Angelia Lomax, Tennessee State University
Regardless of one’s professional title in higher education, the ultimate goal is the same—student success. Academic advisors are uniquely positioned to contribute to the goal of student success due to the nature of their work and their relationship with students. While several different theories and approaches permeate the field of advising, there are universal outcomes that undergird the interventions and techniques advisors employ. What some theoretical approaches fail to address are the non-academic factors that impact student success. Developmental advising integrates non-academic characteristics in its conceptualization of best practices and student experiences. Academic advising is described by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising as extending “beyond campus boundaries” (NACADA, 2006). As such, students benefit from being supported holistically as opposed to exclusively focusing on academic support (McGill, 2016).
Mental Health Considerations
According to Bostani, Nadri, and Nasab (2014), mental health and academic performance are positively correlated. The authors offered a definition of mental health that included phrases such as “psychological maturity,” “positive feelings towards self and others,” and “progress towards self-actualization.” Mental health concepts impacted the academic performance of university students and their ability to navigate the college experience; these concepts included academic stress, self-efficacy, anxiety, depression, sense of belonging, distress from financial hardship, and more (Ahmed & Julius, 2015; Bostani et al., 2014; Parveen, Sibnah, Vishnu, & Tirupati, 2015). The authors cited the transition to college, developmental challenges, and expectations as factors that impacted students’ mental health and negatively affected student performance. These non-cognitive aspects of the college experience tend to weigh heavily on students’ concentration, attendance, integration, and overall success (Ahmed & Julius, 2015; Parveen et al., 2015).
In order for a student to be successful in completing college, they must first decide to persist. College persistence and retention are the building blocks that eventually result in graduation. In their seminal research, Bean and Eaton’s (2001) psychological model of college student retention posited that students enter college with certain psychological attributes that interact with the college environment, initiating psychological processes that result in attitudes which lead to a particular behavior (persisting or not). The three psychological processes they identified were self-efficacy assessments, coping processes, and attributions.
Self-efficacy was described as one’s belief in their capability of completing the necessary tasks to achieve an outcome (Baier, Markman, & Pernice-Duca, 2016). According to Bean and Eaton (2001), when a student engages in self-efficacy assessments, they ask themselves questions such as “am I capable of succeeding academically here?” Bandura (1994) offered that individuals answer the presented question by examining stored information related to (a) social persuasion, (b) social modeling, (c) mastery of experiences, and (d) psychological and emotional states. When students answer in the affirmative to the self-efficacy assessment, it results in positive self-efficacy, which positively correlates with retention. Coping behaviors are the ways in which students learn to adjust to being in a new situation, allowing them to effectively integrate into the university (Bean & Eaton, 2001).
The primary attribute of Bean and Eaton’s (2001) model was the student’s locus of control. An internal locus of control indicated that the student believed they were in control of their success; as a result, the student would integrate academically, engaging in behaviors such as studying and attending class. It is important to remember that students do not navigate these psychological processes in a vacuum. The outcomes of the processes are influenced by the students’ environmental (campus) interactions.
Implications for Academic Advising
Students are typically encouraged to have multiple interactions with their academic advisor throughout each semester. While treating students for mental health concerns may be beyond advisors’ scope, there are some ways in which they can address the issues. One of the roles of the academic advisor is to provide appropriate resources that support student success (Ohrablo, 2018). This would be an opportunity to refer students to the university counseling center, success coach, or disability services depending on the student’s particular presenting problem.
Mental health and psychological issues are rarely explicitly communicated by students, as they may not be aware of the true nature of their experiences. Students tend to imply that they are struggling by making statements such as, “I tried to study but my mind kept wondering,” “I couldn’t get out of bed,” or “I usually just go to class and back to my room.” Declarations like this can be resultant of any number of things, but they are worth exploring further. Even if an advisor is focusing on academically supporting students, in-depth exploration could very well lead to these types of statements. An advisor who operates from a holistic approach will address academic, social, and personal concerns in order to support the development of the whole student (McGill, 2016). Due to the institutional interactions influencing the students’ psychological processes, advisors have the opportunity to positively impact their advisees’ self-efficacy, coping processes, and attributions.
Although self-efficacy is based on one’s perception of self, it is influenced by external factors such as a student’s social modeling, social persuasion, mastery of experiences, and physiological and emotional state (Bandura, 1994). An example of social modeling includes making students aware of people like them who have accomplished a similar task. Maybe the advisor and student have some shared characteristics. The advisor disclosing their similarities to the student and sharing their success would serve as social modeling. Social modeling also includes having pictures and anecdotes available of successful people who are in some way representative of the students, whether they share gender, race, socioeconomic history, major, or hometown.
Social persuasion comes in the form of simply encouraging the student and using strengths-based language (Drake, 2015). The latter can be used for both social persuasion and identifying mastery experiences, which are the seemingly small victories that often go unnoticed. Using a strengths-based approach reinforces student potential by intentionally focusing on what the student has done well (Drake, 2015). Physiological and emotional states are the way students perceive they will react to and how they feel about the issue or task at hand. Due to the complexity of higher education, being explicit about requirements and recommendations can be powerful in improving the student’s reactions and emotions (Ohrablo, 2018). Demystification can decrease confusion, frustration, and feelings of being overwhelmed.
Ultimately, it is important that students know that advisors are concerned with both their well-being and success (Ohrablo, 2018). As advisors review students’ transcripts, it would be beneficial for them to consider why the students earned the grades they did. It could have been related to academics, but it could also be the result of a psychological issue or mental health concern. Student success and retention are the products of a multifaceted mosaic of student experiences, impacted not only by their internal processes but the interactions they have with the institution. Advisors are not expected to provide mental health counseling to students, but they would be remiss to ignore the impact of psychological issues and mental health on students’ experience, performance, and success.
Angelia Lomax, M.S.
Student Success Center
Tennessee State University
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Cite this article using APA style as: Lomax, A. (2019, September). Mind over matter: The intersection of mental health and academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 42(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]