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April E. Belback, University of Pittsburgh

A recent study (Belback, 2021) analyzed academic advising organizational structures at 260 U.S. undergraduate-serving research universities and how they relate to student success outcomes of first-year retention and six-year graduation rates. It found that a significant relationship exists and is improved with a shared model of academic advising. With collaboration at the heart of it, shared models of advising include those where both an academic advising center or a shared central administrative unit plus others across the institution such as faculty meet with students for advising (Pardee, 2004).

While the study found that a shared model of advising was present in only about one third of the institutions (32.69%), those institutions had higher mean retention and graduation rates overall (Table 1). It is also important to note that these rates are higher than the national retention rate of 67% (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2020a) and national six-year graduation rate of 60.1% (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2020b).

Table 1

Mean Student Success Outcomes for Academic Advising Structures

Academic Advising Organizational Structure

Total Number of Institutions

Mean first-year retention rate (%)

Mean six-year graduation rate (%)

Centralized model




Decentralized model




Shared model





Even more significantly, for both outcomes, multiple regression analyses were completed and showed that moving from a decentralized to a shared model results in an increase of a first-year retention rate by 3.469% and a six-year graduation rate by 5.265%. Moving from a decentralized to a centralized model results in a decrease of these measures by 6.289% and 8.535%, respectively.

However, as found in the study, many institutions are organized such that individual academic units together comprise a university’s decentralized undergraduate structure. Thus, moving towards a shared model can feel out of reach. What can a siloed university do to begin to shift towards a shared model of academic advising? Also, at large research universities, it is important to celebrate the unique processes and policies that accompany decentralized institutions (Andreatta, 2009), which includes helping students navigate and feel connected to their individual college, school, or unit. Yet, providing equal access to opportunities, resources, and information for all advisors helps them to feel competent in their role. It is in this space where advising or student success leadership can begin the shift towards a shared advising model. With collaborative and holistic advising at the core, the following five recommendations may help institutions at any stage in advising redesign.

1. Define Advising

A good first step towards collaboration across an institution is working to better understand the scope of advising university wide. This can be done with a landscape analysis (Belback, 2019) or needs assessment (Belback & Soltysiak, 2020). Then, leadership can work towards defining advising with a vision, mission, or framework. The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education’s (2018) standards for academic advising programs indicates that advising is integral to the institution’s mission and promotes the implementation, dissemination, and regular review of an institutional mission statement for advising. Habley (2005) provides a process for developing an advising mission statement that considers institutional alignment, campus collaborations, assessment, and visibility as essential components.

2. Develop a University-Wide Advising Counsel or Committee

Many of these recommendations cannot be implemented without support from the advising community. Thus, developing a counsel or committee for advising with representatives from each college, school, or unit is key to the success of a change initiative and building community. Cox (2016) wrote about the importance of developing a shared model of advising and provided questions to guide the development of a shared community for universities, which included considerations about stakeholders, advising services, and who advises. While collaboration is not a new initiative, “institutions are finding creative new methods for working together to ensure that stakeholders are on board with the mission and vision of the academic advising program” (Cox, 2016, para. 1).

3. Create Standard Training Resources and Communication Mechanisms

When institutions want to adopt a mission that is holistic, collaborative, and student-centered, a good way to help advisors feel competent in their role is to provide standard training and resources. These can include an onboarding program, professional development workshops, a collective advising website, and consistent communication messaging (Gordon, 2019; Hart-Baldridge, 2020). Standard resources not only ensure all advisors have access to vital information, but also coordinate student services and partnerships for referrals (Gordon, 2019). 

4. Provide Informal Opportunities for Advisors to Connect

Building community around advising can also form a sense of belonging for advisors in an otherwise decentralized institution. With opportunities such as professional development, community circles, and organized chat channels, advisors begin to identify with a collective community of people who are committed to student success on their campus. They may also form new relationships and recognize others to which they can turn when needed for questions and sharing accomplishments.

5. Recognize and Celebrate Advisors

It is not only important for advisors to find community, but for leadership to publicly recognize and celebrate advising as mission critical to the institution. This can be done by advising appreciation campaigns, videos from cabinet members, or advising awards, for example. Another important thing institutions can do is encourage the scholarship of advising and student success as grounded in the interdisciplinary work of both faculty and staff committed to the profession (He & Hutson, 2017; Troxel, 2018).

In conclusion, these recommendations are meant to help inform administration in their decisions towards institutional advising change at research universities. However, many of the suggestions may also benefit other institution types due to their nature and generality. At times, leading advising or student success change at an institution can feel like an isolating venture as it is often left to one person, either formally or informally. But, when you find community and partners, it can be very rewarding work. First, building collaborative stakeholders at the institution is key. Then, it is also critical to reach out to advising leaders at other institutions to share successes, discuss challenges, gain new ideas, and form lasting friendships—because student success is a shared value for all!


Andreatta, B. (2009, December). An important tool for advising at research institutions. Academic Advising Today, 32(4). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/An-Important-Tool-for-Advising-at-Research-Institutions.aspx 

Belback, A.E. (2019). University of Pittsburgh academic advising landscape analysis. https://www.studentsuccess.pitt.edu/mentoring-advising 

Belback, A. E. (2021). The relationship between academic advising and student outcomes: A retrospective analysis of research universities (Publication No. AAI28772467) [Doctoral dissertation, Indiana University of Pennsylvania]. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

Belback, A. E. & Soltysiak, B. (2020). Undergraduate advising training needs assessment survey report executive summary. https://www.studentsuccess.pitt.edu/pitt-act 

Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. (2023). Academic advising programs. http://standards.cas.edu 

Cox, T. H. (2016, March). Multi-Campus collaboration in the academic advising community. Academic Advising Today, 39(1). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Multi-Campus-Collaboration-in-the-Academic-Advising-Community.aspx 

Gordon, V. N. (2019). Developmental advising: The elusive ideal. NACADA Journal, 39(2), 72–76. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-19-201

Habley, W. R. (2005). Developing a mission statement for the academic advising program. NACADA Clearinghouse.

Hart-Baldridge, E. (2020). Faculty advisor perspectives of academic advising. NACADA Journal, 40(1), 10–22. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-18-25

He, Y., & Hutson, B. (2017). Assessment for faculty advising: Beyond the service component. NACADA Journal, 37(2), 66–75. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-16-028

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. (2020a, August 13). Persistence and retention [Annual Report]. https://nscresearchcenter.org/persistence-retention/

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. (2020b, March 2). Completing College Report [National and state report]. https://nscresearchcenter.org/completing-college/

Pardee, C. F. (2004). Organizational structures for advising. NACADA Clearinghouse. http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Organizational-Models-for-Advising.aspx

Troxel, W. G. (2018). Faculty advising: Roles, rewards, and requisites. New Directions for Higher Education, 2018(184), 83–96.


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.