April 27, 2011; Source: Chronicle of Higher Education | There are two major associations of student affairs professionals – the 8,500-member American College Personnel Association (ACPA) founded in 1924 and the 12,000-member National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). They have a 30 percent membership overlap.

After a two-year discussion of consolidation, both organizations held a vote of their members, requiring a two-thirds vote in each organization for the merger to proceed. Supporters said that the organizations were redundant separately and more viable if combined. Opponents cited cultural differences between the two and a fear of becoming too big.

In the end, the merger fell just short, getting 82 percent of the votes of ACPA member-voters, but only 62 percent of NASPA’s turnout.

ACPA’s president was clearly disappointed with the results. She titled her latest blog posting, “ACPA Proudly chose to unite our profession, and NASPA did not” and noted that going forward ACPA will “(c)ollaborate with NASPA when appropriate, and compete with NASPA when appropriate.”

Both her statement and the NASPA board comment about the voting results described their organizations as the leader in the field, positioned in higher education “never stronger” (NASPA), “ better equipped than ever” (NASPA), “unparalleled leadership” (ACPA), and other muscular statements.

For those of us on the outside of these organizations, it is difficult to isolate exactly what it was that prevented the merger, which by the way has been a topic of discussion off and on for 30 years. Jumping out in the Chronicle article was the ACPA president’s note, also contained in her blog, that the group would continue to support its members by “advancing social justice on our campuses,” but that doesn’t seem to have been a cultural division between the two putative partners, judging from the social justice content searchable on the NASPA website.

Perhaps more telling was a hysterically funny CronkNews satire titled, “NASPA and ACPA Fail to Consolidate and Rest of Higher Education Doesn’t Notice”. As one person using the #NASPACPA hashtag tweeted, “Generally we’re poor at collaborating on our own campuses. Is it shocking that this initiative failed?” Our favorite tweet on the vote was, “Now that the #NASPACPA vote failed, the two associations need to fight it out, highlander-style . . . There can be only one.” But in truth, the majority of both organizations’ voters endorsed the consolidation (though only 42 percent of each organization’s membership turned out).

So what is really keeping these two organizations separate?—Rick Cohen