Rich Robbins, Bucknell University
The December 2015 AAT included an article by Leigh Cunningham titled “Advisors Discuss: Advising is Advising,” which summarized the 2015 NACADA Annual Conference Common Reading discussion of the (2008) “Advising is Advising: Toward Defining the Practice and Scholarship of Academic Advising” by Janet Schulenberg and Marie Lindhorst. As evidenced by the discussions during the Common Reading event, there is still much debate regarding the efficacy (or even possibility) of a unifying theory of academic advising.
At the time of its publication, the Schulenberg and Lindhorst (2008) article was indeed on-target by proposing that advising is a unique field of practice and study. This view was widely held prior to 2008 and continues today. It is, in fact, one of the primary points that NACADA has been emphasizing for over a decade regarding becoming recognized as a profession and discipline in higher education. Also true in 2008 was the authors’ statement that “Academic advising has emerged as a distinct interdisciplinary field and profession” (Schulenberg & Lindhorst, 2008, p. 43), although according to the criteria provided by Shaffer, Zalewski, and Leveille (2010) we have not yet met all requirements to sociologically be considered an academic profession.
The assertion that “The scholar-practitioner model must be nurtured for all who engage in academic advising and for a distinct scholarly identity for academic advising to be established within higher education” (Schulenberg and Lindhorst, 2008, p. 43) was also absolutely true then as it is now, with calls for increased research and scholarship having been made previously (Habley, 1986, 2000; McGillin, 2000; Padak, Kuhn, Gordon, Steele, & Robbins, 2005). The more recent emphasis by NACADA on promoting and increasing scholarship in academic advising not only to inform practice but to build a foundation of empirical inquiry to make academic advising a recognized profession in higher education (as per Shaffer, Zalewski, and Leveille, 2010) follows these calls.
A highlighted aspect of the Common Reading event was the consideration of Lowenstein’s 2005 article in light of the 2008 article by Schulenberg and Lindhorst. While some may contend that the latter significantly differed from the former, the aspects of academic advising as teaching included in Lowenstein’s 2005 article (e.g., student learning, outcomes for advising) are included in the Schulenberg and Lindhorst (2008) article. Lowenstein’s (2005) earlier and continued emphasis on advising as a form of teaching (Lowenstein, 2014), parallels what Schulenberg and Lindhorst (2008) wrote, with Schulenberg and Lindhorst additionally emphasizing this to further reiterate a need for increased scholarship in advising. This notion that academic advising is a form of teaching has been discussed for decades in the literature by others as well (Appleby, 2008, Creamer, 2000; Crookston, 1972; Ender, Winston, & Miller, 1984; Frost, Habley, King, Vowell, & White, 1995; Grites, 1994; Hagen, 1994; Miller & Alberts, 1994; Ryan, 1992).
In summary, the focus on the need for increased scholarship in the Schulenberg and Lindhorst (2008) article echoed prior and continuing calls for increased research. What has changed since the article was published in 2008 includes:
- The 2008 NACADA definition of research as scholarly inquiry
- The 2010 NACADA book “Scholarly Inquiry in Academic Advising”
- The implementation of NACADA Research Symposia
- The revised 2013 NACADA Vision Statement including “development and dissemination of innovative theory, research, and practice of academic advising in higher education.”
- The revised 2013 NACADA Mission Statement including “advancing the field of academic advising globally.”
- The revised 2013 NACADA Strategic Goals including a specific goal to “Expand and communicate the scholarship of academic advising.”
- The forthcoming Center for Excellence and Research in Academic Advising and Student Success joint venture between NACADA and the College of Education at Kansas State University
The topics discussed during the follow-up conversation with Schulenberg and Lindhorst at the 2015 conference, as reported by Cunningham (2015), further reflect many aspects of the concept of advising as teaching, the NACADA Core Values, the CAS Standards for Academic Advising, the NACADA Strategic Goal #1, and the increased emphasis on research/scholarly inquiry in advising. Missing in the 2008 article, as well as in Lowenstein’s two articles (2005, 2014), is the fact that assessment of academic advising is necessary to determine true “effectiveness” of advising provided and of student learning as a result of advising (Robbins, 2011; Robbins and Zarges, 2011).
A continuing debate lies in Schulenberg and Lindhorst’s (2008) appeals for a unified theory of academic advising. Others have similarly suggested the need for such a theory (e.g., Hagen & Jordan, 2008) while Himes (2014) suggested that a normative theory will eventually evolve from the interdisciplinary theories historically and currently utilized in advising. Lowenstein (2014) offered what he termed A Normative Theory of Advising as Integrative Learning which could arguably be a positive theory rather than a normative one, as positive theories describe reality and Lowenstein provides a description of what academic advising is, while normative theories portray a judgment of the ideal or most desirable. Because academic advising borrows from so many fields and disciplines such as education, learning, student development, human development, psychology, sociology, even economic theory and more not included here—each of which have subtheories and interdisciplinary aspects themselves—a discrete, overarching academic advising theory is likely not possible.
The interdisciplinary characteristic of academic advising as recognized by Schulenberg and Lindhorst (2008), combined with the individual specificity of any given advising practice due to the distinctiveness of each campus academic culture including (but not limited to) the different environments in which advising occurs, the different modes in which advising is delivered, the institution’s political culture, mission, and student clientele, etc. make a specific single theory unfeasible. Any given academic advising event is based on the developmental, educational, and other theories most appropriate to the specific advising situation (Robbins, 2010, 2012).
While a common theory for academic advising is likely not possible, this does not mean that minimum components of an effective academic advising program should not be identified. That is, the interdisciplinary and eclectic characteristics of effective academic advising do not exclude the fact that in order to provide students with the services necessary to promote their successes and persistence to graduation while at the same time meeting the program and institutional missions, each individual advising program needs to delineate minimum process and student learning outcomes to be met. A good place to start is the CAS Standards for Academic Advising (2015). Assessment of both the processes involved in the delivery of advising to students and of student learning as the result of advising to determine if the identified minimum components have been achieved is necessary as well.
College of Arts and Sciences
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Cite this article using APA style as: Robbins, R. (2016, March). In response to “advisors discuss: advising is advising”. Academic Advising Today, 39(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]