Eric A. Kollar, University of West Florida
Academic advising has received much attention from higher education administrators as it is recognized as essential for institutional effectiveness. Realizing the value of academic advising, administrators are taking steps to enhance these services (Kollar, 2017). The dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies (CEPS) at the University of West Florida adopted a centralized advising model, restructuring how academic advising services were provided to students. This article extends the story by highlighting key considerations resulting from the inception of the advising center.
Juneau (2011) established four foundational action steps for program planning: (1) needs assessment, (2) priorities, (3) program development, and (4) program planning. Kollar (2017) highlighted the development and considerations made prior to opening the advising center, aligning with the needs assessment step. The purpose of this article is to accentuate the aftereffect on how the CEPS Advising Center committed to continued enhancement of the services provided to students. The final three steps for program planning are described in this article with the literature applied in the CEPS Advising Center over the past few years.
Expectations and Opportunities
Several meetings between the dean and the advising director resulted in a series of expectations for the advising center. These expectations ultimately led to developing professional academic advisors. Professional academic advisors focus primarily on activities promoting academic success of students (Self, 2008). Conversely, it is not uncommon for academic advisors to function as the catch-all person in the department, making them responsible for most of the as assigned duties. In an effort to avoid this, to make room for professionalizing the field, the advising director revisited the job descriptions and developed a four-tiered academic advising career path. This decision removed job obscurities for academic advisors, allowing them to perfect their craft.
Results of the NACADA Axio (2008) survey indicated only 12% of respondents utilized a formal career advancement path; however, three-fourths felt it would benefit academic advisors. A career ladder provides a, “tremendous opportunity to strengthen the advising profession and establish a defined pathway for advancement through an infrastructure of tiered job levels” (Taylor, 2011, p. 133). The opportunity a career ladder provided aligned well with the expectation of developing professional advisors in CEPS.
The career path was developed with support from the dean and with the guidance of the business manager. The path clearly identified the job descriptions of each tier and provided the steps required to progress. With the provost’s endorsement, the onboarding of a career ladder led to slightly increased salaries, more benefits for part-time staff, and a robust sense of opportunity among the professional academic advisors in CEPS.
After a year of implementing this career path at the college level, the entire university set to adopt a version that could be used in each division/college. With the provost’s affirmation and human resources guidance, the division/college advising leaders came together to agree upon a universal career ladder. The career ladder ultimately led to a five-tiered guide that resulted in the allocation of full-time academic advising positions lines and several equity salary adjustments.
Highlighted by the hiring and role adjustments resulting from the onboarding of a career ladder, a need for a formal training process rose to the top of the list of needs. CEPS needed to train academic advisors, new and old, on what being professional looks like and provide the tools to achieve this in the field. Effective academic advising training defines roles, responsibilities, and expectations (Brown, 2008). According to Yoder (2011), “a well-designed and comprehensive training program ensures consistency and thoroughness as well as encourages communication across academic departments and divisions” (p. 109).
The CEPS advising director quickly brought the need of an academic advising training process to the attention of the University Academic Advising Council. The council is comprised of all advising leaders, as well as invested stakeholders such as the registrar, financial aid, and other student support services. As a result, the council voted representatives from areas across campus to service on the Training/Professional Development Work Group. This group was charged with formalizing the training and development process, so all academic advisors have consistent experiences. This group will rotate through representation to maintain excellence and to keep up with ongoing change in strategic directions.
Professional development aligns with the NACADA Academic Advising Core Competencies (2017) as it engages the development of the self and advising practice. According to the guide, a professional development program must address three items: (1) requirements of an academic advising role, (2) skills of the academic advisor, and (3) bridging the gap between roles and skills. To support the core competencies, to develop the academic advisors as professionals, and to honor the career path, professional development opportunities are essential.
With the professional academic advising expectations established, a career path in place, and clear support from university administration, CEPS academic advisors illustrated increased levels of professional development. More academic advisors submitted proposals for regional/national conference presentations and journal publications than years past. Academic advisors were participating in more in-house professional development opportunities provided by human resources. The council allocated resources for webinars and guest presenters. Proposals have been submitted requesting more resources be set aside for academic advisor conference travel.
Critical to any program is the existence of a substantial assessment plan. Not only is assessment helpful when reporting to governing bodies, but it promotes accountability for the services provided. Good assessment data only supports the aforementioned topics: academic advisor opportunities, training, and development. A clear assessment plan also features the importance of academic advising to stakeholders (Cuseo, 2008).
Cuseo (2008) identified three corequisite steps to institutionalize academic advising assessment: (a) clarify meaning and purpose; (b) provide effective advisor orientation, training, and development; and (c) recognize and reward effective academic advisors. As mentioned above, the CEPS Advising Center has strived to adhere to these corequisites. The meaning of academic advising has been clearly defined in the career ladder, training and development opportunities are being implemented, and academic advisors are recognized for their important role through a variety of methods. One such method includes wage increases as a result of the career ladder. Other simple recognitions come from components of the assessment plan; for example, survey responses from student feedback on academic advising experiences are shared with advisors.
Change is an expectation of those working in higher education. Illustrated in this article, advisors at the university endured much change. Change has left a positive impact as evidenced by the adoption of a university-wide career ladder, a series of professional development opportunities supported by university administration, and cross-collaboration among colleges and departments. This article was prepared to share with the academic advising community how one college advising center committed itself to continued enhancement of the services provided to students. As a result of the college’s success, a cultural shift of reverent appreciation toward academic advisors has ensued across the entire university campus. These cultural changes only secure and promote the role of academic advisors in institutional effectiveness.
CEPS Advising Center
University of West Florida
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Cite this article using APA style as: Kollar, E.A. (2020, June). College advising has been centralized. Now what? Academic Advising Today, 43(2). [insert url here]