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Voices of the Global Community

Kathy Stockwell, Fox Valley Technical College 
Dana Zahorik, Fox Valley Technical College 

Light (2001) notes that “good advising may be one of the single most underestimated characteristics of a successful college experience.” Yet, academic advising is as diversified as our varied institutional missions and purposes. Therefore, it is important that we keep in mind that advising programs are designed and implemented to meet the unique and changing needs of today’s students, their enrollment patterns, population groups, budgets, and diversity within the institution.

A faculty advising survey conducted by Janet Perry (2001) at Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) in Appleton, Wisconsin, asked one hundred faculty members to examine the college’s advising program. The findings concluded that faculty generally agreed that student advising is necessary and beneficial to the student body; the contact that advisors have with students has a positive impact on students’ experiences with their education; and retention is positively impacted by advising efforts. However, faculty/advisor loads have increased from the past, thus leaving less time to spend with advisees, and only 50% of the faculty surveyed indicated they felt the time allotted to advising was adequate.

As a reaction to changes in the advising environment, many colleges, including FVTC, have adopted a multifaceted advising approach that can include a combination of faculty advisors, advising professionals, group advising, and/or peer advising to better meet the changing needs of students and our institutions. According to Brenden (1986):

Such a multifaceted approach is needed in higher education to broaden its horizons and meet the challenge presented by a new breed of student and an ever changing society. At best, academic advising illuminates the many questions confronting students and assists them in discovering directions for growth and development. It is only through a comprehensive advising program—one which includes communication and information exchanges with faculty as well as fellow students on an individual as well as a group basis—that students can realize their maximum educational potential (pg. 82).

Every college should view their advising program as a continuous improvement project, searching for new ways to meet student needs. For some colleges, faculty advising may be a new initiative. According to Kramer (1995), “Faculty are integral to the advising process, especially in consideration of curricular complexity, student diversity, retention, and advising as a form of teaching.” Those colleges not including faculty as advisors overlook an effective retention tool. Retention can also be enhanced by utilizing approaches such as peer or group advising. Nancy King (2000) states that “…at times group advising is not only necessary but can also be quite effective in enhancing and augmenting advising services. In addition, innovative group advising methods may offer retention value by connecting students with both their peers and an advisor (p. 228).” Group advising is one avenue that can provide more comprehensive advising services on our campuses.

In addition, peer advisors can provide an excellent supplement to academic advising. Barman and Benson (1981) suggest that peer advisors can help reduce the advisor/advisee ratio and thus provide a more personal and individual academic advising program. Last spring FVTC, a two-year college in the Midwest, piloted a peer advising program within the institution’s continuous improvement framework. The reaction from advisors, advisees, and peer advisors has been very positive.

Continuous improvement initiatives may also mean reviewing the advising model currently in place through the use of instruments such as the one developed by Perry (2001). Assessment can help determine if an advising program is indeed meeting the needs of the students. Assessment results can be used by advising coordinators to determine if the original outcomes and mission set for academic advising are still aligned with the college’s mission, plans and directions.

There are many things to consider as we continuously strive to improve our advising services. As Tom Grites (2003) states, “in tough economic times, higher education administrators are obliged to seek cost-saving measures and/or to conduct cost-benefit analyses of programs.” The addition of faculty advisors, group advising sessions, and/or the use of peer advisors could all be results of a review of the current advising model within continuous improvement initiatives. These initiatives can help meet both institutional and student needs.

Kathy Stockwell
Fox Valley Technical College
stockwel@fvtc.edu

Dana Zahorik
Fox Valley Technical College
zahorik@fvtc.edu

References

Barman, C.R. & Benson, P.A. (1981). Peer advising: A working model. NACADA Journal,1(2), 33-40.

Brenden, M. (1986). Pioneering new support systems for non-traditional baccalaureate students: Interactional advising and peer mentoring, NACADA Journal. 6(2), pg. 77-82.

Grites, T. (2003). Determining the worth of an advising unit. The Academic Advising News, 26(1). Retrieved September 3, 2005.

King, N. (2000). Advising students in groups. In V.N. Gordon & W.R. Habley (Eds.),Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 228-237). San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

Light, R. (2001). Making the Most of College: Students speak their minds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Perry, J. (2001). Fox Valley Technical College. Faculty Advising Survey Results, 1996-2001. Appleton, WI: Fox Valley Technical College

Cite this article using APA style as: Stockwell, K. & Zahorik, D. (2006, February). Continuous improvement and advising. Academic Advising Today, 29(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]

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