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Selma Haghamed, Qatar University

During the NACADA International Conference sponsored by Zayed University in Dubai in February 2016, the NACADA Academic Advising Consultant and Speaker Service (AACSS) led an important discussion panel.  AACSS helped delegates from institutions across the globe start a conversation about gaps of ­­academic advising in their campuses, shedding the light on how the NACADA Consultant and Speaker Service could help bridge gaps in practice and bring academic advising programs to their full potential.

Qatar International Conference.jpgThis discussion panel was attended by delegates from American University of Kuwait, New York University in Shanghai, Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, Qatar University, Dubai College, and Zayed University.  Charlie Nutt, Kathy Stockwell and Selma Haghamed from NACADA AACSS stirred a conversation about how these gaps can be bridged.  The panel represented a good opportunity for the delegates to see what other institutions are doing to build comprehensive academic advising programs.  The session provided a framework for participants to evaluate where their institutions fit in the ever evolving and developing picture of academic advising programs.  Such conversations are vital for improving and enhancing academic advising programs at the international level.

Academic advising is emerging as one of the important academic support services for students in higher education.  It is no longer an accessory or an additional function.  It is a necessity, and its organization and planning is a must.  Academic advising plays a significant role in fostering student learning, success, and development (Kuh, 2011).  In addition to this, research shows that students learn a great deal outside the classroom (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).  These principles, practices, and beliefs might still need to be implanted in other parts of the world.

The discussion revisited the NACADA foundations of practice of academic advising.  These foundations provide direction and guidance in establishing and providing excellent academic advising programs and services with minimum gaps in the practice of academic advising.  Foundations such as the NACADA Concept of Academic Advising, NACADA Core Values, and the Council of Advancement of Standards (CAS) in academic advising are essential for a seamless practice and a holistic student experience.

The panelists discussed some of the gaps that NACADA resources could help bridge in institutions.  For instance, the definition of academic advising is still not well-established on many campuses today.  What defines advising?  What is the role of an academic advisor?  Campuses need to start a conversation about the role and definition of advising.  To do this, they need facilitators of dialogue.  They also need to gain insightful ideas about what other campuses are doing.

One of the main barriers to success for an advising program is the lack of proper understanding of diversity and its effect in advising.  Students today are diverse across a wide range of characteristics, such as age, race, culture, religion, and most importantly, academic background.  Many of them are commuters and others are first generation.  The diversity of students requires that institutions of higher education develop well-structured, comprehensive academic advising programs to support student success and address attrition.  It might be challenging for many colleges and universities to find the appropriate organizational structure of academic advising.  Not only this, but they might also find it difficult to integrate the ideal advising structure in the institution.

As a consequence of the diversity of students, institutions, and organizational structures of academic advising, there are gaps in planning and organizing academic advising on many campuses.  If gaps are discovered, they are easy to address.  However, identifying these gaps is not an easy task, let alone bridging them.

Another gap in programming for advising is the block in the flow of information from different campus constituencies to academic advising.  Academic advising programs are known as referral hubs to institutional resources.  It is the role of academic advisors to connect students to resources and update them about changes such as adjustments to study plans or degree requirements.  It is also part of their role to interpret some of the institutional policies and procedures for students and help them navigate the complexity of higher education.  If there are changes in institutional policies and regulations, advisors should be updated in a timely fashion. However, many academic advising programs are not serving their mission as referral hubs, because advisors’ role in referring to institutional resources and interpreting policies is not defined.  This in turn results in a blockage of information. It is important to define advisors’ scope of duties and highlight their roles as referral hubs as this is expected to improve the flow of information. Most of the time, if the advisors are not well-informed, the students aren’t.

The lack of consistency in student to advisor ratio or caseload is another common gap; for instance, there is no limit to the number of students that faculty can advise.  Therefore, faculty might be burdened with many responsibilities in addition to their major role in research and teaching.  Not only this, but in order to carry their role as academic advisors, faculty should receive support or professional development that is geared toward their role as faculty advisors.  The lack of this support could hinder their role as advisors.

The discussion panel also identified some of the common gaps of practice of academic advising in different institutions across the world such as those in the Middle East and North Africa.  One of the most common gaps in this part of the world is students and administration considering the advisors’ main function to be helping students register for courses. Some administrators and students might mistakenly assume that advisors’ main duty is to tell students what courses to register for.  Certainly the main duty of an advisor is to help and empower students to think about the course selection process differently and to make decisions rather than dictate the courses that the students register for.

Another common gap in this region is using only one type of provider, such as faculty, whereas there are many types of providers (especially in large public institutions), such as full time, paraprofessional, and peer advisors.  Also, in some institutions, full time academic advisors do not receive proper training to carry their duties; their role is defined more as a clerical staff.  Rather than spending time with students in educational planning, they spend their time fulfilling office duties which may limit their role as student development and success specialists.

Despite the fact that students in the Middle East have unique characteristics and cultural norms that might affect the advising process, advising students from Middle Eastern background is regarded as the same as advising students everywhere else.  If academic advisors are not trained to identify these differences and develop strategies to address them, this create gaps and challenges both for students and advisors.

Another gap that was highlighted during the discussion is the lack of reward and recognition for faculty advisors and full time staff.  Regardless of the type of provider, generally academic advisors are in the front line with students.  If their position is not rewarded, this could lead to quick burn out and loss of interest in advising as a profession.  Advisors need a well-defined and established system of recognition and reward in order to be motivated.

At the conclusion of the discussion panel, NACADA Executive Director Charlie Nutt and NACADA Past President Kathy Stockwell highlighted a number of services and resources provided by NACADA that could help campuses start a healthy conversation about defining, planning, and organizing academic advising.  There is also a wealth of information and resources for advising administrators to improve their skills in student development and success and enhance their strategies and techniques in advising a diverse student body in diverse institutions.

One of the important services for institutions, especially the ones in the Middle East, is the Academic Advising Consultant and Speaker Service (AACSS).  The ACSS assists colleges and universities by providing external consultants who can offer an outsider perspective to challenges inside the organizations.  They act as a positive catalyst for change.  During the course of this process, they may provide organizations with a fresh, objective viewpoint with very minimum emotional involvement.  This service also provides internationally and nationally recognized experts in the field of advising to give keynote addresses, motivational speeches, and faculty and administrator trainings.

During the discussion panel, two representatives (one from Zayed University in United Arab Emirates and another one from Qatar University in the State of Qatar) presented their organizational structures, some of the challenges they faced, and how NACADA AACSS helped them address these challenges.  It is worth mentioning that as a result of their efforts to improve academic advising and with the help of AACSS, Qatar University won the NACADA 2014 Academic Advising Certificate of Merit Award.  Such models in the Middle East may serve as a beacon and a guide for other institutions to start their journey.

Selma Haghamed
Academic Advising Consultant and Research Coach
Former Director of the Center for Academic Advising and Retention
Qatar University
shaghamed@hotmail.com

NOTE:  Learn more about past and upcoming NACADA International Conferences on the NACADA website.

References

Kuh, G. (2011). Student success. In J. H. Schuh, S. R. Jones, S. R. Harper, & Associates (Eds.), Student services: A handbook for the profession (pp. 428-447). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How college affects students: A third decade of research (Vol. 2). K. A. Feldman (Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cite this article using APA style as: Haghamed, S. (2016, June). NACADA stirs a global conversation to address gaps of practice of academic advising internationally. Academic Advising Today, 39(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2016 June 39:2

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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.

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