Joanne K. Damminger, NACADA President
The first five months of the year were exciting for the regions of NACADA. Conferences were held in 10 regions across the United States and Canada. Three regions, 9, 5, and 1, experienced record-breaking attendance attracting over 500 participants, and regions 8, 4, and 2 exceeded 400 participants! Region 9 had the largest registration in the history of NACADA's regional conferences (as of the publication of this article)! The poster and concurrent sessions, keynotes, and networking opportunities provided a beneficial and motivating experience for advisors, administrators, and NACADA!
Juxtaposed with the excitement of learning and developing through regional conferences are reminders of the many challenges in higher education today. Many colleges and universities are experiencing changing prospective student demographics and decreasing numbers of people choosing higher education, resulting in ongoing pressure to meet enrollment goals. Higher education's focus on retention has always been in the forefront of our work, but there is increased emphasis on meeting completion numbers. And perhaps, most importantly, we continually seek ways to meet the ever-changing needs of our student populations: challenges of underpreparedness, the multifaceted responsibilities of our students, and the economic situations across the globe, resulting in decreased jobs and opportunities upon degree completion.
In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (March 10, 2014), Carey reminds us of a flourishing time for American higher education from the early 1980s to 2001, when the economy was stable and college enrollment realized an additional two million students in higher education. Students recognized the value of a college education, its necessity to get a good job, and the increased earning potential of college graduates. However, in more recent years, disappointing graduation rates, rising student debt, and the low literacy and numeracy skill levels of some college graduates have altered the landscape of higher education. The picture does not shimmer any brighter when coupled with escalating college costs and decreased employability of students with college degrees (Carey, March 10, 2014). All of this is resulting in higher education being called upon to provide concrete evidence of student learning and ability to complete that is proportionate to the cost of a college education.
We must put a student experience in place at every institution that demonstrates the value of higher education. Institutions around the globe are researching best practices for student success, retention, and completion. Following the advice of community college students who participated in McClenney and Arnsparger's study (2012), we as educators must require our students to do what we know is good for them; students depend on us to “make them do” what leads to student success. The message from students who participated in the study is loud and clear: "Students don't do optional" (p. 57). I am sure the quote is true for students at two-year and four-year institutions, private and public, specialty or liberal arts institutions, in the United States and across the globe. So, what is your institution and more specifically you, as an academic or career advisor, requiring of your advisees to help them realize their potential and dreams of degree completion? Is advising required of your students and for how many semesters? In what ways are you streamlining the application, testing, advising, and registration processes so students are not given the runaround or asked to maneuver landmines to enroll? Are your processes and procedures for declaring and changing majors clear and easily followed? In what ways are you helping students to have the strongest start possible?
The role that governmental legislation will play in the changing tapestry of higher education, completion incentives, future higher education policies, and potential college rankings remains controversial, but that does not, and should not, dilute the role that advisors play in supporting students and learning. Advising is now a key player in the arena of student success, and with increased recognition comes increased responsibility. Although the field of advising has come very far since the first National Conference on Academic Advising in 1977, there is more work than ever for us to do. As the familiar adage reads, we cannot continue to do the same things and expect new results.
So, how will advisors lead effective change to enhance the role of advising, meet student enrollment goals, and help students realize their educational and career goals? Advising plays a critical role in improving the college experience, making connections with students, and helping students succeed in their chosen programs of study, earn a degree, and graduate with the competencies required to get into and be sustained in intended career fields. As advisors and advising administrators seek ways to accomplish the aforementioned, participation in networking opportunities within and outside of NACADA is critical to improved practice. Seek opportunities to share ideas and new initiatives with advising colleagues. In the community college sector, in which I work, we are continually thinking of ways to support students from the time they apply, as ideally we only have three years (well, I said ideally) to impact the students who enter our community college doors.
In 2013, Delaware Technical Community College (Delaware Tech) put in place a “Front Door Experience” following the lead of Shugart (2008), who reminds us of the need to provide support for our new students from the time they step over our thresholds. The Front Door Experience at Delaware Tech consists of mandatory advising for all new students, expected attendance at new student orientation, encouraged participation in engaging welcome week activities, and enrollment in a first-year experience Student Success Course.
A recent impact study released by the American Association of Community Colleges (February, 2014) shows both the positive impact of the community college sector on the U.S. economy and the positive effects of graduating students on the local workforce. We must find ways to inform our students that they can realize a return of $4.80 for every $1 invested in education. The same study showed an increased earning potential of graduates with an associate's degree of almost $10,700 more per year than someone with a high school degree or equivalent, but too few students are aware of these statistics.
Although summer sessions at institutions worldwide are no longer "down times" when we can catch our breath and complete unfinished work, I encourage you this season to find at least one area to improve in your own practice or processes of your department. Find a way, no matter how small, to make an initial or returning experience better for the students with whom you interact.
To assist you in enhancing your practice and/or the achievements of your advising unit, consider attending one of NACADA's Summer Institutes in Portland, Oregon (June 22-27) or St. Petersburg, Florida (July 27-August 1) to complete a plan of action and bring positive change to your department or division.
And now, as with previous articles written during my NACADA presidency, I am happy to provide the membership with an update from the NACADA Board of Directors. Although the Board meets online throughout the year via Adobe Connect, we met face to face at the end of April in Minneapolis. It was a great opportunity, while in the largest city in Minnesota, to scout things to do and see during the upcoming Annual Conference scheduled for October 8-11, 2014. During our meeting, Board member Karen Sullivan-Vance provided the Board with an update on the work of the Committee for Global Initiatives. The Committee is working on an international conference June 24th to 26th, 2015 at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Start planning to attend now! In addition, Casey Self, chair of the Committee for Sustainable NACADA Leadership, reported that the Committee is moving forward with internship experiences for our Institutes and increased leadership development resources for all members. The NACADA Council met as well in Minneapolis and reviewed the work of our three divisions, Administrative, Regional, and Commission and Interest Group. The results of the work they are currently doing will enhance the organizational structure of the Association well into the future.
May you enjoy the pleasures of the upcoming season, whether it is winter or summer for you, and remember that whatever your advising role and responsibilities, NACADA is here to assist you in any way. Call upon us!
Joanne K. Damminger, President, 2013-2014
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs
Delaware Technical Community College
Carey, K. (March 10, 2014). Why President Obama's rankings are a good place to start. Retrieved March 12, 2014 from http://m.chronicle.com/article/Why-President-Obama-s/145243/
McClenney, K. & Arnsparger, A. (2012). Students speak: Are we listening?
Report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement.
O'Banion, T. (Oct./Nov. 2012). Be Advised. Community College Journal.
Shugart, S. C. (2008). Focus on the front door of the college. New Directions for Community Colleges. p. 29 - 38.
Wright, J. (February 18, 2014). The economic impact of America's community colleges. Retrieved March 7, 2014 from http://www.economicmodeling.com/2014/02/18/the-economic-impact-of-americas-community-colleges