Steve Schaffling, Syracuse University
An advising mission statement is the cornerstone of an academic advising program. Fundamentally, an advising program’s mission statement is the guiding principle that should be at the back of an advisor’s mind as they enter every student interaction. In his seminal article, Habley (2005) offers guidance on the formulation of an advising mission statement and argues that the mission statement should directly inform the writing of office goals and learning outcomes. Essentially, without having first put an advising mission statement in place, an office cannot effectively implement programmatic assessment, which is a requisite of all advising offices today (White, 2000).
Habley (2005) offers his readers a simple rubric that establishes a list of characteristics every mission statement should be measured against. Specifically, Habley argues that mission statements should be visionary, broad, realistic, motivational, concise, understandable, and memorable. This is an effective framework for every advising office to work from, either when developing their own mission statement or when revisiting the one they already have. However, Habley’s (2005) work is limited in its scope and does not offer a clear process for navigating the contentious meetings that can accompany the drafting of a mission statement. In response, I have developed and utilized the following five-step process to write three mission statements across two major institutions. Two of these mission statements were written at the university level and the third was written at the program or college level. This demonstrates that the process works well, regardless of the level or scope of advising mission being implemented.
Step One: Advancing Habley’s Rubric
The process begins with reference to Habley’s (2005) original rubric, which has been developed and refined to incorporate new elements. This new rubric, pictured in Table 1, still rates mission statements with reference to Habley’s seven factors. However, users are requested to rate their statements on a scale of one to four. In addition, the rubric retains Habley’s definitions for each of the seven factors. In the rows, however, the rubric is expanded to include reference to the participant’s aspirational peers, who are included in the first column of the expanded rubric and listed one peer per row. This is a critical part of the new process. By offering participants the opportunity to refer to their aspirational peers and rate their advising mission statements against Habley’s factors, the process undermines any potential antagonism within the room. It facilitates consensus around the mission statement from the beginning, because everyone participating in the process has already agreed that these institutions have qualities that they are also striving to emulate. Future users of this process can further emphasize this aspect of the process by hyperlinking to the peer institution mission statement within the rubric itself. In addition, users will need to divide the peer institutions evenly, and within small groups, giving a total score column at the end.
Schaffling Mission Statement Rubric
Step Two: Establishing a Mission Statement Committee
To complete the second step in the process, participants must hold their first meeting, which requires the establishment of a mission statement committee. The committee should be composed of a broad group of advising constituents and should ideally not exceed 20 members. Prior to the first meeting, the committee should have built their rubric and made copies for distribution amongst meeting participants. It is useful to use Google Drive so that the document can be live-edited by anyone with the link. Finally, copies of Habley’s (2005) article on the development of effective mission statements should also be made available, with an emphasis on the section defining each of the seven factors. The meeting should aim to achieve the following outcomes:
- Defining of Habley’s factors for the group.
- Displaying of Habley’s flow chart connecting the mission to the learning outcomes.
- Dividing of the group up into three to five sub-groups.
- Activity in which the smaller groups either live-rank the peer advising statements in the rubric during meeting number one or have the small groups complete this work in the time between meetings one and two.
Step Three: Identifying Common Values
The first meeting provides material for the mission statement committee to work with in their second meeting. Thanks to the rubric, the peer mission statements which proved either popular or unpopular can be easily identified by the total column. As a result, the second mission statement committee meeting should begin with a discussion of both the top three or four and the bottom one or two ranked peers. Having completed their work within smaller subgroups, this exercise offers a good sense of perspective to the group as a whole. In addition, at this stage of the meeting, it is advisable to read and display each of these mission statements. This activity helps to achieve the two key goals for this meeting: to identify the common values within mission statements that were rated well by the process and to identify pieces of peer mission statements that speak to the unique institution. The undergraduate advising mission statement at New York University (NYU) is a good example of a mission statement component that is unique to its home institution. It states that “NYU’s academic advising programs aspire to help students find their purpose, achieve their potential, and become active and engaged global citizens.” The latter part of this sentence identifying students as future “active and engaged global citizens” clearly connects the mission statement to NYU (New York University). The outcomes of the second meeting should include the following:
- Discussion of high and low-rated peer mission statements from small groups.
- Identification of common values found in highly rated peer mission statements.
- Identification of aspects of the mission statement that are unique to the home institution.
- Whole-group discussion of other value statements that should be present to represent the institution in question.
- Setting the next task for the committee’s sub-groups. Before the third meeting, each sub-group should craft sample mission statements that include the value statements identified by the broader group, alongside any statement which might uniquely identify your institution.
Step Four: Identifying Key Draft Mission Statements
The third meeting of the mission statement committee will utilize the draft mission statements written by each of the small groups. This meeting should be a working session. The meeting facilitator should display the draft mission statements from each of the groups so that the broader group can work on them. What will begin to surface, and what the facilitator must focus on, are the similarities between the statements. The significant differences at this point will likely center on the structure of the statements or an individual group’s decision to include or exclude certain values. The key outcomes for this session are:
- To finalize the values that the mission statement committee wish to include in their mission.
- To identify any statement that uniquely identifies the institution in question.
- To identify one or two draft mission statements that best convey the sentiment of the entire group.
- To request that the small groups meet before the final large group meeting to further hone these two draft mission statements.
Step Five: Finding Consensus
For the final meeting of the mission statement committee, the facilitator should review the draft statements and combine them alongside the group. This is where the facilitator really plays their most important role by focusing on the similarities between statements as opposed to differences. In this final meeting, there should be one goal: come to a consensus around a single statement. This statement need not be final. From here the broader mission committee should share the statement with other constituents and communicate their thoughts back electronically. Deans and vice presidents should be afforded the chance to read the statement at this point.
The key elements of this process include the rubric, the facilitator, meeting preparation, and an understanding of the importance of an advising mission statement as it connects to advising outcomes. The rubric helps a mission statement committee identify what constitutes a good mission statement for the institution in question. The facilitator sets the stage for a productive group by directing the group to analyze other mission statements from institutions that they hold in high regard. These pieces, coupled with a common desire from mission statement committee members to define what they want for their own campus, result in a simple process. I have experienced success with this process across multiple different groups and argue that it is the very first step in establishing a programmatic assessment of advising for other units.
Steven Schaffling, Ed.D.
Assistant Dean for Student Success
College of Arts & Sciences and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs
Habley, W. R. (2005). Developing a mission statement for the academic advising program. https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Academic-advising-mission-statements.aspx
New York University. https://www.nyu.edu/students/academic-services/undergraduate-advisement.html
White, E. R. (2000). Developing mission, goals, and objectives. In V. N. Gordon & W. R. Habley (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 180–191). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Cite this article using APA style as: Schaffling, S. (2019, December). Create an advising mission in four meetings. Academic Advising Today, 42(4). [insert url here]