See also Professional Development Resources
Strategies for building professional advising networks
Robert Bryant, Agnes Chagani, Jennifer Endres, and Jim Galvin
Professional development networks are essential for promoting staff development, nurturing and retaining talented advisors, providing excellent student services, conserving scarce resources, and realizing institutional goals such as improving student retention and graduation rates. Networks can exist at many levels, including mentoring, office and unit level meetings, formal training programs, university-wide collaborations, and multi-institutional organizations. In this article we will highlight strategies from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (UMTC) to build effective professional development networks despite the lack of time, money, and resources commonly encountered by advising professionals.
Training and professional development are related but distinct. Training allows advisors to better do their current job while professional development promotes a range of skills that allow advisors to grow throughout their career. To be most effective, a professional development network should foster training and professional development to allow advisors to unlock their full potential (Dalton, pp. 398-399).
Unfortunately, many advisors do not have access to professional development, much less effective training. National data from the NACADA New Advisor Survey indicate that only10.7% of respondents have a formal, well-developed training program. Many advisors, whether at small institutions or large, decentralized public universities, work in isolation from colleagues. NACADA indicates 9% of advisors work alone and 52% work with 1-4 colleagues (2005, questions 11, 12). Less than half of advisors felt they received adequate training (Joseph and Carty, para 10). These factors emphasize need for professional development networks.
Networks provide many benefits. These include building working relationships with colleagues, providing updates on trends and policies, furnishing professional renewal for experienced advisors, providing essential training and development opportunities, improving satisfaction and retention rates for advisors, achieving institutional goals, fostering research in the field of advising, and delivering high-quality student services.
Networks promote training and development
Professional networks take many forms, including individual mentoring, office-level meetings, formal unit-wide training, institutional, and multi-institutional networks.
Mentoring occurs when experienced advisors train and support new advisors. A seasoned advisor could review a complicated balance sheet prepared by a new colleague to ensure accuracy and to impart key skills. The benefits of mentoring are a two-way exchange, however. Not only does the seasoned advisor share advice and information they have learned from their years in the profession, but the new advisor can share the newest research and the energy they bring to the profession, thus re-energizing the seasoned professional (Koring, para. 3-4). This is an inexpensive way to ensure accurate information and referrals are given to students (Love, p. 508). Mentoring also fosters collegiality and team work within the office.
Formalized staff development can be structured into regular one or two hour brown bag sessions, one day, multi-day or week-long sessions. One model is to bring together all advisors immediately after new advisors join the unit and before summer orientation begins. This time spent together refreshing policies and procedures, and learning new information and skills provides an invaluable boost to the unit’s accurate dissemination of information (Koring, para. 3; Love, p. 508). Bringing advisors together from across campus allows them to re-connect in ways that are much more meaningful in person as compared to email or phone.
Networks facilitate staff development by allowing advisors to present sessions on one or more areas of interest or specialization, such as diverse student populations, undecided students, new trends in parental involvement, study abroad, and FERPA (Farren & Vowell, p. 312). These presentations can be recorded on audio or digital video and made available online for advisors to use for future reference or for new colleagues who join the unit later in the year, thus saving time, money and providing a resource that might not be possible to duplicate.
Joint meetings across offices build effective networks. Regularly scheduled joint staff meetings allow advisors from across the institution to share information and build working relationships. Collaborations between academic advisors and career counselors are also effective. Jointly staffing events like major or career fairs develops new skill sets that can foster new partnerships, promote cross-training, and improve seamless student services. Much like joint staff meetings, these connections bring advisors together from across campus and encourage staff development. Units can also support advisor attendance at various informational meetings such as Pre-Med Day or Pre-Law Day to allow advisors to learn new information as well as network with other professionals for the benefit of the advisor and the students. These contacts facilitate more personalized referrals that can improve the prospects for students to follow-up on the advisor’s recommendation.
An academic advising network (AAN) that unites all advisors on a campus is a particularly effective institutional resource. It promotes networking among advisors, faculty and administrators and it delivers updated information about policies, courses and programs. The AAN fosters the development of new skills among advisors, which in turn improves the quality of advising and thus the undergraduate experience for students. For more information about the AAN at the UMTC, consult the website in the resources section.
Resources available to members of the AAN include a listserv, monthly professional development seminars, an annual professional development conference and a resource website. The listserv is frequented by both faculty and advisors to promote programs and courses for students. The monthly events include brown bag luncheons on various topics for professional enrichment. Topics can include how to advise specific populations of students or trends in higher education. The professional development conference held each spring is hosted by the AAN in partnership with UMTC central administration. The conference promotes professional development for advisors and provides recognition for two professional advisors and two faculty advisors who have made exemplary contributions to undergraduate education. The AAN also advocates for enhanced resources for student services and raises the profile of advisors on campus-wide task forces and policy-making bodies.
Another institutional-level networking opportunity at the University of Minnesota is the Study Abroad Curriculum Integration project for academic advisors, faculty, and administrators. It is designed to boost participation in study abroad programs and improve four year graduation rates by facilitating training for advisors to integrate study abroad opportunities into each student’s undergraduate experience. Beginning in 2001, network participants began connecting through retreats, workshops, liaison contacts, programming and site visits to different countries as ways to better serve the academic needs and goals of students. According to the Study Abroad Statistics survey, the project increased the number of students studying abroad by 45% from 2001 to 2005 (2005, p. 1). The Study Abroad, Non Study Abroad Graduation Rates survey found that the four year graduation rate for the class of 2005 was 27% higher for students who studied abroad than for those who did not (2005, p.1). This network provides advisors with unique professional development opportunities and achieves measurable institutional goals.
NACADA is an excellent venue for networking at a multi-institutional level. Advisors may choose to be a member of the commissions or interest groups related to their personal goals and interests, such as advising for pre-health science students. Updates are regularly provided by e-mail listservs and on-line. Advisors may also attend or present at regional or national conferences. Attending conferences will update advisors on new theories and offer fresh perspectives on age-old questions, which in turn improves advising services and outcomes for students. NACADA promotes research in advising by encouraging advisors to submit articles for publication in Academic Advising Today, the Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources, and the NACADA Journal. Book reviews are a manageable entry point for new authors who eventually wish to publish articles.
Networks need not always be in-person. Administrators can promote time-saving and cost-effective networks by supporting online subscriptions to journals and NACADA Webinars. Electronic networks allow advisors to examine issues in advising and higher education while providing flexibility with other time commitments. In addition to the NACADA publications, advisors may also find Academic Impressions, Student Affairs.com, and The Chronicle of Higher Education to be useful. For more information, please visit the resources section.
Networks overcome challenges and realize opportunities
Networks are often neglected because of concerns over time, money and institutional commitment. However effective networks actually save time and money, and lead to other qualitative and quantitative benefits. The most prevalent challenge is time. The time invested in advisor development must be weighed against improved advisor efficiency, retention and student satisfaction. To address practical time constraints, networks can meet at slower times of the year, such as summer, or utilize lunch hours for brown bags to maximize time savings. Money is also often seen as a deterrent to participation in professional networks. Monetary challenges include staff time away from the office as well as the cost to attend conferences. Yet conferences are affordable from a cost-benefit perspective. UMTC Student Services spends less than 1% of the advising budget to send interested advisors to the NACADA regional conference. Investing in advisors enhances their skills which are essential to further their student’s development. According to the NACADA New Advisor Survey, conferences are seen by new advisors as the most desirable method of professional development and networking (2005, question 17). Professional development promotes advisor morale and retention, improves student services and it is more cost effective than routinely hiring new advisors.
Institutional commitment is a related challenge. Leaders need to see how supporting advising networks will relate to educational outcomes such as greater diversity, improved graduation rates, and institutional excellence. The information advisors learn through various networks will help their students enrich their undergraduate education and achieve institutional goals.
Professional advising networks are under-utilized, but are cost effective and efficient. Highly skilled and well connected advising professionals are best able to practice advising-as-teaching and developmental advising. To learn more about the challenges and opportunities surrounding training and professional development through advising networks, consult NACADA publications on-line and the NACADA interest group on professional development.
Robert Bryant, Agnes Chagani, Jennifer Endres, and Jim Galvin
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
Dalton, J.C. (2003). Managing Human Resources. In S.R. Komives, D.B. Woodard Jr., &Associates (Eds.), Student Services.(pp. 397-419).San Francisco,CA: Jossey-Bass.
Farren, P. and Vowel, F. (2000). Model Training Programs. In V.N Gordon & W.R. Hadley (eds.), Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook (pp. 308-323).San Francisco,CA: Jossey-Bass
Institutional Research and Reporting, University of Minnesota. (2005). Study Abroad, Non Study Abroad Graduation Rates by College. Retrieved September 29, 2006.
Joseph, C and Carty H. (2003). Advising Administrator’s and Academic Adviser’s Perceptions of Group Dynamics in the Workplace 2003 Results. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources web site
Koring, H.(2005). Adviser Training & Development. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources web site
Love, P. (2003). Advising & Consultation. In S.R. Komives, D.B. Woodard Jr., & Associates (Eds.), Student Services (pp. 507-524). San Francisco,CA: Jossey-Bass.
National Academic Advising Association New Adviser Survey (2005). Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources.
Study Abroad Statistics for the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities: 1997-2005 (2005). Retrieved from the Learning Abroad Center web site: http://umabroad.umn.edu/ci/docs/evaluation/reports/BushRptYr4FINAL05.pdf
Cite this resource using APA style as:
Bryant, R., Chagani, A., Endres, J. and Galvin. J. (2006). Professional Growth for Advisors: Strategies for Building Professional Advising Networks. Retrieved -insert today's date- from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: