Determining the Worth of an Advising Unit
Tom Grites, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
In tough economic times, higher
education administrators are obliged to seek cost-saving measures and/or
to conduct cost-benefit analyses of programs. Academic advising
programs have often been the targets for such reviews. Academic advising
administrators, therefore, must be prepared to respond to these
challenges before they occur.
This article provides a framework for administrators of
academic advising programs to demonstrate the worth of the work they do.
The framework is based on an operational analysis of the advising
unit—not on mere survey data that show students are “satisfied” with the
services provided. Although the latter kinds of data are important in
supporting the overall effectiveness of an advising unit or program,
they do not demonstrate its functionality. The framework presented here
is not intended to assess effectiveness; it is process-oriented.
Identification of Responsibilities
The first step in this analysis is to identify all of the
actual activities (functions) that are conducted by the advising unit.
This identification establishes what the advising unit actually does—how
the unit’s personnel actually spend their time and effort. Obviously,
they advise students, but do they serve special student populations,
e.g., students on academic probation, undecided students, prospective
transfer students, readmitted students, non-degree students, etc.?
What administrative responsibilities are fulfilled by the unit? Does
the unit assign students to advisors? Does it process all changes of
major? Does the unit have responsibilities for advisor training, to
develop advising materials and resources, and/or to maintain degree
audits and other computerized tools and information that are important
for advisors—faculty and others? Does the unit have signatory authority/
responsibility for policy exceptions, course substitutions, graduation
Does the unit play a role in campus College Orientation
programs, residence hall workshops, career planning efforts? Are there
classroom teaching responsibilities, e.g., Freshman Seminar, for the
unit? The list can become exhaustive, but it is critical to identify
every single responsibility for the unit—no matter how infrequently it
occurs—because they must all be taken into consideration in the cost
analyses noted above. Those making the cost-cutting decisions or the
cost-benefit analyses are not likely to be aware of the breadth of
responsibilities and activities fulfilled by the advising unit unless
they are clearly identified.
Analyzing Alternatives and Their Effects
The next step in the process of determining the worth of the advising
unit is to review the available alternatives for each function
identified. What will happen to this activity if the advising unit no
longer has responsibility for it, i.e., if the unit is eliminated or
suffers a significant reduction in resources—human, fiscal, or physical
(space)? Who will assume the responsibility for it? What will be the
impact of this shift? Will the activity be eliminated?
This aspect of the framework is likely to be the most
difficult and troublesome, for two reasons. First, the advising unit is
forced to look at itself as though it didn’t exist, that is, someone
else can do the job. Second, the undesirable option of elimination of an
activity altogether must be considered. However, this aspect should
also provide the clearest demonstration of the unit’s worth to the
institution. Two examples will illustrate the process.
Example 1: FUNCTION: advising special populations of students
- Alternative 1: transfer responsibility to another office
- Effects: new training efforts needed for
different personnel; reduction of services currently provided by that
office; likely delay in same level of service and/or effectiveness,
which could result in higher attrition of these students
- Alternative 2: transfer responsibility to faculty advisors
- Effects: new training effort needed for faculty;
increased student-faculty advisor ratios; decreased consistency of
treatment likely more dissatisfaction of both students and faculty, thus
resulting in reduced effectiveness and potentially higher attrition of
- Alternative 3: eliminate this service
- Effects: these students must assume more
responsibility for their success, which would be viewed by some as a
positive effect; likely more dissatisfaction of students, which could
result in higher attrition
Example 2: FUNCTION: assigning students to advisors
- Alternative 1: transfer responsibility to another office, e.g., admissions, registrar, Dean, or Department Chairs
- Effects: additional time and clerical demands on
that office—potentially less effective matching (by major, by
instructor in courses, by special needs, etc.); likely less satisfaction
of students, which could result in higher attrition
- Alternative 2: computerize the assignments
- Effects: program(s) must be written; variables
used in matching are fixed at the time when the program is run, which
could result in subsequent requests for changes, for which someone must
be designated to respond; likely dissatisfaction of students, which
could result in higher attrition
- Alternative 3: eliminate this function
- This is an activity for which elimination is not
an option. All students need to be assigned an advisor, and some
process for achieving this task in a systematic way, and the
notification to students must occur.
Once all the functions are identified by the advising
unit, and all are reviewed in the above manner, it should become obvious
to those analyzing cost measures that the advising unit is a valuable
resource that needs to be retained. In fact, the advising administrator
might even be able to provide enough evidence that would warrant
The important recommendation here is that advising unit
administrators prepare their cases now and not wait for a crisis, or a
threat, or an assault on the unit to occur. This functional analysis
will equip them to defend their roles and responsibilities in difficult
The Next Step(s)
Although this article was not intended to address the
effectiveness of an advising unit, such assessment is still an important
component of demonstrating worth. Student satisfaction surveys,
retention data, numbers of student contacts, etc. are also important
data to collect and present. One extension of the exercise and framework
presented here is to quantify, in dollars, the worth of an advising
unit. This part of the process is normally presented in a workshop
format at the National Conferences.
Assistant to the Vice-President of Academic Affairs
Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
From the President
Betsy McCalla-Wriggins, NACADA President
It seems that everywhere I turn these days, there is news
of another state or system that is experiencing budget cuts. And
unfortunately, in many of these cases, our students are the ones who are
most adversely affected when the dollars disappear.
We are very aware that you may be on a campus that is in
this difficult situation.....so this is how we are trying to support you
so that you can continue the good work you do on behalf of the students
The Commission on Advising Administration has compiled a
list of effective budget strategies that others have found useful on
their campus. Visit the Clearinghouse on Academic Advising to see a list of tips compiled by the Advising Administrators Commission.
From my own perspective, I have found another approach to dealing
with a budget reduction. In the course of 28+ years in higher education,
I have heard several times “your budget has been reduced” and more
often “your budget will remain the same” for the next year. When I get
over my frustration and all of my persuasive abilities have not resulted
in any change to the bottom line, I then move into high gear with these
questions: What does our mission mandate that we do? How can we do it
differently and perhaps more effectively? What are we doing that we do
not need to do? Why are we doing _______? What would happen if we
stopped doing this or doing this a particular way? What other offices
can we work with to share a responsibility? How can technology assist
with ________? What additional responsibilities can student workers,
interns, and graduate assistants be given to enhance their experience in
our office and to assist our full-time advisors? What are other funding
sources that support our mission? There are many other possible
questions...but you get the idea.
Taking this pro-active approach has allowed me to feel
some sense of control over the situation. If I can’t change the facts,
at least I can control how I respond to the budget reduction. Many
positive changes in our operation have occurred as a result of asking
these tough questions.
For those of you who are lucky enough not to be dealing with budget
reductions, you may find it worthwhile to begin asking the questions
listed above anyway. My guess is that you will find something that could
be done differently or not at all. As a result you may be able to
redirect those resources to a new program or service that more
effectively serves your students.
However, regardless of your current budget situation, we
recognize we need to do a better job of conducting research that
demonstrates the economic impact of quality academic advising. Issues of
accountability and limited resources are not going away. For those of
you who have developed an effective economic model, please consider
sharing your expertise. Developing a proposal for either a regional or
national conference, submitting an article to our journal, or writing an
article for the newsletter are things that would help us all.
Thanks in advance for your willingness to share
information. As has been said before, “Information is power” and with
this type of information we have the potential to make an even greater
difference in the lives of the students we serve.
Have a great Spring....
From the Executive Office
Roberta 'Bobbie' Flaherty, NACADA Executive Director
It is my hope
to keep you all apprised of significant projects within NACADA that may
impact your professional life at some point in the future. These
projects may simply be “exploratory” or they may be providing the
framework for a new service or understanding within the field of
advising. My point is, though, that much is happening beyond what the
members usually see, and that there is a multitude of volunteers
diligently addressing a number of issues at any given time. Without the
work of these willing volunteers, NACADA would never be able to
accomplish its goals related to enhancing the development of students
through effective academic advising. A BIG new year THANKS to all who
have contributed (and will contribute) to NACADA’s successes!
There are several such projects underway at this time.
- Definition of Advising Task Force—many
members have sought and asked for a comprehensive, succinct definition
of “academic advising”. Knowing that there are many such definitions in
the literature, this Task Force has been asked to pursue the task of
developing one such definition that could be endorsed by NACADA. As you
might guess, with variety of expectations of advisors and advising
coupled with the variety of organizational and delivery models, this
will be a monumental task. Yet, volunteers have agreed to tackle this
- Advisor Certification Task Force—another
monumental task is the focus of this group. These very dedicated
members are researching, analyzing, and building a system to recognize
the competencies of advisors. Their charge includes working with the
Professional Development Committee on the identification of “advising
competencies” and the identification of what competencies are being
addressed by current NACADA or outside professional development
opportunities. Then they will propose what and how an advisor must
demonstrate to earn the NACADA “stamp of approval” - be that a
certificate, certification, registry listing or whatever.
- CAS/Core Values Task Force—updating
is the challenge to this Task Force. They are working to update the
NACADA Core Values and working through the Council for the Advancement
of Standards (CAS) to review and update the standards for advising
programs. These two elements are critical to the field and such
attention will assure that guidelines for the conduct of advising
programs remain current and useful to professionals in the field.
- Member Career Services Task Force—reviewing
and recommending! With a goal to enhance the career development of
NACADA members, this group is looking at how career services can be
enhanced - position searches, resume assistance, resource person, career
guidance, etc. Much of what we offer to students could be offered to
As you can see, a lot of folks are tackling some tough
issues! We look forward to their reports and encourage members who would
like to volunteer in such capacities to complete the volunteer form on
our website. If there is not space available on current committees or
task forces, we will keep you in mind for a later assignment. NACADA’s
strength is the work of its volunteer members! And, the members benefit
from discussion of the issues with colleagues who often become a
national network of friends!
Roberta “Bobbie” Flaherty
NACADA Executive Director
Those interested in a leadership opportunity in the
NACADA organization may want to start as a member of a commission
steering committee or serve on a Commission committee. The Chair
provides leadership for commission activities in support of the
profession. The Chair represents the members of the commission, their
needs and concerns, assists with the selection and evaluation of
presentations for both national and regional conferences, and
communicates with the members through the national newsletter. The Chair
attends the fall Division meeting and communicates commission needs and
concerns to the Division Representatives on the NACADA Council. To
qualify for this elected position as Chair requires at least one year of
membership in the commission and a commitment of 2 years of service.
Watch for the Sixth National Survey of Academic Advising
In mid-to-late February, The Sixth National Survey of Academic Advising will be arriving at two-year and four-year public and private colleges throughout the nation. The survey, first conducted by ACT, Inc. in 1979, has been frequently cited by members of the advising profession, and the results have been utilized as a catalyst to upgrade advising services on many campuses. NACADA will, as with the fifth survey, publish the final results of this survey in a monograph.
The sixth survey features an expanded section on technology used to support and deliver advising. And, although previous surveys drew stratified random samples of institutional types, the sixth survey will be mailed to all two-year and four-year public and private institutions.
In a pre-mailing in early February, chief academic officers will be asked to identify the individual most knowledgeable of campus advising. If the chief academic officer responds, on those campuses, the survey will be mailed to the individual identified. On all other campuses, the survey will be mailed to the chief academic officer. The results of the survey will be published in an upcoming NACADA monograph.
Writing and Publishing about Academic Advising: Are we Preaching to the Choir or Spreading the Good Word?
Mary Stuart Hunter, Director
James Gahagan, Graduate Assistant
National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition
Research and best practices in academic advising can be
valuable to new and veteran advisers looking to improve their
effectiveness in serving students. However, if academic advising as a
profession is to realize its deserved value and status on our campuses,
we must find ways to spread the good word about advising to faculty,
administrators, and decision-makers beyond the existing advising
community. As Richard Light, in his book Making the Most of College
(2001) stated, “good advising may be the single most underestimated
characteristic of a successful college experience” (p. 81). Academic
advising plays an important role in student success and retention.
Therefore, we must strive to collaborate and build partnerships to
further research and assessment and spread the good word about academic
advising to the broader higher education community.
In the academy, one of the prerequisite elements for any innovation,
process, or discipline’s establishment and acceptance is that of a solid
literature base. Therefore, we submit two strategies for raising the
status of advising on our campuses and in the greater higher education
First, advisors can circulate copies of the NACADA Journal, Academic Advising New
s (NACADA newsletter), and other articles related to academic advising
among colleagues and administrators. Dialogue about academic advising
issues with colleagues outside advising circles benefit all concerned.
Campus chief academic officers receive a free paper copy of the Academic Advising News, so NACADA members may refer to newsletter articles in communicating with administrators.
Secondly, we encourage advisors to consider publishing
advising related research and writing in
journals and newsletters whose readership is beyond our own
community of advising professionals. Thus,
we offer the following information on submission guidelines
for publishing in nationally disseminated periodicals that reach beyond
the advising community. The information presented was gathered from the
websites listed below.
Journal of Career Planning and Employment
—Established in 1940, this journal speaks to both sides of the college
career services and HR/staffing field. The journal, published by the
National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), is filled with
current, in-depth information, articles, reports, and features.
Journal of College and University Student Housing—The
journal features articles on current research and trends in the housing
profession, book reviews, and other in-depth discussions of interest to
Association of College and University Housing Officers—International
Journal of College Orientation and Transition—Published
by the National Orientation Directors Association (NODA), the journal
focuses on the trends, practices, research, and development of programs,
policies, and activities related to the matriculation, orientation,
transition, and retention of college students. Also encouraged are
literature reviews, “how-to” articles, innovative initiatives,
successful practices, and new ideas.
Journal of College Student Development
—Published by the American College Personnel Association (ACPA),
requests quantitative and qualitative manuscripts on recent original
research, replication of research, reviews of research, graduate
education in student affairs, or essays on theoretical, organizational,
and professional issues.
Journal of Higher Education—Founded in 1930, the Journal of Higher
Education is a leading scholarly journal on the institution of higher
education. Articles combine disciplinary methods with critical insight
to investigate issues important to faculty, administrators, and program
Journal of The First-Year Experience
—Designed to disseminate research findings on retention of first-year
students, publish information on applied first-year programs, share
methodology and results of first-year program assessments, and to
examine institutional policies/programs that affect first-year students.
The NACADA Journal
—Published by the National Academic Advising Association, this journal
is dedicated to the support and professional growth of academic advisors
and the advising profession through the publication of research,
theory, practices and book reviews regarding academic advising in higher
—The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators journal,
published quarterly, provides articles written primarily for the student
affairs generalist who has broad responsibility for leadership, policy,
staff development, and management.
FYE, Newsletter of the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in
Transition—A quarterly newsletter offering innovative and practical ideas for improving programs for
first-year students, transfers, and seniors. Practical, diverse, and current examples from around the
world demonstrate how effective programming can help improve a student’s academic career.
Magna Publications Inc.—Founded
in 1972 by William Haight, Magna produces eight subscription
newsletters in the field of higher education including, Academic Leader,
Administrator, The National On-Campus Report, Perspective, and
Recruitment and Retention in Higher Education.
NACADA Academic Advising News
—The quarterly newsletter of the National Academic Advising Association
welcomes articles and opinion pieces directed to advisors, faculty
advisors and administrators.
—Sponsored by the American College Personnel Association (ACPA), About
Campus is dedicated to the idea that student learning is the
responsibility of all educators on campus. Six times a year, About
Campus offers a mix of articles and features designed to illuminate the
critical issues faced by both student affairs and academic affairs staff
working on the shared goal of helping students learn.
—Change is a magazine covering contemporary issues in higher learning.
It is intended to stimulate and inform reflective practitioners in
colleges, universities, corporations, government, and elsewhere. Change
spotlights trends, provides new insights and ideas, and analyzes the
implications of educational programs, policies, and practices.
The journals, newsletters, and other publications we have
cited here represent a small portion of those where articles on
academic advising would be appropriate. We encourage you to pursue
writing and research on the importance of academic advising. Join us in
spreading the good word to the rest of the higher education community.
Mary Stuart Hunter
National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition
Using a Portfolio to Document Advising Effectiveness
Taye Vowell and Janet Wallet-Ortiz , Western New Mexico University
Why use an advising portfolio?
An advising portfolio provides a
rich and diverse way to document advising expertise. Portfolio use is
increasingly prevalent in higher education. Student portfolios are used
to demonstrate that students have met the desired outcomes of a given
major or program. Faculty use teaching portfolios to illustrate their
mastery when they apply for promotion or tenure. Universities create
portfolios for a number of purposes and audiences—such as accreditation
or student recruitment. Portfolios provide flexibility; advisors can use
both quantitative and qualitative measures and can customize their
portfolio to fit their particular advising situation. So using a
portfolio to document advising performance puts advisors in the
mainstream of assessment activities which are becoming more demanding as
well as more sophisticated in their call for accountability.
Portfolios can respond to a variety of needs both formative and
summative. A formative portfolio documents growth; it is most often used
for personal development. A summative portfolio illustrates mastery in a
specified area and might be used for an annual performance review or to
apply for promotion or tenure. When assembling a portfolio, it is
important to know exactly who the audience is in order to assemble the
most convincing evidence and to know the purpose of the portfolio.
Assembling the Portfolio
Consider including the following artifacts: an advising
philosophy statement, advising goal/objective(s) to be addressed in this
portfolio, advisee demographics, your specific advising
responsibilities, evidence of mastery or growth in addressing these
responsibilities, and a reflective essay which provides the context for
the artifacts or items included.
Your advising philosophy is a personal statement growing
out of your own beliefs and experience. It should fit within the
institution’s mission as well as the advising mission statement of your
campus. Advising goals/objectives need to be appropriate for the
specific portfolio. Student demographics would address the kinds and
number of your advisees. This information will probably be directly
related to your advising responsibilities or job description. All of
these would provide a context for the evidence of mastery or growth in
meeting job responsibilities.
For example, a summative portfolio created for an annual review could
have as a goal to demonstrate expertise in critical advising areas
deemed important on your campus. If confidentiality and accuracy are the
critical issues on your campus, you could document training in the
legal and ethical procedures regarding the release of student
information. You could include examples of current, dated instruments
that show degree plans, general education requirements, interview
questions, or special institutional forms and demonstrate awareness of
procedures for each item. You could discuss your use of the advice of
colleagues to keep abreast of any specific changes that may not yet be
in the catalog. Accessibility and advocacy create powerful and fruitful
relationships with advisees. Crucial to this relationship is helping
students feel capable of succeeding (Rendon, 1994). Document what you do
to make students comfortable and validated as well as help them define
abilities and match them with personal, educational, and career goals.
Evidence of Advising Outcomes: Qualitative and Quantitative
Self-assessment tools using rubrics with specific
concrete goals and scales can identify obstacles and measure progress in
overcoming them. Timelines for projects met or deadlines delayed (and
reasons why) could be recorded and submitted. The results from advising
evaluations can be collected, analyzed, and presented.
Summaries of advising stories can be a focus, in addition
to such things as numbers of advisees, number of times an advisor is
requested, and the number of advisees retained from year to year.
Evidence of various efforts to address student needs can
demonstrate concern for student validation inside the advising session.
Letters of support from colleagues can attest to your willingness to “go
the extra mile” to find answers for advisees. Advisors could also
include copies of any training/development certificates, awards, honors,
presentations and/or publications.
All of the above could be woven into a reflective statement or essay
that would showcase the advisor’s baseline and subsequent growth in
various specific areas used in evaluation or to demonstrate mastery in
In today’s climate of increased accountability and
diminishing resources, portfolios demonstrate quality advising outcomes
that are flexible and can be customized to individual situations. Two
large challenges exist in creating a portfolio: finding time and
motivation for reflection and creating a process that is not too time
Western New Mexico University
Western New Mexico University
Student Retention and Persistence
Charlie L. Nutt, NACADA Associate Director
The issue of student retention
and persistence has continued to grow in importance throughout the
history of higher education in our country. Early studies (Astin, 1977)
focused on the characteristics of those students who did not persist.
Beginning in the 1970s, the research began to focus on the reasons
students remained enrolled and how colleges and universities could make
changes or develop programs to increase the retention of their students.
In his research, Alexander Astin (1977,1993) determined
that the persistence or retention rate of students is greatly affected
by the level and quality of their interactions with peers as well as
faculty and staff. Tinto (1987) indicates that the factors in students
dropping or “stopping” out include academic difficulty, adjustment
problems, lack of clear academic and career goals, uncertainty, lack of
commitment, poor integration with the college community, incongruence,
and isolation. Rendon (1995) indicates in her study that two critical
factors in students’ decisions to remain enrolled until the attainment
of their goals are their successfully making the transition to college
aided by initial and extended orientation and advisement programs and
making positive connections with college personnel during their first
term of enrollment. Noel (1985) stated:
It is the people who come face-to-face with students on a
regular basis who provide the positive growth experiences for students
that enable them to identify their goals and talents and learn how to
put them to use. The caring attitude of college personnel is viewed as
the most potent retention force on a campus (p17).
Academic advising is the only structured activity on the
campus in which all students have the opportunity for one-to-one
interaction with a concerned representative of the institution. Tinto
(1987) indicates that effective retention programs have come to
understand that academic advising is the very core of successful
institutional efforts to educate and retain students. For this reason,
academic advising, as described by Wes Habley, should be viewed as the
“hub of the wheel” and not just one of the various isolated services
provided for students. Academic advisors provide students with the
needed connection to the various campus services and supply the
essential academic connection between these services and the students.
In addition, academic advisors offer students the personal connection to
the institution that the research indicates is vital to student
retention and student success.
However, successful academic advising programs cannot be solely
responsible for retention rates on a campus. As the hub, advising is one
piece of the retention puzzle. Retention efforts must focus on all
components of the campus and building strong and effective connections
between the advising program and the various components of campus. For
example, as financial concerns often affect student persistence, it is
vital that advisors build strong collaborations with the financial aid
departments on campus. Advisors need to be able to understand the
policies and procedures that affect students’ financial aid as well as
have a clear understanding of how to refer effectively those students in
Since student indecision as to major or career options is
a primary factor in student persistence, advising programs should have
strong links to the career services on campus as a part of any retention
plan. Several institutions, for example, Rowan University,
have combined advising and career services into one unit where career
counselors and academic advisors are cross trained to work with students
in both areas.
Residence life is another area where essential
collaborations are needed with advising services in order to enhance
student retention and persistence. Several institutions, such as the University of Georgia and Kansas State University,
have established advising centers in residence halls to provide
students with on-site advising and assistance. This model is extremely
valuable in establishing a sense of community where advising is viewed
as an essential part of the community.
Last, it should be clearly established that academic advising is the
direct link between the academic affairs and student affairs components
of a campus that can build a culture of student retention. Some
campuses, such as Coastal Georgia Community College, have established
committees or advisory boards for advising which represent all
constituencies of the campus, including faculty, students, student
affairs personnel, and staff. Often these committees report to both the
Vice Presidents for Academic Affairs and Student Affairs establishing
that campus-wide collaborations, with advising as the central focus, is
necessary for establishing effective retention efforts.
In these times of financial cut backs, student retention,
persistence, and success will continue to be a major emphasis on our
college campuses. Any retention effort must clearly recognize the value
of academic advising to the success of students and the necessity that
advising become a central part of a collaborative campus-wide focus on
the success of our students.
Charlie L. Nutt
NACADA Associate Director