Billie Streufert, Kansas State University
Kyle Ross, Oregon State University
If advisors are to embody NACADA’s (2017) Core Values, they must evaluate ways their philosophy or techniques perpetuate systemic inequities. One such framework worth consideration is parallel planning and alternative advising. During these conversations, advisors encourage students to consider occupations or majors alongside their initial goals. While this adaptability prepares students for a rapidly changing labor market, advisors also often situate this approach in the context of applying to competitive degree programs (Streufert, 2019). Without an equity-based examination of these advising practices, advisors may be reduced to cooling agents who pacify students in anticipation of or after they are denied admission into their chosen fields (Clark, 1960).
To avoid the perpetuation of the status quo, advisors are “willing to ask the right questions and accept responsibility for the answers” (Ivie, 2020, p. 202). This inquiry enables advisors to recognize and respond to underlying causes so that they can ensure all students have equal access to success. Advisors are ethically obligated to consider these questions because they are in positions of privileges and power. Advisors must pair parallel planning and alternative advising with campus conversations about the following questions.
What admission criteria are used to evaluate applicants, and is the evaluation of applications equitable? There is evidence that standardized exams are biased and favor dominant groups (Bazemore-James et al., 2017; Rosales & Walker, 2021; Steele & Aronson, 1995). As an alternative to a single criterion, such as test scores, advisors must suggest that admission committees use holistic or authentic rubrics that contextualize students’ backgrounds (Posselt et al., 2020; Rosales & Walker, 2021). Advisors may also want to examine who serves on admission committees. There is evidence that decisions vary based on the background of selection committee members (Posselt et al., 2020).
Advisors also acknowledge that various forms of racism are entrenched in admission procedures. For example, in one study, students from underrepresented groups were denied admission more frequently than dominant student groups even if they had similar test scores to dominant groups (Lewis, 2019). Clinical supervisors or cooperating teachers may also exhibit bias in their evaluations (Renn, 2013). Given the complexities and challenges of admission decisions, advisors form coalitions and seek consultation. Advising counsels or shared governance structures may create space for meaningful reflection and supportive conversations. Once an advising forum identifies leading indicators of injustice, the group conducts an annual equity audit of admission practices to close the racial equity gap (Dowd & Elmore, 2020).
Has the institution disaggregated data to identify opportunities for improvement? Disaggregated data analysis will reveal who benefits from and who is harmed by parallel planning or alternative advising. For example, advisors can disaggregate gateway course completion rates based on race, ethnicity, or other demographic variables to identify if course redesign or inclusive pedagogy is necessary (Gardner & Koch, 2020, McNair & Bensimon, 2020). To support the creation of student-ready learning environments, faculty may need advisors to advocate for teaching tools or reductions in class size. Similarly, advisors can examine disaggregated degree progress or credit acquisition rates (Dowd & Elmore, 2020). Due diligence is also needed to ensure the effective presentation of data. For example, scholars provided an example of one instance in which the mere manipulation of the Y-axis misled decision-makers to evaluate gender differences and mathematical proficiency ineffectively (Dowd & Elmore, 2020).
How can advisors foster a sense of confidence among students or encourage students to pursue challenging courses that they might initially avoid? Students of underrepresented groups experience hostile environments or harassment at their campus and perceive the strength of their application more negatively than dominant students (Barr et al., 2008; Christophers & Gotian, 2020; Lent & Brown, 2013; Moss-Racusin et al., 2021; Orom et al., 2013; Witherspoon et al., 2019; Wouters, 2020). The chronic cognitive load created by stereotypes, performance anxiety, and racism leads to isolation, depression, exhaustion, and racial battle fatigue (McGee, 2020). Imposter syndrome may cause some students to pivot prematurely to alternatives. If students feel incompetent, they do not need advisors to suggest alternatives, but instead need mentors who affirm their talents. Sadly, some students have reported that they perceived their advisors or professors lacked confidence in their ability and discouraged the pursuit of their goals (Hadinger, 2014; Madden et al., 2020; Manueliot-Kerkvliet, 2015; Solόranzo et al., 2000). Administrators advocate for required training for professors and advisors for this reason (Moss-Racusin et al., 2021).
Advisors also introduce parallel planning universally in group settings to affirm students’ assets and to discuss further when or when not to move toward alternatives. By normalizing the need to prepare to adapt, advisors invite everyone to engage in the parallel planning process and thus reduce potential triggers of imposter syndrome. This universal introduction is paired with adequate structures to support students in their career decision-making and educational planning. For example, while many institutions invest in first-year programs, fewer colleges create second-year programs (Tobolowsky, 2008). It is common, however, for second-year students to experience vocational distress because of their academic performance (Kim-Lee, 2017; Wrosch et al., 2003). Similarly, transfer students report that they often are unsupported in their transition to four-year institutions and do not have access to pre-professional advising at two-year schools (Wang, 2020).
To what degree are advisors supported in their roles? The complexity of advising alternatives and justice work requires ongoing professional development and self-reflection. For example, advisors need to examine their positionality and how their identity influences their beliefs or behaviors in the context of advising alternatives (Evans & Sejuit, 2021). They also need time to connect with publications, presentations, or cultural programs to understand the counternarratives of students of underrepresented and marginalized groups. Given the climate of current campuses, advisors must also be empowered to discuss with students how racial hostility or fatigue may impede their academic success. Similarly, do advisors’ schedules permit them to slow down to identify implicit bias or to advocate for students? If advisors have space within their schedules for mindfulness, they can examine the impact of their decisions and reconstruct their responses or their environments to advance inclusion (Kezar & Posselt, 2020).
What language do advisors use to describe the students’ experiences? Language shapes the ways advisors conceptualize students’ needs. If unexamined, terminology can harm students (Dowd & Elmore, 2020; Martinez & Cooper, 2020). Deficit-based labels or thinking can be entrenched in parallel planning. For example, previous scholars have described students who selected a mismatched major or considered the input of family members as vocationally immature or foreclosed (Marcia, 1966; Shaffer & Zalewski, 2011). These researchers overlooked that secondary schools are under-resourced and unable to support the career exploration of students or that it is common for collectivistic cultures to invite feedback from others related to one’s goals (Dann-Messier et al., 2014; McGee, 2020). Similarly, advisors may believe that effort alone is sufficient for success or encourage students of underrepresented groups to remain resilient without advisors taking action to eliminate the harmful environments that students find dehumanizing. This color-blind mentality ignores racism and perpetuates meritocratic paradigms that sustain systems of injustice (Evans & Sejuit, 2021; McGee, 2020; McGee & Robinson, 2020; Nicolazzo & Carter, 2019; Tillapaugh, 2019).
What barriers exist for students of underrepresented groups? Inclusive advisors audit their policies, procedures, and practices to identify ways institutional structures or systems disadvantage the success of students of underrepresented groups, such as adult learners, first-generation students, students of color, LGBTQ+, or students with disabilities. For instance, first-generation students may need to navigate unfamiliar college terminology. Similarly, students with disabilities may be forced to disclose invasive personal information to access basic human rights as learners (Abes, 2019). Students of underrepresented groups who seek to help others may find that professors or advisors do not demonstrate the ways their chosen majors permit them to express these values (Brown et al., 2018; Diekman et al., 2011). Students’ perception of the congruency of these values influences their sense of belonging, anxiety, and self-efficacy (Diekman et al., 2017). Advisors can invite meaningful reflection or participation in service-learning to affirm students’ values and prevent students from leaving their intended field unnecessarily (Brown et al., 2015; Diekman et al., 2017).
Inclusive advisors acknowledge that some students may need alternative programs because the institution failed to support them. For example, students of underrepresented groups are less likely to have access to advisors who share salient aspects of their identities, especially because White faculty prefer to mentor White students (McCoy et al., 2015; McGee, 2020; Harris & Poon, 2019). White faculty mentors may also minimize the existence of structural racism, which perpetuates stereotypes and creates hostile learning environments (McCoy et al., 2015). Advising administrators need to apply equitable hiring practices to diversify the demographics of advisors (Griffin, 2020; Liera & Ching, 2020). Similarly, advisors need to inquire about ways peer mentors or tutors create equitable counter-study spaces (Solόranzo et al., 2000).
How are the business needs of the institution driving decisions, or what resources would further advance student success (Kezar & Posselt, 2020)? Students may also succeed if institutions reduce class size or advising caseloads, allowing students to spend more time in transformative conversations with faculty or staff. Faculty or staff of underrepresented groups often engage in informal, invisible advising, mentoring, or institutional service that is not included in load analysis or rewarded during tenure review (McGee, 2020; Moss-Racusin et al., 2021). An overemphasis on revenue or retention may have unintended consequences. Advisors need to listen carefully to assess if students perceive early alert interventions as intrusive, demoralizing, or symbolic indicators that the institution does not believe in their ability to succeed, thereby exacerbating imposter syndrome (Museus & LePeau, 2020).
How committed is the institution to inclusion and change? The amplification of graduation rates due to performance-based funding models may cause institutions and departments to selectively admit students and deny qualified students from admission to advance their self-interests (Kelchen, 2018). In this case, parallel planning and alternative advising only lead to upholding the status quo of current admissions practices by these institutions. If advisors are engaging in these conversations to help students find a more suitable path to their academic and occupational goals, then the institution is not compelled to change their practices when the students are ultimately retained in other programs they offer. Advisors should reflect on how often they are engaging in parallel planning and alternative advising conversations with students due to competitive admissions procedures. If advisors notice a pattern in who is more likely to face denial, then they should question whether the department or institution has evaluated if their admissions processes are truly holistic, equitable, and inclusive, or if the department is even committed to change and reform.
How could divisions and departments better collaborate to advance student success? Power dynamics or historical events may prevent faculty or staff from developing meaningful partnerships that could transform students’ experiences (Kezar & Posselt, 2020). Advisors exhibit humility and assess the extent that their actions are based on self-interest instead of students’ needs. Advisors live at the “intersection of academic affairs and student affairs” (Miller, 2016, p. 55). As such, they have a unique opportunity to build bridges so institutions can identify barriers and create new initiatives to redesign campus environments and actualize equity-based parallel planning and alternative advising.
Vocational change is inevitable and a part of life (Krumboltz et al., 2013; Lent & Brown, 2013; Savickas & Porfeli, 2012). Advisors need to emphasize adaptability given the rapidly changing labor market, but they must discuss alternatives carefully. Inclusive parallel planning and alternative advising require advisors to acknowledge assumptions and take action to remove power or privilege that perpetuates the status quo. Parallel planning is only permissible if it is paired with initiatives to ensure success in students’ initial chosen endeavors. While complex, advisors can ask meaningful questions to identify and implement changes that disrupt the oppressive systems they might otherwise sustain. If they engage in critical reflection and embrace questions as opportunities, they will ensure that parallel planning is paired with equitable practices that embody the core values of the profession (NACADA, 2017).
Leadership in Academic Advising
College of Education
Kansas State University
College of Business
Oregon State University
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Cite this article using APA style as: Streufert, B. & Ross, K. (2021, September). Essential questions to equity-based parallel planning and alternative advising. Academic Advising Today, 44(3). [insert url here]