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Jennifer Plante and Michelle Bata, Clark University

Jennifer Plante.jpgMichelle Bata.jpgThere are a number of reasons why a university would want to change its advising culture.  With advising practices linked to retention (Swecker, Fifolt, & Searby, 2013), student engagement (Vianden & Barlow, 2015), and first destinations (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2015), robust advising is increasingly being viewed as a panacea to many student support issues. 

In our case, at Clark University, we have been particularly eager to improve our first destination outcomes, defined by the National Association for Colleges and Employers (2014) as the percentage of graduates who fall into the following categories six months after graduation: employed full time, employed part time, participating in a program of voluntary service, serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, and enrolled in a program of continuing education.  Moreover, at Clark, advising is not required, so the challenge that presented itself was how we might change the advising culture in such a way so as to see tangible results in our first destination outcomes. 

To answer this question, we took a cue from NACADA’s statement of core values of academic advising (2005): advisors need to take a holistic advising approach and, “help students integrate information so they can make well-informed” (para. 5) decisions, both academically and co-curricularly. 

We took this advice literally, and three years ago began to devise and implement a new advising model premised on a philosophy of holistic advising that leveraged an already strong background in academic and co-curricular advising and focused on strengthening our students’ personal and professional development.  We set about doing this not by making advising required, but rather by trying to get students excited about linking their academic coursework with what they do outside of the classroom as they prepare for life after Clark. 

The University branded this approach to undergraduate liberal arts education LEEP, or Liberal Education and Effective Practice (Budwig, Baird, Wright, David, & Carville, 2011).  As LEEP advisors, we set out to offer students holistic advising by connecting them with resources that align their academic and co-curricular interests and prepare them to be responsible and engaged members of our global society.  To get students excited about this rather large cultural shift, we relied on a three-pronged approach: 1) marketing and outreach; 2) relationship-building; and 3) developing student-centered programming.

Marketing and Outreach

To let students know that a different model of advising was available, we quickly discovered that we not only had to educate the new, incoming students, but also re-educate the returning students about the new offerings.  We also realized that we had to be proactive in our marketing and outreach.

We began by educating students about who we were and what we could do for them by emailing students before they arrived on campus.  These emails introduced ourselves, explained the role of the LEEP Advisor, and informed students of our workshops, information sessions, and events that would be held in the fall.  

As marketing of our new advising model unfolded, we focused heavily on triangulating our marketing, focusing on print (Pocket Guide to LEEP Advising, topic-specific tip sheets), digital (by developing a new website and rebranding our social media channels), and direct mail and e-mail campaigns (designing an e-newsletter and targeting outreach to specific student groups, faculty, and parents).  By implementing a cross-media marketing strategy, our analytic tools indicate that we have been able to reach a wider audience than previously.  Further, thinking critically about which messages should be delivered by certain channels, we have been able to avoid audience saturation.

Relationship-Building

This second strategy of relationship-building has been perhaps the most critical to our advising success.  In the past, our advisors were reactive, transactional, and rather passive about cultivating student interest; they simply waited for students to come to them with a need.  With the new model, LEEP advisors were trained to be proactive and relationally-focused.  Our mantra was to “get out of the LEEP Center,” and that is exactly what we did.  By turning up in classrooms, residence halls, at athletic events, and in the dining halls, we strove to be visible and engaging, capitalizing on the impromptu and informal nature of our interactions with students to answer questions, build interest, and develop relationships. 

LEEP advisors also developed stronger relationships with those faculty teaching first-year seminars.  The faculty often requested classroom visits by their LEEP advisor, during which the advisor had another opportunity to engage with advisees and promote the benefits of holistic advising.  Advisors and faculty also communicated about students’ interests and needs, thereby ensuring that fewer students fell through the cracks.

Finally, LEEP advisors rationalized that if others were well-versed about our new advising model, they could serve as advocates for us during their own meetings with students; we thus situated ourselves as but one node in a student’s network of support, recognizing and validating that many others on and off campus provide critical advice and guidance to our students.  Our outreach has proven to be so successful that, in the last academic year, LEEP advisors have been asked to join a majority of University boards and committees, engaged almost half of the active student groups on campus, partnered with the majority of offices across campus, and interacted with over three-fourths of the faculty.

Developing Student-Centered Programming

We began to see some positive results after implementing the first two strategies, but we noticed that we were not seeing an uptick in student appointments when we expected.  Thus, we implemented a third strategy: meeting students where they are, both developmentally and vis-à-vis their personal and professional goals. 

We developed a strategy of “purpose-driven advising,” for which we re-thought the reasons why a student might seek out a LEEP advisor from a developmental perspective rather than from an office-centric perspective.  Our best example here was the introduction of something we call summer advising.  Instead of trying to focus on enticing students to LEEP advising for summer courses, internships for academic credit, etc., we thought instead about why a student would want to seek out those experiences in the first place, and one answer emerged quickly: all students need to figure out how they will spend their summer months.  We started a marketing campaign asking, “What will you do this summer?”; held a Summer 101 fair, showcasing the many opportunities—at a 30,000 foot level—available to students over the summer; and introduced drop-in hours specifically for summer advising.  It worked.  In its first semester, spring 2015, we saw more students by spring break than we had during the entire spring 2014 semester.

The success of this campaign has motivated us to think about the ways that we approach advising more generally and allowed us to reframe our offerings, events, and services in such a way that focuses on the student perspective, always with a specific purpose in mind. 

Measuring Success

How do we know that we have changed the advising culture at Clark?  Unfortunately, the University does not conduct student satisfaction surveys, so we have to rely on indirect measures of advising impact to attempt to answer this question.  The key performance indicators we do have, though, are considerable and favorable.  For example, over the last three years, we have seen a 25% increase in traffic to our offices.  Perhaps even more compelling is our first destination outcomes: the percentage of students employed, in graduate school, in the U.S. Armed Forces, or in service programs at the time of graduation increased by almost 75% from 2014 to 2015.

Of course, it is difficult to tell which of these strategies, if any, contributed to the increase in our key performance indicators.  What we do know is that our collective efforts at revamping, rebranding, and rethinking what it is that we do in order to consistently embrace a proactive, purpose-driven, student-centered approach feels authentic and organic, for both us and the students we serve.

Jennifer Plante, MA
Director of the Writing Center
Clark University
jplante@clarku.edu

Michelle Bata, Ph.D.
Associate Dean and Director of the LEEP Center
Clark University
mbata@clarku.edu

References

Budwig, N., Baird, D., Wright, W., David, P., & Carville, K.  (2011). Liberal education and effective practice.  Worcester, MA:  Clark University. 

Chambliss, D. F., & Takacs, C. G. (2014). How college works. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

NACADA. (2005). NACADA statement of core values of academic advising. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Core-values-of-academic-advising.aspx

National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2015). Career services: Student use and perceived helpfulness. Spotlight for Career Services Professionals. Retrieved from http://www.naceweb.org/s08192015/career-services-use-helpfulness.aspx

National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2014). Standards and Protocols for the Collection and Dissemination of Graduating Student Initial Career Outcomes Information For Undergraduates. Retrieved from http://www.naceweb.org/uploadedFiles/Pages/advocacy/first-destination-survey-standards-and-protocols.pdf

Swecker, H. K., Fifolt, M., & Searby L. (2013). Academic advising and first-generation college students: A  quantitative study on student retention. NACADA Journal 33(1), 46-52.

Vianden, J. & Barlow, P. J. (2015). Strengthening the bond: Relationships between academic advising quality and undergraduate student loyalty. NACADA Journal 35(2), 15-27.

Cite this article using APA style as: Plante, J., & Bata, M. (2016, June). Changing the culture of advising on campus: A three-pronged approach. Academic Advising Today, 39(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2016 June 39:2

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