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Colleen A. Thompson, Quinnipiac University

Colleen Thompson.jpgIn the 2015-2016 National Student Satisfaction and Priorties Report, Noel-Levitz finds that “Advising services have long been identified as a way to connect with students, build relationships, and keep students on the path to completion. Institutions that effectively advise students may be more likely to have students who stay enrolled and make progress toward graduation” (p. 8). For many students, advising is the first personalized interaction they have with a university representative. Quality advising can enhance the value of the student’s educational experience and contribute significantly to student retention and success.  The Noel-Levitz report goes on to demonstrate the gap between students ranking of the importance of advising and their satisfaction with their institution with respect to advising (p. 8). With the recurring theme in higher education of focusing on student retention, effective academic advising has become critical. At the same time, university departments are competing for more limited institutional resources and monies directly allocated for advising-related support are often limited.  Faculty are required to teach, do scholarly work and service, leaving academic advisement to be an added responsibility unless it is considered part of service. 

The Need for Quality Advising

The 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index “Great Jobs Great Lives” surveyed over 30,000 college graduates and found that where the students went to college had an insignificant effect on their future well-being and work-life satisfaction.  Rather, “feeling supported and having deep learning experiences” (p. 6) were most important.  For example, “if graduates had a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams, their odds of being engaged at work more than doubled, as did their odds of thriving in their well-being” (p. 6).  The students went on to describe the experiences in college that helped them feel more prepared for life after college.  These included internship opportunities, active involvement in extracurricular activities and organizations on campus, and working on long-term projects (defined as projects that took more than one semester to complete).  

All of these experiences can be directly linked to academic advising.  The advisor can serve as the educational mentor if they are faculty and can offer students meaningful long-term research projects.  The advisor can be well-versed in internship opportunities and in the value of co-curricular activities.  As the relationship develops, students gain confidence in their own decision-making skills and begin to mature as adults and take responsibility for those decisions regarding their future.

Clearly there is a need for effective, intentional, and comprehensive advising.  It is well correlated with student retention, success, and satisfaction.  Curiously, in the Noel-Levitz 2009 Report, campus personnel did not rate advising as high as the students did.  This is not to say that campus personnel did not think advising was important, but it was clearly not as high a priority as it was for the students.  Campus personnel ranked fields such as recruitment, financial aid, and instructional effectiveness higher than academic advising.  This presents a slight disconnect that may need addressing with faculty advisors.  Advisors must recognize that students place a high value on the advising relationship and view this relationship as critical to their success on campus.

Strategies to Improve Faculty Advisor Effectiveness

In this current climate of reduced resource allocation and increased faculty workloads, there are still many ways that the advising relationship can be sustained and even improved.  The most common obstacle that faculty advisors identify is inadequate time due to increased workloads.  Related to the lack of time for faculty advisors is advising not being recognized as an integral piece of their faculty responsibilities, i.e. advising load/time does not factor into their faculty evaluation tool.  For all advisors, a lack of professional development heightens the advisors’ stress when so-called “advising season” is upon them.  The current climate does not allow for reduced loads at this time.  Rather, advisors can implement creative strategies that will improve the quality of advising in their offices and create additional time in spite of these pressures.

Proactive advising. Oftentimes, faculty advisors reach out to their advisees primarily during course registration time. This limited interaction can result in advising meetings that address academic progress, but yield little time spent on broader issues of career advisement and mentoring. Considerable evidence points to the value of proactive or intrusive advising, where advisors intentionally seek out students for advising contact rather than waiting for students to seek out advisors (Cannon, 2013). While face-to–face meetings are essential and effective, there are many ways to increase advising contact without directly increasing one-on-one face time meetings.

  • Begin communications as soon as the semester begins (or even over the summer). Simple emails at the start of the semester welcoming students back and reminding them of advisor availability can be viewed very positively.
  • Consider starting the semester with a group meeting offering advice and guidance (and treats). Periodic regular communication sprinkled throughout the semester can go a long way toward reinforcement and encouragement. Advisors may find the students better prepared for more intentional advising sessions when they do meet face-to-face if they have had previous communications.
  • Use Blackboard or other university courseware for regular communications. Sites can be maintained with program information, frequently asked questions, and calendars of events. Work study or peer advisors are an inexpensive way to assist with maintenance of the site.
  • Consider the use of other technology to communicate with students: virtual advising via video conferencing, blogs, and discussion boards.
  • Attend functions such as lectures, sporting events, and student award ceremonies. The mere presence of their advisor assures students that advisors are engaged and committed to the student population.

Peer advising.  Having trained upper level students (or even graduate students) meet with undergraduate or freshmen level students can be highly effective.  The trained peer advisors can answer frequently asked questions, offer advice and support, and suggest co-curricular activities of interest and use to the students as they progress in their program. Having work-study or minimally-paid students take on the more rote registration-related FAQs can free up faculty advisors to address the higher order questions and concerns of the advisees. A selective student-led program such as this could even be unpaid, as it offers students the opportunity to build their resume of leadership experiences.

Group advising.  Bringing students together in small group settings can be an effective and collaborative approach to advising that frees advisor time and still meets the needs of students.  These sessions are informative and conversational in nature.  Students can be grouped by common interest, thereby addressing common thematic questions.  Students who may be uncomfortable asking certain questions themselves may be relieved to have the question answered in a less formal setting as they listen to the questions and concerns of their peers.  “Students who participate in group advising appreciate the opportunity to interact with peers as well as with an advisor.  The feeling of not being alone is a powerful by-product of the group experience” (King, 2000). 

Advising incorporated into classes.  Many universities offer a freshmen experience course of some kind. This can be an opportunity to include advising-related topics in a group setting. Questions that can be addressed in this format include common registration-related issues, policies, and procedures. Addressing such needs early in the first semester can alleviate excessive back and forth emails with advisors on procedural types of questions.

Advisor professional development.  Development offers advisors opportunities to recognize their own biases related to the advising process and improve their advising confidence.  There are free or relatively inexpensive ways to incorporate advising into existing professional development.

  • Consider offering one or more of the many relevant NACADA webinars on your campus and inviting interested faculty to attend. Planning existing faculty development time to be held during such a webinar maximizes resources.
  • Professional advisors on campus may be willing to conduct a workshop for faculty advisors on best practices.
  • Another on-campus resource can be an existing department offering degrees in educational theory, higher education, student affairs, or counseling services. Faculty skilled in these areas may be willing to share their expertise via a workshop, training, or presentation.
  • Develop an advising workgroup on campus, with representation from the varied schools or departments. Best practices can be shared and brought back to individual departments, thus avoiding duplication of effort. Webinars and training costs can also be shared via this collaboration.

Summary

The case supporting the importance of academic advising is compelling.  Students clearly seek the guidance, support, and mentoring that the academic advisor can provide.  Students highly value the advising relationship and research tells us that advising can contribute to student retention and success.  While faculty advisors are undoubtedly aware of the need for a strong advising relationship, they are being increasingly pressured to improve upon the areas that contribute to their performance evaluations such as teaching, research, and service. Additionally, higher education institutions are facing budget constraints and may not be offering the resources that faculty need to improve upon their advising skills and/or support the additional workload that good advising demands.  Advisors can consider other creative strategies to enhance their advising and increase their frequency of contacts with advisees without a significant concomitant increase in time, workload or resources. Expanding advisee outreach through group, peer, and/or class advising can strengthen the advising relationship.  Additionally, taking advantage of established advisor training workshops such as NACADA webinars along with utilizing existing campus resources for professional development can improve advisor skill and confidence without adding significant cost to the institution. 

Evidence supports the need for effective, intentional, and comprehensive academic advising.  The outcomes will be greater student satisfaction and increased retention, both of which are part of the value-added equation in higher education’s current climate.

Colleen A. Thompson, MS, RD
Assistant Dean for Student Services
School of Health Sciences
Quinnipiac University
Colleen.Thompson@quinnipiac.edu

References

Gallup, Inc. (2014). Great jobs great lives: The 2014 Gallup-Purdue index report. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://www.luminafoundation.org/files/resources/galluppurdueindex-report-2014.pdf

Noel Levitz, Inc. (2015-2016). National student satisfaction and priorities report.

Noel-Levitz, Inc. (2009). National student Satisfaction and priorities report.

Cannon, J. (2013, March). Intrusive advising 101: How to be intrusive without intruding. Academic Advising Today36(1). Retrieved from www.nacada.ksu.edu/

Bentley-Gadow, J. E. & Silverson, K. (2005).The sequential advising model for group advising: Modifying delivery venues for freshmen and transfer students. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: 
http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Group-advising-model.aspx

King, Nancy. (2000). Advising students in groups. In V.N. Gordon, W.R. Habley, and Associates (Eds.), Academic advising: A Comprehensive handbook. (p. 236). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ryan, B. (2010, March). Integrating group advising into a comprehensive advising program. Academic Advising Today, 33(1). Retrieved from www.nacada.ksu.edu/

Zabel, L. & Rothberger, S. (2012, June). Peer advising: Bridging the gap between professional advisor and students. Academic Advising Today, 35(2). Retrieved from www.nacada.ksu.edu/

Cite this article using APA style as: Thompson, C.A. (2016, September). Faculty advising strategies in a climate of reduced resources. Academic Advising Today, 39(3). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

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