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Kyle Bures, Neosho County Community College

Kyle Bures.jpgRecently, all the necessary components for a perfect storm materialized to create a prime opportunity to design and implement an advisor certification program at Neosho County Community College.  A shift of responsibilities within our advising organizational structure synchronized with a growing need for more formalized training, an influx of new advisors, and a timely article in the September 2017 issue of Academic Advising Today all culminated in the inspiration to develop and facilitate an in-house advisor certification for our college.

Many parallels exist between the approach taken by Wuebker and Cook (2017) and the Neosho model discussed here: including the goal of creating a “tool that not only helps prepare new advisors, but also enhances the knowledge and skills of experienced advisors, alleviates the responsibility of advising units to create their own trainings, provides consistency across independent advising offices, and enables advising administrators easy access to resources for staff development” (para. 13).  In addition, the Neosho model was similarly housed within our institutional learning management system and focused on the NACADA Academic Advising Core Competencies (NACADA, 2017) as a guiding framework.

Institutional Climate

At Neosho, the model of advising best represented in practice is the split model: divided between a central advising area focusing on specific populations (undecided, developmental, transfer) and academic subunits (i.e. by major/program), which Habley (2004) tells us is represented in 27 percent of institutions surveyed.  Over 2000 students attend Neosho each semester.  With enrollment across two physical campuses, an online campus, and 22 outreach sites, training of advisors has historically presented a challenge.

Recent trends in institutional surveys also suggested a need for more dedicated advising resources to address this challenge.  A four year review of results from the Noel-Levitz survey administered to students consistently revealed students rated Neosho above the national average in “academic advising effectiveness” compared to like-sized institutions, while the annual employee survey raised a concern for whether “adequate resources existed for academic advising” over that same period.  A clear disparity existed between the students’ perception of advising and how employees perceived the state of advising at Neosho.

Establishing Stakeholder Buy-In

With a concept mapped out from my final portfolio requirement of the NACADA sponsored graduate program in academic advising, the first step in tailoring our certification design to meet the needs of the institution was to garner feedback from key stakeholders.  This included personnel from student learning, academic program directors, student services, the faculty professional development committee, athletics, operations, and the online campus.  Suggestions for items to include in certification were also solicited from current advisors.  Information about the course was released beginning in October of 2017 and periodically in increasing detail until the February 2018 start date to build interest.

Rationale for Core Competencies

Campus trainings often focus primarily on informational components: reviewing policies, procedures, and resources.  Although informational aspects of advising carry a lot of importance, to ignore any one component places the effectiveness of an advising program in jeopardy.  Therefore, any academic advising training must give proper credence to each of three key components in order to be effective: informational, conceptual, and relational (NACADA, 2017).  The importance of each should be reflected in on-going training and development programs.

An advisor who incorrectly informs a student of a college policy may inadvertently delay a student’s graduation.  An advisor with limited knowledge of student development theory may not be cognizant of how their actions are creating barriers to a student’s success.  An advisor with poor relational or interpersonal skills may damage or hinder any rapport building opportunity with their advisee.  Although an advisor may be outstanding in their knowledge of two of these components, deficiency in any one area can greatly impact the success of students and the overall mission of the college.

Course Design

The advisor certification course at Neosho was designed to benefit any employee who works with students in an advising capacity and was open to all advisors, both new and seasoned alike.  The initial course was offered on a 12-week timeline to avoid semester start/end dates, and available to participants on a voluntary basis.

Information covered in the course was grouped into eight separate outcome based modules (shown below).  Assignments within each module were directly correlated with a core competency, and participants would need to demonstrate proficiency at 80% in each respective competency in order to achieve certification.

Most assignments fell within three coursework types.  Discussion forums were used to reflect on assigned readings (mostly for conceptual); quizzes were developed with automated feedback (designed for most informational assignments); and uploaded assignments were designed for more individualized feedback (for most relational assignments).  Due to the volume of original interest, two facilitators were used to moderate the forum discussions.

Though all assignments were due at the conclusion of the 12-week period, suggested timeframes were provided for each module, and an email introduction to each module was released on that schedule.  Table 1 shows the related outcome and core competency area for each respective module.  Modules that show multiple competencies associated were divided at the assignment level.

Table 1  Modules used for Advisor Training with Related Outcome and Associated NACADA Core Competency


Related Outcome

Assignment Association with NACADA Core Competency


Demonstrate an understanding of the guiding principles of academic advising



Demonstrate an understanding of the structure of academic advising within the institution




Demonstrate the ability to adapt an academic advising approach to a specific population




Demonstrate an understanding of interpersonal communication skills and their impact on academic advising



Demonstrate the ability to locate and utilize campus advising tools and resources



Demonstrate an understanding of legal and ethical concerns in academic advising



Demonstrate an understanding of academic advising as a profession and the ability to engage the professional community




Demonstrate the ability to contribute to the advising profession



Participation and Completion

Just prior to the start date of the course, 45 employees were registered for the advisor certification course.  Of those, 20 participated in the course by actively completing assignments.  Activity was monitored throughout the duration of the course, and individuals were withdrawn periodically by request or based on inactivity.

Although the course was initially intended to be an all-or-nothing completion, progress was evaluated at the eight-week point.  Though many of the active remaining participants were off pace for completion, the majority were within reach of completing individual competencies (for example, nearly all conceptual based assignments were complete).  It was determined at that time to announce the opportunity for participants to lock-in completion of individual competencies, which would allow them to complete only the remaining competencies in future participation.  At the eight-week point, six of the remaining 15 participants had completed the conceptual component, one of which had also completed the informational component (and was nearing overall certification).  An additional seven participants were within one assignment from completing the conceptual component.

At the conclusion of the course, eight participants were able to successfully achieve Neosho’s Advisor Certification.  An additional six completed the conceptual component successfully.  Each participant who completed certification will receive both a printed and a digital certificate.  Notification will also be made to their supervisor and respective administrators by email as well as presented as a formal recognition during the awards section of in-service.

Considerations for Future Advisor Certification

At the conclusion of the course, a survey was administered to all active participants to gather feedback and make revisions prior to the next scheduled offering of the course.  One concern thus far is that the amount of content in the 12-week course may be too cumbersome for most participants’ schedules to accommodate.  One consideration to address this concern is to redesign the advisor certification as three smaller, independent courses organized by core competency, with the certification being awarded upon completion of all three.  Though this might allow for a more manageable course load that could better coexist with a participant’s workload, the outcome based modules often include assignments from multiple components and would be difficult to separate out by component.

Alternative possibilities include extending the course length to 16 weeks or making an exclusive section available in the subsequent semester for partial completers.  This would allow component completers to focus only on the remaining components toward certification.


As the inaugural advisor certification course draws to a close eight months from the beginning of this journey, the participation and feedback received thus far is encouraging.  It is reflective of the institutional need for a unified approach to advisor training and affirms that the modality of the course is attractive to participants across all campus locations and departments.

Institutions considering a more formalized, web-based, advisor training should carefully consider their own institutional climate and collect feedback from stakeholders before departing from their current practices.  Though implementation of a college-wide advisor certification can be a laborious process, it is most effective when input and buy-in is gathered in advance.  It is hoped that the Neosho model for advisor certification, which drew inspiration from the Wuebker and Cook (2017) approach, can in a similar way help advance the professional advising community and provide impetus for other institutions to improve their advisor training programs to better meet the needs of their advising communities.

Kyle Bures
Director of the Teaching & Learning Center
Neosho County Community College
[email protected]


Habley, W. R. (2004). The status of academic advising: Findings from the ACT Sixth National Survey (NACADA Monograph No. 10). Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association.

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/About-Us/NACADA-Leadership/Administrative-Division/Professional-Development-Committee/PDC-Advisor-Competencies.aspx

Wuebker, M., & Cook, A. (2017, September). Online training for new advisors. Academic Advising Today, 40(3). Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Online-Training-for-New-Advisors.aspx


Cite this article using APA style as: Bures, K. (2018, September). Advisor training at the core: A case for a web-based core competency training model. Academic Advising Today, 41(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.