Kyle Ross, NACADA President
The past couple of years have been challenging for everyone. Everyone has experienced collective trauma felt by each of our communities on varying levels due to the inequities and injustices in health care and in society overall. And while everyone is still living through a pandemic, I am optimistic that this next year will bring healing to all of us. I have already felt that myself when I was able to attend the 2021 NACADA Annual Conference in person and could reconnect with friends and colleagues from all over the world again for the first time in two years.
With the healing that I hope everyone finds comes a new era for NACADA that Past President Cecilia Olivares (2020) noted in her Academic Advising Today article published last year. I would like to take this space to highlight NACADA’s newly adopted Vision, Mission, and Strategic Goals that pave the way for the future work of the association.
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising is the leading association globally for the advancement of student success through excellence in academic advising in higher education.
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising provides its members with exemplary and innovative opportunities for professional development and personal growth. As a global community promoting student success through academic advising, our mission revolves around four interconnected and key principles:
NACADA Strategic Goals
With these statements in place, I look forward to the work that the Board of Directors has committed to this year. First, acknowledging that the Race, Ethnicity, and Inclusion Workgroup has catalyzed several transformative steps that will elevate the longstanding efforts in the association around diversity, equity, inclusion, and access, the Board of Directors has agreed that this work cannot stop and must be woven into daily operations. Therefore, the Inclusion and Engagement Training Advisory Board will be formed in the coming months to transition the REI Workgroup into a permanent space in the organization structure. Members who are interested in serving on this new Advisory Board should complete an application that will be open and available soon.
The Board of Directors has received a follow-up report from the Region Review that was completed a couple of years ago that includes detailed recommendations for various groups to consider implementing. As a Board, we hope to be able to disseminate those recommendations once we complete our analysis in the coming months as well. Examples of potential tasks include examining how Regions can be more consistent around what roles comprise their steering committees or exploring if it is time that the Division be restructured to consist of Regions that encompass countries outside of the U.S. and Canada.
This segues well into the third priority of the Board of Directors. Between the new Vision, Mission, and Goals, the recommendations from the REI Workgroup and from the Region Review, and the fact that the organization structure has largely existed as-is for the last 20 years, the Board has agreed that it is time to conduct a holistic review of the organization structure, which will be a multi-year effort and will require extensive feedback from the membership.
And last, the Strategic Goals will need to include Benchmarks that can be achieved in short- and long-term timelines ranging from one to five years. Over the series of columns I will write during my term as President, I will continue to provide updates about these priorities and others that arise over the next year.
In the meantime, I encourage everyone to be mindful of their ongoing healing and processing from a difficult couple of years. I know that every bit of time that members dedicate to the association and to advancing academic advising is a tremendous commitment right now. Thank you and be well!
Kyle Ross, President, 2021-2022
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising
Head Academic Advisor
College of Business
Oregon State University
Olivares, C. (2020, December). From the President: A new era of academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 43(4). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/From-the-President-A-New-Era-of-Academic-Advising.aspx
Melinda J. Anderson, NACADA Executive Director
Growing up as the youngest of three children, I followed the path of my older siblings. As a first-generation student, I didn’t know how to do college. I just knew that it was important to go as my brother and sister did before me. My parents were raised in a segregated south and felt strongly about education being essential to my ability to be successful in life. My maternal grandfather couldn’t afford to pay for my mother, raised in a family of ten, to attend college, so the military became her vehicle to achieving a better life. My father, raised by a single mother, saw the military as his path to better career opportunities. I saw my parents work hard to instill an understanding in us that education provided endless opportunities. My siblings and I were raised on the belief that life will be hard, but it is in the process of living that we learn, grow, and become successful.
It is in this season that I try to remember my grandfather’s words “No rest for the weary.” I have listened carefully to the voices across campuses this semester as advising staff, faculty, and administrators worked hard to navigate the pandemic changes on their campuses while advocating and providing support for their students. It is a difficult line to walk, being there for others, when there is little left in the tank. Maya Angelou was quoted to have said “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Her words pour into my spirit as I hope it fills yours. Rest well and come back. We are not meant just to survive. You can be tired, take a break, and come back ready to support those who need you. You cannot pour from an empty cup. I share this message explicitly because as my daughter entered her freshman year this fall, I was filled with worry and concern, yet hopeful that she would find someone to advocate for her, support her, and guide her on her academic journey. She has shared with me that she has found community at the University of Richmond, amongst the pandemic shifts, despite the challenges of social injustice, amidst the conversations of being vaccinated and having to wear a mask. She has found her campus community to be tired, yet committed to students, weary, but dedicated to helping all not just survive but thrive. Being online for most of her senior year, she was worried about how she would live away from home, find friends, and demonstrate her ability to be academically successful. And she wondered most about if she would fit in. It is because of her advisors, student affairs staff, and faculty who remain committed to the mission of student success that I know she will continue to find her way.
Academic advising has found a foothold in the institutional commitment for student success. Once viewed as only a service to students, academic advising has grown to become the hallmark of a good educational experience for institutions. Holistic academic advising strategies take a lot of time, energy, and resources—yet it makes a difference. Especially during a time when so much has interrupted how students are developing and finding their way to achieving a good, quality education. Academic advising services have become the backbone supporting institutional student success strategies. As advisors and administrators, we battle compassion fatigue, worry, uncertainty, all while lifting others up. However, it is incredible to see how academic advising, as a profession, has become important and not always an afterthought. It has its own growing pains, but I remain hopeful that as the profession and field continue to raise their profile on campuses, our students will benefit.
It is Maya Angelou’s words “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive” that gives me critical hope for how we will continue to navigate this space together. Grace, communication, and compassion are key during this season. Many of us will continue to need our colleagues, family, and friends to be our champions. As the semester comes to a close, know that your students are grateful for your presence, your energy, and your listening ear. NACADA will continue to be here, dedicated to you, your growth, and your professional development. We will continue to provide ways to support you during this season, and we will do it with compassion, humor, and lots of style. Be well; stay safe.
Melinda J. Anderson, Ed.D.
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising
Advisors as Validation Agents: Cultivating a Sense of Belonging and Student Success for Racially Minoritized Students at PWIs
Rafael R. Almanzar, Texas A&M University
Higher education institutions are experiencing an influx of racially minoritized students enrolling at historically high levels (Ponjuan & Hernández, 2021). However, racially minoritized students, who are often first-generation students, lag in degree completion compared to White students (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2019). Dr. Laura Rendón (1994) argued that higher education institutions must change to support these students entering a world that was not designed with them in mind. Rendón's validation theory, developed in 1994, is an assets-based social justice framework to help higher education professionals understand how to work with racially minoritized students by building supportive relationships.
This article aims to provide academic advisors with the following: (1) enhance their knowledge and understanding of the challenges experienced by racially minoritized students at predominantly White institutions; (2) explain Rendón's validation theory and its six tenets; and (3) provide some practical implications, utilizing validation theory, to foster a sense of belonging and student success for racially minoritized students at predominantly White institutions (PWIs).
Racially Minoritized Students Experiences at Predominantly White Institutions
A predominantly White institution (PWI) is a higher education institution with White students accounting for 50% or more of its student population (Lomotey, 2010). Despite the efforts to create welcoming and inclusive spaces, PWIs have a more extended history of exclusion than inclusion (McClain & Perry, 2017).
Racially minoritized students are students who hold one or more historically minoritized social identities. Racially minoritized students are likely to be first generation and come from low-income households (Santa-Ramirez et al., 2020). Additionally, they tend to hold multiple identities that shape their lived experiences and how they view the world (Museus & Ravello, 2010). Harwood et al. (2018) stated that racially minoritized students at PWIs experience hostility and exclusion daily. Rendón-Linares & Muñoz (2011) pointed out that many racially minoritized students encounter overt and covert forms of racism, sexism, and oppression. To put it concisely, racially minoritized students face challenges at PWIs that impede college retention, persistence, and degree completion (Palmer & Maramba, 2012).
Racially minoritized students are more successful at other institutions compared to PWIs. For instance, further research has shown that historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic serving institutions (HSIs) provide racially minoritized students with a higher level of support and graduate students at a higher rate compared to PWIs (Kendricks et al., 2013; McCoy et al., 2017; Museus & Liverman, 2010; Palmer & Maramba, 2012; Winkle-Wagner et al., 2020; Winkle-Wagner & McCoy, 2018). PWIs are not cultivating and maintaining supportive, affirming, and welcoming environments to support racially minoritized students (McCoy et al., 2017).
Rendón's Validation Theory
Notwithstanding these challenges, academic advisors at PWIs can build a sense of belonging and support racially minoritized students by utilizing Rendón's validation theory as a theoretical framework in their advising practices and programs. Rendón (1994) defined validation as "an enabling, confirming, and the supportive process initiated by in and out-of-class agents that foster academic and interpersonal development" (p. 46). Validation theory will allow advisors to work with racially minoritized students in a way that recognizes and affirms them as knowers capable of college-level work and that builds supportive relationships (Rendón et al., 2020; Rendón-Linares & Muñoz, 2011).
Validation theory postulates the following six tenets:
Practical Implications to Cultivate Sense of Belonging and Student Success
Academic advisors are in a unique position in cultivating a sense of belonging and success for racially minoritized students. Advisors are often the first person students engage with before and after starting their higher education experience. Utilizing validation theory as the theoretical framework, below are some practical implications for academic advisors to adopt into their advising practices and approach.
Operate Using an Asset-Based Mindset. Racially minoritized students often experience deficit-based assumptions of their abilities and success (Harper, 2010; Rendón et al., 2020). For instance, a myriad of empirical research characterizes racially minoritized students as individuals who need additional support to succeed (Harper, 2010; Johnson-Ahorlu, 2012; McNairy, 1996). This characterization implies that there is something wrong with racially minoritized students and they need to be fixed. However, this narrative is false, and these students do not come broken. Instead, advisors must recognize the systemic structure of higher education that continues to disadvantage racially minoritized students. Advisors must critically examine and analyze how policies, programs, and procedures hinder the success of racially minoritized students.
Educate Racially Minoritized Students Towards Success. Advisors must recognize that their role is more than just telling students what courses to take for degree requirement and completion. Advisors are educators who can educate racially minoritized students about an institution's rules, norms, and culture. Racially minoritized students are often the first in their families to attend college, and advisors cannot assume that they have the social and cultural capital to successfully navigate higher education.
When advisors meet with racially minoritized students, they should follow up with them for updates or further assistance to build rapport and develop trust. Advisors should not place the responsibility upon racially minoritized students to initiate outreach or follow-up appointments. Advisors may argue that this approach is making students weak because they are not taking the initiative towards their education. However, validation theory is not about viewing students as weak; it is about empowering students, boosting their confidence in their abilities to be successful, and building self-worth (Rendón-Linares & Muñoz, 2011).
Practice Critical Self Reflection. Practicing self-reflection helps advisors grow both personally and professionally. Academic advisors come from different lived experiences and adopted beliefs and values that have shaped their lives. Additionally, self-reflection helps advisors challenge their implicit biases and how that informs their work with racially minoritized students. This is vital for advisors who identify as White due to the United States' history with racism (Holmes et al., 2000), and institutional White supremacy (Haynes, 2017) impacts the climate for learning for racially minoritized students, which ultimately affects a sense of belonging and student success.
In addition to practicing critical self-reflection, advisors must engage in cultural competency training and professional development opportunities to learn about the lived experiences of racially minoritized students and how to serve them better. There is an array of professional development opportunities (i.e., podcasts, documentaries, articles) that are cost-effective for advisors to take advantage of.
Constantly Enhance Interpersonal Skills. Interpersonal skills are essential for academic advisors to cultivate rapport with racially minoritized students. However, due to academic advisors' diverse educational and professional backgrounds (Almanzar, 2021; Poe & Almanzar, 2019), not all entered the profession with the essential skills necessary to build rapport and trust from racially minoritized students. Essential skills include, but are not limited to, active listening, engaging, and effective communication. Rendón-Linares and Muñoz (2011) stated that calling racially minoritized students by name is a form of validation. This is critical for racially minoritized students at large PWIs who are struggling to build a sense of belonging. Having these skills seems like common sense, yet it's essential to iterate for academic advisors with large student caseloads. Students will not visit their advisors if they are seen as unapproachable or inaccessible (Rendón-Linares & Muñoz, 2011).
The implications above are not an exhaustive list. However, validation theory has emerged as an important concept for amplifying the ways to reduce marginalization and educational inequities faced by racially minoritized students (Hurtado et al., 2011). Regardless of institution type, advisors must adopt this framework to support the influx of racially minoritized students matriculating into higher education. Now is the time for advisors to use words and actions to respond to a higher calling to build a sense of belonging and support racially minoritized students for student success (Rendón, 2021).
Rafael R. Almanzar
Academic Advisor III
Office for Student Success
Texas A&M University
Almanzar, R., R. (2021, March). Creating a new advisor orientation program on a virtual platform. Academic Advising Today, 44(1). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Creating-a-New-Advisor-Orientation-Program-on-a-Virtual-Platform.aspx
Harper, S. (2010, Winter). An anti-deficit achievement framework for research on students of color in stem. New Directions for Institutional Research, 148, 63–74. https://doi.org/10.1002/ir.362
Harwood, S. A., Mendenhall, R., Lee, S. S., Riopelle, C., & Browne Huntt, M. (2018). Everyday racism in integrated spaces: Mapping the experiences of students of color at a diversifying predominantly white institution. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 108(5), 1245–1259. https://doi.org/10.1080/24694452.2017.1419122
Haynes, C. (2017). Dismantling the White supremacy embedded in our classrooms: White faculty in pursuit of more equitable educational outcomes for racially minoritized students. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 29(1), 87–107.
Holmes, S. L., Ebbers, L. H., Robinson, D. C., & Mugenda, A. G. (2000). Validating African American students at predominantly White institutions. Journal of College Student Development, 2(1), 41–58.
Hurtado, S., Cuellar, M., & Guillermo-Wann, C. (2011). Quantitative measures of students’ sense of validation: Advancing the study of diverse learning environments. Enrollment Management Journal, 1(1), 53–71.
Johnson-Ahorlu, R. N. (2012). The academic opportunity gap: How racism and stereotypes disrupt the education of African American undergraduates. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(5), 633–652. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2011.645566
Kendricks, K. D., Nedunuri, K. V., & Arment, A. R. (2013). Minority student perceptions of the impact of mentoring to enhance academic performance in stem disciplines. Journal of STEM Education, 14(2), 38–46.
Lomotey, K. (2010). Encyclopedia of African American education. SAGE Publications.
McClain, K. S., & Perry, A. (2017). Where did they go: Retention rates for students of color at predominantly institutions. College Student Affairs Leadership, 4(1).
McCoy, D. L., Luedke, C. L., & Winkle-Wagner, R. (2017). Encouraged or weeded out: Perspectives of students of color in the stem disciplines on faculty interactions. Journal of College Student Development, 58(5), 657–673. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2017.0052
McNairy, F. G. (1996). The challenge for higher education: Retaining students of color. New Directions for Student Services, 74, 3–14.
Museus, S. D., & Liverman, D. (2010). High-performing institutions and their implications for studying underrepresented minority students in stem. New Directions for Institutional Research, 148, 17–27. https://doi.org/10.1002/ir.358
Museus, S. D., & Ravello, J. (2010). Characteristics of academic advising that contribute to racial and ethnic minority student success at predominantly white institutions. NACADA Journal, 30(1), 47–58. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-30.1.47
National Center for Education Statistics [NCES]. (2019, February). Status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic groups. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/raceindicators/indicator_ree.asp
Palmer, R. T., & Maramba, D. C. (2012). Creating conditions of mattering to enhance persistence for Black men at an historically black university. A Journal on Black Men, 1(1), 95–119.
Poe, K., & Almanzar, R. R. (2019, June). Supporting and retaining new academic advisors. Academic Advising Today, 42(2). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Supporting-and-Retaining-New-Academic-Advisors.aspx
Ponjuan, L., & Hernández, S. (2021). Different yet similar: The educational experiences of Latinx male students at Texas PWI, HSI, and HBCU institutions. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 20(4), 453–465. https://doi.org/10.1177/1538192719896330
Rendón, L. I. (1994). Validating culturally diverse students: Toward a new model of learning and student development. Innovative Higher Education, 19(1), 33–51.
Rendón, L. I. (2002). Community college puente: A validating model of education. Education Policy, 16(4), 642–667. https://doi.org/10.1177/0895904802016004010
Rendón, L. I. (2021). A higher calling: Toward a more spacious role for academic advisors. NACADA Journal, 41(1), 5–12. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-21-91
Rendón, L. I., Nora, A., Bledsoe, R., & Kanagala, V. (2020). Científicos Latinxs: Uncovering the counter-story of success in stem. The untold story of underserved student success in stem fields of study. In S. J. Paik, S. M. Kula, J. J. González, & V. V. González (Eds.), High-achieving Latino students: Successful pathways toward college and beyond (pp. 159-178). Information Age Publishing.
Rendón-Linares, L. I., & Muñoz, S. M. (2011). Revisiting validation theory: Theoretical foundations, applications, and extensions. Enrollment Management Journal, 12–33.
Santa-Ramirez, S., Wells, T., Sandoval, J., & Koro, M. (2020). Working through the experiences of first-generation students of color, university mission, intersectionality, and post-subjectivity. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2020.1783012
Winkle-Wagner, R., Forbes, J. M., Rogers, S., & Reavis, T. B. (2020). A culture of success: Black alumnae discussions of the assets-based approach at Spelman College. The Journal of Higher Education, 91(5), 653–673. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221546.2019.1654965
Winkle-Wagner, R., & McCoy, D. L. (2018). Feeling like an “alien” of “family”? Comparing students and faculty experiences of diversity in stem disciplines at a PWI and HBCU. Race Ethnicity and Education, 21(5), 593–606. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2016.1248835
Kami Merrifield & Allison Ewing-Cooper, University of Arizona
There are many theories regarding how advisors can successfully approach working with students (e.g., Appreciative Advising, Coaching, Strengths-Based), but less is known about the underlying relationships between advisors and their advisees. Attachment Theory, introduced by John Bowlby (Bowlby, 1969) and refined by Mary Ainsworth (Ainsworth, 1982), focuses on the relationships between children and their caregivers and how these relationships influence children’s views of themselves and the world around them. Attachment theory is not singularly focused on adult-child relationships as it has also been extended to apply to adult romantic relationships (Hazan & Shaver, 1987) and could conceivably apply to a variety of adult interpersonal relationships, including the advisor-advisee relationship. Attachment Theory offers a distinctive framework for understanding the advisor-student relationship from a developmental perspective. This theory offers a valuable, unique vantage point from which to examine advisor-student interactions along with potential points of practice and interventions that can improve advising relationships.
Introduction to Attachment Theory and Key Terms
In his original conception of Attachment Theory, John Bowlby (1969) proposed that infants form bonds with caregivers as a survival mechanism. Caregivers provide nourishment and protection from the dangers of the world. Advisors fulfill a similar role when they help students safely navigate the complexities of the new academic world. Interactions between students and advisors may also lay the foundation for how students will interact with the rest of the university. While physical survival is not at stake, students are aware that their time in the university is critical to their success in life. Students spend tens of thousands of dollars a year to secure an education that will launch them into reliable and profitable careers and enable them to earn enough money to live and, hopefully, thrive (maybe it is about survival after all) (Carnevale et al., 2011).
Through their interactions with their caregivers, infants develop an internal working model (Bowlby, 1969), a framework for understanding the world and their place in it. The internal working model is based on perceptions of other people (are they primarily good and helpful or untrustworthy), the self (am I a valuable person worthy of care), and interactions (am I able to communicate and get what I need from others effectively). Children who develop a sense that, generally, the world is a decent place with people (secure bases) who can and will help them have the confidence to explore and try new things.
Advisors are in a unique position in the higher education setting because they work with students on a regular basis throughout their academic career. By offering essential information to students in supportive, non-judgmental, and culturally appropriate ways, advisors demonstrate to students that they are welcome, important members of the learning community and that they are part of a community that wants to, and is capable of, meeting their needs as they work to achieve their academic goals. Similar to the way parents serve as a secure base, good advisors (and other university personnel) work to promote a safe, nurturing environment where students feel more confident exploring and trying new things, even when success is not guaranteed.
Infants and children learn a great deal about the world (and themselves) through their interactions with their caregivers. Likewise, advisors communicate to students the extent to which they are important to the university. Students often ask themselves, “Should I ask for help?” especially when they may have stumbled or even failed at a task. They ask, “Am I able to communicate what I need?” and “Will someone come to my aid if I need them? Can they provide what I need to be successful (survive)?” Advisors answer these questions in the affirmative for students when they are responsive, encouraging, and consistent.
Attachment Styles and Advice for Working with Each Style
Children who develop a good internal working model and use their caregiver as a secure base are said to develop a secure attachment (Ainsworth et al., 1978). Behaviors associated with a secure attachment are proximity seeking behaviors with caregivers, exploration and confidence in new situations, and quickly being soothed in stressful situations. Likewise, a securely attached student would have a good internal working model, where they believe others (university personnel) will help them and they are worthy of help. They have the confidence to explore the university and try new things, but they will ask for help when needed.
If caregivers are inconsistent or unreliable, children develop insecure attachments. There are three types of insecure attachments: avoidant, anxious-ambivalent, and disorganized (Ainsworth et al., 1978). Figure one displays the four attachment styles along the dimensions of perception of self and perception of others.
Perception of Self
Children with avoidant attachments do not ask for help from their caregivers. Over time, they learn that their caregivers either cannot, or do not want to, meet their needs. When children with avoidant attachment styles face challenges, they do so alone, succeeding or failing on their own. Students may develop an insecure-avoidant attachment with their advisor if the advisor is perceived as unwilling to help or unreliable/untrustworthy with information. Students may pick up on these messages when advisors do not respond promptly to questions (especially in times of need) or if they receive perceived conflicting information (i.e., conflicting messages from the advisor and other university personnel or websites). While it is never the intention of student support staff to confuse or frustrate students, this outcome can occur when inconsistent information is disseminated. Reliable, consistent information is essential if advisors (and other staff) wish students to trust them and ask for help when needed. Reliability goes beyond individuals working to give out correct information on fliers, emails, handouts, and websites. All sources of information managed by the university must be updated regularly and be accurate so students can trust the information provided regardless of the source (e.g., advisor, instructor, or website). Quick check-ins or confirmation of information will go a long way with avoidant students.
While children with avoidant attachment styles tend to withdraw and solve problems on their own, children with anxious-ambivalent attachment styles show approach-withdrawal-approach behavior patterns. Children with the anxious-ambivalent attachment style are not sure if their needs will be met by their caregivers. They express a great deal of worry, anger, and frustration because they do not feel like they can depend on their caregiver, yet they still need help. Students with anxious-ambivalent attachment styles may demonstrate inconsistent and frustrating behaviors when interacting with advisors. One example of this behavior is a student who refuses to enroll in classes after an advising appointment. They may meet with, and email, their advisor multiple times, asking about their class choices and checking to see how each class fits with their academic plan (even after receiving this information multiple times). The student finally settles down to enroll, but only in the presence of their advisor. In this example, the student seeks help from their advisor but does not trust the information or themself to act on it. Each decision represents a huge investment from the advisor in time and energy. Sometimes, students who are anxious-ambivalent may try to force the advisor to make decisions for them, not trusting themselves to choose the right class. If something does not work out for the student, they may become angry with their advisor, blaming them for offering bad advice. Consistency, compassion, and patience over time can help anxious-ambivalent students reduce their anxiety. For example, an advisor might begin by having a student enroll in classes in their office and then on their own (emailing the advisor to check their schedule) before the student has the confidence to enroll alone.
The third insecure attachment style is disorganized. Disorganized children are often confused and lack affect in interactions with their caregivers. Their caregivers are usually highly unpredictable and may even be neglectful or abusive. A student with a disorganized attachment style does not connect with the university; they are unsure of the role of an advisor and unlikely to ever reach out. Disorganized students are the hardest to reach, as they are the most unsure of their place at the university and may need creative reach outs (maybe a phone call or snail mail) and many attempts to get to them. Advisors can help these students by finding ways to connect them to the university (e.g., learning of a hobby and connecting them to a club) and sending short, friendly emails (and not being upset if they don’t get responses).
Another aspect of attachment theory is how children’s characteristics affect how caregivers interact with them. Therefore, advisors should consider their reactions to certain student behaviors such as overdependence, ghosting, and perceived entitlement as these behaviors may signal more about the students’ internal working models of relationships in general as opposed to the specific advisor-advisee relationship. Advisors would benefit from adjusting their advising styles to meet different students’ needs; for example, an anxious-ambivalent student may need more intrusive advising and scaffolding while an avoidant student may benefit more from brief, friendly check-ins from a distance (e.g., a short email that their schedule looks great or a reminder to enroll in math).
In the unknown, new world of the university, consistent, warm advisors are secure bases from which students can explore their novel surroundings. Advisors help students build positive internal working models about the university, coming to see the institution as a helpful place where they belong. When challenges arise, this positive perception can drive students to seek out resources to meet their needs rather than giving up and leaving. By investing time to learn about students and providing consistent care, advisors help students develop secure attachments, and thus be more likely to persist and graduate.
Student Success and Retention Specialist
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
University of Arizona
Director of Academic Advising and Student Success
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
University of Arizona
Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1982). Attachment: Retrospect and prospect. In C. M. Parkes & J. Stevenson-Hinde (Eds.), The place of attachment in human behavior (pp. 3–30). Basic Books.
Ainsworth, M., Blehar, M., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment. Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates.
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. Basic Books.
Carnevale, A. P., Rose, S. J., & Cheah, B. (2011). The college payoff: Education, occupations, lifetime earnings. Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce. https://1gyhoq479ufd3yna29x7ubjn-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/collegepayoff-completed.pdf
Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 511–524. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1991.
Kevin Simmons, Academic Counselor Louisiana State University
For those outside of the advising profession, prescriptive advising is often the expected format of working with students. While prescriptive advising is absolutely necessary, there are other critical conversations that advisors should be having with their students. These topics include referring students to campus resources, informing students of important deadlines and university policies, and promoting a student’s career readiness. The latter, promoting a student’s career readiness, is less commonly approached in an advising appointment.
Students are often required to meet with an academic advisor but are rarely required to meet with a career services professional. As a result, students may lack critical knowledge and skills related to their career development. For certain topics such as resume reviews, interview tips, and cover letter writing, it is almost always better for advisors to refer students to career services professionals. However, an advisor can provide a career development check-in to ensure that students are not neglecting priorities outside of the classroom such as joining a student organization or building a network of contacts. In many university career guides, advisors can find a four-year career development plan that provides students with important steps to take during each year of college to enhance their career readiness. Advisors can use a similar four-year career development plan as a guide to encourage students to take their career development seriously throughout their time at the institution. A summarized version of the primary objectives for each classification year is listed below.
Freshman: Adjust from high school to college
Sophomore: Explore majors and interests
Junior: Gain experience and transferrable skills
Senior: Transition to post college life
For traditional first-year students, adjustment and integration is a priority. Integration into the college setting both academically and socially is a strong predictor of whether or not a student will be retained at the college level (Tinto, 1993). A student’s first year is an excellent time for advisors to inform students of different majors and involvement opportunities inside and outside of their college or department to promote career readiness. While not related to career readiness, advisors should also inform students of any unusual or complex policies during this time such as academic forgiveness, unique study abroad opportunities, or applying to their senior college if necessary. This information is often best delivered in one-on-one advising appointments and is critical information for advisors to integrate into freshmen advising appointments to promote a successful adjustment period.
In the sophomore year, exploration is a key component as students have ideally settled into college life. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2017), roughly 30 percent of undergraduate students changed their major within their first three years of college in 2017 and roughly 10 percent of students changed their major more than once. Students in STEM majors were more likely than students in non-STEM majors to change their major. Working with students on the brink of changing their major is one of the most critical times for advisors to provide support and expertise. Advisors can provide details on options that are best suited for the student’s indicated interests and explain how this will affect the student’s graduation timeline. Advisors often have knowledge related to minors/concentrations that can be ideal for a specific student’s academic path and career development. Narrowing down career and major options is a top priority in most four-year career development plans. Advisors have a great opportunity to aid students in this process during the sophomore year.
For sophomore and junior students that are confident in moving forward with their declared major, advisors may guide students through the stages of gaining experience. Internship and co-op experiences are the most common ways students earn both real world experience and income while in college, but these opportunities are more abundant for students in certain majors. Students often misconceive that co-op and internships are the only way to gain experience. Advisors have the opportunity to inform students of other ways to gain experience and transferrable skills particularly those that are specific to the advisor’s university or department. These may include student organization involvement, participating in an academic competition, volunteering, assisting a faculty member with research or grading, studying abroad, shadowing, mentoring, and having a part-time job.
Advisors are most effective in promoting career readiness in the early stages of a student’s academic career. If students have not started the process until their senior year, there may be too much ground to make up. During the senior year, advisors should encourage students to attend their career fair or graduate/professional school information event, establish references, and schedule any necessary appointments with a career services professional for mock interviews, resume and cover letter critiques, and job search strategies. It is not uncommon for the job search to extend three to six months or more after graduation. Depending on the institution, the same career services offered to students may also be offered to alumni. This is critical information to relay to students who have not yet found a job or have not been admitted to graduate school at the time of graduation.
Pre-professional students and those seeking admission to graduate school can particularly benefit from advising appointments with a career readiness focus. These students have a stronger need to keep a competitive GPA on top of other obligations such as shadowing hours, volunteer hours, studying for professional and graduate school standardized tests, and possibly taking additional prerequisite courses for their professional or graduate school program. Advisors have a responsibility to make sure students are aware of the rigorous admissions criteria to be admitted to these programs. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (2020), 54% of medical school applicants were denied to every college they applied to in 2019. This does not include those students who began their college career with medical school aspirations, but ultimately chose not to apply. Advisors can serve students by having tactful conversations about realistic chances of getting into these programs and ultimately developing a contingency plan if needed.
Merging career readiness conversations into advising and using a four-year career development plan can be challenging while working with transfer students. As a result of being at their new institution for a shorter period, there is less time for a transfer student to adjust and explore. The four-year plan will likely need to be converted to a four- or five-semester plan. Advisors may need to be more strategic while promoting career readiness in transfer students in the same way advisors are often more strategic while helping transfer students build their academic schedules.
Academic advising has long been touted as one of the most effective retention methods offered by institutions of higher learning (Nutt, 2003; Tinto, 1987), but it is rarely recognized as a way to improve career outcomes for graduates of the institutions. While advisors should not leave their scope of expertise when working with students, advisors can seamlessly merge conversations related to career readiness into their appointments. Ideally, students will then recognize the importance of career development topics such as networking, gaining transferable skills, and contingency planning. Promoting a student’s career readiness is just one of the many ways that an advisor can ultimately make a difference and promote success while working with students.
E.J. Ourso College of Business
Louisiana State University
Association of American Medical Colleges. (2020, October 27). Table A-16: MCAT scores and GPA for applicants and matriculates to U.S. medical schools, 2017-2018 through 2020-2021. https://www.aamc.org/system/files/2020-10/2020_FACTS_Table_A-16.pdf
Nutt, C. L. (2003). Academic advising and student retention and persistence. NACADA Clearinghouse. https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Advising-and-Student-Retention-article.aspx
Tinto, V. (1987). Increasing student retention. Jossey Bass.
Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition (2nd ed.). University of Chicago Press.
National Center for Education Statistics [NCES]. (2017). Beginning college students who change their majors within 3 years of enrollment (NCES 2018-434). U.S. Department of Education. https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2018434
Yisi Zhan, Associate Professor, Tsinghua University
Wuriyeti (Harriet Wu), NACADA Global Initiative Committee Member, Tsinghua University
Encouraging professional development of its members is a key mission of NACADA. Since NACADA officially became the Global Community for Academic Advising in 2013, NACADA has been trying to provide cross-cultural programs to develop the professionalism of its global members from non-US countries, including hosting international conferences, establishing the global glossary of terms (NACADA, 2019), translating NACADA’s website and some publications into different languages, global insight publication, working with allies (UKAT, ELETSA), and promoting the VAP and Friend Networks among global members.
However, the language barrier and diversified cultures are unavoidable challenges in the cross-cultural context. For example, unlike in the US, whether academic advising is a professional field is still being discussed in China. Based on collectivism in traditional Chinese culture, each college student is assigned to a fixed class with one tutor and one head teacher. These differences in systems reflect the various needs for professional development among global members. Therefore, a diverse cultural training program that is tailored to the target group is worth exploring.
This article will take the Tsinghua-NACADA training program as an example of a successful cross-cultural professional development trial. The following section explains background, curriculum, pedagogy, and evaluation of the program. Suggestions and insights for future cross-cultural professional development are discussed.
Increasing Need of Professional Development in China
In the past five years, academic advising has played a more important role in higher education. As one of the first universities offering learning support and academic advising in China, the Center for Student Learning and Development (CSLD) at Tsinghua University received colleagues from over 60 universities who wanted to learn from Tsinghua’s experience. They were all eager to get help from CSLD on establishing their own academic advising system. However, the rest of the 2,738 colleges and universities in China also need assistance and support (MEPRC, 2020). To be more efficient, advisors from Tsinghua decided to host a nation-wide conference and build a professional network among different colleges.
Meanwhile, the increasing role of academic advising in China has brought new management pressure. The most concerning topic is the management of academic advising. Chinese colleagues ask questions, such as: Is it necessary to establish an academic advising center in our university and why? How do we manage a center to attract student visits?
In addition, Chinese advisors are also facing professional challenges. Most of them have an academic background in psychological or career counseling. Therefore, they often ask what the differences are between academic advising, psychological advising, and career advising. They also want to learn what kinds of tools or techniques they can apply or if there is any standard solution for certain types of questions, such as how to help students who have already failed course exams. In response, collaborative support should be given, which led Tsinghua University and NACADA to work together, providing training and sharing opportunities to global members for their ongoing development.
Tsinghua-NACADA Academic Advising Training Program: A Successful Trial
This program was launched in early November 2019 in Beijing China. In total, 41 participants from 29 universities attended this program, including Zhejiang University, Fudan University, Nanjing University, Tongji University, Sichuan University, Beihang University, Beijing Institute of Technology, etc. Most of them were full-time advisors, and some were administrative staff working in the Student Affairs Office.
As shown in Table 1, CSLD structured two full-day training sessions with not only basic theories and principles of advising, but also down-to-earth strategies for assessment and research, to satisfy the needs of both front-line advisors and management teams. Anyone who completed 80% of courses and submitted a case study report was awarded a joint certificate by Tsinghua and NACADA.
Conference Session Schedule
Before the training, all participants were required to attend a one-day seminar on Academic Advising in Chinese Colleges and Universities. During the seminar, high-level officials from Tsinghua, Beijing Municipal Commission of Education, and the Ministry of Education gave very important speeches, which brought confidence to advisors in the audience and pointed out the direction of advising in higher education to Chinese advisors. Some university representatives also shared their experiences and many universities in China have been making great efforts to explore the mode of academic advising with Chinese characteristics.
The tool for assessing learning outcomes of this program is writing a case study report. All reports should be scored from the following four aspects: theory, innovation, interrelation, and writing ability. In total, 28 reports were submitted. Program team members marked up and commented on every report carefully, giving suggestions and exchanging ideas. In the end, CSLD issued Best Report Awards to four reports which were quite a good combination of theory and practice; for example, the author of A Case Study on Academic Advising for Undecided Students helped a student declare her major with effective tools and strategies, such as MBTI and relation building.
Collecting subjective feedback is used for evaluating the program itself. The program team not only heard positive responses from Chinese colleagues, mainly expressing their sincere thanks for Tsinghua providing such a good platform for self-growth and helping them find a sense of belonging, but also received high praise from a NACADA representative, who was amazed by the engaged students and strong organization skills. CSLD even did a survey one year later to see if there was any further effect. One colleague said they had developed new advising programs in their learning center by turning ideas in the case study report into reality.
Implications for Implementing a Similar Program in China and Other Countries
This Tsinghua-NACADA collaboration model could maximize strengths of both parties. Tsinghua is experienced in program management and has a great brand reputation among Chinese peers. NACADA is known for its professionalization. NACADA not only has systematic professional knowledge about academic advising, but also gathers experts who can effectively transfer knowledge and capabilities to new advisors.
However, this project requires a relatively large financial investment which should cover costs like consultant fees, travel expenses, management fees to other parties, etc. Labor cost should be also considered. To ensure the smooth running of this training program, CSLD assigned 1 full-time staff and 3 part-time students. Besides, communication cost cannot be neglected. The most challenging part of international collaboration is that you need to bridge many communication gaps. For this program, CSLD sent 75 emails to NACADA back and forth and spent a couple of days on internal communication with different departments on campus.
This type of program deserves to be promoted to other places, but from the following feedback from our participants, it is clear that there is still much room for improvement.
To make it localized and pragmatic, NACADA could train and authorize local speakers to deliver the training. Chinese advisors can be certified as NACADA Consultants & Speakers by completion of this training program. The certified Chinese consultants can add local experiences and case studies when delivering training to other universities or colleges in China. To benefit more colleagues, a Chinese textbook based on case studies of academic advising in China can be published.
Participants need to get prepared before the training program. They should learn some background information beforehand. Assigning some preview tasks might be effective. Then there will be more time to discuss among peers.
Cooperating with NACADA, Tsinghua University has been probing a new path for international professional development in the cross-cultural context. This successful trial has overcome language barriers and challenges from culture difference. This cross-cultural training program was a good start and it could bring more possibilities for global members from different countries who are willing to improve core competence effectively.
Yisi Zhan, Ph.D.
Associate Director/Associate Professor
The Center for Student Learning and Development
Wuriyeti (Harriet WU), MA
Academic Advisor/International Student Program Coordinator
The Center for Student Learning and Development
MERC: Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China. (2021). 2020 national education statistics. http://www.moe.gov.cn/jyb_xwfb/gzdt_gzdt/s5987/202103/t20210301_516062.html
NACADA’s Global Initiatives Committee (GIC). (2019). Global glossary of terms [PDF document]. NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. https://nacada.ksu.edu/Portals/0/Events/International%20Conference/documents/Global%20Glossary%20of%20Terms.pdf?ver=2019-09-20-104306-82
Adam Wade and Jairo McMican, Central Carolina Community
A student returning to Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) starts courses in the fall semester in their chosen field: Early Childhood Education. One month into the semester, the student approaches their advisor requesting to be withdrawn from all courses due to lacking access to technology resources when completing coursework at home, needing mental health resources, and having trouble balancing coursework with family obligations. This example is just one of many instances why CCCC embarked on creating an intake survey to proactively connect students to support services and other needed resources prior to enrollment.
An intake survey is a short questionnaire completed by students. The intake survey collects important information for college employees when proactively identifying services or resources that would beneficially connect students with what they need prior to or during enrollment. These services or resources enhance the probability for the student to be academically successful at the college while also facilitating individual outreach. At CCCC, we also believe that this tool and process rests at the very heart of equity work, helping each student find success along their academic pathway according to their unique needs.
For CCCC, this work began during our experience with the North Carolina Guided Pathways (NC GPS) initiative through the North Carolina Student Success Center. A team from our college was exposed to many colleges from across the state of North Carolina and the nation that were implementing intake surveys and engaging in other innovative practices that improved onboarding and student support. We were specifically inspired by the work of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. They implemented an intake survey as a part of their admissions and onboarding experience. As we explored further, we found that other North Carolina colleges were doing the same. During the NC GPS experience, we learned, from Achieving the Dream, ways we could more deeply explore improving support for students at CCCC through the Holistic Student Support Institute. While attending the institute, we identified an intake survey as a tool to address racial equity gaps. In addition, we were connected to Lorain County Community College (LCCC) who had also implemented an intake survey. A small team from our college visited LCCC to learn more about their admissions, onboarding, advising, and various student supports.
As a team, we returned inspired to pilot, test, and start many of the new initiatives and innovative practices that we learned about, including the intake survey. We first selected a diverse team of faculty and staff to begin reviewing the design of an intake survey and associated proactive outreach. We engaged offices and departments like Financial Aid, Student Support Services, Accessibility Services, TRIO-SSS, Admissions, Advising, Success Coaching, Institutional Effectiveness, and faculty members from a variety of academic disciplines. We began by introducing the idea of an intake survey and asked the team to imagine and identify what student barriers the survey could eliminate. We took a deep dive into our “why?” behind the initiative using Maslow’s Theory on Hierarchy of Needs (1943) as a framework for our discussion. Could addressing student needs by connecting them with resources prior to enrollment alleviate concerns before they became apparent? Could this prevent students from withdrawing or stopping out? Much of the feedback we gathered from advisors and success coaches, who regularly work with students to address concerns, was that we were too late in providing suggested resources when a student must stop out.
As the team continued to synthesize various intake surveys and review what colleges from across the nation were doing, we considered how we would create our own survey and process. We sifted through a variety of intake forms, debated the types of questions to ask, and crafted the wording and order of each question. Although tedious, the authoring of the survey was an extremely valuable process. Ultimately, our intentionality produced a survey that was actionable, gathered information that we did not already collect, and probed issues that could result in lost momentum for students. The survey underwent multiple rounds of revisions and will continue to evolve over time.
Once a strong draft was created, our team began to work with success coaches to map college and community resources to the answers on the survey, the goal being to enable us to easily connect students to resources based on their responses to certain questions. We also assigned a score matrix that calculated a total score and produced a risk indicator, assisting staff in prioritizing the most urgent student concerns first.
Our team also worked with our Institutional Effectiveness department to determine the best use of technology to implement the intake survey. Initially, we used a Google form due to the ease of use and accessibility as a Google campus, and now we use a ticketing system through Qualtrics. We conducted a series of training sessions for our success coaches and several other staff members who were principally identified to conduct the outreach. The training consisted of reviewing resources and support services available, explaining methods to conduct the outreach, and discussing how to filter the results to address urgent concerns.
As a team, we decided to implement the intake survey as part of the admissions and onboarding process. We created an email invitation for all students who submitted an admissions application five days after their application was processed. The email prompted students to log in with their college credentials where the survey was linked. We also modified how the survey was presented to students. To avoid any confusion and to signal continuation of their onboarding, we named the survey the New Student Success Questionnaire.
As we started the process of building our intake survey, our team knew the initiative needed to be part of a larger cultural shift at our institution. For Amarillo College, completion rates rose from 22% to 56% in just three years by addressing student poverty barriers (Lowery-Hart, 2020). By building our own “culture of care,” CCCC would focus on removing barriers to completion and providing students with a better opportunity to be successful. We branded and linked our multitude of support services as CC CARES, where we include all resources and support services in one easy location.
While we are still in the initial stages, our team is observing promising data on the positive impact we are having for our students. In Fall 2019, 553 students at CCCC completed the survey, received outreach from a staff member, and enrolled in the fall semester. Of the respondents, 75% successfully completed the courses they attempted, on par with the overall CCCC completion rate of 75%. Of those that started the Fall 2019 term, 93% were retained to the end of the term, on par with the overall CCCC rate of 93%. Additionally, 73% were retained to Spring 2020, compared to 75% of overall CCCC fall to spring retention. We will continue to refine our survey and process to maximize this experience for our students. If you are pondering implementing an intake survey, contemplate the following:
Build a diverse team. Be intentional about the faculty and staff that will co-create and revise your intake survey. If you want it to make an impact, this process requires diverse voices at the table. You will want to include as many stakeholders as possible to ensure that your intake survey will effectively address student concerns.
Design a model and a survey that will work for your college. The one we use at CCCC might not fit your college. Build the survey and the model according to your structure, culture, and students. Additionally, consider the technology and modalities you will use to deliver the survey.
Devote significant time. Identify the staff members on your campus that are best suited to take on this role. It will take up a considerable amount of time as this is an individualized approach for each individual student. Additionally, make sure the staff members who are responding are efficiently equipped.
Prepare to make ongoing changes to the survey. It is important to note that our intake survey at CCCC is fluid and requires many iterations. The questions, the order of questions, how they are worded or phrased should constantly shift as your culture, structure, and students change over time. The survey should adapt to these changes.
Review your responses often. This provides the data on the number of students responding and allows your team to identify the most frequently needed resources or support services being requested. This also identifies the gaps in your existing campus resources. What doesn’t your college community provide that would be beneficial for students?
It’s a learning process. Give yourself grace. Your team will learn what works at your college, what does not, who else might need to be involved, and how to better prepare your staff. Be patient and remember that this is just one tool in your student support toolbox!
Director of Admissions
Central Carolina Community College
Dean of Student Learning
Central Carolina Community
Central Carolina Cares. https://www.cccc.edu/we-care/
Lowery-Hart, R. (2020, November 12). Love students to success and close equity gaps through a culture of caring. https://diverseeducation.com/article/196070/
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0054346
Chris Hubbard, University of North Texas
Academic advisors are tasked with assisting students with course scheduling for current or future semesters, in which schedules will vary based on a student’s degree program of choice and curriculum guidelines that are set in place. However, creating a schedule that balances out a student’s coursework and extracurricular activities is a critical factor that impacts their overall academic success and sets the tone for how they will progress forward in their academic career.
Recent data provided by Hanover Research (2018) posits that effective course scheduling has been shown to both “boost student retention rates and reduce time to graduation” (p. 4) and more effectively accommodates students who attend college part-time or must commute some distance for their academic studies. This places emphasis on what constitutes a balanced schedule and the critical factors that an advisor must be cognizant of when course planning with their students.
Previous literature has focused on the foundational aspects of advising and the best practices for connecting with students and guiding them through their academic careers. For example, research conducted by the University of California (2015) suggested that strategies such as identifying advising interventions early, leveraging technology, improving coordination of services, and the professionalization of advising staff (pp. 11–18) had a significant impact on student success and facilitating timely graduation. However, the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new obstacles across the higher education landscape.
Growing concerns surrounding the pandemic and its impact on retention and student success rates have presented major challenges for higher education institutions and advisors seeking to find new ways of serving their diverse student populations. Despite this, advisors are called to contribute to the advancement of the academic advising profession to ensure the proper resources remain in place to address the complex situations that can arise before, during, or following an advising appointment.
New Challenges with Course Planning and Instruction in Higher Education
Some of the biggest challenges to effective course planning in higher education are instructional changes that have taken place to accommodate online learning options for undergraduate and graduate students. For students accustomed to a traditional face-to-face learning environment, this has become problematic. The research highlighted in the proceeding paragraphs attempts to identify several of the challenges impacting course planning and instructional formatting more directly; however, a holistic examination of the long-term implications of these issues must also be considered.
According to Burke (2020), long-term participation in online learning has posed a threat to many students' mental and emotional health resulting in lower motivation and an increased sense of alienation (p. 2). For many students, the stress of moving their education fully online hinders their ability to progress forward academically. The transition to an autonomous self-taught learning style has become a cumbersome challenge. Similarly, Gigliotti (2020) reported increased course planning challenges as department chairs tried to navigate issues such as technology fatigue, budget freezes, transitioning to a fully online learning environment, and “ensuring the safety of colleagues, students, and members of the community” (p. 2).
The pressures faced by students and higher education professionals to stay afloat within an online learning environment are also becoming harder to mitigate and pose a severe threat to the growth and development of stakeholders in the higher education industry. For example, Shahmoradi et al. (2018) cited technology access and skills challenges in utilizing various technological tools as two of the biggest challenges to adopting an online learning instructional style. Recent changes to workplace operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic have also amplified these issues.
Polikoff et al. (2020) report that while the effects of the pandemic appear to vary across the higher education landscape, there are “sizable gaps in impact by race, class, and institution type” (p. 2). In addition, increased economic and social stressors adversely impact students who had changes in their employment status or incurred new responsibilities in caring for their families. This, coupled with managing academic studies in a learning environment that may not adequately support a student’s learning style, is daunting. Even the strongest retention and support initiatives implemented by colleges and universities may not effectively address these issues.
The challenges faced by students, faculty, and administrators adapting to online learning are paramount and require a plan of recourse to which all parties must contribute. For advisors, this extends beyond simply rethinking course planning techniques; more proactive and innovative approaches must be taken. Failing to address the new issues with course planning in an online learning environment pose lasting implications to not only the advising profession, but also to student success as well.
Advising in a New Age Online Learning Environment
Despite the challenges with adapting instructional formats and course planning practices for students, there are several options of recourse for advisors to consider. For example, advisors can begin by initiating conversations with students to identify reservations regarding online instruction and creating the space for them to be open and honest about any current and future coursework required for their degree program. This will provide the advisor a more accurate picture of the student’s needs, help identify the proper resources to support the student, and facilitate more in-depth conversation between advisors and advisees as they move forward towards future course planning.
Developing an online advising model is also beneficial to advisors in their efforts to support students with online learning. Resources such as the Online Learning Advising Model (OLAM) created by Julie Delich, Vice President of Retention and Student Support Services at Wiley Education Services, provide a framework that enriches the academic experience for online learners, but supporting their long-term academic growth by bridging together “proactive advising, appreciative advising, shame resilience theory, and cognitive behavioral theory” (WES, 2021) to prevent student attrition. Additional efforts for studying this approach and similar structures will need to be undertaken to fully understand their scope of influence and determine possible limitations, but implications of adopting such a model show great promise.
Overall, the issues surrounding the transition to an online learning and advising environment are paramount; however, embracing opportunities to think outside the box and adapt to these changes will best serve advisors as they continue to help students achieve success.
Chris Hubbard, M.S.
Senior Academic Advisor
Student Advising Office
College of Education
University of North Texas
Burke, L. (2020, October 27). Moving into the long term. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2020/10/27/long-term-online-learning-pandemic-may-impact-students-well
Gigliotti, R. A. (2020, October 27). The impact of COVID-19 on department chairs. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/10/27/study-documents-how-pandemic-has-exacerbated-challenges-beleaguering-department
Hanover Research (2018). Best practices in course scheduling. https://www.cmich.edu/colleges/se/Documents/Hanover%20Research%20-%20Best%20Practices%20in%20Course%20Scheduling.pdf
Polikoff, M., Silver, D., & Korn, S. (2020, August 4). What’s the likely impact of COVID-19 on higher ed? An analysis of data from a national survey on the impact of the pandemic on higher ed (opinion). Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2020/08/04/analysis-data-national-survey-impact-pandemic-higher-ed-opinion
Shahmoradi, L., Changizi, V., Mehraeen, E., Bashiri, A., Jannat, B., & Hosseini, M. (2018, September 14). The challenges of E-learning system: Higher educational institutions perspective. Journal of Education and Health Promotion, 7(116). https://doi.org/10.4103/jehp.jehp_39_18.
University of California (2015). Advising strategies to support timely graduation. https://ucop.edu/institutional-research-academic-planning/_files/Advising_strategies.pdf
Wiley Education Services (2021). Finally, an online advising model that actually works. https://edservices.wiley.com/olam-student-support-retention-strategy-online-distance-learners/
Wendy Yoder, Southwestern Oklahoma State University
Academic advising is conducted on college campuses in a variety of ways, depending on the unique needs of the college or university. Regardless of the method of implementation, academic advisors have been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic to effectively meet student needs in predominantly virtual settings. While some institutions have been learning online since March of 2020, others have since been navigating how to safely return to on-campus or face-to-face instruction. These changes in teaching modalities directly affect how academic advisors and all student-facing employees develop increasingly flexible student support programming. As a result of institutional COVID responses, advisors, like many other professionals, have been navigating zoom-fatigue, work-life balance, and setting boundaries to avoid being perpetually accessible. However stressful these new challenges have been, they are creating opportunities for institutions of higher education to review historical practices and improve upon them as new technologies become commonplace.
Faculty Advising for Student Support
In his discussion of the 2011 National Survey of Academic Advising, Self (2013) suggested that a faculty advising model can be beneficial to students because faculty advisors may be better suited than professional advisors to address career-related or program-specific questions. On the other hand, Self addressed the possibility that faculty advisors prioritize teaching and research obligations more highly than those related to academic advising. For faculty members who have redesigned face-to-face classes to accommodate distance learning, the suggestion of adding flexibility to their advising sessions can be daunting. Colleges and universities may have already supported a faculty advising model by providing a framework with tools such as an advising communication schedule, customizable email templates, or a sample advising syllabus for faculty advisors to modify with their own information and contact preferences. Institutions that did not offer such centralized resources prior to the pandemic may choose to implement them now to equip faculty advisors with the tools necessary to proactively address student needs.
Academic Advising, One Step at a Time
In 1972, Terry O’Banion named five distinct steps occurring in the advising process, but he noted that a student could navigate these phases with more than one campus representative (Burton & Wellington, 1998). The steps include investigating life goals, examining vocational goals, choosing a degree, choosing courses, and scheduling courses. Faculty advisors may perceive they lack the time or resources to accomplish all five steps with their assigned student advisees. This perception creates an opportunity to formalize the expectations surrounding which campus representative is responsible for each task. While some steps can easily be completed in a remote setting, others require more in-depth interactions. Student information systems that facilitate asynchronous collaboration on a course schedule allow for students to select class times that faculty advisors can review and approve at their convenience, but conversations about life and career goals are more difficult to accomplish by email than face-to-face. Given that it is more challenging to get to know students remotely (Méndez & Arguello, 2020), not all steps in the advising process should necessarily persist in virtual settings when faculty advisors regain an in-person option.
Being Knowledgeable and Approachable
Yoder (2019) found that students want a faculty advisor to be knowledgeable and approachable. This can be a lofty goal in the face of virtual learning and global uncertainty. Staying informed and up to date about the many campus activities and evolving institutional policies is a challenge for campus personnel in the best of times. To disseminate information on the resources available to students stemming from COVID-19, such as federal subsidies to purchase internet services or campus resources for checking out laptop computers, many institutions have developed centralized COVID webpages. While this is a logical solution, faculty advisors may not be aware of or familiar with the new webpages. Relevant or updated information could be sent directly to faculty advisors by the chief academic affairs officer and included in professional development trainings to increase faculty familiarity with the resources. This type of coordinated update would signal the information as specifically useful for faculty advisors as opposed to the notifications they receive regarding general campus updates and events. As campuses determine how to best use CARES Act funds, new programs or resources should be disseminated to faculty advisors through the aforementioned academic channels so the updates are not overlooked as employees return to campus.
Another challenge for faculty advisors is being approachable despite possibly being less visible than ever before. As faculty have incorporated new technology for classroom instruction, the same resources can benefit advising practices and should be maintained. Faculty advisors could continue offering virtual office hours, during which students can join a personal Zoom meeting room for individual questions. Additionally, they could implement an online booking system to include more flexible appointment times than those reserved for face-to-face meetings so that advisees can select a time that works best for their schedule. Increased options for meeting times and settings may be something that faculty advisors retain once social distancing recommendations are lifted in order to sustain the flexibility their students desire.
Keeping What Works
In his book, Supporting Students in Online, Open and Distance Learning, Simpson (2018) posited practical, theoretical, and moral reasons for an institution to support students in a virtual setting. Simpson suggested these premises about distance learning in higher education: all institutions are competing for students, online settings can lead to students feeling isolated, and higher education professionals should strive to assist students in achieving their best outcomes. As restrictions are lifted for in-person interactions, maintaining some new practices may help colleges and universities improve the ways they support students and, ultimately, increase student retention.
Listing several strategies for supporting students during the coronavirus crisis, Imad (2020) suggests college instructors humanize themselves and remain mindful of the loss of community that students are experiencing. She also recommends directly asking each student about the help and support they need. This could result in meaningful dialog between a student and their faculty advisor about challenges the student faced while navigating the virtual environment. Approaching advisees as individuals with unique needs will also be useful for supporting students who prefer a virtual approach, even after campuses return to face-to-face operations.
In specifically addressing best practices in virtual advisement, Méndez and Arguello (2020) recommend that advisors maintain frequent and proactive contact with their advisees. Being the first to contact advisees not only opens the lines of communication with students who might not know where to begin, but it also ensures the students have an accurate contact method for their faculty advisor without the added task of finding it on the institution’s website. Méndez and Arguello suggest advisors interact with students using several collaborative methods and technology tools. By learning to use a variety of communication platforms, advisors will be able to reach more students, but they may also use these tools to facilitate student interaction. Since social integration is essential to student retention (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1983), allowing students a virtual time and place to communicate with each other can help mitigate that loss of community that Imad (2020) discusses.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many traditional college and university functions from student orientation to graduation ceremonies. Neither academic advisors, nor any other higher education professional can be everything to every student. However, faculty advisors can use this tumultuous time to capitalize on the new technologies and resources at their disposal. By incorporating best practices from distance education models and diversifying their tools for communicating with students, faculty advisors can improve their instructional techniques as well as their ability to build meaningful relationships with student advisees.
Academic Support Center Director
Southwestern Oklahoma State University
Burton, J., & Wellington, K. (1998). The O'Banion model of academic advising: An integrative approach. NACADA Journal, 18(2), 13–20. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-18.2.13
Imad, M. (2020). 10 Leadership strategies in times of uncertainty. Women in Higher Education, 29(5), 9–15. https://doi.org/10.1002/whe.20845
Méndez, M. G., & Arguello, G. (2020). Best practices of virtual advising: The application of an online advising portal. FDLA Journal, 5(1), 6.
Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (1983). Predicting voluntary freshman year persistence/withdrawal behavior in a residential university: A path analytic validation of Tinto's model. Journal of educational psychology, 75(2), 215–226. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-06188.8.131.52
Self, C. (2013). Implications of advising personnel of undergraduates 2011 National Survey. NACADA Clearinghouse. http://www.nacada.ksu. edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Implications-ofadvising-personnel-of-undergraduates-2011-National-Survey.aspx
Simpson, O. (2018). Supporting students in online, open and distance learning (2nd ed.). Routledge.
Yoder, W. (2019). Student perceptions of how faculty advising supports the academic persistence of students of color at one predominantly White institution. Faculty articles & research. https://dc.swosu.edu/cpgs_sbse_education_articles/2
Ann Lieberman Colgan, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Lab is (not) optional
“How are you doing in your biology class?” I asked my first semester student. Years of academic advising inform my use of this particular course as a barometer of a student’s transition to college-level study habits. Often, students indicate a preference for biology among their science general education options, but close questioning reveals their inclination is based on students’ perception that biology is among the easier sciences. This misapprehension derives from high school experiences.
“Good,” Jayden replied.
I prefer to quantify students’ academic status, and I also want them to develop realistic measures of interim success, so I responded, “’Good,’ to me, means As and Bs,” and asking for clarification: “How did you do on your last test?”
“Well, I don’t know,” she replied, and then explained, “He gives out the test grades at lab.”
Carefully, I asked for clarification, “You didn’t go to lab? Why not?”
“Oh, lab is optional,” came the breezy answer.
“Really?” I tried to keep the astonishment out of my voice, “I’m pretty sure you have to go to lab. Let’s check the syllabus.”
Jayden logged into her university learning management platform and pulled up the syllabus. A quick search revealed that the lab counted for one-quarter of the final grade in the course. The confusion apparently resulted from the professor’s promise that students who attended all the labs would receive 30 extra points on their final grades.
Jayden apparently rationalized, without consideration of total course requirements or consequences: “30 extra points for all labs; I will not need 30 extra points; I can skip labs.” Her unconscious calculations distorted the professor's intent, so she failed to update critical academic behaviors based on new reference points exclusive to higher education and, thus, impacted the utility of information (Karlsson et al., 2009). She employed an information management strategy developed in secondary education, where frequent extra-credit opportunities can permit students to cherry-pick the intensity of their participation in more rigorously academic coursework.
Academic advisors observe such miscalculations with some frequency, so our professional task metamorphoses to reality-check education. As a recent high school graduate, Jayden applied somewhat faulty calculations regarding the effort required for college success. She may have had an additional reason for avoiding lab: perhaps she dreaded confirmation of her fears regarding test grades. Student aversion to acquiring negative performance information (Karlsson et al., 2009) may originate from a need for academic stress reduction based upon a perceived lack of coping and recovery skills (Brashers et al., 2002). Consequently, while her failure to attend lab resulted from interpretive mistakes, she may have been driven by an unconscious craving for self-protection. Since the situation had its underlying humor, I made an effort to help her see the comic aspect of her choices.
“Did you know you’re not the only student who reached the conclusion that labs were optional?” I asked in a tone of confidential revelation. Addressing the need to implement a dramatic change in performance, I reviewed Jayden’s options and walked her over to the university tutoring center. I endeavored to increase her confidence in her ability to reverse course in biology, reminding her “Nobody’s good at anything until they learn it.” Advisors must frame academic reality truthfully, so students absorb a growth mindset. Sympathizing with student failures while supporting the intellectual effort required for success (Dweck, 2016, p. 182) aids students’ development. Students are more receptive to positive evaluations of their potential when advisor comments are packaged with humor.
Everything is hard if you don’t know it
“I’m so bad at this.” “It’s too hard for me.”
During Courtney’s advising appointment, I asked her how she was doing in her classes. “OK,” she replied, “I’m getting it better.”
“Oh,” Courtney hedged, “I didn’t do so great in my math exam, but I’ve never been great at math. I am trying to do better, but I’m so bad at it.” Courtney’s “self-talk” included thoughts that “were negative and self-destructive" (McGuire, 2015, p. 98), potentially giving herself permission to do poorly. Effective advising includes pointing out these thought patterns and modeling different thought norms, which I describe below.
“Really?” I wondered, “What grade did you get in your first exam?” “Well, a 56,” my optimistic student answered.
“OK, what are you doing to understand it better?” I asked.
“I’m going over my notes more,” she happily testified.
“Are you reading the textbook?” I wanted to know.
“No, he just gives us problems,” she responded, revealing the issue. As recommended by McGuire (2015, pp. 29–40), I reference Bloom’s taxonomy to explain to students the difference between the type of learning they did in high school compared to the thinking to learn and learning to think they must accomplish in college .
“Remember,” I said, “in high school, your teachers taught you everything they wanted you to know, reviewed before the test, and exactly replicated the review with the test. College is very different, right?” Courtney laughed in agreement at my description.
As a final diagnostic, I asked, “How many hours a week do you estimate you work on the course outside of the classroom?” I mentally divided her “about two to three hours a week” answer in half for the more probable time she spent working on the course. Courtney’s secondary education experience may have included teachers who believed “lowering their standards will give students success experiences, boost their self-esteem, and raise their achievement,” but “lowering standards just leads to poorly educated students who feel entitled to easy work and lavish praise” (Dweck, 2016, p. 196). In fact, the majority of high school students “reported spending fewer than six hours per week doing homework in 12th grade but 96.8% . . . said they graduated from high school with an A or B average” (McGuire, 2015, p. 10). Advisors must accurately characterize students’ prior education experiences in order to illustrate necessary changes in learning behaviors. This is best accomplished with directness and humor.
“So, let me get this straight, you got a 56 on your last test, and to prepare for your next one, you’re doing more of the same kind of preparation. Is that right?” I am accustomed to the token work ethic of many first-year students, whose lack of exposure to exertion in order to learn makes them vulnerable to blithely underestimating the time and effort required to put information in their brains so they can use it.
“That means right now you have a 56 in the course. Is that good?” High schools often protect students from the consequences of failure by providing multiple opportunities for recovering a grade or by taking effort into account, but such policies have the effect of depriving the student of the opportunity “to learn from her failures” (Dweck, 2016, p. 185). I find a blunt, humorous approach holds a mirror to students, allowing for self-perception.
“How would you do if I gave you a test in Russian?” I asked her.
“What?” was her puzzled response. “Russian,” I said, “how would you do if I gave you test in Russian language?” “I don’t know Russian. I’d do terribly,” Courtney laughingly stated the obvious.
“Exactly,” I responded, “everything is hard if you don’t know it. You need to spend an amount of time with your math which allows you to understand what that math is describing. And then you need to practice various types of problems, not just the ones your professor gives you.” Dweck (2016, p. 180) recommends students be taught to “love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, seek new strategies, and keep on learning.” Part of advising new college students must include helping them evolve into genuine learners.
“Let me ask you something else . . . are you a good driver?” Again, Courtney looked puzzled, but responded, “I’m pretty good. Better than my brother.”
“Were you a good driver when you were ten years old?” I wanted to know.
“Of course not,” Courtney said.
“What changed between then and now?” I wanted to know.
Serious lightbulb moment for Courtney—her face relaxed as she said, “I learned how to drive, and I practiced.” By framing knowledge as something acquired and applied, I reminded Courtney of the effort involved in learning something new. I reinforced this by saying, “You’re paying a lot of money and spending a lot of time to become something different than what you are now, to learn new things and ways of thinking; otherwise, what’s the point?” Courtney nodded in agreement but learning to integrate a growth mindset does not happen overnight. I demonstrated the growth mindset that comprehends failure and mistakes as “steps in the learning process because they reveal what needs further attention” (McGuire, 2015, p. 63). Advisors plant seeds with humorous examples. Careful but lighthearted advising also allows us to enjoy our students wherever they are in life.
Students often cycle into self-blame, referencing fixed mindsets about their abilities, when they earn lower grades than expected. American students who excelled in high school often find college challenging enough to make them doubt their capacities for achieving their academic goals. While students “love to be praised for their intelligence and talent . . . the minute they hit a snag their confidence goes out the window and their motivation hits rock bottom” (Dweck, 2016, p. 178). Advisors with humorous, pragmatic approaches effectively nudge students towards the growth mindset required for successful learning.
I want a girlfriend: Meeting students where they are
“Can I get Bs? My parents really, really want me to get Bs,” Kevin wanted to know.
He did not show up in my exploratory studies advising office until he had already worked himself into academic probation. Thus, our first meeting involved a diagnostic conversation regarding his interest and time invested in each of his courses. Kevin’s relaxed, engaging demeanor indicated he did not feel burdened by anxiety about the coursework itself.
Of course, I responded to his question, “Kevin, your parents aren’t the ones taking classes right now. What do you want?”
He brightly and immediately said, “I want a girlfriend.”
I laughed out loud, and replied, “Kevin, you don’t need to pay all this money to go to college to have a girlfriend!”
He laughed and grinned widely at my appreciation of his developmental position: he prioritized finding a relationship over his college courses. Kevin wasn’t joking, although he knew his response was impudent. My use of dialogic advising methods enabled me to appreciate his developmental needs via receptivity to information imparted on multiple levels; in other words, I encompassed “the other without feelings of otherness, (in order) to have genuine, full comprehension that feels personal” (Colgan, 2017). Kevin responded to my obvious enjoyment of his personality and path by visiting me often during the next couple of semesters while he determined what to study. Kevin’s individuation processes coincided with his academic growth, and our lighthearted relationship demonstrated my support as he moved towards responsible adulthood and college success.
Your major isn’t the most important decision you’ll make
“Oh, you can’t do anything with that major!” my student protested when I asked why she would not consider geoscience because, she had just informed me, she loved her geology course and was earning As.
“Really?” I asked, “have you spoken to your professor about professions related to the major?” No, she had not.
“Did you talk to anyone else who studied geoscience? Or do any research about the major?” No, she had not.
“OK, so help me understand this. You didn’t talk to your professor or anyone else or do any research at all about a subject you love, but you did decide that it has no professional future. So, you reached a conclusion based on zero information. Is that right?”
My restatement mirror lacked subtlety but effectively pointed out the flaws in my student’s reasoning. She laughed and asked where she should look for good data. Working with exploratory, or undeclared, students involves helping them develop accurate self-assessments of their skills and interests, and also includes providing data to ease their fears of career dissatisfaction.
“What’s the worst thing that can happen if you have a career you don’t like?” Speaking to orientation groups, I ask students, “Are you afraid to choose a major because you might get stuck in a job or career you hate?”
Getting nods and “yeah” in response, I then ask, “Well, what would you do if you had a job you hated?” I want students to envision their own worst-case scenario and reason their way out of it.
Occasionally, a student will say, “I guess I’d just keep at it,” but for the most part, I receive the rational answer, “I’d quit and get a different job.”
My response, “Duh! Of course, you would; you’re not stuck in anything.”
Students laugh, some with relief, when they absorb the simplicity and practicality of a common response to employment mismatches. New first-year students may simply not have enough experience to arrive at a common-sense solution to their embedded fears. Walking them through the reasoning process by posing a seemingly absurd question enables them to consider true preferences rather than presumed marketability in their major choices.
I also point out the origin of their mistaken belief regarding the life-shaping importance of most majors: “What’s the first thing people ask you when you tell them you’re a student at WCU?”
Students chorus, “What’s your major?”
“Right,” I explain, “so that makes you think majors must be super important. And some are, but you can get most entry level jobs with most majors.”
Brown and Strange’s 1981 observation still rings true:
For the college-bound late adolescent, one of the first major decisions relating to issues of purpose, identity, and life goals is encountered in the selection of an academic major. Responding to the question of “What’s your major?” becomes a principal means of communicating about self to family and peers, and for the student who has not yet selected an academic major, admission of confusion or doubt in that respect may be tantamount to an admission of identity diffusion. In addition to the choice of academic major, the student is also faced with the selection of a young-adult career direction, a decision that further complicates the resolution of the developmental tasks associated with late adolescence. (p. 329).
Over many years of academic advising, I have noticed an increase in anxiety centered on students’ choices of majors. Exploratory students often hesitate to choose a field of study, delaying the inevitable by insisting on taking general education classes or dabbling in yet another disciplinary option. My dialogic relationships (Colgan, 2017) with individual students enable me to share their perceptions of reality, and the resulting insights reinforce my application of narrative and humor to facilitate their maturing views regarding the flexibility of majors and degrees. The stakes are high because “the extent to which these questions are resolved has been found repeatedly to be related to a student’s decision whether or not to remain in college” (Brown & Strange, 1981, p. 329).
I now address students’ internalized concerns directly by naming their fears and using humor to reduce the gravity of their decision-making. Starting as early as orientation prior to students’ first semester, I ask groups of exploratory students if they are afraid to make a choice of major. In a group of thirty students, sometimes as many as half will raise their hands in affirmation. Addressing their anxiety involves practicality, evidence, and a funny example of truly important decision-making.
I also use whimsical examples to provide evidence of the flexibility of college degrees: I ask students which undergraduate degree would lead to the career I have—after all, they observe me in the performance of my profession. Many guess psychology, social work, or other helping professions. I explain my choice to study anthropology as the discipline which most interested me after several years of changing majors.
I also describe my first job after graduation as one which was ultimately boring, but which allowed me to figure out what I wanted to do next. Then, to shake things up, I ask them to guess the majors of my colleagues in academic advising: they cannot, due to the sheer variety and seeming irrelevance of those degrees (criminal justice, philosophy, political science, early childhood, business administration, and music). I use this interaction as evidence of the possible long-term insignificance of the specific field of a person’s undergraduate major.
My point is not that majors are inconsequential, but rather that the consequences are not what first-year students often believe since most non-certification, entry-level jobs require only a college degree, not a specific one. In fact, teaching students the value of “transferable skills positively affected high school students’ perceptions of college and career readiness” (Kristin, 2021). I remind them of the evidence from their own lives by asking how many of their parents changed careers, and then follow up by asking if their parents needed additional preparation to make those changes. In other words, students know that majors and careers lead to flexible futures, but they do not yet believe the evidence of their own eyes and lives since the prevailing ethos is that one goes to college to become something.
My use of personal anecdotes and connection with students’ own experiences initiates a reflective process among first-year students which enables them to think more freely about their major choices.
As a summation to new thinking about majors, I remind students that choosing a discipline to study is not the most important decision they will make, even if they choose a profession which requires certification. In fact, in the long term, this choice may have less meaning than obtaining the degree itself.
“Your major just may not be that important,” I assert, “but you know what is important?”
I let the silence hang for a beat, “Who you marry; that’s important!” Students think this is hilarious and laugh out loud, but ironically, I am serious. Ah, well, they will learn in their own time.
Carry a light heart and a soft touch into academic advising
“I got Ds my first semester in college because I treated it like high school, and I had no self-awareness that the crappy grades I was earning were the crappy grades I was going to receive. I had a lot of fun, though!”
I use self-deprecating humor to let students know I shared their experiences: getting poor grades before learning to become a better student. I reflect aloud about my complete lack of self-awareness and of procedural awareness as a first-year student, and my droll depiction of my failures and readjustment connects with them.
Students observe the enjoyment I experience in our interactions and take my candid wit in the positive, growth-oriented manner I intend. When I apologize for being so very blunt, they always respond, “No, it’s good, I need someone to be up front with me.” I want to preserve my relationship with students, so I apply light-hearted affection and a soft touch for their experiences and emotions in our advising sessions. I take pleasure in the interactions and in their successes; academic advising is a fabulous career.
Using humor in academic advising applies meltwater to the ice of generational and positional differences. Students see my mid-fifties, gray-haired self and anticipate being on the receiving end of top-down instructive communication. Perhaps they reframe our relationship as parental and, as with their parents, lay the internal groundwork for my words to go in one ear and out the other. Humor disarms their expectations, alleviates their anxiety, permits a thaw in the bulwark of their defenses. If I can make students laugh at me or at themselves, then I can help them to listen to me and to themselves.
Author Note: All names have been changed to protect student privacy.
Ann Lieberman Colgan, EdD
Director, Interdisciplinary Studies
Advisor, Exploratory Studies
West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Brashers, D. E., Goldsmith, D. J., & Hsieh, E. (2002, April). Information seeking and avoiding in health contexts. Human Communication Research, 28(2), 258–271. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2002.tb00807.x
Brown, G. S., & Strange, C. (1981). The relationship of academic major and career choice status to anxiety among college freshmen. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 19(3), 328–334. https://doi.org/10.1016/0001-8791(81)90067-1
Colgan, A. L. (2017, January). Think about it: Philosophy and dialogic advising. NACADA Journal, 1(37), 66–73. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-15-045
Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Ballantine Books.
Karlsson, N., Loewenstein, G., & Seppi, D. (2009). The ostrich effect: Selective attention to information. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 38(1), 95–115. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11166-009-9060-6
Kristin, J. B. (2021). I’ll never have to do this after high school: Exploring students’ perceptions of college and career readiness and the effects of ePortfolios with reflection on transferable skills [Doctoral Dissertation, University of South Carolina]. ProQuest Information & Learning. University of South Carolina: University Libraries. https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/5868/
McGuire, S. A. (2015). Teach students how to learn: Strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
Melissa Cumbia and Lauren Varboncoeur, Virginia Tech
Like many advising units, the advising center in which the authors work recently focused on creating primary role advising positions and emphasizing the benefits of primary role advisors for student success. As primary role academic advisors in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment, we experienced the need to address increased demand for advising services and workload challenges after students and faculty embraced the primary role advising model. Advisors and administrators should be cognizant of issues related to increased advising workloads to safeguard the effectiveness of primary role advisors. It is critical to share strategies for managing workload so advisors can serve students in ways that are caring, empowering, inclusive, and consistent with NACADA’s (2017) core values of advising. Workload issues are relevant to the recruitment of prospective advisors, effectiveness and retention of current advisors, and the full range of institutional settings. We posit that advising practitioners and administrators must look beyond creating advising positions to identify ways for primary role advisors to offer services that are both exceptional and sustainable to ensure the continued success of primary role advising models.
Workload Increases: What Happens When it Works?
After our advising center successfully onboarded primary role advisors, the authors experienced expansions in role, increased demand for advising services, and workload difficulties. We began to provide additional services and outreach, answer more questions, see more students, and contribute to more resources. Caseload and frequency of contact with caseload increased as did work with colleagues, committees, and events. We also increased our efforts to support student recruitment, scheduling, and curriculum development. Advisors should strategically accept responsibilities to develop their role in personally and professionally meaningful ways, but, in our experience, advisors often accept responsibilities in a scattered manner. We believe strategic role development is intentional, directly related to the advisor’s purpose, and enhances the advisor’s work and the services provided. In contrast, we maintain scattered role development is unplanned, short-sighted, and addresses immediate needs but may not be directly related to the advisor’s position. When deciding what new responsibilities to assume, advisors should consider purpose (which tasks and services are relevant to your position goals), person (which tasks are best for you personally), and opportunity costs (what services might you be unable to provide due to this responsibility). This approach has served us well in managing role development and workload increases throughout our advising model transition.
Workload Issues: What Happens When There’s Too Much Work?
As our workload demands increased, we initially had difficulty maintaining and improving advising services and needed to limit the quality of our services to meet the quantity of services demanded. Due to workload challenges, we limited appointment services by shortening length and allowing for longer delays between appointment requests and meetings. We found we had less capacity for outreach congruent with our proactive advising philosophy and limited the support we provided high-need students, focusing instead on students who sought out advising. It is important to monitor the trade-offs of limiting services due to capacity; quantity vs. quality decisions should be made strategically based on goals rather than short-term demands. Workload limitations may diminish the quality of advising relationships as advisors are less able to individualize services and develop meaningful relationships with students when advising interactions are restricted due to capacity.
We agree with Harr (2013), who asserts, “When staff members are experiencing burnout or compassion fatigue, there will inevitably be a detrimental impact on the quality and effectiveness of the services provided” (p. 76). Advisors with sustained workload stress are more vulnerable to burnout as they find that busy times are now all the time, they can only offer the highest priority services, they must work overtime, and they must forgo professional development. Burnout is related to role development and workload challenges because it often stems from having too many duties and a diminished sense of professional purpose (Harr, 2013). As a result, advisors experiencing burnout are less able to work creatively and efficiently, less able to contribute toward proactive advising goals, and more likely to make errors. Feelings of professional frustration, pressure, cynicism, and exhaustion lead to a greater likelihood of decreased professional self-efficacy, diminished capacity for empathy, and less willingness to engage in teamwork (Harr, 2013, p. 73–74). Keywords describing burnout such as “fatigue, frustration, disengagement, stress, depletion, helplessness, hopelessness, emotional drain, emotional exhaustion, and cynicism” (Skovholt & Trotter-Mathison, 2016, p. 103) will resonate with advisors experiencing sustained workload stress. Although burnout is problematic in any profession, it is especially troublesome in advising because its outcomes are incompatible with the advisor’s role, which requires a capacity for positive regard, patience, and optimism.
Workload Strategies: Let’s Make it Work
It is crucial to assess workload challenges before addressing them. In our advising center, we track demands on time, document increases in workload, and evaluate the extent to which our workload aligns with our advising philosophy and role. We monitor student numbers, including caseload, percentage increase in caseload, non-assigned students seen, and university enrollment. Advisors in our center document appointment numbers and reasons, noting times with highest demand, and recording no-shows. We consider the number and types of meetings, events, and professional development sessions attended annually. We also note the number of advising resources we create and update annually as well as maintain a calendar of routine advising outreach. This documentation enables us to make informed decisions about workload management.
There are many strategies for addressing advising workload issues, prioritizing advising tasks, and serving growing caseloads. One strategy the authors utilize is reducing appointment numbers. We accomplished this by utilizing group advising when appropriate, which we found beneficial for students as well as efficient for advisors. While group advising works well for certain routine appointments, some advising interactions should be individualized. Limiting and prioritizing advising services is another option for reducing appointment numbers. For example, we prioritize students who have high, but not moderate, academic difficulty, such as those with low overall GPA but not those with a low term GPA. The appointment volume reduction strategy is sometimes necessary and often effective but provides a less supportive approach that is less compatible with proactive advising.
Another strategy we found useful for workload management is to fully utilize all personnel in our department by distributing workload. Our team has reassigned projects, reallocated some routine communication to come from central offices, and begun reassessing caseload assignments. Roles at events and on committees are shared across staff. Similarly, responsibilities and tasks that are not central to the advisor’s role have been delegated to other staff. This requires support from administrators as well as either the availability and willingness of other staff or funding for additional staff. One possible drawback of this strategy is that advisors with workload challenges may have fewer opportunities for role development and experience reduced visibility on campus.
To manage workload, we continuously strive to improve efficiency. We successfully developed systems and templates for efficient documentation as well as transitioned forms to an electronic format. We draft and use the schedule-send feature for routine emails to leverage quiet times for advising communications. Utilizing an appointment scheduling system has also been helpful for efficiency. Additionally, we created resources for academic planning and explored flipped advising strategies to allow students to independently access information and prepare for advising meetings. Despite the added efficiency of these workload management strategies, advisors should consider possible barriers they could create for students who are less inclined to seek advising.
Administrators play an important role in managing burnout. We suggest administrators anticipate and address workload challenges to promote employee well-being and self-efficacy, retain advisors, and maintain the effectiveness of advisors. To do this, supervisors must find opportunities to discuss staff stress, provide consultation, and allow for staff to engage in professional development to improve employee resilience (Harr, 2013, p. 76). Administrators should encourage advisors’ work-life balance by asking advisors about self-care plans during reviews, facilitate advisors’ use of leave, and allow advisors to adjust schedules when overtime is necessary. We have found it is helpful for administrators to facilitate regular meetings, such as quarterly reviews or monthly small group meetings, to ensure that they are aware of challenges and concerns and are able to offer consultation as issues arise. Administrators must support professional development by including it in employee goals, making a plan for managing workload to allow for it, and sharing a broad scope of professional development opportunities. Administrators can also advocate for the fair compensation of advising professionals. Finally, to convey appreciation, administrators should also create and leverage a variety of opportunities for recognition.
Conclusion: Toward a More Manageable Future
To support the future of primary role advising positions, advisors and administrators must anticipate and address workload challenges that arise when advisors are successful in their roles. In our experience working within a primary role advising model, unmanaged workload challenges and demand for primary role advising services may undermine the quality of advising and resulting positive student outcomes, as well as put advisors at risk for burnout. As primary role advisors, the authors encourage the advising community to engage in important conversations about effective workload management for primary role advisors. Short-term strategies may mitigate workload challenges, but further discussion and long-term solutions are essential for the sustained success of advisors, students, and models using primary role advising professionals.
Note: This Vantage Point article is based on presentations by Melissa Cumbia and Lauren Varboncoeur for the 2020 NACADA Annual National Conference and the 2021 Virginia Tech Advising Matters Conference.
College of Natural Resources and Environment
College of Natural Resources and Environment
Harr, C. (2013). Promoting workplace health by diminishing the negative impact of compassion fatigue and increasing compassion satisfaction. Social Work & Christianity, 40(1), 71–88.
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA core values of academic advising. https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx
Skovholt, T., & Trotter-Mathison, M. (2016). The resilient practitioner: Burnout and compassion fatigue prevention and self-care strategies for the helping professions. Routledge. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/10.4324/9781315737447
Michelle Coleman, Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY)
“Advising as teaching” (Lowenstein, 2005) can manifest differently depending on one’s university size and, in turn, an advisor’s caseload size. With caseloads varying from smaller programs to the entire student body, it is challenging for all advisors to put advising as teaching methods into practice the same exact way. For advisors with larger caseloads such as myself, we may often rely on our students to reach out to us to notify us of their needs. However, as we all know from experience, this often happens too late, when courses are filled or a specific deadline has already passed. Maintaining a relationship with individual students in an advising as teaching capacity can sound overwhelming to advisors with already-full plates. Nevertheless, advisors can use technology and other resources readily available in order to begin implementing an advising as teaching practice with small steps. By utilizing proactive advising, advisors can make the first move in teaching students to assess their own needs through modeling, kickstarting the advising as teaching process in a way that meets students halfway.
Proactive advising has transformed over the years, originally deemed as a passive advising strategy and now growing into a culturally responsive advising approach. Longitudinal research in proactive advising (Schwebel et al., 2012) revealed that outreach regarding making an advising appointment was not enough to push our students towards academic success; instead, it was only enough to push them into making more appointments. Proactive advising then shifted into favor further, viewed not as pestering a student but instead making a connection with them (Kalinowski Ohrt, 2016). Wilcox’s (2016) “Learning-Centered Advising Toolbox” confirmed that proactive advising has a role in advising as teaching, though Wilcox posited that it only does so as a supplement to more active advising models. Recently, Museus (2021) suggested that proactive advising can contribute so much more to the advisor-student connection; proactive advising assists in individualizing advising according to a student’s needs, connecting a student to their community and to academic support, helping them feel cared for by their university, and supporting equity through advisor and student advocacy.
What Can Proactive Advising Look Like in a Teaching Context?
Working with first generation students, international students, and students untrusting of advisors, I have learned that outreach can have an important part in the teaching process. Often, students will have very different levels of understanding and experience when it comes to advising. Waiting for students to reach out to advising on their own is assuming that all students have an understanding of basic advising concepts, such as determining a need for advising, reaching out to the correct office, and feeling comfortable with asking for help. As the full-time advisor for a major with over 1,500 students, I have explored the ways in which proactive advising can become part of one’s advising as teaching practice in a large university setting. Varying from virtual to in-person, and from quick additions to one’s schedule to events that involve more intensive planning, I have developed several successful forms of proactive advising.
If you have access to a student search engine, creating several advanced searches with specific criteria can help you check in with students in certain groups, including seniors ready for graduation, students not yet enrolled, students enrolled in a specific challenging course, or students on academic probation. A simple email reaching out to these students can include your contact information, next steps, campus support services contacts, or a graduation checklist. If you do not have access to a search engine, you can comprise these lists on your own. For example, I have done this by taking note of students who express interest in graduating in an upcoming semester and creating a list to reach out to at a later time. My students have appreciated outreach emails in our large college where they can sometimes fall under the radar. These emails remind them that they are supported, connect them with proper offices and next steps, and often will start a conversation regarding a student’s other academic concerns.
Similar to email outreach, creating an appointment campaign invites students to make an advising appointment, rather than waiting for a student to do so on their own. Some campus software platforms will allow you to create a campaign in minutes; otherwise, you can do this on your own by emailing students with your appointment scheduling link or upcoming drop-in hours. This information can be sent to all students, but invitations sent to specific student groups can include a brief reason why they are receiving the invitation—whether they are reaching their fourth year or are new to a major, reaching out to students can make the difference in establishing a personal connection. Inviting students to make an appointment helps them discern in the future when they may need to make an appointment on their own, without prompting. Students will also become familiar with the advising scheduling website and available hours.
As a relatively new advisor with a large population for my first-ever caseload, I have created a personal yearly cycle with all of my outreach reminders listed per semester. To get ahead in the summer, I will reach out to our potential graduates to see if they need any support. Near midterms, I will reach out to students who are registered for intense science courses and connect them to the campus tutoring center. Making that first connection reminds students of the correct office to reach out to with concerns, and usually will allow for most conflicts to be resolved early rather than after set deadlines. Keeping my advising calendar in my office reminds me to set aside time for my upcoming outreach efforts.
To continue outreach efforts during online learning due to the pandemic, our program decided to host an online drop-in event that was intended to make advising more accessible. This event quickly transformed into one that unexpectedly fostered community between our students. Our event, called the “Lunch Hour FAQ,” was a weekly one-hour virtual event that students could attend without an appointment. Students usually attended the event to ask myself or our program director questions pertaining to advising, but the event quickly evolved into one in which students could attend and ask one another questions about course recommendations, internships, and research. Students began to attend the event to speak with one another, rather than advisors, creating this unique peer advising community. Similarly, we have hosted one-time events on specific topics, such as graduation readiness, to bring our students together, reduce the demand for individual appointments, and make advising accessible to all. Although all students are invited to these events, reaching out to specific students or student groups that the event would especially help would be ideal.
Actively reaching out to students can educate them to reach out themselves in the future and can help them feel supported in a large university setting. Although this can be interpreted as a passive advising method (since the advisor is the one to initiate the interaction), this can also be seen as demonstrating what a student should do on their own in the future: assess their interests or concerns, determine the proper contact, and then reach out. Similar to teaching a lesson in any other subject, modeling proper procedure shows students what their independent work should eventually look like when they reach proficiency. Advising as teaching can and should include assessing and understanding our students’ familiarity with the content that we aim to teach. If students seem to struggle with the foundations of this content, it is up to us to make the first move and be the friendly smile that invites them to begin their learning journey, regardless of their starting point.
Program Advisor, Human Biology Program
Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY)
Kalinowski Ohrt, E. (2016). Proactive advising with first-generation students: Suggestions for practice. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal, 18(2016). https://doi.org/10.26209/mj1861250
Lowenstein, M. (2005). If advising is teaching, what do advisors teach? NACADA Journal, 25(2), 65–73. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-25.2.65
Museus, S. (2021). Revisiting the role of academic advising in equitably serving diverse college students. NACADA Journal, 41(1), 26–32. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-21-06
Schwebel, D., Walburn, N., Klyce, K., & Jerrolds, K. (2012). Efficacy of advising outreach on student retention, academic progress and achievement, and frequency of advising contacts: A longitudinal randomized trial. NACADA Journal, 32(2), 36–43. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-32.2.36
Wilcox, E. (2016). An end to checklist thinking: Learning-centered advising in practice. NACADA Clearinghouse. http://nacada.ksu.edu/tabid/3318/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/6101/article.aspx
Gavin Farber, Temple University
As academic advisors, we go through different phases of our careers. We start as new practitioners learning the field, interpreting policy and procedure, and navigating the complexities of our positions. There are moments in our professional journeys when we might hit a fork in the road, requiring us to reflect on how to move forward. While not an invisible group of practitioners, it is a growing population finding its voice with support from the association through NACADA-sponsored webinars, web events, and presentations at regional and annual conferences. Learn how you can overcome your challenges to become a stronger professional who can better serve your students, staff, administration, and institution.
Who Are Mid-Level Advisors?
Rosser (2000) said mid-level higher educators were the “unsung professionals of the academy” (p. 5).
This was “unsung” because “their contributions to the academic enterprise are rarely recognized and professional because of their commitment, training, and adherence to high standards of performance and excellence in their areas of expertise,” (Rosser, 2000, p. 5). Many of these advisors are frontline workers in their advising centers and academic departments, sometimes a one-person operation serving hundreds of students and faculty. Email inboxes are always full including queries from advisees and their loved ones—often working past closing time to ensure they are getting back within a certain time frame.
Mid-level advisors are the middlemen of our industry. These professionals have a responsibility to (a) monitor and regulate policies and procedures and (b) rarely have the authority to change, adjust, and develop the regulations they enforce (Rosser, 2000, p. 8).
One of the first researchers on middle management in higher education was Robert A. Scott. During the 1970s, he served as an Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University and he identified this population as a “largely ignored” (Scott, 1975, p. 38) group on campuses. The landscape of college administration had its share of problems according to Scott including, “severe inflation, reduced revenues, affirmative action, and a concern for the retaining of teachers” (1975, p. 38).
With an advisor moving from new to mid-level, the practitioner feels more confident in their skills. These professionals understand their academic calendars, know when the busiest times of the season are, and may start to take on special projects to focus on different niche areas including orientation, peer advising and mentoring, and teaching first-year seminar courses. Some might engage and explore their professional development outside of academic advising such as serving as a conduct board administrator, study abroad representative, or faculty liaison.
Mid-level student practitioners need to “maintain . . . a balance between their supervisors’ direction and delegations and the needs of the constraints of faculty, students and public who require their support and services” (Rosser, 2000, p. 7). Mid-level advisors can be more independent and trusted to be able to do their daily tasks without having the constant assistance from their managers.
Challenges for Mid-Level Practitioners
Johnsrud and Rosser (1999) researched the mid-level administrator’s work lives. There were three challenges that came up for these professionals: (1) lack of recognition, (2) faculty vs. administration issues, and (3) limited opportunities.
The lack of recognition came from not feeling appreciated in the workplace (Rhoades, 1995). Johnsrud and Rosser (1999) discovered this group was well-educated, worked hard in demanding roles, and were going unrecognized in their efforts. Looking at the history of student services in higher education, the rise in the need for administrative offices on college campuses resulted in a lack of expertise and skills needed by professionals. This could have resulted in the poor supervisory skills among some of the first senior administrators who were first working with mid-level professionals.
Issues between faculty and administration were seen in waves beginning in the 1970s when there was a massive growth in the number of administrative roles versus faculty roles at institutions. Grassmuck (1990, 1991) cited there was a 62% increase in midlevel administration during this time. Austin and Gamson (1983) said there was resistance from faculty to include administration as part of their academic community.
Limited opportunities for mid-level leaders may mean changing institutions in search of a promotion. Sagaria and Moore (1983) said administration was not always able to remain at one institution for an entire career. These are real issues faced by NACADA members today which might involve changing regions to find their next step on the career ladder.
Barriers between functional areas of academic affairs and student affairs also prove to be difficult to find new prospects in the field. McDade (1990) discussed the lack of professional development for mid-level professionals as one reason for the challenges faced. The overall placement of academic advising on campuses can shift from institution to institution.
Retention of Mid-Level Practitioners
In 2016, a study by Marshall, Gardner, Hughes, and Lowery surveyed current student affairs professionals on their intent to leave the profession. They found in their research that 41.7% of practitioners spend less than five years in the field and another 21.7% spent 8–10 years in the field before leaving. The factors that influenced career change included: (a) excessive hours and burnout, (b) non-competitive salaries, (c) attractive career alternatives, (d) work-life conflict, (e) limited opportunities, (f) role of the supervisor and institutional fit, and (g) lack of challenge and loss of passion (Marshall et al., 2016, p. 152).
Some implications that came from the Marshall et al. (2016) study was a new professional’s understanding of the student affairs field. There are some unrealistic demands on a person’s time and energy. Those entering the profession should gain a more accurate understanding of the types of roles that one might take on within higher education (p. 157). For example, an academic advisor has many different tasks than a residence hall director.
Strong supervision was found as a key issue that participants were not getting from their bosses. Marshall et al. (2016) suggested supervisors should find a way to aid employees through offering work alternatives such as flex time, telecommuting, compressed work weeks, etc. as a way to increase job satisfaction (p. 157).
NACADA and the Mid-Level Advisor
NACADA does not have an official definition of a mid-level advisor, but it would be a professional with more than three years of advising experience per the association’s guidelines for the Outstanding New Advisor Awards (NACADA, n.d.).
Past NACADA President Amy Sannes discussed in her “Fridays with NACADA” email on May 25, 2018 how the association could help mid-level advisors. One suggestion she made was to work with the association’s Professional Development Committee and Sustainable Leadership Committee to identify appropriate venues for this population of the membership.
Regional leadership looked at this topic as well. The NACADA Region 2 Steering Committee during the 2019–2020 academic year made it a goal to engage with mid-level advisors. That resulted in a lunch and learn event in November 2019 along with a pre-conference planned for the 2020 NACADA Region 2 Conference—which was later rescheduled for 2021 Virtual Region 1 and Region 2 Conference.
In November 2020, five practitioners came together to present a NACADA webinar titled, Redefining the Mid-Level: How Can We Retain Academic Advisors? It offered members the opportunities to hear from other advisors in the profession. The presenters covered research on mid-level advisors, challenges and benefits of being this level in the profession, career trajectories (advising ladders), and engagement opportunities. The message of #Horizontal Branding was encouraged to this sector of the membership because it would provide an outlet for new personal and professional growth.
Future of Mid-Level Advisors: #HorizontalBranding
As the profession continues to transform, there will be more mid-level advisors needing support. Training and development remain an important need for this sector of the industry because learning does not stop when you get past the first three years on the job. While everyone cannot move up the advising ladder at the same time, taking the opportunity to grow professionally horizontally can not only allow the mid-level professional to keep their interest in the field, but also gain new skill sets. Avoiding burnout is another strength of the mid-level advisor, while also shifting their professional focus to what is not only best for their students, but also for themselves. The future of the advising profession is on the shoulders of mid-levels who will be the future administrators and senior-level leadership on our campuses. Thinking about the role of mid-level advisors in the future of higher education is imperative for the survival of academic advising as a field.
Center for Undergraduate Advising
Fox School of Business
Austin, A. E., & Gamson, Z. F. (1983). Academic workplace: New demands, heightened tensions (ASHE/ERIC Higher Education Research Report No. 10). Association for the Study of Higher Education.
Grassmuck, K. (1990, March 28). Big increases in academic support staffs prompt growing concerns on campuses. Chronicle of Higher Education, 37(28), A1, 32–34.
Grassmuck, K. (1991, August 14). Throughout the 80s, colleges hired more non-teaching staff than other employees. Chronicle of Higher Education, 37(48), 22.
Johnsrud, L. K., Heck, R. H., & Rosser, V. J. (2000). Morale matters: Midlevel administrators and their intent to leave. The Journal of Higher Education, 71(1), 34–59. https://doi.org/10.2307/2649281
Johnsrud, L. K., & Rosser, V. J. (1999). College and university mid-level administrators: Explaining and improving their morale. Review of Higher Education, 22(2), 121-141. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/30072
Marshall, S. M., Gardner, M. M., Hughes, C., & Lowery, U. (2016). Attrition from student affairs: Perspectives from those who exited the profession. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 53(2), 146–159. https://doi.org/10.1080/19496591.2016.1147359
McDade, S. A. (1990, Winter). Planning for career improvement. New Directions for Higher Education, 1990(72), 47–55.
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (n.d.). Outstanding New Advisor Awards. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from https://nacada.ksu.edu/Programs/Awards/Global-Awards/Outstanding-New-Advisor.aspx
Rhoades, G. (1995). Rising administrative costs in instructional units. Thought and Action, 11(1), 7–24.
Rosser, V. J. (2000). Midlevel administrators: What we know. New Directions for Higher Education, 111 (3), 5–13.
Sagaria, M. A., & Moore, K. M. (1983). Job change and age: The experiences of administrators in colleges and universities. Sociological Spectrum, 3, 353–370. https://doi.org/10.1080/02732173.1983.9981702
Scott, R. A. (1975). Middle managers on campus: Training ground or wasteland. The Journal of College Admissions. 20(1), 38–40.
Susan Corner, 2021 Assessment Institute Scholarship Recipient
Shu-Min Huang, 2021 Assessment Institute Attendee
Janine Mayers, 2021 Assessment Institute Scholarship Recipient
Learning how to create a good assessment plan makes sense when you consider the potential for assessment to improve academic advising practices. As Higgins and Vance (2021) observed, assessment is a living process that involves students, advisors, and administrators. It has the potential to enhance culture when we “recognize how assessment impact(s) day-to-day advising experiences” (slide 9).
The ongoing nature of the assessment process was reinforced by instructors at the 2021 NACADA Assessment Institute. A small team from the Academic Advising Centre (AAC) at the University of Victoria (UVic) in British Columbia, Canada attended the Institute in 2021. This article shares our story.
Investing in training that focuses on assessment in academic advising supports the AAC’s goal of developing an assessment plan that will lead to improved advising practices and better outcomes for students (Robbins, 2012). It also supports the goal of the University of Victoria’s (2019) Strategic Enrolment Management Plan to “implement a student and learning-focused academic advising system” (p. 10). As noted by Robbins (2009), a good assessment plan means you can use institutional data effectively: “The relationship between assessment of academic advising and institutional research is a reciprocal one, with each informing the other, ideally resulting in more rich and useful information campus-wide” (para. 7).
Learning outcomes for both students and advisors are core to an assessment plan. Focusing on learning outcomes is a reminder of the educational role of academic advising in students’ lives (Keeling et al., 2008; NACADA, 2017). While our unit at UVic has engaged in research using different assessment tools, our goal and the reason for attending the Institute was to create an integrated plan that would allow staff to understand what we do and why.
On November 10, 2020, NACADA members received an email announcing a shift to a virtual Assessment Institute. This change was due to COVID-19, and while there is always excitement in attending in-person events, virtual delivery (and the related lower costs) created an opportunity for the AAC to send a small team to the Institute in February 2021. Supporting participation were two scholarships from NACADA. Instead of sending one person with related travel and hotel expenses, seven staff participated in the virtual Institute for a comparable cost. Sending a team virtually also opened up space for broader representation from the AAC, which creates a stronger foundation as we move forward with implementation. Along with the director, the AI team included four members of the AAC Leadership Team as well as two academic advisors. The breadth of experiences of those attending the Institute from the AAC enriched our individual and collective learning. An unforeseen benefit of a team attending the AI has been retaining capacity to move forward with this important project despite two staff leaving to follow new career opportunities.
Higgins and Vance (2021) provided the following participant learning outcomes for the Institute (slide 9):
NACADA’s Assessment Institute provided videos of the plenary sessions in advance, and participants could select from work groups during the Institute that fit with individual needs and interests. The AAC team originally planned to select our own work groups over the three days with check-ins at the end of each day. Soon after beginning the first day, it became evident to our team that attending the same work groups together led to enriched learning and supported our collective experience. Particularly useful resources provided by the Institute were sample assessment worksheets and check-ins with instructors during and after the Institute. These proved to be invaluable as the team moved from developing an assessment plan in the supportive Institute environment to leading independent implementation of an AAC assessment plan with our staff.
As stated in the director’s Assessment Institute scholarship application, “Over the years, we have included aspects of assessment in our ongoing work; however, we have never had the time or resources to develop a more formal program for our academic advising centre.” The opportunity offered by the virtual Institute has allowed the AAC to create a small team to lead the development and implementation of an assessment plan that now engages all staff in the unit.
After the Assessment Institute: Implementing an AAC Assessment Plan
Implementation began just prior to the Institute with the formation of an AAC Assessment Team (see Figure 1). All members of the team participated in the Institute and each person has had a role in supporting the engagement of all AAC staff with the implementation process. As a first step, we held a staff retreat which was facilitated by a UVic Organization Development and Learning Consultant. Together, we began the groundwork to develop a new mission statement and list of shared goals for the AAC. Related, but independent, was the formation of a Communications Team and the development of a communications plan in tandem with the assessment plan. As we develop these plans, we are supporting the AAC’s vision of continuing to move from a focus on transactional advising to more inclusive advising practices. The Assessment Plan and the Communications Plan draw upon NACADA Core Competencies Model of informational, relational, and conceptual advising (NACADA, 2017). Figure 1 illustrates the 2021 planning process for assessment and communications.
Academic Advising Centre: Mapping Assessment and Communications Planning 2021
Implementing an assessment plan is a longer process than we originally anticipated. At the time of writing this article, members of the AAC Institute team are leading a group of academic advisors in the development of student learning outcomes. While the team considers the assessment plan as a whole and our next steps, it is also important that all staff have the opportunity to engage and contribute at each stage.
As we move forward with the assessment planning process, the Communications Team, in collaboration with the Assessment Team, is piloting a project with newly admitted students. This project is designed to help us understand the impact of targeted communication on the student experience. For the purpose of this study, we have divided newly admitted students into three groups to measure the effectiveness of generalized and personalized communications on student behavior compared to a control group that did not receive the targeted communications. On a smaller scale than Robbins (2009) envisions, the relationship between these two AAC teams is still a “reciprocal one, with each informing the other.” This collaborative approach builds a stronger academic advising practice and supports the UVic Student Affairs’ vision that “Together, we transform students’ lives” (Student Affairs, n.d.).
Attending the Assessment Institute empowered the Assessment Team to support the AAC staff in developing a deeper understanding of assessment. The inclusive approach promoted by the Institute instils confidence in our ability to undertake the development and implementation of the AAC’s first assessment plan. A benefit of the Institute was that it allowed staff to interact and engage with the assessment process. In turn, this has fostered appreciation within the Institute team of what we do and why. Staff were able to consult with experts at the Institute and sit with ideas. Through the Institute, we better understand the distinction between assessment and evaluation, and this has helped us recognize that the AAC has an active evaluation practice for programs, training, and projects in our centre. Engaging all staff in the development and implementation of an assessment plan has invigorated discussions around advisor roles and the student experience. At the time of writing, we are still working towards completing our first assessment plan. We now recognize assessment as an ongoing and dynamic process and one we want to maintain as an important part of our academic advising culture at UVic.
Academic Advising Centre (AAC)
Faculties of Humanities, Science and Social Sciences
University of Victoria
Academic Advising Centre (AAC)
Faculties of Humanities, Science and Social Sciences
University of Victoria
Acting Manager Students
Academic Advising Centre (AAC)
Faculties of Humanities, Science and Social Sciences
University of Victoria
Higgins, B., & Vance, I. (2021). Assessment: Part of your daily life [Conference session]. 2021 NACADA Assessment Institute, virtual.
Keeling, R. P., Wall, A.F., Underhile, R., & Dungy, G. J. (2008). Assessment reconsidered: Institutional effectiveness for student success (1st ed.). ICSSIA.
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx
Robbins, R. (2009). Assessment and Institutional Research. NACADA: Global Community for Academic Advising Clearinghouse.
Robbins, R. (2012). Utilizing Institutional Research in the Assessment of Academic Advising. NACADA: Global Community for Academic Advising Clearinghouse.
Student Affairs. (n.d.). The division of student affairs. https://www.uvic.ca/studentaffairs/about/index.php
University of Victoria. (2019). Strategic enrolment management plan.