Charlie Nutt, NACADA Associate Director
Many institutions struggle to integrate accreditation criteria for assessment with their efforts to improve and enhance programs for their students. In this climate, the interest in and need for assessment of our students’ academic advising experiences has become a major issue on our campuses.
The first and often overlooked step in assessing academic advising is the development of an institutional mission for academic advising. White (2000) states, “Without such a statement (advising mission), assessment, if it can be conducted at all, would be an empty exercise” (p. 181). In other words, what is the institution assessing if it has not first determined the mission, purpose, or value of academic advising within the educational experiences of its students? Therefore, it is imperative that an institution-wide mission for academic advising exist regardless of whether a variety of delivery systems exist on a complex multi-campus institution or only one advising model is used on a small college campus.
Any institution-wide mission for academic advising must answer two simple questions: “What does our institution value about academic advising?” and “What is the purpose of academic advising at our institution?” An advising mission crafted from answering these questions must clearly reflect the overall mission and purpose of the institution. Only when these conditions have been met can we begin to develop expected outcomes or goals for the advising experience on our campuses.
Just as is the case for teaching, we must recognize the need to assess not only the manner and process used to deliver advising, but the expected student learning achieved through advising experiences. Maki (2004) defines learning as “a process of constructing meaning, framing issues, drawing on strategies and abilities honed over time, reconceptualizing, understanding, repositioning oneself in relation to a problem or issue, and connecting thinking and knowing to action” (p.2). This powerful definition of learning makes it clear that academic advising is an integral piece of an institution’s educational program since through the advising experience students learn the specific skills, abilities, and strategies necessary to navigate their educational experiences, take control of their experiences, and make effective decisions concerning their educational goals, choices, and needs.
Therefore, institutions seeking to assess the advising experience must focus both on delivery and learning outcomes. Many campuses assess delivery outcomes through the use of institutional or nationally normed surveys and inventories. This assessment of delivery outcomes is based primarily on student perception and satisfaction of the delivery processes and methods. This assessment can be extremely valuable to an institution seeking to determine the effectiveness of its delivery model(s), the effectiveness of advisor skills or knowledge base, or to gather information from students concerning advising deficiencies or strengths. However, it is important to understand that assessment of delivery outcomes and utilization of student satisfaction data is only one piece of the assessment of the advising experience. An institution must go beyond this level of assessment to assess student learning in the advising experience.
The development and assessment of learning outcomes for the advising experience is a new arena for most campuses. Developing learning outcomes, and a subsequent assessment plan, will result in a renewed focus on the advising experience and lay the foundation for content of advisor development programs. Learning outcomes assessment provides a clear demonstration that academic advising is a longitudinal process that reaches across the institution. Maki (2004) maintains that a commitment to assessment of learning can determine the effectiveness of instruction, both curricular and co-curricular, and the level of integration of learning and instruction across the educational experiences.
Institutions must begin by asking “What do we want students to learn from the advising experience?” Other questions to ask include: “What do we want students to know? What do we want to students to do? What do we want to students to understand and demonstrate?”
Answers to these questions will guide us as we formulate learning outcomes for the advising experience that could include:
- Students will be able to read and utilize a degree audit in their educational planning.
- Students will develop an educational plan for successfully completing their degree goal.
- Students will demonstrate an understanding of the value of the general education requirements.
- Students will demonstrate the ability to make effective decisions concerning their degree and career goals.
As with the advising mission, learning outcomes for advising must reflect clearly the mission and purpose of the institution. So, learning outcomes for a technical college might, and possibly should, differ greatly from those for a liberal arts university.
Once desired outcomes are determined, an institution moves to the “meat” of the learning outcomes assessment process – mapping the advising experiences necessary for achievement of outcomes across a student’s institutional career and the development of multiple measures to assess this achievement. Mapping of these outcomes clearly demonstrates that advising learning experiences are not simply focused in one or two advising sessions during a students’ first year of college but instead are gained across the entirety of students’ educational careers. Through outcomes mapping an institution is able to communicate to all constituencies, i.e., students, advisors, faculty, staff, parents, and administrators, that learning is clearly strengthened from a long-term advising relationship in which an advisor teaches the student how to access needed campus resources, how to make connections across all campus areas, and how to gain the knowledge and skills needed to successfully meet his or her goals and aspirations.
It is essential that institutions develop and utilize multiple measures for the achievement of the learning outcomes. While these measures may include student surveys, an institution cannot rely solely on survey data. Instead, institutions must look beyond surveys toward the utilization of advisee portfolios, freshman and senior seminars courses, required advisee assignments in advising sessions, and careful tracking of student utilization of campus services. While more difficult to utilize than traditional surveys, the development and utilization of these multiple measures are necessary in order to carefully assess learning and to clearly demonstrate that academic advising is more than student satisfaction.
Assessment of academic advising can, and will, bring a new and exciting focus to advising on our campuses. NACADA encourages and supports our members in their assessment efforts through the work of the Assessment of Advising Commission and the annual Assessment of Academic Advising Institute. For more information on these and other assessment opportunities, see “Resources and Challenges in the Assessment of Advising” in this issue or go to http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/.
NACADA Associate Director
White, E.R. (2000). Developing Mission, Goals, and Objectives for the Advising Program. In V.N. Gordon, W.R. Habley, & Associates (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Maki, P. L. (2004) Maps and Inventories: Anchoring Efforts to Track Student Learning. About Campus, Volume 9, number 4. pp. 2 – 9.
Cite this article using APA style as: Nutt, C. (2004, December). Assessing student learning in academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 27(4). [insert url here]