Terry Carroll, Gainesville State College
The scene: A college advising center on a campus where advising is not mandatory. The number of advising appointments during registration times vs. non-registration times, if plotted, resembles high frequency radio waves. Budgetary support for center services can be best described by the phrase, “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.” Yet administrators have set strategic goals for student retention and graduation that feature advising in every action step.
Student advising centers are seen as accessible locations featuring professional advisors who facilitate student potential by assisting with educational plans and connecting students to campus resources – for the students who come. But what about the students who don’t? Or those students who only show up during late registration?
Experience as the Director of Academic Advising at both a large, four-year research institution and a smaller state college has taught me that effective strategies for connecting with students can include collaborative programs, technological tools, and integrated advising modules. The key is to reach out and pull in students during non-peak periods when advisors and students have the time to actively engage in the process. Neither a big budget nor additional employees is required (although always nice). When student engagement incentives are in place for advising during non-peak times, quality advising opportunities multiply and strong student/advisor relationships develop.
At Georgia State University, a collaborative program between the Advising Center and Undergraduate Studies seeks to sustain students who have recently lost the HOPE Scholarship, a state program that pays full tuition and fees for students earning a minimum 3.0 GPA. Under the program, students receive a small stipend from scholarship monies in exchange for attendance at student success workshops, meeting with an advisor for a minimum of two appointments, and attending a training session for the online academic evaluation system. The program provides a strong incentive for students to actively pursue a relationship with an advisor and to engage in advising during non-registration periods.
An advising center that serves as a support system for an academic department can also pull in students during off-peak times. At Gainesville State College, nursing students are required to attend group advising workshops prior to registration. Students not attending these group workshops must sign up for advising appointments, view a video about the nursing curriculum, and complete an assessment rating their understanding of video content. In both cases, advisors answer questions, clarify nursing requirements, and initiate positive advising relationships.
Technology is another valuable tool for enhancing advising opportunities. Student information systems software can be programmed to act as a “mother hen,” nagging students to seek advising. A 30-credit-hour registration hold at Georgia State requires students to view their online academic evaluations prior to being released for registration. The process is self-service and involves simple mouse clicks to view evaluations and release the registration hold. The Advising Center experiences an increase in appointments each time the 30-credit-hour hold goes into effect, the result of students coming face-to-face with their academic histories, number of hours earned, areas satisfied, and remaining graduation requirements.
A recent innovation at Gainesville State encourages advising, and not just registration, of students on academic probation by using self-registration as a reward for completing an Academic Success Plan (ASP). Probation students must register with assistance, and lines often snake around the Advising Center during registration periods. In-depth advising is sacrificed for the handing out of numbers, deli-style, and shouting “Next!” into the crowd. Instead, the ASP, a collaborative effort between student and advisor, is completed to release the student for self-registration. The ASP delineates needed cumulative and semester GPAs, documents referrals to campus resources, e.g., workshops, tutoring, and personal counseling, and pairs problems with corresponding action steps. Course recommendations are listed on the ASP document, which is scanned into the computer system for future reference. Most students prefer the independence self-registration offers: this incentive encourages them to seek academic advising during the weeks prior to registration when adequate time, individual assessment, and developmental advising can better meet their needs.
Weaving academic advising into the more intimate classroom experience can bring additional opportunities to advance the agenda of an academic advising center. At both Georgia State and Gainesville State, advising modules, consisting of sessions delivered by one advisor on multiple occasions, are integrated into freshman orientation classes. The modules are structured so that the advisors deliver clear and purposeful advising information with content tied to specific learning outcomes. The advisor is encouraged to interact with students during class, and to stay after class to address more specific or personal student issues. The advisor may also email reminders to these students regarding important dates and academic progress checks. Interacting with the same advisor more than once jumpstarts the relationship between student and advisor and provides assurance that there is at least one person on campus who cares and is accessible to address student needs.
Advising centers are most beneficial when consistently used by students as a year-round resource for educational planning and support. Strategies for encouraging academic advising during non-peak times help connect students to an advising center. Once there, students are exposed to knowledgeable, caring, and supportive professionals, increasing the likelihood of future interactions with advisors.
Director of Academic Advising
Gainesville State College
Cite this article using APA style as: Carroll, T. (2010, March). The academic advising center: If you build it, they still might not come. Academic Advising Today, 33(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]