiantly prove why I deserve to go.

I think what this high cost results in is an insular, privileged, select group of people that can afford conferences or are lucky enough to have their institution support them. This ends up with us having the usual suspects at conferences and leaving a lot of other amazing professionals out of the inner circles. It comes across as clique-y and oft-putting for people from the outside. What these conferences always do best is bring people together but it isn't doing too well at that if it is the same cohort of people coming together all the time. We need more voices included in these discussions. This will add value and return on investment for sessions, committees, and the entire experience when there is more diversity of perspective from different institutions and people from different backgrounds.

I've been wanting to capture my thoughts on this for a while now. I gave it a fair amount of consideration before posting and I appreciate any insight from others who may have planned conferences or just have something to share. I think this is a valid discourse to have so I felt it important to put forth my thoughts here. We need to do better to bring people in for these opportunities to move our profession forward. It seems like we all could really use it.

Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.