Eric A. Kollar, University of West Florida
Higher education administrators continue to monitor institutional effectiveness by focusing on programs, services, and assessment. This includes assessing academic programs and university services, such as academic advising. Academic advising is essential for institutional effectiveness (McCaul, 2011) and is an integral part of students’ college experience (Bultman, Vowell, Harney, Smarrelli, & Ames, 2008), making the decision to restructure academic advising a priority.
The dean of the University of West Florida’s College of Education and Professional Studies (CEPS) evaluated advising services and made a decision to adopt a centralized model. CEPS is one of five colleges at the institution and the college deans have discretion to adopt their own advising model. This decision to hire a director of academic advising and establish a center laid the path for other colleges and the success of the center made it easier for them to follow suit. Literature already exists on how to develop an advising center at the university level (Broshears, 2011). However, this article highlights several of these concepts while describing the process one specific college took to develop an advising center, giving the reader examples of how suggestions from the literature can be implemented.
Establishing a Vision
To implement change, administrators must first establish a vision. Effective academic advising programs are both theoretically and institutionally grounded (Campbell, 2008). When developing a vision to restructure advising in CEPS, the administration first began a conversation by simply bringing up the idea of centralized advising in appropriate open forums. As a result, the idea of an advising center was not shocking to the college when the dean decided to establish the center.
As described by Miller (2004), developing a vision and identifying a need are primary factors when restructuring an academic advising program. The dean of CEPS identified a college need and adopted both a centralized model and dual model of advising. Pardee (2004) described centralized advising as having professional advisors housed in a single academic unit. The dual model is characterized by students having two advisors: a faculty mentor in the academic department and a professional advisor in the advising center (King, 2008). This model allows for a functional advising system utilizing both faculty mentors and professional advisors. Adopting this model permits opportunities to collaborate and formalize the standardization of services.
When implementing a new model of advising, one must consider the stakeholders involved with advising services. The list of stakeholders can be vast, however students, faculty, and administration are often impacted the most. It is clear that the services advisors provide directly impact the academic success of students (Kuh, 2008).
Faculty can be impacted by a transition in the advising structure in a variety of ways. For example, CEPS had a variety of advising approaches, including faculty advising. A formalized advising center can be a valuable resource for the faculty; however, those faculty who advise could view the change as a threat since it may significantly alter their day-to-day workflow and responsibility. While faculty advising still exists, it is also common to see their role evolve into mentoring relationships (Hemwall, 2008), aligning with the dual model of advising. Based on this, it is important to seek faculty support prior to establishing a center.
Shortly after announcing the advising center at West Florida, the director started a campaign to meet with faculty, program chairs, and college leadership to clarify the meaning of the dual model and to elaborate on the responsibility of being a faculty mentor. The director’s campaign aligned well with Broshears’ (2011) recommendation to share the story, a common responsibility of those starting a new program. In CEPS, faculty mentors advise students regarding professional exploration, connecting with research, and/or future graduate education. Concentrating on these tasks liberates faculty from monitoring policies, procedures, and tasks related to the intricacies of degree completion and allows them to focus on assisting students within their discipline and areas of expertise.
Administrators trust advisors to aid in making intentional decisions related to scheduling and student needs. Academic advisors hear first-hand the needs and wants of the students and are regularly monitoring enrollment. This insight makes advisors a valuable resource for department chairs and the decisions they must make to ensure the success of their program. Due to their value, in CEPS, all advisors are assigned as liaisons for programs. Their duties are to frequently communicate with the program chairs and to share this information with their colleagues in the advising center. Offering this resource (i.e. liaisons) to the chairs prior to the restructuring of advising eased most of the concerns they expressed related to the new model.
Location and Cost
Finding available space is a common problem plaguing most institutions of higher education. Having the appropriate space in a meaningful location is an essential factor for a successful academic advising program (Folsom, 2011). Fortunately for CEPS, a somewhat under-utilized computer lab was being reviewed for repurposing. The space was large enough to build several large cubicles for advisors to have individual, private offices. Also, the center was equipped with noise cancelling devices to further ensure FERPA compliance. While a significant amount of money was needed to make these renovations, the project was not nearly as expensive as building real walls or a new building. Not only was the low cost an advantage in the creation of the center, but so was the location. The academic advising center is located in a building primarily containing classrooms. The students find it extremely convenient to visit their advisors in the same building they spend most of their time in.
Additional costs, such as supplies and technology, were not impactful in the CEPS budget since the advisors were already housed in academic departments. Rather than searching for new monies for the restructuring, the funds and supplies were simply reallocated to the advising center. This process was virtually seamless for the department chairs and advisors. Consideration should be made for budgeting an advising director line if the restructured vision calls for one. For CEPS, the leadership was worth the investment as it provided a method of bringing the advisors together to work as a team.
Concurrently with the vision being established and shared with the relevant stakeholders and the location and cost of the restructuring being settled upon, administration should decide on how the center should be organized. Under the vision of the dean at West Florida, the director of advising was first identified to oversee the development of the center and to manage the progress of implementing an improved service to the students in CEPS.
The changes were clear for faculty and staff: all advising in CEPS , to include online or face-to-face, as well as undergraduate and graduate, were to be housed in the advising center. Having this unmistakable charge supported the adoption of the dual model of advising. Formalizing the roles of professional advisors and providing them with their own space allowed faculty to assume their mentoring role. The plan for the CEPS advising center was to have all advisors assigned to majors in our college, but also for them to cross-train on programs to better the services available to students. A primary motivation for this cross-training component was inspired by the students who reported having two-week wait times to visit with their advisor. Cross-training was emphasized as a big piece of the plan to make sure students are serviced in a timely manner. Cross-training also permits time for advisors to pursue professional development opportunities.
Public institutions of higher education learning are increasingly held accountable for the success of students through policy and regulation, resulting in a rise in focus on institutional effectiveness. This article was created to share a bit of information with the advising community on how we at West Florida formalized professional advising through the development of a center intended to better the services provided to students in one of many colleges housed in a regional, comprehensive university.
Eric A. Kollar
Director of Advising
College of Education & Professional Studies
University of West Florida
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Cite this article using APA style as: Kollar, E.A. (2017, December). Before creating a centralized advising office at the college level. Academic Advising Today, 40(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]