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Kyle Ellis and Mariana Rangel, The University of Mississippi

Mariana Rangel.jpgKyle Ellis.jpgAre academic advisors on campus utilized to their full potential?  Quality academic advising is undoubtedly an integral component of institutions’ retention and persistence efforts (Ensign, 2010; Nutt, 2003; Tinto, 1987).  Academic advisors promote student development through providing readily accessible information and guidance to students and by helping them feel stimulated and challenged as they work toward meeting their academic goals (Anderson, 1997; Tinto, 1999; Anderson, 1997).  In addition, academic advising grants students the opportunity to have consistent, individual contact with a “concerned representative of the institution” (Habley, 1994 [as cited in Advising and Retention Quotes, n.d.]).

Academic advisors can also help students develop in other ways outside of a traditional advising appointment.  One way is through teaching a first-year experience course.  First-year experience (FYE) seminars, known to have a positive impact on student retention (Jaijairam, 2016), help new students transition to their institutions by addressing topics such as effective study skills, time management, getting involved on campus, and others.  As of 2014, 80 percent of colleges and universities offered some type of first-year seminar, demonstrating the popularity of this initiative (Jaijairam, 2016).

Lance (2009) identified academic advisors as ideal instructors for FYE courses because of their knowledge of policies, procedures, and resources on their campuses.  In addition, academic advisors can utilize FYE courses to teach students about a variety of topics such as “academic opportunities and resources, how to develop an understanding of academic inquiry, taking responsibility for and making good choices about relationships and social networks” and others (Lance, 2009, para. 4).

To highlight the impact academic advisors can have on students when given the opportunity to serve as instructors of FYE courses, eight full-time, primary-role academic advisors at the University of Mississippi were interviewed.  Each of the advisors interviewed teach an FYE course.  Advisors were asked a series of questions that focused on Tinto's (2016) work regarding student motivation to persist.  The advisors who participated consisted of four males and four females with advising experience ranging from one to 12 years.  For the purpose of these interviews, three courses designed for first-year students were included under the FYE course umbrella:

  • EDHE 101 (Academic Skills for College): Mandatory for freshmen on academic probation
  • EDHE 105 (Freshman Year Experience): Optional for new freshmen during their first semester
  • EDLD 201 (Career Decision Making): Optional for new freshmen who are undeclared in their major during the spring semester

Tinto’s Essential Motivation Elements for Students to Persist

Vincent Tinto (2016) noted three essential elements that can impact students’ motivation to persist at an institution.  These elements include: self-efficacy, sense of belonging, and perceived value of the curriculum.  All three of these components can be identified in academic advising sessions, but what about in FYE courses taught by an academic advisor?

Self-Efficacy.  Academic advisors are excellent university professionals to help students develop self-efficacy.  Of the eight advisors interviewed, all were able to identify strategies to help students in their FYE courses develop self-efficacy.  Appreciative advising (Bloom, Hutson, & He, 2008) is an advising method that focuses on positive experiences for students.  Some of the advisors noted how appreciative advising could be utilized with first-year students in FYE courses.  One advisor stated, “Using appreciative advising can help students develop self-efficacy.  Offering words of encouragement and focusing on successes, both in and out of the classroom, can go a long way with new freshmen.”  

Another tool that advisors mentioned, which can be implemented in both advising sessions and FYE courses, is goal setting.  Helping students develop short- and long-term goals and acknowledging when milestones are met will assist in the development of self-efficacy.  An advisor with one semester of FYE teaching experience has quickly learned the value of goal setting, “I think making students practice goal setting and following up with them in the classroom was not only great for their self-efficacy, but also for myself in seeing them grow as college students.”  

Other methods advisors have used in FYE courses include: helping students answer their own questions, having students create personal mission statements, developing a class lesson on self-efficacy, and addressing personal responsibility throughout the semester.

Sense of Belonging.  It is not uncommon for students to leave an institution of higher learning in good academic standing.  At the University of Mississippi (UM), students do not persist for a variety of reasons (Ellis, 2016).  One frequent reason was that students never found their sense of belonging on campus.  Academic advisors at UM are required to meet with their advisees at least once per semester.  During these meetings, the advisor and student may discuss experiences outside the classroom with the advisor making recommendations and referrals as needed.  Many of these conversations help students find their place on campus.  Therefore, by having academic advisors teach FYE courses, these experienced professionals can use their knowledge and skills to help 20–25 additional freshmen establish a sense of belonging.

Several of the advisors interviewed were quick to point out their ability to help students find clubs, organizations, and events that aligned with the students' interests.  Other instructors at the institution, both FYE and core curriculum, may not have the institutional and community knowledge to offer such support.  Every advisor acknowledged they had a class lesson on getting involved on campus.  An advisor with 20 semesters of FYE teaching experience recognized that some opportunities to get his students involved outside the classroom were "encouraged, while others were required."  A different advisor discussed the enjoyment of "helping new students learn about different clubs and organizations and having the ability to follow up with them throughout the semester."  

An essential component that advisors capitalize on is their ability to relate to the student.  Three of the eight advisors interviewed stressed the importance of sharing their own stories regarding finding their place with FYE students.  One seasoned advisor explained, "I am happy to share my experiences with my FYE classes.  I did not meet my best friends until the end of my freshman year.  Reassuring them that it takes time to find their place is very important."  

Other strategies given by the advisors included: feeling secure in one's major, addressing barriers that may affect belonging, and helping students connect with their peers who may also be struggling to find their place.

Perceived Value of the Curriculum.  It can be difficult for some new freshmen to understand the value of the curriculum, especially while taking general education classes.  Academic advisors strive to have meaningful conversations with these students about required courses during one-on-one advising meetings.  With advisors having experience in these types of conversations, it is natural for them to support Tinto's notion regarding value of the curriculum while they teach FYE courses.

The advisors interviewed shared numerous examples of how they help students in their FYE courses value the curriculum.  Relating current classes to future goals for individual students was the most common example cited.  One advisor discussed an assigned FYE career project.  Students are required to complete informational interviews for the project, which allows them to learn about needed job skills (e.g. writing, communication, etc.) that may not be extensively addressed in their major coursework.  Frequently, freshmen ask how a specific general education course will benefit them in their major.  The advisors address this in advising sessions when students are looking at the curriculum and planning upcoming schedules.  Therefore, it is understandable for advisors to be effective in answering these inquiries in FYE courses.  Furthermore, if the advisor does a good job of explaining the purpose of general education requirements early in the FYE course, these types of questions may never arise from students during an academic advising meeting.  

Other ideas shared by advisors regarding helping students find value in the curriculum included justifying class choices with personal examples, spending more time on related chapters in the FYE textbook, emphasizing the importance of foundational knowledge, and fostering the development of critical thinking skills.

Recommendations for Practice

As demonstrated by previous research and through interviews conducted at the University of Mississippi, academic advisors possess the knowledge and skills to be effective first-year experience instructors.  Institutions looking to develop, increase, or improve their FYE teaching efforts should not only consider hiring academic advisors as instructors, but also utilizing their knowledge and expertise as they develop training programs for new instructors.  Additionally, it is important to allow research and theory, such as Tinto’s work, to guide classroom content and discussion.  Tinto’s (2016) elements are helpful in understanding how self-efficacy, sense of belonging, and a perceived value of the curriculum can significantly help increase student persistence when addressed effectively in academic advising and advisors teaching FYE courses.

Kyle Ellis
Director, Center for Student Success & First-Year Experience
Instructional Assistant Professor of Higher Education
The University of Mississippi

Mariana Rangel
Academic Advisor & Instructor
Center for Student Success & First-Year Experience
The University of Mississippi 


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Tinto, V. (1987). Increasing student retention. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Tinto, V. (1999). Taking retention seriously: Rethinking the first year of college. NACADA Journal, 19(2), 9.

Tinto, V. (2016, September 26). How to improve student persistence and completion. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/09/26/how-improve-student-persistence-and-completion-essay

Cite this article using APA style as: Ellis, K., & Rangel, M. (2018, June). Academic advisors as first-year experience instructors. Academic Advising Today, 41(2). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2018 June 41:2


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