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Voices of the Global Community


Brett McFarlane, Oregon State University


After speaking with many colleagues this year at the NACADA Annual Conference in Chicago, I found one common theme resonating: the continued pressure put on advising administrators to show a correlation between academic advising and student persistence. This age old issue has received heightened awareness in these difficult economic times. As always, the most significant challenge we face is that much of the available research shows that high-quality academic advising has an “indirect” rather than “direct” relationship with student persistence (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).

How do we “prove” that academic advising can increase student commitment to educational goals and to the institution? How do we “prove” that academic advising provides support services that aid students in negotiating higher education? How we do show that academic advising provides a holistic institutional map for students? More importantly, how do we connect all of these pieces to show our relationship with student persistence?

A 2004 ACT study found three interventions responsible for higher than average rates of student persistence: (A) academic advising, (B) first-year programs, and (C) learning support. Some practices cited as noteworthy were: integrating advising with first-year programs, intrusive interventions with high risk populations, comprehensive learning assistance centers, combined advising and career/life centers, summer bridge programs, recommended course placement testing, performance contracts for students in difficulty, joint residence hall advising programs, and extended first year orientation for credit.

Seidman (1991) randomly assigned State University of New York system students to either (A) a control group receiving a “regular” orientation process, or (B) a test group. The test group received pre- and post-admission advising, were advised on becoming more socially and academically involved on campus, and met with their assigned academic advisor an additional two times during the term to discuss overall progress and academic adjustment. At the conclusion of the term, the test group persisted at a rate 20 percentage points above that of their peers in the control group. This study, and several others reviewed by Pascarella and Terenzini (2005), indicate that participating in an advising program can have a statistically significant impact on student persistence.

Most of us have been unwilling to create such a test environment knowing the “control group” will suffer, but what if we considered our current practice to be the “control group”? We could then create a “test group” using statistically random selection criteria with a manageable number of students; design a higher-quality advising experience for this “test group”; and finally, assess the results with our administration and other policy stakeholders on campus.


At Oregon State University, inspired by work from Temple University, we have created a Student Success Module housed in Blackboard© that will be piloted in three of our academic Colleges for all first-year students placed on Academic Warning. Each student will begin the module with a “self-assessment” that will help the student, and that student’s advisor, understand what issues may have contributed to inadequate grades during the term. This self-assessment will then lead each student through a series of personalized, interactive modules directly applicable to the challenges identified through the self-assessment. At the completion of the series of modules, the student’s advisor will then receive a report with the self-assessment results and a notification of module completion for use in a follow-up advising appointment where appropriate campus referrals will be made. We will then compare student persistence of this Blackboard© success group to last year’s cohort who did not have this type of intervention. Although not a perfect test environment, we will be able to compare certain attributes that will help us assess the effectiveness of this program.


Pointing to research done at other institutions is certainly useful, but in my experience, funding primarily follows programs that have been successfully tested and proven “within” the institution. Completing research at our individual institutions allows us to provide irrefutable evidence; it allows us to combat the “our students are different” argument; it allows our administration to see the “value” of additional research at our institutions; and most importantly, it allows us to collaborate with faculty on a common cause.

As the nation continues down a turbulent financial path, we will undoubtedly be called upon to justify our advising programs and the impact our programs have on student success and student persistence. We have shown, and we can continue to show, the tremendous impact academic advising has on all aspects of the student experience. In fact, the more often we are able to present research indicating that what we do “matters,” the more valuable we become to the institution and to higher education as a whole.


Brett McFarlane
Director of Undergraduate Programs
College of Engineering
Oregon State University
[email protected]




ACT. (2004). The role of academic and non-academic factors in improving college retention. Iowa City: ACT. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED485476.pdf.


Astin, A.W. (1993). What matters in college? Four critical years revisited. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Pascarella, E. & Terenzini, P. (2005). How college affects students: A third decade of research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Seidman, A. (1991). The evaluation of a pre/post admissions/counseling process at a suburban community college: Impact on student satisfaction with the faculty and the institution, retention, and academic performance. College and University, 66, 223-232.

Tinto, V. (1993 ). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Upcraft, M.L., Gardener, J.N., & Associates (1989 ). The freshman year experience: Helping students survive and succeed in college. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


ACT Research and Policy Reports http://www.act.org/content/act/en/research.html.

NACADA Clearinghouse Resources on Retention. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/clearinghouse/advisingissues/retain.htm.

Nutt, C.L. (2003). Academic advising and student retention and persistence –Retrieved November 18, 2008, from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/retention.htm.

Cite this article using APA style as: McFarlane, B. (2009, March). Advising and student persistence: The pressure rises. Academic Advising Today, 32(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2009 March 32:1


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