Academic Advising Resources

Structuring Our Conversations: Shifting to Four Dimensional Advising Models
Authored by: Marsha A. Miller 

Advisors teach students how to make the most of their college experience. While each institution provides a structure that allows the opportunity to connect with an advisor, results from the NACADA 2011 National Survey of Academic Advising (Carlstrom and Miller, 2013) point to the increasingly complex nature of existing academic-advising structures. For instance, while 63% of responding institutions noted that a number of individuals, including professional and faculty advisors, share advising duties, many wrote descriptions of hybrid advising structures. 

Efforts to Delineate Advising Models
Habley (1983) first postulated seven models for the structure of academic advising: faculty only, shared supplementary, shared split, dual, total intake, satellite, and self-contained. While components within Habley’s seven models still exist on many campuses, changes in practice (including use of new technologies), advisees (groups with differing needs located, in many cases, across the globe), advisors (from a wide variety of institutional types and areas), and increased accountability (assessment of student learning outcomes and benchmarking) complicate discussions about today’s advising structures.

The data from the national survey, as seen through Habley's lens, show that 13% of respondents reported using more than one advising model at their institutions. In addition, between 10 and 205 of respondents from institutions of all sizes marked the use of multiple models, and 97 wrote comments detailing reasons the advising structures used in their campus did not fit any of the listed models. Structures described by respondents varied greatly. With so many different iterations of advising structures and with an increased emphasis on assessment and accountability, advising administrators unsurprisingly find themselves in futile searches for programs to use for benchmark comparisons. 

The Search for Like Programs
Advising administrators frequently contact the NACADA Executive Office asking for assistance in locating advising programs similar to their own. The most efficient way to locate like programs is by posting a query on the listserv sponsored by the NACADA Advising Administration Commission (see instructions to subscribe at While most advising administrators include their institution name in their queries, many come away from the posting experience disappointed because their e-mail message left too much room for interpretation and the responses varied greatly. I have found that by including four basic advising structure questions in their posts advising administrators garner focused responses and clarify subsequent discussions: Who is advised?  Who advises?  Where is advising done?  How are advising responsibilities divided?

Advising Structure Questions

Who Is Advised?
Are all students within a department, school, college, or institution advised within the program structure? Is advising mandatory for all students or just some students? Do advisors work solely with a subset(s) of students?

Maura Reynolds, Hope College, identified a variety of possible advisee subsets including transfer, undecided, first-generation, honors, underprepared, and international students as well as those new to college, with declared majors, not accepted into competitive programs, on academic probation, transitioning to a new major or program, with documented physical or learning challenges, or returning after military service (personal correspondence, May 20, 2011).The possible combinations of advisees served in a single advising program can be staggering.

Who Advises?
According to the survey, many different advisor combinations make up advising programs. In addition to professional advisors, the following institutional personnel offer advising: faculty members, counselors, peers (up to 10% of respondents’ institutions), graduate students, administrators or staff (e.g., registrars, provosts, deans, librarians, student services staff), and administrative staff assistants (e.g., administrative assistants, interns, paraprofessionals). This result from the survey seems unsurprising in light of DeSousa’s (2005, para. 3) observations that faculty and staff members at high performing colleges and universities accept their fair share of responsibility for student success by adopting a “tag team” approach to advising students, incorporating a wide spectrum of people, expertise, and multiple perspectives in the advising process.

Where Is Advising Done?
Pardee (2004) suggested that delivery of advising services may be categorized as either centralized or decentralized. Questions that help pinpoint delivery venues include the following: “Is academic advising centralized in one location or with one group of advisors?” (as can be the case for those advising online students) or “Is advising decentralized and housed within various departments?” Answers to the survey, including those from detailed write-in comments, show combinations of institutional and divisional advising units, centers for all entering and transitioning students (total intake), departmental, faculty, and staff  offices (decentralized), and online advising done from various locations.

How Are Advising Responsibilities Divided?
Is one advisor (or group of advisors) responsible for all phases of advising an individual student or are duties shared based upon the topic addressed (e.g., discussion about majors with a faculty advisor and explanations about procedures with a professional advisor) in a version of the split advising model? Does the responsibility for advising a student change as the student moves through the institution (i.e., do students move from a total intake center to a department after being accepted into a program)? Shared advising models make up the largest percentage of structures used within respondents’ institutions. The shared split model is most popular at 2- and public 4-year institutions granting bachelor’s and master’s degrees. According to the survey, doctorate-granting institutions utilize many different versions of shared models within departments, schools, and colleges.

Putting It All Together to Find Like Programs
When answers to the four advising structure questions become the basis for conversations about advising programs, four dimensional advising models emerge to inform the discussion. When follow-up contacts include Pardee’s (2004) variables, “characteristics of the institution, the faculty, student population, scope of the advising program, and philosophy of advising” (para. 10), administrators quickly discover more than like programs and learn about the ways that similar programs function.

Conversations that Encourage Improvements
Everyone in higher education wants programs that best meet students’ needs, and sometimes benchmarking alone does not yield the ideal results. Through meaningful discussion with others that start with advising structure questions, advising leadership may find that restructuring an existing system will best serve advisees.

Miller (2004) suggested 16 factors to consider when (re)structuring academic advising. Using these suggestions, institutional advising committees have successfully constructed programs to meet students’ advising needs. Answers to the advising structure questions above helped focus committee efforts and led to determination of advisor and coordinator characteristics as well as the ways advising is delivered (Points 4 and 5on Miller’s 16 factors list). When combined with Pardee’s (2004) variables for selecting an appropriate organizational structure, Miller’s factors help advising administrators and their committees more efficiently organize their campus conversations and maximize their research efforts.

Twenty-first century advising can seem complicated; discussing advising structures need not be so complex. The answers to four simple questions can help focus discussions about advising structures and make conversations meaningful. When considering advising models readers are encouraged to answer the following four questions:

  • Who is advised?
  • Who advises?
  • Where is advising done?
  • How are advising responsibilities divided?

Authored by: Marsha Miller
NACADA Assistant Director, Resources and Services
Kansas State University


Carlstrom, A. and Miller, M.A. (Eds.). (2013). NACADA National Survey of Academic Advising (Monograph no. 25). Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association. Retrieved from

DeSousa, D. J. (2005). Promoting students success: What advisors can do (Occasional Paper No. 11).  Bloomington: Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research.  Retrieved from

Habley, W. R. (1983). Organizational structures for academic advising: Models and implications. Journal of College Student Personnel 24 (6), 535–40.

Miller, M. A. (2004). Factors to consider when (re)structuring academic advising. Retrieved from

Organizational structures for advising. Retrieved from

Cite this using APA style as:

Miller, M.A. (2012). Structuring our conversations: Shifting to four dimensional advising models. In Carlstrom, A. & Miller, M.A., 2011 national survey of academic advising. (Monograph No. 25). Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website

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