Tim H. Cox, University of Maryland, Baltimore County – Shady Grove Campus
Multi-campus institutions have the complex task of providing advising services to meet the needs of their varying student populations. Creating a campus-wide framework for advising services across all campuses can be challenging, especially when resources are limited, campus cultures are different, and there is a considerable amount of distance between campuses. Although campus-wide collaboration is not a new phenomenon in the field of academic advising, institutions are finding creative new methods for working together to ensure that stakeholders are on board with the mission and vision of the academic advising program.
Some campuses now create governing bodies to oversee advising services and increase collaborative efforts that can lead to the improvement of the effectiveness of advising, as well as the accuracy in information that is shared by advisors. These governing bodies may also be in the position to make recommendations to upper-level administration regarding processes and policies (McClellan, 2010). University of Maryland Baltimore County’s (UMBC) Academic Advising Community (AAC) is proving itself to be a great way to ensure that advising stakeholders from each campus location have a platform to share and receive information and that best practices are developed to serve their respective students.
UMBC advising operates under the split organizational model in which advising services are shared between a main advising office and academic departments. UMBC’s central hub, the Office of Academic and Pre-Professional Advising, works primarily with students in exploratory majors, but provides general assistance to all students. Separate academic departments house faculty and professional advisors that are assigned students who have declared a major.
The AAC is organized by the Office for Academic and Pre-Professional Advising, and it includes faculty advisors, professional advisors, advising coordinators for academic departments, and anyone else involved or interested in advising undergraduate students. Throughout the semester, the community holds meetings on advising practices, trends, and other topics of interest. Communication is shared through an online forum, and opportunities for professional development are provided in the forms of webinars, guest speakers, and workshops (University of Maryland, Baltimore County, n.d.).
The Office of Academic and Pre-Professional Advising created the AAC in an effort to streamline communications regarding campus policies, procedures, and systems affecting undergraduate advising. More importantly, the AAC wanted to share best practices in academic advising across the campuses and provide professional development opportunities on campus or those sponsored by The National Association of Academic Advising (NACADA). Through the AAC, stakeholders are able to bring to light campus-specific barriers that impact student success and share their thoughts on new interventions and policies. Members walk away from each meeting with new tools to make improvements in advising practice.
Spence (2011) suggests that institutions can benefit from a unified understanding of their respective organizational model, especially as it relates to how personnel resources can be shared across campuses. For example, UMBC’s summer orientations are day-long events that conclude with a one-on-one meeting with an academic advisor. There are more than 15 orientations throughout the summer, and the institution serves around 50–200 students at each session. With many faculty members and staff members away from campus during the summer, there is a major shortage in advisors. The AAC enlists the help of faculty, part-time and full-time staff, and graduate students—all of whom are trained to advise students at both campuses. The sharing of advisors across campuses allows for efficient use of personnel resources based on student population. It should be noted that resource allocation is largely driven by what is most important to the institution, so inclusive campus-wide meetings should be held to discuss and evaluate the universal vision, goals, and objectives of the advising program (King, 2008).
An advising community can also allow multi-campus institutions to advocate on behalf of student-specific needs and show the impact that certain interventions have on their respective students’ success. Today's college students are more ethnically and culturally diverse than ever. Separate from race, ethnicity, and religion, a large number of students are entering college as first-generation students or returning as adult learners (Upcraft & Stephens, 2000). There has also been an increase of students with physical and mental disabilities. Some students may have emotional challenges and the academic caliber of students may vary across campuses, as well. Shared data on graduation rates and percentage of students who are coming in as at-risk and underprepared and/or undecided may help upper-level administrators determine which types of programming are needed at each location.
At UMBC, we discuss how advising needs are different for each campus population. UMBC’s Shady Grove Campus undergraduate population is unique because it only consists of transfer students in four academic programs. We attract more adult learners due to our career-focused programs, campus location, and availability of courses. As a result of specific advising needs, some office hours have been offered later in the day to accommodate working students and those taking evening classes. Our advisors here at Shady Grove are very familiar with transfer populations, as well as the four academic programs. Different skillsets are needed for our main campus which serves all undergraduate students and offers over 50 academic programs. Advisors working at the main campus should know about freshmen student transitions and become familiar with the wide variety of academic programs that our main campus offers.
If an actual in-person academic advising community is not feasible, institutions may want to consider having an online community. The increasing development of technology as a method of communication provides several avenues in which advising stakeholders at each campus can be connected and/or have access to important information. Departmental list servs and institutional directories are just a couple of ways that multi-campus institutions can share information. An institution-wide database that houses information about advising processes utilized by institutional departments would also be helpful (Spence, 2011). Furthermore, virtual forums can provide advising stakeholders with an opportunity to review campus-wide, student-issued communications, give the entire advising community an opportunity to ask relevant questions and provide information appropriate to their respective campuses. UMBC’s AAC has a web page that is accessible from an online campus portal. Throughout the year, the forum encourages discussion of issues in academic advising and promotes collaboration in developing more effective strategies in challenging areas such as advising students on academic probation or working with returning students whose curriculum requirements have changed since the last time they were enrolled at UMBC. What is most unique about UMBC’s online group is that any professional staff/faculty member can join.
Training programs can also be a part of an academic advising community. Each campus location can encourage the sharing of best practices that can be adapted by another campus to meet its specific needs. If campus locations are close in proximity, monthly or semester meetings will provide an opportunity for advising stakeholders to come together and teach one another. If there is a significant distance between campuses, ongoing training through webinars will allow advisors to learn more about institutional policies, curriculum, and how to better serve their respective students. At UMBC, advisor training is held at the main campus and its branch campus. NACADA also provides a wealth of resources, publications, and professional development opportunities for all types of academic advisors and advising administrators, many of which can be accessed online.
With varying institutional types and missions, there is an understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all technique as it relates to the organization and delivery of academic advising programs. However, regardless of the institution’s type, coordination is needed in order to create a successful advising program across multi-campus institutions.
If institutions are interested in developing their own advising communities, questions that can help guide the discussion could be:
- Who are the stakeholders of advising at each campus location?
- Who at our campus is allowed to advise students?
- What services can we provide across the entire institution?
- What happens if we cannot provide a specific service here at our campus?
- How can we utilize technology to disseminate information?
Creating an advising community of well-informed individuals can do more than improve advising practices and increase student success, it can foster an inclusive environment where colleagues can come together and address the needs of the institution and set the foundation for other departments to follow.
Tim H. Cox
Assistant Director of Advising and Student Success
University of Maryland, Baltimore County – Shady Grove Campus
King, M. C. (2008). Organization of academic advising services. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, & T. J. Grites (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (2nd ed., pp. 242-251). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
McClellan, J. L. (2010). Leadership and complexity: Implications for practice within the advisement leadership bodies at colleges and universities. Complicity: An International Journey of Complexity and Education, 7(2). 32-51.
Spence, J. (2011). Developing strategic and effective partnerships with others on campus. In J.Joslin & N. Markee (Eds.), Academic advising administration: Essential knowledge and skills for the 21st century (Monograph No. 22 [National Academic Advising Association]: pp. 169-176).
University of Maryland, Baltimore County. (n.d.). Academic Advising Community. Retrieved from http://advising.umbc.edu/facultystaff/academic-advising-community/
Upcraft, M. L., & Stephens, P. S. (2000). Academic advising and today’s changing students. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, & T. J. Grites (Eds.). Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (2nd ed., pp. 73-82). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Cite this article using APA style as: Cox, T.H. (2016, March). The academic advising community: A movement toward multi-campus collaboration. Academic Advising Today, 39(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]