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James Wicks, Collin College

James Wicks.jpgToday’s models of successful academic advising suggest that advisors are most effective when they take a student-centered approach, meaning that they prioritize students’ needs and experiences above all else. NACADA (2017) has responded to these models by developing their own Academic Advising Core Competencies, which include conceptual, informational, and relational areas. However, learning to be competent in these areas does not necessitate a student-centered approach to advising. For example, it is possible to demonstrate relational competency by communicating in an inclusive and respectful manner but also conduct advising sessions in an entirely self-centered way. In what follows, I present actual examples of well-intentioned advisor/student interactions from my eleven years in higher education, most of which have been spent in academic advising in some form or another. These examples are not meant to disparage or criticize, rather they are meant to spark critical examination and discussion of how to promote student-centeredness at times when self-centeredness often prevails.  

Example 1

A student enters the office five minutes to closing. Instead of calling the student to a private office or advising space, an advisor comes to the front to see what questions the student has. The student needs help choosing classes and mentions that he took off work early to be able to make it in time. The advisor tells the student to wait in the lobby and goes to her office. She returns to the student with two sheets: one with instructions on how to access their degree audit and the other with instructions on how to register for courses. The advisor says, “just use these instructions, and you should be fine.” The student reluctantly says okay and leaves the office only a few minutes after arriving. The advisor then closes the office doors, satisfied with the resources she provided to the student and happy to be able to leave at closing time.

In this example, it is not exactly obvious that the advisor has erred. It is true that the advisor has provided the student with key resources, and it is true that the student can use these resources to answer their questions. On its face, this could be interpreted as demonstrating the relational competency for encouraging student problem solving and decision-making. It is also true in this case that the advisor has taken a distinctly self-centered approach rather than a student-centered one. The fact that the office was about to close informed this advisor’s approach more so than any other factor. As a result, the student left, likely feeling disappointed and dejected and discouraged from seeking help from an academic advisor in the future. Additionally, the advisor in the scenario has now contributed to an office culture where students are treated as obstacles to personal convenience, which is antithetical to the mission of serving students.

Instead, this advisor should have demonstrated empathy towards the student by considering that they left work early, something that is not always easy to do and rushed to meet with someone. This could have come at considerable cost to the student and should have played a more deciding factor in the advisor’s approach than getting the student out the door right at closing time. As a caveat, there are times when it is appropriate to usher the student out at closing, e.g., if no one else is in the office and an advisor does not feel safe meeting with a student alone. But even then, it would still be imperative for an advisor to provide the student with follow-up contact information or schedule an advising appointment during hours that the student would be able to meet without having to leave work and rush to fit into a time window. This makes all the difference between a self- and student-centered approach.

Example 2

A new advisor is speaking with a student who plans to transfer from a two-year college to a four-year university to pursue a mechanical engineering degree. The student does not yet know what university they wish to transfer to, and so they do not know what the degree plan looks like. The student says, however, that cost will be a factor and that they wish to stay close to home if possible. The advisor tells the student that without knowing what university they wish to transfer to, it will be impossible to advise them for the degree they want. Instead, the advisor recommends that the student take all general education courses and come back to advising once they know what university they wish to attend.

In this example, the advisor is encouraging the student to do more research about their long-term goals before recommending a concrete path, which is not a bad recommendation. Furthermore, rather than commit to a plan with little information, the advisor recommends general education or core courses that will likely work with any degree plan. This might seem like a safe thing to do while the student researches universities. However, this advising approach lacks the sort of guidance that would truly characterize a student-centered approach.

To be student-centered, advisors must listen intently to their students and seriously consider all the information that is being provided. In this example, the student has an idea of what major they wish to pursue, and they have indicated that cost and distance will be a factor in choosing a university. At this point, the advisor could recommend affordable universities in the area that have the student’s major program. It is entirely possible that the student could narrow down their decision right there during the advising session. The advisor could also explore what the student’s major pathway looks like at one of these universities even if the student does not end up choosing it. In so doing, the advisor would notice that a major like mechanical engineering requires advanced math and physics, and so advising on just core classes may create problems for the student down the line. Regardless of which university this student chooses, they will want to start working on math as soon as possible. While it is tempting as an advisor to take the easy route of asking the student to come back when they have a better idea of what they want to do, it doesn’t always serve them to do so.

Example 3

A student attends an advising session on Monday and learns about the courses he needs for the next semester. He also learns about the special pre-req requirements for his major and who he needs to contact to get special permission for course registration. During this session, the advisor makes sure to give him notes and handouts about everything they discussed. The next day, the student returns and sees the same advisor. He tells the advisor that he lost all the notes he was given and that he doesn’t remember what they talked about. He says he would like the advisor to provide all the same handouts with the same information. With few words, the advisor quickly prints out all of the same materials and sends the now satisfied student on his way.

In this example, the advisor is providing the student with key information and resources, even when the student has confessed to losing them once before. Indeed, providing information to students is essential for successful advising interactions. However, it isn’t always enough to merely provide the student with information. It is also important, no matter how inconvenient, to take the time to show and explain how students can access the information as well. Had this advisor been out of the office when the student came searching for additional handouts, the student would be at a loss. This is why student-centered advising explains how students can access the information for themselves rather than just provide it. Additionally, the student in the example betrays several other shortcomings that ought to be addressed by an advisor. After hearing that the student lost all of the information from the previous day and cannot remember what was discussed, the advisor ought to take the time to discuss the student’s organization and planning. After all, if a student cannot remember what was discussed in a brief advising session or keep track of a few handouts or notes, what are they forgetting or losing from an entire class? At the very least, the student in this example would have been well served with a discussion on how to find and keep track of valuable information moving forward.

These examples are but three in a vast pool of scenarios that advisors encounter each day, and each day advisors must choose to serve students in a self- or student-centered way. Now more than ever, students are able to identify when college and university officials act against student interests, and it has an impact on how students choose to engage with their campus’ resources. Successful advising interactions depend on a student-centered approach, and with examples like these, advisors can start to incorporate student-centeredness as tools to complement their core competencies.

James Wicks, Ed.D.
District College and Career Counselor
Collin College
jrwicks@collin.edu

References

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx


Cite this article using APA style as: Wicks, J. (2022, December). From self to student-centered: Promoting student-centeredness in an advising office. Academic Advising Today, 45(4). [insert url here] 

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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.