Katherine Horner, Kent State University
Melissa Mentzer, Ashland University
Leslie Monaco, Kent State University
Institutions of higher education continually face budget constraints as they struggle to provide high quality services to students. Today many institutions turn to academic advisors for assistance in meeting this challenge. 'Academic advising is the only structured activity on the campus in which all students have the opportunity for on-going, one-to-one interaction with a concerned representative of the institution' (Habley, 1994). While the delivery of advising services varies among institutions, one option can help address the needs of both students and institutions: the employment of graduate assistants (GAs) within advising offices.
There are many benefits to the utilization of GAs within an advising office. GAs can:
- bring perspectives from other institutions to the advising office,
- be cost effective as compared to employing additional full-time advisors, and
- serve as walk-in advisors to answer quick questions.
The GAs benefit from:
- full-time graduate tuition waiver,
- a yearly stipend, and
- gaining valuable experience in the field.
Kent State University successfully incorporates graduate assistants into an academic advising center.
The Kent State Student Advising Center Model
When the Student Advising Center (SAC) at Kent State University initially opened, GAs served as clerical support personnel. As the SAC evolved, so did the responsibilities of the graduate assistants. In addition to some of the previous support responsibilities, GAs are assigned a caseload of approximately 30 advisees. They also teach and advise Exploratory Orientation students, present and advise during the Placement Advising Scheduling System program for incoming students, represent the SAC on campus committees, and are involved in research. GAs are also encouraged to join local, regional, and national advising associations and co-present with professional advisors at conferences.
Budgetary Considerations and Contract Development
Kent State awards assistantships on a part-time basis. A normal GA contract is 300 hours per semester, which breaks down to 20 hours per week for the 15 week semester. GAs receive a stipend of $6,300 for the first year and $6,500 for the second year, along with a tuition waiver for fall and spring semesters. GAs must meet a GPA requirement (e.g. 3.0) and maintain full-time student status. Reappointment for the second year is not automatic; instead, it is contingent upon degree progress and satisfactory performance. Kent State also stipulates that GAs cannot accept other on-campus employment.
Developing the Position Description
The position description is a dynamic document that changes with the needs of the office and as GA skills vary. As most GAs become comfortable in their roles, their knowledge increases and their responsibilities expand. On the other hand, if an individual GA does not acquire the needed skills to be effective, responsibilities can be limited and developmental guidance can be instituted. Kent State uses a five-step process to create the position description:
- Step One: Determine office needs.
- Step Two: Determine the professional development that will be provided to the GAs.
- Step Three: Determine the supervising advisor.
- Step Four: Create the position description and allow others to review and comment.
- Step Five: Review the position description regularly and make adjustments as needed.
The Recruiting Process
The GA recruitment process at Kent State begins in the Higher Education Administration graduate program, although other institutions may look within counseling, organizational leadership, and/or educational leadership graduate programs. Advising directors at institutions without these graduate programs can recruit students from area universities or post assistantships through email list serves.
Developing the Training Program
“Effective academic advising can only be achieved if comprehensive and multifaceted advisor-training and development programs are implemented and evaluated for all types of advisors” (Nutt, 2003, p. 9). Habley (1986) indicates that all effective advisor training programs should encompass three important components: conceptual, relational, and informational.
Initial steps include the evaluation and revision of existing training programs with the special needs of GAs in mind. In many cases, the informational needs (e.g. curriculum, policies/procedures) will be fully met through a current training program. However, the conceptual (e.g. theories and roles of advising) and relational aspects (e.g. role playing, rapport-building activities) may be lacking or missing completely. These skills are vital for GAs, who often have no formalized experience in academic advising.
Next, we enlist presenters to participate in the training program. This can include individuals from a variety of campus departments. All academic advisors should be involved in the observation of GA advising and allow GAs to observe their advising appointments.
The training agenda is available to all staff, and experienced advisors are encouraged to participate. The training program is flexible so sessions can change based upon feedback and current need. Ongoing training helps reinforce material and deepen understanding as skills and knowledge are transferred to advising practice.
Ongoing Supervision; Incorporation into the Office Culture
GAs are evaluated regularly and their performance monitored. Since the office has multiple GAs, weekly group meetings are held to discuss issues and conduct ongoing training. Individual meetings are also beneficial, because each GA has a knowledge base and may have concerns or questions they do not want to address in a group setting. In the early stages of the assistantship, it is important to meet with the GAs and review notes from their advising appointments. Evaluation of graduate assistants is used for professional growth and development and to assist in making decisions regarding reappointment.
The possibility of reappointment enables GAs to be fully assimilated into the office; less supervision is required in the second year. GAs are allowed to serve on departmental and institutional committees when appropriate and when possible funding is provided so they can attend NACADA conferences. Finally, GAs are included in all departmental meetings and retreats.
Through the academic advising assistantship, GAs gain experiences that are impossible to learn in the student affairs classroom. This experience impacts their career paths. If advising is to be thought of as teaching, what better way to properly prepare the next generation of advisors?
Kent State University
Kent State University
Habley, W. R. (1986). Advisor training: Whatever happened to instructional design? ACT workshop presentation. Iowa City, IA: ACT.
Habley, W.R. (1994). Key Concepts in Academic Advising. In Summer Institute on Academic Advising Session Guide (p.10). Available from the National Academic Advising Association, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS.
Nutt, C. L. (2003). Creating advisor-training and development programs. In Advisor training: Exemplary practices in the development of advisor skills. National Academic Association Monograph Series, no. 9. Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association.
Cite this article using APA style as: Horner, K., Mentzer, M. & Monaco, L. (2006, June). Developing the next generation of academic advisors: Incorporating graduate assistants into an academic advising center . Academic Advising Today, 29(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]