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Glenn Miller and Holly Messitt, Borough of Manhattan Community College / City University of New York

As greater numbers of students enter our institutions, retention and ethical service to these students become even larger issues. Bradburn (2002) indicates that approximately one-third of entering students leave our institutions without a credential; these numbers are even higher for minority (Hodge & Pickron, 2004) and community college students (ACT, 2005). Although current scholarship (Lotkowski, et al. 2005) on academic retention shows that a relationship with an academic advisor helps to increase retention, many students do not take advantage of this resource. One study showed that 34% of graduating seniors had never met with an advisor and that 19% of graduating seniors had met with an academic advisor three or fewer times ('Help!', 2006). Again, minority students pose an even greater challenge since many, especially those experiencing academic difficulties, are unwilling to seek advice because they fear that they may appear weak or they are afraid that they will be a nuisance ('Help!', 2006).

The retention rate at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) mirrors these alarming trends. In 2003, BMCC received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Title V program for Hispanic-serving institutions to strengthen academic advising as a tool to retain students. Our Title V program focuses on liberal arts students, traditionally the students most likely to leave BMCC within the first year. Freshman to sophomore retention for BMCC liberal arts students is 51% as opposed to a 60% retention rate for students 'housed' in one of the more defined degree programs such as nursing. We asked why. Traditionally, BMCC liberal arts advisees were assigned arbitrarily to one of the liberal arts departments. There was no guarantee that a student would see the same professor year-to-year, so there was no continuity in the student's advisement; no one kept track of a student's progress, special needs, or interests. In the process, BMCC clearly let students slip through unnoticed.

The goal of the Title V program is to address these concerns and prepare students to become more dynamic decision makers, thereby increasing retention. The program's goals include training that encourages faculty to accept greater responsibility for employing advisement strategies and to become more knowledgeable about taking a developmental approach to their advisement. In particular, with a faculty that is 60% white and a student population that is 90% minority, i.e., African American (34%), Latino/a (26%), Asian (11%), and other ethnic minorities (18%), advisors must develop sensitivity to the needs of BMCC 's diverse student population. To accomplish these goals, our program provides faculty development, technological support, and educational planners housed within the Academic Advisement and Transfer Center.

Strategy

Faculty were accustomed to advising different students each semester and emphasizing course selection. They needed to acquire new skills if they were to advise the same student cohort throughout their time at the college. To prepare for this change, faculty members participated in a three-day workshop that stressed NACADA's Core Values, provided information from various campus offices, e.g., financial aid and counseling, and received training in the computer software used to track advisement sessions. Faculty also participated in follow-up workshops throughout the semester to hone their advising skills and, perhaps more importantly, to work with other faculty thus forming a cohesive group capable of affecting the desired cultural change on our campus.

In addition to faculty training, we implemented a system to record the outcomes of advisement sessions so that both advisors and advisees can review student goals and the results of previous sessions. In this way, advisors can focus on student changes that have occurred since the last session. Software facilitates communication among advisors and between advisors and advisees; students' statements to advisors about goals and advisors' recommendations to students are recorded.

Another innovative aspect of the project is the use of educational planners who serve as liaisons between the advisors and advisees. The educational planners assist students when their advisors are not on campus, serve as a contact person for advisors seeking advisement information for special situations, and assist with recruitment of students into the program.

Assessment and results

Certain measures provide short term indicators of progress towards our goal, including the number of faculty who have completed the training program (62 so far), the number of students who have been advised in the program to date (currently approximately 1200 students), and usage statistics for the advising tracking software. Students also complete an advisement satisfaction survey each semester. This instrument, essentially the same one that has been used for many years, helps us compare student satisfaction levels with historical data. Faculty advisors complete another survey which has been used as a formative assessment tool that has lead to changes in some of our processes.

The phase-in of a new advisement model has important implications for BMCC. First, it has facilitated assessment since we now collect outcomes data for students advised in our program and compare that data to similar data for students not in the program. Secondly, we ensure that the advising workload for faculty in our developmental program does not differ significantly from the load of advisors using the traditional advisement model. We believe that the efficiency gained from recording advisement session outcomes aids our advisors as does the existence of educational planners. Finally, the gradual phase-in makes our attempt to change the campus culture evolutionary rather than revolutionary thus giving us time to adjust our program as necessary to counter criticism from entrenched campus interest groups.

Conclusion

The example of a grant-funded program designed to improve advisement shows the many benefits of approaching reform in a systemic way. Conducting a thorough needs assessment allowed us to choose one 'manageable' area for the focus of our efforts. We were able to target our proposal thus permitting a multi-faceted approach towards solving the perceived problem. Setting measurable outcomes and assessment implementation sharpened our focus on providing a program that produces direct benefits to our students and our institution.

Holly Messitt
Borough of Manhattan Community College/City University of New York
HMessitt@bmcc.cuny.edu

Glenn Miller
Borough of Manhattan Community College/City University of New York
gmiller@bmcc.cuny.edu

References

ACT. (2005) 2005 Retention/Completion Summary Tables. Retrieved November 9, 2006 from http://www.act.org/path/policy/pdf/05retain_trends.pdf.

Bradburn, E. M. (2002). Short-term enrollment in postsecondary education: Student background and institutional differences for early departure, 1996-1998. Washington, DC : U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved November 9, 2006 fromhttp://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2003153

Chaney, B., Muraskin, L. D., Cahalan, M. W., Goodwin, D. (1998). Helping the progress of disadvantaged students in higher education: The federal Student Support Services Program. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 20 (3): 197-215. Retrieved Sept. 25, 2006, from JStor.

Frank, K. S. (2000). Ethical considerations and obligations. In V. N. Gordon and W. R. Habley (Eds). Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

Frost, S. H. (1991). Academic Advising for Student Success: A System of Shared Responsibility. Washington, D.C.: ERIC: Clearinghouse on Higher Education/George Washington University.

Frost, S. H. (2000). Historical and Philosophical Foundations for Academic Advising. In V. N. Gordon and W. R. Habley (Eds).  Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

Gordon, V. N., and Habley, W. R. (Eds). (2000). Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

Habley, W. R. (2000). Current practices in academic advising. In V. N. Gordon and W. R. Habley (Eds).  Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

Help! Students who need it; students who seek it. (2006, May). The Teaching Professor. Retrieved Sept. 25, 2006 from Academic Search Premier/EBSCO.

Hodge, T. V., and Pickron, C. (2004). Preparing students for success in the academy. Black Issues in Higher Education 21 (20): 130. Retrieved Sept. 25, 2006 from ERIC.

Lotkowski, V. A., Robbins, S. B., and Noeth, R. J. (2004). The Role of Academic and Non-Academic in Improving College Retention. Retrieved November 9, 2006 fromhttp://qed.ncat.edu/beams/act-retention-study.pdf

Cite this article using APA style as: Miller, G. & Messitt, H. (2007, March). Changing culture: A new program for liberal arts advisement at an urban community college. Academic Advising Today, 30(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2007 March 30:1

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