Megan Terawaki, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
The concept of mandatory advising is simple: at least once per semester students are required to complete a suitable advising option, be it a face-to-face meeting or participation in a workshop. To enforce the mandatory component, offices may employ multiple measures to ensure that students complete their advising, including the use of registration holds. One exploratory advising office’s success in mandatory advising can be attributed to allowing students choices to fulfill advising and sending multiple reminders to facilitate the flow of students throughout the semester. This is their story, growing from basic survival to streamlined efficiency, cultivated by nearly ten years of experiences and lessons learned.
Survival as the Status Quo
The Mānoa Advising Center (MAC) was established at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in Fall 2008, the same semester in which the university implemented mandatory advising for all first-time, first-year students. At that time, there were three full-time academic advisors at MAC who were responsible for 4,500 exploratory and pre-major students. Although not all 4,500 students fell under the mandatory advising directive, it was still a significant portion of MAC’s population. Knowing that it would be logistically impossible to advise both the mandatory and non-mandatory populations on their own, the advisors created a list of options that would fulfill the mandatory advising requirement with the assumption that each student would choose the option that best fit their needs. This list of options included meeting with a MAC advisor, meeting with an advisor in their intended major, attending a workshop or panel, or completing an online assignment.
For the online assignments, students could either learn about a career, learn about the sophomore slump, or explain which classes they wanted to take in the upcoming semester. The online assignments were popular with students, possibly because 1) students were not required to meet with an advisor and 2) students could complete an assignment at the last minute and have their registration hold removed during times when all advising appointments were booked. For the advisors, it was a tedious process to review and comment on the high volume of assignments received during busy advising periods. Unfortunately, there were some students who repeatedly completed assignments semester after semester, and thus did not meet with an advisor for mandatory advising for more than a year. Additionally, the assignment questions did not change over time; therefore, students were not necessarily learning anything new.
Beginning to Thrive: Review and Consolidation of Options
As MAC hired additional full-time advisors and its pre-major student population decreased, the advisors decided to eliminate the online assignments. This change was aligned with MAC’s goal of creating multiple touch-points per semester. From that point forward, all advising options required individual contact with an advisor, either in-person or over the phone.
MAC also allowed students to attend workshops to fulfill mandatory advising. Though this happened in smaller numbers, this created an issue similar to the online assignments: several students attended the same workshop semester after semester. However, using workshop attendance for mandatory advising meant that students did not benefit from meeting one-on-one with an advisor. This was especially problematic for first-semester students who may have felt disconnected from campus. Acknowledging that “academic advisors offer students the personal connection to the institution that the research indicates is vital to student retention and student success” (Nutt, 2003, para. 4), MAC changed its mandatory advising policies to allow workshops as an option beginning in students’ second semester but requiring all first-semester students to meet with an advisor.
Lesson learned: It is important for students to have face-to-face contact with someone on campus during their first semester. This is an opportunity for students to meet their advisor, familiarize themselves with their advising office, and learn about the university culture. Once students have transitioned to their new campus, they may participate in group advising options (workshops), but students must never be anonymous digital submissions (online assignments).
Spreading the Word: Consistent and Persistent Messaging
For many years, MAC students received an initial notice of mandatory advising via email. The next communication they received was an automated message that a hold had been placed on their accounts. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of the computer system, the message did not state that it was for mandatory advising. Students often overlooked the initial email and did not know that they needed to satisfy their mandatory advising requirement before registration.
Realizing that students can easily forget or ignore a single email, MAC began emailing students multiple times throughout the semester to remind them about their mandatory advising requirement. These email campaigns are called Proactive Reminders for Student Efficiency (PROSE). Strategically spaced out during the semester, PROSE emails serve several purposes: 1) they remind students that they must complete mandatory advising; 2) they inform students of important dates (e.g., last day to withdraw, registration, etc.); and 3) they regulate the flow of student traffic in MAC. Each semester, MAC sends out three to five PROSE emails. Once students complete mandatory advising, they are removed from the mailing list. For a detailed account on the format and tone of PROSE emails, please see the related AAT article, Lessons Learned on Mandatory Advising: It’s All in the Way You Say It (Makino-Kanehiro, 2018).
In the semesters before PROSE, MAC saw an influx of requests for appointments at three times only: immediately after the initial email, after registration holds were placed, and when registration began. There was minimal demand for appointments in the intervening three weeks between the initial email and the holds, while during registration (about five weeks after holds were placed), all same-day appointments were filled within an hour of the office opening. The timing of PROSE was designed to encourage students to complete their mandatory advising early, during periods of low demand. When PROSE was initiated (Spring 2016), MAC still had a population of students that were not required to do mandatory advising, and these students also requested appointments leading up to registration. As the chart below illustrates, there was a corresponding spike in mandatory advising completion following each PROSE email blast.
Now, when students are new to MAC, either as new students on campus or students who change their declared majors to exploratory, they are informed that they will have mandatory advising. This verbal reminder builds the expectation that they will have mandatory advising in the future.
Lesson learned: Consistent and persistent messaging is a method of due diligence—students who have yet to complete mandatory advising are reminded at periodic intervals throughout the semester. This helps MAC regulate the flow of students, matching the supply of appointments with the demand.
Daring to Go Beyond: Expansion to All Students
The official mandatory advising mandate at the university is limited to first-time freshmen for their first four semesters of enrollment. This excludes transfer students as well as students who do not declare their major within their first two years. As a result, some students who aged out of mandatory advising did not seek advising and MAC had no means to require it of them.
The hiring of additional advisors at MAC allowed for the expansion of its mandatory advising population. MAC began by including select groups of students, such as at-risk students beyond their first four semesters and first-semester transfer students of freshman or sophomore standing. This evolved into all transfer students and the addition of students who had reached senior standing without declaring a major. This slow roll out allowed students as well as other advising offices in the university time to adjust to MAC’s changes in policies.
Fall 2017 was MAC’s first semester of requiring mandatory advising for all of its students. This required a shift in students’ perceptions, as some students—namely juniors and seniors—thought that they no longer had a mandatory advising requirement. MAC now includes the following information in email and the advisors verbally remind students: “You will have mandatory advising with us every semester until you declare your major.” Previous semesters with the limited mandatory advising population resulted in completion rates of 90–92%; MAC advisors expected the completion rate for Fall 2017 to be lower, due to the sheer number of students involved. However, MAC’s advisors were pleasantly surprised by Fall 2017’s completion rate: 95%.
The idea of mandatory advising for all students was little more than an unattainable wish in Fall 2008, but all impossible dreams take time to develop into a feasible action plan. Over time, MAC has reviewed, revised, and streamlined its mandatory advising requirement by consolidating options and initiating new messaging. Once the process ran smoothly, the advisors knew that they were ready to make mandatory advising all-inclusive. The advisors look forward to replicating their completion success in Spring 2018.
Mānoa Advising Center
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Makino-Kanehiro, M. I. (2018, June). Lessons learned on mandatory advising: It’s all in the way you say it. Academic Advising Today, 41(2). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Lessons-Learned-on-Mandatory-Advising-Its-All-in-the-Way-You-Say-It.aspx
Nutt, C. L. (2003). Academic advising and student retention and persistence. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Advising-and-Student-Retention-article.aspx
Cite this article using APA style as: Terawaki, M. (2018, September). Lessons learned on mandatory advising: From basic survival to streamlined efficiency. Academic Advising Today, 41(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]