Susie Leslie, Oregon State University
Academic advising at Oregon State University has undergone remarkable changes in the last few years. Certain stars have aligned to give rise to these changes-shifts in administration and a focus on the student experience combined with the collaborative energy of advisors and administrators. George Kuh (2005) uses the term 'positive restlessness' to describe the climate of campuses truly working to be engaged in a culture of deep learning. At OSU there was a positive restlessness among academic advisors; they were struggling to find their collective voice. This is a story of their adventure and a narrative of change.
First, a little background.
Oregon State University is a research-intensive, land grant institution with approximately 19,000 undergraduate and graduate students. There are ten strong, independent colleges and the University Exploratory Studies Program that provide academic advising to undergraduates. Each college has a unique advising structure and although each has a head advisor, their duties may vary dramatically from hands-on advising to coordinating student services for the College.
In 2001, a visit by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), OSU's accrediting body, found advising of students to be less than ideal, noting inconsistencies and student confusion. They made a formal recommendation to rectify the situation. The wake-up call initiated several changes. Student engagement became the buzz.
The Vice Provost invited proposals geared toward student success and engagement. A proposal to send ten head advisors and two administrators to the NACADA Academic Advising Summer Institute to determine best principles for advising at Oregon State was approved. In July of 2005, this group had the opportunity to attend the Summer Institute.
The group takes flight.
Days at the Summer Institute are intense, filled with learning and focused on specific Action Plans of the participants. Oregon State's situation was unique-one large group focused on a single project with one NACADA faculty member as a guide. Charlie Nutt was assigned, prodding when needed and reining us in when the group went astray. The opportunity to concentrate on this work far away from campus, all together, sixteen hours a day was irreplaceable. Deeper relationships were forged and true understanding developed. After the day's sessions the group could be found closing down the hotel pub, huddled in small groups around laptop computers. The group had become a team. This was the catalyst for incredible productivity at the Institute and is responsible for much of the energy that continues today.
To shape our Action Plan, the team relied heavily on a few guiding documents, including OSU's Strategic Plan, the CAS Standards, and NACADA's Core Values. As the week progressed, our best advising principles manifested themselves: first with a vision and mission, then values closely aligning those of the institution, and finally with goals and learning outcomes for both advisors and students. At the close of the week, the group had honed and polished meaningful statements to light the way for advising at Oregon State.
The glow carries forth.
Back in Corvallis the team shared this work across campus in colleges and departments, at brown bags, to various Councils, and the President, Provost and their Councils. The message boiled down to re-conceptualizing how advisors use their time, a shift from prescriptive advising to developmental advising. The Academic Advising Council, a committee of the Faculty Senate, unanimously adopted the vision, mission, value, and goal statements as part of its guidelines, followed by approval by the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate.
At the end of fall term the group was invited by the Provost to prioritize the top investment needs for advising. This signaled the value top administrators had for advising at OSU as well as respect for the tremendous work done by the group, now the Council of Head Advisors (CHAdvisors). Technology, Assessment, and Advisor Development and Recognition rose to the top of our investment list:
- The group is negotiating the development of an expandable, comprehensive advising system prototype that will be funded by the Provost and will serve the entire University.
- To jump start assessment efforts, three members went to the NACADA Assessment Institute in February. Initial assessments have focused on learning outcomes considered essential to first year students, and gauging advisor perceptions about their own practice and support provided to them by the university.
- Funding was secured and guidelines written for a Professional Advising Award (a Faculty Advising Award is already in place), to be given annually at University Day.
- Commitments were made to offer local professional development opportunities to faculty and professional advisors each year.
Then came judgment day.
In April 2006, the NWCCU returned to Oregon State for an interim accreditation visit. The stern recommendation had been addressed fully in writing and the CHAdvisors and administrators were invited to meet with the accreditors. Their outgoing comments to the President and Provost were positive. The real acclaim came in their formal report which ended with a commendation for academic advising:
Oregon State University has made dramatic progress in creating a culture where advising is valued and regarded as central to student success. The energy, enthusiasm, and commitment of those members of the OSU community engaged in advising are admirable. OSU is commended for the steps it has taken since the 2001 report to improve and promote advising, and for its success in creating a new university culture where excellence in advising is considered essential to student success. The assessment plan for advising is the best we have observed for any university.
But what about the students, you say.
Once we identified essential learning outcomes for first year students, the team partnered with Student Orientation and Retention staff to develop several documents that put theory into practice. They are tangible products useful to both students and advisors.
- Zero to Success in 77 Days is a week by week list of things students need to stay on top of to enhance their chances of success.
- Advisor-Advisee Responsibilities shapes the role of each and acknowledges the partnership necessary for successful guidance.
- The START Checklist covers required and recommended tasks to be completed during START summer orientation as well as key information new students need to know.
- A Vision, Mission, Values Poster now hangs, matted and framed, in every advising office on campus including athletics, international programs, equal opportunities, etc. It serves as a visible reminder of our commitment to excellence in advising.
These documents offered students a unified, campus-wide message-each document was used in every START session by every college and department.
We still have work to do.
As with all big undertakings, there is always more to be done. For example, about half of the campus participants at the recent NACADA Webinar were unaware of this work and our efforts to unify basic principles for academic advising. A cultural shift of this magnitude will take time, patience, and persistence from both students and advisors if we want to see it come to fruition.
Wondering if you could follow suit? Never say never.
This work is doable. If your University cannot send a group to the Summer Institute, perhaps they could bring NACADA to campus. Do you meet regularly to discuss issues? Does your faculty senate address and support academic advising? Get together, seek out the barriers and remove them, collaborate to find common ground. Who knows, the stars may align in your court next!
Oregon State University
Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, Whitt & Associates. (2005). Student Success in College. Washington, D.C.; Jossey-Bass.
Cite this article using APA style as: Leslie, S. (2007, March). How we spent our summer vacation: Oregon State University's journey to Colorado and beyond! Academic Advising Today, 30(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]