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Making the Transition from Prescriptive Advising to Advising as Teaching

Robert F. Pettay, Vice-Chair, Kansas Academic Advising Network (KAAN)

Rob Pettay.jpgWhat is advising as teaching, and why should advisors approach their work in this manner? How can advisors move their work from being viewed as a service to acknowledged as an integral part of the educational mission of the institution?

Academic advising has seen an evolution from prescriptive advising, to developmental advising, to the current concept of advising as a teaching experience. Prescriptive advising is based on advisor as authority figure whose primary responsibility is to dispense information about classes and schedules and prescribe solutions for problems the student encounters (Winston & Sandor, 1984). Not only do many advisors with little or no training find this to be the easiest way to approach advising, the prescriptive approach often fits with how advising is viewed on many campuses.

Advisors who use developmental advising are concerned not only with helping students make personal and vocational decisions, but with facilitating students’ rational processes, interpersonal interactions, behavioral awareness and problem solving, decision making, and evaluation skills (Crookston, 1972). This approach acknowledges student individuality, helps students integrate life, career, and educational goals, connects curricular and co-curricular aspects of their undergraduate experience, and provides scaffolding for decision making and problem solving skills (Smith & Allen, 2006). While there is a definite leap in the skill level needed to be a developmental advisor versus a prescriptive advisor, the question many ask is how does a developmental approach integrate into the institution’s educational mission?

For those who believe that advising is teaching, there is little question that academic advising supports the institution’s educational mission. However, the question becomes what does an advisor actually teach? Lowenstein (2005) discussed advisor goals including helping a student to: find/create logic in their education, view the curriculum as a whole, make educational choices based on a developing sense of self, and enhance learning experiences by relating them to previously learned knowledge. The goal would be to avoid what Reynolds (2003) describes as “students graduating believing they have completed a series of unconnected courses, marked by checks on an arbitrarily mandated list, without being aware that they have also acquired skills (and marketable ones at that) that can foster self-guided learning” (p.23).

My goal is to make advising an educational experience where students connect who they are with what they are learning and who they want to become. An initial step necessary to fulfill this goal is the production of an advising syllabus that outlines the goals and processes of the advising experience. This syllabus should include a rationale for the advising experience, a clear explanation of the mission of our department, college, and university, student and advisor responsibilities, learning outcomes, and assessment. This syllabus will serve as the framework for the ongoing advising experience of the student during their academic career.

How will this learning experience take place? One method would be the development of an introductory course within the department, college or university. I am currently developing such a course to provide the structure needed to begin this learning experience. This departmental course will allow advisors to provide information, interact, and assess student understanding of the information pertinent to advising. Long term planning, career exploration, awareness about campus services, departmental issues and standards, and basic skills that would enhance students’ college experiences could be introduced and assessed. Making this a required course with a graded outcome would help the students understand the importance of this information. This foundational course would provide students with a solid base for future advising sessions that could move from prescribing classes to meaningful interactions about student issues and interests. Students would develop a deeper appreciation of their educational experiences and opportunities available to them during their academic careers.

What if such a class cannot be developed, how can an advisor approach advising as a learning experience? Currently our department uses the new student orientation experience to introduce the advising syllabus to the student. This is a challenge in this limited time frame, but it does allow for an introduction to the goals and processes of the advising experience. Email and the department’s advising Web site encourage students to use university services that can assist them in their educational work. Power Point presentations outline the principles of the advising experience prior to student enrollment. Materials have been developed for the advisor use in enrollment sessions that help focus advising sessions on goals and understanding versus just scheduling classes.

Is this approach successful in educating the student? That question is answered with time. Graduating seniors are asked to complete an online survey about advising. This survey has multiple questions that encompass a wide range of issues from understanding of the departmental, college and university missions to understanding university services. Goals and outcomes detailed in the syllabus are assessed through forced choice questions. This approach obviously has some glaring weaknesses: information is self-reported, survey completion is voluntary, and it does not assess learning, only student perceptions of learning.

Advising as teaching is a laudable goal. Advising should be a vital part of students’ college learning experiences. The integration of information with students’ sense of self allows students to integrate and adapt in the professional world. It is essential that advising be re-framed from an institutional service to an educational component. This can only be done when we make advising a part of the educational mission. While demands on the advisor will increase, the benefits to students will be tremendous.

Robert F. Pettay
Department of Kinesiology
Kansas State University
[email protected]


Crookston, B.B. (1972). A developmental view of academic advising as teaching. Journal of College Student Personnel, 13, 12-17.

Lowenstein, M. (Fall, 2005). If teaching is advising, what do advisors teach? The Journal of the National Academic Advising Association, 2 5(2). 65-73.

Reynolds, M. (2003). Faculty advising at small colleges: Realities and responses. In M.K. Hemwall & K.C. Trachte (Eds.). Advising and Learning: Academic Advising from the Perspective of Small Colleges and Universities. (NACADA Monograph No. 8). Manhattan KS: National Academic Advising Association.

Smith, C.L. & Allen, J.M. (Spring, 2006). Essential functions of academic advising: What students want and get. The Journal of the National Academic Advising Association, 26 (1). 56-66.

Cite this article using APA style as: Pettay, R. (2007, June). Making the transition from prescriptive advising to advising as teaching. Academic Advising Today, 30(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2007 June 30:2


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