Lynda J. Sukolsky, Seton Hill University
In these economic times, meeting the needs of so many diverse student populations can be a challenge. However I believe there are steps a college or university can take to effectively, and efficiently, provide quality services.
Simple stated, quality service comes from quality people. An institution should seek to hire well-trained individuals to provide quality advising services. Advertising through the NACADA Position announcements for candidates who possess interpersonal and multicultural skills, and knowledge of developmental and career theories, is essential to advising programs staffed by full-time, professional advisors. Faculty based advising programs must provide quality advisor training and development that goes beyond the informational elements of advising to include the conceptual and relational aspects that make a significant difference for students. Examples of successful faculty advisor development programs can be found in Advisor Training: Exemplary Practices in the Development of Advisor Skills.
Secondly, consider developing a freshman seminar course that allows for quality advising in a group setting. First year students need more time to gather and synthesize information about your campus. While a freshman seminar course provides that, when taught by an academic advisor, it can help students make the needed advising connection central to proven retention strategies. An added bonus is that it provides quality advising services in a time efficient way.
Consider utilizing a “peer advising” system. My grant program (TRIO) developed a peer mentoring program to work with our at-risk students. It has proven to be a great opportunity for our at-risk students to have additional support, and the peer mentors talk positively about the services students can access for additional help. I think the same model could work in an advising center. Upperclass students could be peer advisors. They could answer “walk in” general requirement questions and assist students in developing a preliminary schedule. Peer advisors could direct students to appropriate offices or services when asked. Certainly, their duties should be limited, and on-going training must occur, but in a budget conscience office, this type of program could help. Find examples of peer advising programs in recent NACADA Journal articles and in the Clearinghouse and watch for the upcoming Peer Advising monograph next winter.
Utilizing technology is also a good way to reach students in a cost effective way. Most college campuses have web sites, which could contain advising information. Some campuses have an internal system than can be customized to their needs. My campus has a system called Jweb. It is an online course organization system similar to Blackboard . I have set up an advising group, which allows me to email pertinent information to my students and allows them to respond with questions or concerns. I can set up discussion boards and group the students by major, year of school etc., so the information I send is specific to the students needs. Technology can also provide computer based credit checks, a means to distribute newsletters addressing common advising issues, and if a campus has their own television station, information can be posted there.
Intrusive advising with at-risk students is a preferred way to advise at-risk students but can be very time consuming. The establishment of a course for students below the academic standard allows the advisor to meet with these students in a group, work on common themes, provide individual meetings as needed, and is cost effective.
Utilizing people in the surrounding community to connect with students can help extend the advising unit. Recruiting community leaders/workers, especially those from ethnic minorities, to meet with students can be very effective. Additionally, if the college is near a graduate level counseling program, the advising unit could act as an internship site. I have hosted four graduate level counseling students in my office and have found it to be a win-win situation. The graduate student has the opportunity to practice skills and get the “real world” experience needed, and I have an extra pair of hands that allows our office to offer more services. Advisees often relate well to someone closer to their age.
I would add a word of caution, based upon ACT research that shows advisor training, evaluation and reward are the weakest links in advising. I fear that when an advising unit is looking for ways to provide services to various groups without increasing the dollar amount, the extras, such as these components will be the first to go. Ironically, it is with training, evaluation and reward that advisors improve and can provide a higher quality service.
Lynda J. Sukolsky
Seton Hill University
(Student in the Kansas State University graduate certificate program in academic advising)
Cite this article using APA style as: Sukolsky, L. (2004, February). Meeting student needs in tough economic times. Academic Advising Today, 27(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]