Resources for advising academically underprepared students
Academically Underprepared Students
A. Miller and Coleen
21st century, a college degree has become what a high school diploma
was 100 years ago--the path to a successful career and to knowledgeable
citizenship (Ramaley, Leskes and associates, 2002). Many higher
education institutions report record enrollments as '75 percent
of high school graduates get some postsecondary education within
two years of receiving their diplomas' (Ramaley, et al., 2002).
Today, older adults enroll in record numbers as learning has become
a life-long endeavor.
numbers increase, so do the number of students 'at-risk' for academic
success. King (2004) delineates the 'at-risk' as a diverse
collection of sub-groups of students who:
- Are academically underprepared as a result of prior educational experiences (e.g.,
academic failure, poor preparation, low expectations);
- Manifest a group of individual
risk factors such as neurological, cognitive, health,
or psychological factors that can contribute to academic failure
(e.g., traumatic brain injury, learning disabilities, chronic
illness, psychological problems, or student attitude toward
- Experience familial risk
factors including disturbed family functioning, dependent
care issues, familial values concerning education, and lack
of financial resources ;
- Possess social risk factors i.e., conflicting ethnic or cultural values or stressful
peer and social interactions.
(2003) adds another group to King's: the Millennial generation; students who graduate high school in the 21st century.
These students often enter our institutions lacking educational
article discusses techniques for advising one of the aforementioned
at-risk groups: the academically underprepared.
are the academically underprepared?
of those enrolling on our campuses did not plan to attend college
but requirements of today's workforce changed those plans. The
American Association of College and Universities (AAC&U) reports
that ' 53% of students entering our colleges and universities
are academically underprepared,i.e.,lacking basic
skills in at least one of the three basic areas of reading, writing
or mathematics' (Tritelli, 2003). This is a 33% increase in the
number of academically prepared students since 1996 (National
Center for Educational Statistics).
so, McCabe (2000) found that 'each year.more than half a million
(academically underprepared) college students successfully complete
remediation' and go on to 'do as well in standard college courses
as those students who begin fully prepared.' Boylan (2001) maintains
that this success can be attributed to the use of a developmental
approach when working with underprepared students. Boylan further
supports King's (2004) assumptions when he says that 'students
fail to do well in college for a variety of reasons, and only
one of them is lack of academic preparedness. Factors such as
personal autonomy, self-confidence, ability to deal with racism,
study behaviors, or social competence have as much or more to
do with grades, retention and graduation than how well a student
writes or how competent a student is in mathematics.'
King and Boylan are correct and academic underpreparedness is
but one factor in the equation, what can advisors do to best assist
these students? McGillin (2003) maintains that no matter the at-risk
category, students' ability to cope, or their 'resiliency,' is
the best barometer for success.
defines 'resilient students' as those students with the internal
and external support necessary for success (p. 48). Resilient
students have the personal development and drive necessary to
succeed. When supported by positive institutional experiences
that strengthen their self-esteem and self-efficacy, these students
overcome the negative effects attributed to at-risk factors.
can institutions do to help the academically underprepared students
become resilient and succeed academically?
upon the work of Tinto (2004), Boylan (2001), and McGillin (2003),
those seeking to improve success rates for academically underprepared
students should lobby for a developmental education program that
encompasses a three pronged approach that:
the groundwork' for success with effective academic advising;
provides content and structure e.g., pre-college basic skills
courses, tutoring, and topical workshops;
resilient students who, despite sometimes improbable circumstances,
(2004) maintains that campuses support the development of resilient
students -- and thus enhance retention and graduation - when they
provide effective academic advising. He sees advising as a major
component of the academic, social, and personal support programs
necessary to help students meet their learning needs.
(1994) stated that 'academic advising is the only structured
activity on the campus in which all students have the
opportunity for on-going,one-to-one interaction with
a concernedrepresentative of the institution' (p. 10).
As such, advisors lay the groundwork for the success of academically
underprepared students and 'play a pivotal role in promoting resilience'
(McGillin, p. 48).
do advisors assist in student success? Anderson & McGuire
(1997) assert that students are more likely to achieve when their
strengths are affirmed and they are encouraged to develop their
abilities. This is especially true for the academically underprepared.
Steele (1999) recommends that when working with underprepared
students advisors should focus on student strengths and abandon
the use of the phrase 'You need remedial work' in favor of 'You
may be somewhat behind at this time but you are a talented person.
We can help you advance at an accelerated rate' (p. 23).
advising the academically underprepared student, advisors must
build a close student-advisor relationship that, as it develops,
encourages student independence as they achieve educational, career,
and personal goals through the use of the full range of institutional
and community resources (Winston, Miller, Ender & Grites,
a Success Plan
Anderson (2004), citing Spann and McCrimmon (1998), suggests that
a detailed plan is needed if we are to address student academic
needs 'since the underprepared student often has an unrealistic
view of the importance of background skills and knowledge and
tends to avoid registering in the necessary developmental coursework.'
Development of such a plan could pose a significant problem, especially
for the underprepared student who is also a Millennial since,
as Keeling (2003) notes, Millennial students often enter our institutions
lacking in educational planning skills.
underprepared students often have no idea how to go about earning
a degree: they do not know what steps they must take or the particulars
of what institutions expect of them. It is imperative that advisors
outline both the institution's expectations of students and what
students can expect from advisors throughout their academic careers.
These expectations should be made available in a clear and concise
bulleted listing that reads 'The Advisor's Role and Responsibilities'
as well as another bulleted listing of the 'Student's Role and
Responsibilities' (see Student and Advisor Responsibilities in
Advising resources within the Clearinghouse for examples).
should know their responsibilities as advisees as well as what
behaviors are expected of them in the college classroom. They
must understand that if they skip classes or offer weak excuses
for not completing coursework, they will be held accountable for
their actions. Students make choices and colleges hold them responsible
for those choices; making bad choices can mean consequences they
might not want to experience.
Advising Helps Students Become Resilient
shows that intrusive advising strategies can be especially useful
when advising to build student resiliency. Intrusive advising
strategies found to be helpful at the initial enrollment of an
underprepared student include:
- Utilize appropriate assessment
tools (e.g., ACT, ACCULACER, COMPASS, etc.) to determine student
skills and abilities;
- Employ open-ended questioning
techniques e.g., 'What subjects did you enjoy studying in the
past?' with follow-up questions such as 'What methods did you
find successful in studying this subject?'
- Identify student strengths as
well as skill deficits;
- Be direct, emphatic, and prescriptive
when designing a plan to overcome skills deficits (Ender &
- Recommend courses appropriate
to students' current skill levels mixed with course options
in areas of previous success;
- Match student learning style with
the teaching style used in the course; use caution in recommending
on-line classes or satellite classes;
- Help students determine the time
of day that will best optimize learning e.g., determine if the
student is a 'morning person';
- Help students set short and long-term
goals and develop action plans to achieve their goals (Ender
& Wilkie, 2000);
- Introduce student programs, resources
and groups -- TRIO/SSS, Gear Up, writing and math centers, learning
and study skills classes, college survival courses, Orientation,
career development center, etc. -- that create support structures;
- Explain the importance of meeting
deadlines and regular class attendance;
- If the student is eligible for
financial assistance, encourage the student to obtain a work-study
position on campus for a limited number of hours per week. Note:
Research cited by Wilkie and Jones (1994) indicates campus employment
is associated with higher retention.
Wilkie (2000) further suggest that underprepared students may
'have a negative self-concept with respect to the academic environment;
it is important that the advisor provide the developmental student
with positive and encouraging feedback when appropriate' (p. 135).
Schreiner & Anderson (2005) note that advisors who help students
set goals and build action plans based upon their talents inspire
students to acquire the skills necessary for college success.
Ender and Wilkie (2000) further recommend that advisors stress
how expectations and requirements differ from high school/workplace
and suggest ways in which students may become active participants
in their learning (p. 135).
Through the Term
the academic term progresses, advisors should monitor student
progress toward meeting action plan objectives. This should begin
with a student planning conference held early in the term where
educational plans can be revisited and problem-solving
techniques taught to help students deal with any issues that
have surfaced in the first weeks of the term. Maxwell (1997) suggests
that advisors provide underprepared students with feedback regarding
their progress and standing throughout the term. Utilization of
a friendly, early-alert telephone or e-mail contact system can
help advisors do just that. Ask for each student's preferred e-mail
address during the planning conference since not all students
use their college's e-mail system. Set up a distribution list
of advisees for routine communication; not only is this convenient
for both the student and advisor, the process saves on stationery
faculty report student problems,e.g.course performance
or class absences, advisors should immediately send an e-mail
expressing care/concern. Request that the student reply to the
advisor so they can discuss options for addressing the issues.
A tip when using the e-mail feature ? use the tracking option:'Tell me when this message has been read' when
sending e-mails to your advisees; although tech savvy students
can by-passed this feature, it provides a paper trail for the
students' advising records.
advisors are a vital part of the institutional effort to build
resiliency in students who come to us academically underprepared.
King (2004) suggests that we help underprepared students become
resilient when we:
students in planning a program consistent with their abilities
Work in tandem with developmental
education program personnel across the institution
Interpret and provide rationale
for instructional policies, procedures, and requirements
Monitor student progress toward
Teach problem solving techniques
intrusive advising methods when appropriate
Refer students to campus and community
resources as needed
Marsha A. Miller
NACADA Assistant Director, Resources & Services
Kansas State University
Academic Transfer Advisor
Central Community College-Hastings Campus
Alliance for Excellent Education. (2006).
Paying double: Inadequate high schools and community college
remediation. Retrieved from http://www.all4ed.org/publications/remediation.pdf
C. (2004). Helping students navigate the academic jungle: Working
With Under-Prepared Students. InNorthwestern
University' handbook for faculty
E. & McGuire, W. (1997) Academic advising for student success
and retention: An advising perspective. In M. Hovland,E.
Anderson, W. McGuire, D. Crockett,
& Kaufman, and D. Woodward (Eds.). Academic advising for student
success and retention.Iowa
City,IA: USA Group Noel-Levitz.
H. R. (2001). Making the Case for Developmental Education.Research
in Developmental Education, 12 (2), 1-4. Retrievedfromhttp://www.nade.net/documents/Articles/MakingtheCase.pdf
Boylan, H.R. and D. Patrick Saxon. (2006).
Affirmation and Discovery: Learning from Successful Community
College Developmental Programs in Texas. Retrieved from http://www.tacc.org/pdf/NCDEFinalReport.pdf
Boylan, H.R. (2006). Reserve
Reading:'Must' reading for developmental educators
. National Center for Developmental Education
Capriccioso, Robert. (August 30, 2006). The Costs of Catching
Up. Insider Higher Ed. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/08/30/remediatio
S.C. & Wilkie, C.J. (2000). Advising students with special
needs. In V. N. Gordon&
W.R. Habley (Eds.),Academic advising: A comprehensive
handbook(pp. 118 -143).
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
W. R. (1994).Key Concepts in Academic
Advising. In Summer Institute on Academic Advising Session
Guide(p.10). Available from the National Academic
Advising Association,Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS.
S. (2003). Advising the Millennial Generation. NACADA Journal23 (1&2) pp. 30-36.
N. (2004). Advising Underprepared Students. Presentation: NACADA
Summer Institute on Advising.
Lewin, Tamara. (2005) Many Going to
College Are Not Ready, Report Says. The New York Times.Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/17/education/17scores.html
M. (1997). Improving student learning skills. Clearwater, FL:
Robert. (2000). Underprepared Students. Measuring Up 2000: The
State by State Report Card for Higher Education. Retrieved from http://measuringup.highereducation.org/2000/articles/UnderpreparedStudents.cfm
Inteview: Robert McCabe. (2006). National Cross Talk.
V.A. (2003). Academic Risk and Resilience: Implications for Advising
a tSmall Colleges and Universities. In Hemwall,
M.K. & Trachte, K.C. (Eds.) Advising
and Learning: Academic Advising from the Perspective of Small
Colleges & Universities.
Center for Educational Statistics. (1996).Remedial education
at higher education institutions in fall 1995(Report No.
NCES 97-584). Washington, DC. Summary available athttp://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/25/33/2533.htm.
Ramaley,Judith, Leskes, Andrea, &
associates. (2002). Greater Expectations: A new vision for learning
as a nation goes to college. Association of American
Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from http://www.greaterexpectations.org/report/executiveoverview.html
L.A. and Anderson, E. (2005). Strengths-Based Advising: A New
Lens for Higher Education.NACADA Journalmanuscript
to be published in issue 25(2), Fall 2005.
M.G. Jr. & McCrimmon, S. (1998). Remedial/developmental education:
Past,present, and future.
In J.L. Higbee & P.L. Dwinell (Eds.),DevelopmentalEducation:
Preparing Successful College Students.Columbia, S.C.: National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience
and Students in Transition.
C.M. (1999). Race and the schooling of black Americans. In M.H.
Davis (Ed.)Social Psychology Annual Editions. Builford,
V. (July 2004). Student Retention and Graduation: Facing the Truth,
Living With the Consequences. The Pell Institutehttp://www.pellinstitute.org/tinto/TintoOccasionalPaperRetention.pdf
David. (Winter 2003) From the Editor. Association of American
Colleges and UniversitiesPeer Review. Retrieved fromhttp://www.aacu.org/peerreview/pr-wi03/pr-wi03editor.cfm
M.L., and Kramer, G.L. (Ed.). (1995).First-year
academic advising: patterns in the present, pathways to the
future(Monograph No. 18) University of South Carolina, National
Resource Center for the Freshman Year Experience.
C. J., and Jones, M. (1994). 'Academic benefits of on-campus employment
to first-year developmental education students.'Journal of
the Freshman Year Experience, 6(2), pp. 37-56.
R. B., Miller, T. K., Ender, S. C., Grites, T. J., & Associates
(1982).Developmental Academic Advising.San Francisco:
the above resource using APA style as:
M.A. & Murray, C. (2005).Advising
academically underprepared students. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising
Resources [insert link here]