Stacey M. Kardash, Southern Maine Community College
The term holistic advising has existed in the field of academic advising for years, but as an aspect of an office’s approach, not necessarily as a central design element in supporting students. Lately, different organizations such as Achieving the Dream (ATD) and the Community College Research Center (CCRC), have started to describe it as an approach or mindset to the advising process. When the word holistic is applied to advising, it suggests that advisors cannot look at students through a purely academic lens, but rather must regard them as a whole person. Whatever is happening in their personal lives can weigh just as heavily on their academic success.
Through the lens of the learning theory of humanism, educators work to develop the whole person, helping the learner become self-aware and mature (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). The importance is understanding the whole person: where an individual is in their development, what they are currently experiencing in their lives, and what their goals and aspirations are. Through this understanding and exploration, advisors can help students comprehend how their studies can help them gain strategies to make good decisions, problem-solve, and persist through difficulties in every aspect of their lives.
Holistic advising is an important consideration for all college students, but especially important for the community college student. Community college demographics are diversifying quickly, and many students have multiple responsibilities on top of their studies. They may be working full-time, navigating life as a single parent, or returning to school after a lengthy break. All of these factors are important when advisors work with a student. If we don’t look at them holistically, we are not seeing the whole picture of what they are experiencing. Holistic advisingis simply one human being helping another human being—no labels—and viewing all aspects of their lives as inter-connected.
As the name implies, holistic advising cannot be confined to a series of steps that advisors check off while meeting with students; rather, it is individualized and tailored to assist the individual student sitting in the office with the advisor at that moment.
CCRC has been working on a SSIPP (sustained, strategic, integrated, proactive, and personalized) model for advising (Community College Research Center, 2013), which ATD has included as part of their Holistic Student Supports approach. Keeping these design principles in mind, multiple models of advising can incorporate this approach to support students.
Sustained. For the approach to be sustained, the advisor/advisee relationship must be developed to provide ongoing support. This requires an advisor—whether faculty or professional staff— to understand key moments in a semester in which students may need additional support to maintain their momentum in their studies.
Strategic. First, being strategic requires institutional and community understanding, particularly the resources available to students both on and off campus. Second, it requires the advisor to possess a knowledge of their students through a holistic lens. Not every student is going to need the same supports. Understanding when and where to refer a student is key in holistic advising. It is not possible for advisors to be experts in everything that can happen to a student during their academic career; however, as Charlie Nutt, Executive Director of NACADA, has stated, “they should be experts in the art of referral” (Kafka, 2018, p. 2).
Integrated. To have this approach be integrated, advising must exist as a seamless part of student supports. Ideally, this means minimal bouncing of students between offices, where a student has the opportunity to break the chain of support and potentially experience continued struggles. A system where different supports on campus can access a shared case note system can help alleviate the need for students to tell their whole story once again. It is also vital when assessing an approach to view the support network with a student, rather than staff, perspective.
Proactive. The idea of proactive advising is not new, but it plays an important role in holistic advising. Being proactive involves connecting with students at the first sign of trouble (Varney, 2013). This early intervention can help students access support and resources at key moments rather than waiting until a problem grows into a critical situation. In order to empower advisors to connect in a proactive manner, they must be trained to have these interactions and provide supportive coaching for students.
Personalized. Finally, for the approach to be personalized requires building meaningful relationships. This is developed by building trust between individuals and maintaining ongoing communication (Higgins, 2017). Having accurate and timely information is crucial and was found to be valued by students above other areas such as choosing appropriate electives or getting connected to the college outside of the classroom (Smith & Allen, 2006).
Relationships & Trust
A key foundational element in developing an advising program with a holistic approach is creating a relationship between advisor and advisee, which in turn helps establish trust. For advisors to effectively refer their advisees to services, first the student must trust the advisor enough to feel comfortable sharing that they are having a problem. This is true in any advisor and advisee relationship regardless of the approach; however it is paramount in holistic advising due to the nature of conversations that the advisor will engage in with the student.
To develop a meaningful relationship, conversations must go beyond academics. For students, academic classes are just another aspect of their life—in some cases, it is a small percentage of their responsibilities. Understanding the 360° student view is important. The 360° student view works to look at all areas of a student’s life; by discussing hobbies, family life, or work environments, students can begin to create parallels in those different areas, which in turn can boost confidence in their academics. It also allows the advisor to better understand the environment in which the student is approaching their academic career and provide advice and resources early in the relationship.
Asking open-ended questions is a way to begin to develop the relationship, with an aim to develop a shared sense of responsibility for the student’s goals. Through holistic advising, advisors work to identify areas of stress or barriers—such as family issues or isolation—that students may face, but they may not link to their academic performance (Hamline University, 2018).
An anecdote I can provide around relationships and trust involves a student performing very well academically, but the transition to college life was overwhelming for them. The student was struggling with the social aspect of living in a residence hall and having two roommates, something that they were not used to. By taking the time to reflect on the situation, they realized that the lack of solitude in their living situation was elevating anxiety levels.
This student was my advisee in their first semester at college. We had the opportunity to see each other every week in the first-year success course required by the college; I was in every class as an embedded advisor, not as the instructor. Because this student was doing well academically, they came to me with this dilemma rather than going to the instructor. They knew that they could trust me, and I helped them reflect on what they needed the most. We talked about places available on campus for solitude and considered other housing options such as a single dorm room. In the end, they pursued the option to move into a single room on a satellite campus, which was a smaller community and more in line with the student’s social life, offering a chance for the solitude they were seeking.
If this student had not trusted me as their advisor, they may have faced this dilemma alone without becoming aware of all of the resources available to students. Ultimately, they may have left campus without officially withdrawing, thus ruining a stellar academic performance. This trust and awareness between advisor and advisee is vital if the student is looking to grow and develop in the academic world with an understanding of how every aspect of their lives impacts them as a whole. Relationships played a significant role in keeping this student on campus and in courses as there were no red flags or warning signs academically to prompt a proactive outreach.
In the increasingly complex and diverse college climate, advisors need to be able to address multiple aspects of a student’s life and understand that events or struggles happening outside of the classroom can impact academics as much as struggles in class. A holistic advising approach allows advisors to be comfortable holding in-depth conversations with advisees, which establishes roles of trust and allows advisors to effectively refer students to available resources. In turn, this helps students feel supported in their college journey, which may help them persist through their challenges and remain focused on their educational and career aspirations.
Stacey M. Kardash
Southern Maine Community College
Community College Research Center (CCRC). (2013). Designing a system for strategic advising. https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/media/k2/attachments/designing-a-system-for-strategic-advising.pdf
Hamline University. (2018). Advising students [PDF File]. https://www.hamline.edu/uploadedFiles/Hamline_WWW/Offices_-_Student_Services/Center_for_Academic_Services/Documents/3.%20Advising%20Students.pdf
Higgins, E. M. (2017, May 25). The advising relationship is at the core of academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 40(2). https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/The-Advising-Relationship-is-at-the-Core-of-Academic-Advising.aspx
Kafka, A. (2018, October 9). How faculty advisers can be first responders when students need help. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-Faculty-Advisers-Can-Be/244757
Merriam, S., Caffarella, R., & Baumgartner, L. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. Jossey-Bass.
Smith, C., & Allen, J. (2006). Essential functions of academic advising: What students want and get. NACADA Journal, 26(1), 56–66. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-26.1.56
Varney, J. (2013). Proactive advising. In J. Drake, P. Jordan, & M. Miller (Eds.), Academic advising approaches: Strategies that teach students to make the most of college (pp.137–154). Jossey-Bass.
Cite this article using APA style as: Kardash, S.M. (2020, June). Holistic advising. Academic Advising Today, 43(2). [insert url here]