Jessica Van Ranken and Trenton Kennedy, Kansas State University
Greetings, NACADA community, and thank you for allowing us the opportunity to share our experience and student perspective with NACADA and academic advising. Please allow us to introduce ourselves. We are Jessica Van Ranken and Trenton Kennedy, student body president and vice president at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. In our role at Kansas State, we represent the student body to the university community and administration and work on their behalf to solve problems related to student life and student success. At Kansas State, our student government partakes in university governance in a shared manner between university support staff and faculty senate. Most will tell you that student leadership have a particularly significant place at the table, working collaboratively with administration on complex issues affecting students and the system in general. We have spent our term in office working on issues like sexual assault policy, diversity and inclusion, mental wellness, political advocacy, and student success. Our work has spanned the academy and we have tried to navigate the political battlegrounds of higher education to shape university policy and action in a way that put students in a place to most often be the benefactor when complex, intricate decisions were made.
One priority of ours since day one has been academic advising. We were first introduced to academic advising when Steven Dandaneau (K-State’s Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies and fierce advocate for NACADA) came before our student-led tuition and fees strategies committee requesting a fee to fund a centralized academic advising position as well as integrated software to implement university wide. Although the fee was not approved, as a student committee we engaged in conversations about academic advising and our specific approach at K-State, where there is great variation across the institution in the amounts of professional and faculty advising, types of software systems, advisor to student ratios, and student satisfaction levels. It was through these conversations that we understood our deeply rooted decentralized methodology towards academic advising here at K-State.
These realizations led us to think of ways in which we as student representatives and our (student) Academic Affairs Director could become advocates for academic advising and work to improve student satisfaction and consistency. NACADA Executive Director Charlie Nutt suggested the two of us attend the NACADA Annual Conference in Atlanta. We were excited and very mystified—what actually goes on at NACADA and how long can we talk about academic advising? Dr. Dandaneau and Dr. Nutt briefed us before we went, and our thoughts after those briefings brought about excitement to attend and be most likely the only student leaders present, but also anxiety to represent what Dr. Dandaneau and Dr. Nutt call the “mothership” of academic advising: Kansas State University!
Our first and most notable NACADA impression was the outright friendliness and welcoming attitude exhibited by literally all of the attendees. Even coming from a school that prides itself on being a “Family,” we were blown away by everyone’s kindness and generosity. We talked about it and concluded, what exactly were we expecting? This attitude and warm welcome speaks to the work that academic advisors do every day, serving on front lines with students facilitating the most important and crucial conversations that some will ever have. The attitude and personality of NACADA attendees speaks to the profession they chose.
One of our first and most notable NACADA experiences was the chance to meet and talk with Kathleen Shea Smith, the Associate Provost for Academic Advising at the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Shea Smith helped us understand academic advising in the context of higher education, not just specifically to our institution, but to all of higher education. We learned of progress and change, and specifically how she was able to move the needle at different institutions. This was important context to have as we prepared to learn and grow for two days all in relation to advising and student success.
Our NACADA experience was one of learning and growth. We dove into presentations and conversations about student success, retention and matriculation, the use of data, early intervention, advising administration, case management, and much more. NACADA helped us to understand exactly what academic advising is and the foundations from which the profession is built. However, most notable to us was the personality and demeanor of those around us—those who dedicate their lives to ensuring students in higher education are getting the things they need to be successful academically, emotionally, physically, and financially. NACADA instilled in us a sense of loyalty to such a noble profession.
The conference came and went and we spent time chewing on the huge amount of things that we learned, information we received, and perspective we gained. We began engaging in conversations with each other on how we could take what NACADA gave us and set forward a vision for what would best fit K-State and its students. It has been in those conversations that we believe we are able to capture maybe not exactly how academic advising could or should look at an institution, but themes or strategies in which academic advising can best serve students and fit most efficiently in the structure of a university.
In the structure and administration of academic advising, we understand the fine line that must be walked in terms of the centralization of academic advising. We understand that a decentralized approach gives units the autonomy to tailor-fit advising to their student and staff needs. However, like at Kansas State, this decentralized approach may lead to a massive lack of consistency in advising approaches and student satisfaction. Additionally, a decentralized approach creates advisor-to-student ratios that are different across the board. We believe the ratio is one of the most important factors in advising and having a consistent standard at the institution creates a better structure for students.
A concept that we grasped during our time at the NACADA Annual Conference was the idea of holistic advising. Holistic advising is advising that addresses the whole student and connects them with the resources they need, both for academics and for other resources campus wide. In our minds, this advising makes the most sense because academic advisors ought to be able to connect students to financial resources as well as things like tutoring, counseling, health and wellness, among the many things offered to students. Holistic advising can only be done though with an established relationship where hard conversations, about topics such as financial aid, are made comfortable. Ultimately, we believe that this is done through low ratios and a connectedness to campus on behalf of the advisor. We believe there is room for collaboration, especially between financial aid services and academic advising, as we know this is a primary reason that colleges and universities, specifically K-State, are not retaining students.
In closing, we believe that academic advising is one of the most powerful tools for ensuring student success and retention. At Kansas State, our nation’s first land grant institution, we owe it to our students not just to admit them and to bring them here, but to ensure their success for the years they spend at our institution. Academic advising has been and ought to continue to be a driving force of this aspirational success. We believe that conversations and decisions regarding academic advising must be made with students at the table. While we are grateful to have been the only student leaders in attendance at the NACADA Annual Conference, we believe that to ensure the continued foundational success of advising, students must consistently have a place at the table. Because they are the ultimate consumer, decisions should be made with them at the forefront.
Jessica Van Ranken
Student Body President
Kansas State University
Student Body Vice President
Kansas State University
Cite this article using APA style as: Van Ranken, J., & Kennedy, R. (2017, June). Student leader perspectives on academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 40(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]