Student Development Theory

Develop. Support. Engage.

The Office of Student Development is committed to creating opportunities that engage and support the development of the whole student.

Schlossberg’s Theory of Transition: provides a framework and foundation for the programs and services offered through our office to assist students in their success.

Schlossberg defined a transition as any event, or non-event, that results in changed relationships, routines, assumptions, and roles. It is important to note that perception plays a key role in transitions as an event, or non-event, meets the definition of a transition only if it is so defined by the individual experiencing it. In order to understand the meaning that a transition has for a particular individual, the type, context, and impact of the transition must be considered.

  • Type of transition
    • Anticipated transitions: ones that occur predictably, such as graduation from college
    • Unanticipated transitions: not predictable or scheduled, such as divorce or sudden death of a loved one
    • Non-events: transitions that are expected but do not occur, such as failure to be admitted to medical school
      • Personal non-event: related to individual aspirations
      • Ripple non-event: felt due to a nonevent of someone else
      • Resultant non-event: caused by an event
      • Delayed non-event: anticipating an event that might still happen
  • Context refers to one’s relationship with the transition and to the setting in which the transition takes place.
  • Impact is determined by the degree to which a transition alters one’s daily life.

Schlossberg identified four major sets of factors that influence a person’s ability to cope with a transition: situation, self, support, and strategies, which are also known as the 4 S’s.

  • Situation
    • Trigger: What precipitated the transition?
    • Timing: Is the transition considered “on time” or “off time” in terms of one’s social clock?
    • Control: What aspect of the transition does the individual perceive as being within his/her control?
    • Role change: Is a role change involved and, if so, is it viewed as a gain or a loss?
    • Duration: Is it seen as permanent, temporary, or uncertain?
    • Previous experience with a similar transition: How effectively did the person cope then, and what are implications for the current transition?
    • Concurrent stress: Are other sources of stress present?
    • Assessment: Who or what is seen as responsible for the transition, and how is the individual’s behavior affected by this person?
  • Self: factors considered important in relation to the self are classified into two categories
    • Personal and demographic characteristics affect how an individual views life, such as socioeconomic status, gender, age, stage of life, state of health, and ethnicity.
    • Psychological resources include ego development, outlook, and commitment and values.
  • Social support
    • Intimate relationships
    • Family units
    • Networks of friends
    • Institutions and communities
  • Strategies, or coping responses, are divided into three categories 
    • Those that modify the situation
    • Those that control the meaning of the problem
    • Those that aid in managing the stress in the aftermath

    The Office of Student Development applies this theory by helping students understand situations, develop self-awareness, identify support and implement strategies for success.