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Voices of the Global Community


Mike Dial, University of South Carolina 

Decades of research on academic advising have consistently shown that high-quality advising is strongly correlated with student satisfaction, retention, and overall positive outcomes (Kuh et al., 2005; Pasacrella & Terenzini, 1991). The National Survey of Student Engagement (2005) found that the quality of academic advising is the primary predictor of student satisfaction with the campus environment at 4-year schools. First-year students, in particular, heavily rely on academic advising as their primary interaction with institutional representatives (Kerr & King, 2005). In fact, Light (2001) suggests that the importance of good advising is often underestimated and undervalued in the context of a successful college experience.

Considering the significance of advising, there has been substantial discussion on the theories and philosophies that guide individual advising interactions. Psychosocial theorists such as Erikson, Chickering and Reisser, Marcia, and Josselson have explored the developmental aspects that occur throughout an individual's lifespan. Transition theorists like Goodman et al. (2006) provide frameworks for assisting students in navigating expected and unexpected life transitions. Moreover, academic advisors draw from various advising approaches and philosophies, including advising as teaching (Crookston, 2009; Lowenstein, 2009), intrusive or proactive advising (Earl, 1988), motivational interviewing (Miller & Rollnick, 2012), and Appreciative Advising (Bloom et al., 2008).

Cruelty Free Advising

Amidst these individual approaches, it is essential to consider the guiding principles behind the development of advising policies and procedures at the departmental or institutional level. The concept of "cruelty-free" syllabi, as discussed by Dr. Matthew Cheney of Plymouth State University on the podcast Teaching in Higher Ed (Stachowiak, 2020), offers a valuable perspective to examine academic advising policies. According to Cheney, cruelty-free syllabi aim to avoid extreme policies that intend to punish rather than educate students. This approach prompts us to question and evaluate the advising policies and procedures established by departments and individual advisors.

Cheney proposes three fundamental assumptions for cruelty-free syllabi design that can be adapted to advising policy creation or modification. The first assumption, inspired by Stommel (2017), is to start by trusting students. The second assumption recognizes the centrality of students in academic advising. The third assumption emphasizes that academic advisors genuinely desire student success (Stachowiak, 2020). By exploring the concept of cruelty-free advising, we as advisors would prioritize trust in students, place them at the center of our work, and approach advising with a genuine concern for their success. It is common for advisors and departments to add new policies each term in response to past issues, but this practice contradicts the first rule of cruelty-free advising, which is to start by trusting students.

To transition towards cruelty-free advising, advisors and advising administrators could consider the following questions:

  • What tone is conveyed in advising policies?
  • How do advisors communicate with students through electronic means?
  • Do departmental policies and practices support students or punish them for non-compliance?
  • Are policies necessary and aligned with institutional guidelines or are they reactionary measures from previous semesters?
  • Does the underlying message convey trust and confidence or distrust and strict adherence to policy?
  • Do any subpopulations of students face more disadvantages due to existing policies and procedures?

The following section examines areas where policies and practices could be examined in an effort to adopt cruelty-free advising.

Late/No-Show Policies

Do departmental no-show policies consider the diverse barriers that today's students encounter? Lowery-Hart (2020), speaking at the Annual Conference on the First-year Experience, highlighted that modern institutions were primarily designed for individuals in positions of power, rather than considering the needs of today's students. Today's students often balance education with careers, childcare, eldercare, financial hardship, housing and food insecurity, and transportation challenges. Additionally, first-year students, who are often young and inexperienced, struggle to manage their time amidst competing priorities. Advisors must consider these barriers while emphasizing the importance of attending scheduled advising sessions. While it is crucial for undergraduate students to learn the value of punctuality and consistent attendance, it is equally important to recognize that college students do not become fully responsible adults upon entering higher education. Advisors, as educators, can help students develop individual responsibility while providing educational scaffolding and an ethic of care.

Required Paperwork Related to Advising

In many cases, paperwork used in advising focuses on compliance, liability protection, and documentation. Whenever possible, required paperwork and forms should be designed and utilized as educational tools to familiarize students with relevant policies and procedures, explain degree requirements, and facilitate students' understanding of their curricular and co-curricular experiences on the path to graduation. Rather than using paperwork to protect advisors from students, it should be utilized to actively engage students in the advisement process.

Adoption of Advising Technology

Adherence to outdated methods of advising, such as relying on paper forms and maintaining physical student files in filing cabinets, unintentionally limits students' ability to take responsibility for their own education. Similarly, forms that require students to navigate between different offices for signatures from faculty and staff add unnecessary burdens. Embracing advising technology and streamlining administrative processes can empower students to actively participate in their educational journey and reduce unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles.

Building a Culture of Cruelty-Free Advising

To embed the philosophy of cruelty-free advising within an institution, it is essential to build a culture that fosters and sustains this approach.

Professional Development and Training

Institutions should prioritize professional development and training opportunities for advisors, faculty, and administrators that promote the principles and practices of cruelty-free advising. This may include workshops, seminars, and ongoing professional learning communities where participants can engage in discussions, share best practices, and enhance their advising skills with a focus on empathy, active listening, and effective communication.

Institutional Support and Resources

Institutions should provide advisors with the necessary resources and support systems to effectively practice cruelty-free advising. This includes access to up-to-date information, technology tools, and data analytics that facilitate student tracking and provide insights into students' academic progress and challenges. Adequate staffing and manageable caseloads should also be considered to ensure advisors have sufficient time and capacity to provide personalized attention and support to students.

Collaboration and Communication

Building a cruelty-free advising culture requires collaboration and effective communication across departments and stakeholders. Regular meetings, forums, and platforms for information sharing should be established to foster collaboration among advisors, faculty, staff, and administrators. This encourages a holistic and coordinated approach to supporting students, ensuring that advising is seamlessly integrated into the broader educational experience.

Student Feedback and Inclusion

Students' voices and perspectives are crucial in shaping a cruelty-free advising culture. Institutions should actively seek student input through surveys, focus groups, and advisory boards to understand their experiences, needs, and suggestions for improvement. Creating opportunities for students to participate in the development and evaluation of advising policies and practices not only empowers them but also ensures that advising remains student-centered and responsive to their diverse needs.

Concluding Thoughts

By embracing the principles of cruelty-free advising, advisors and advising units can create an environment that prioritizes trust, student-centeredness, and care. Evaluating and modifying existing policies and procedures in line with these principles will contribute to a more supportive and empowering academic advising experience for students.

The philosophy of cruelty-free advising presents a transformative approach to shaping academic advising policies and procedures. By prioritizing trust, student-centeredness, and care, advisors and institutions can create an environment that fosters student success, satisfaction, and retention. The decades of research emphasizing the importance of high-quality advising align with the principles of cruelty-free advising, recognizing the profound impact that advising has on the overall college experience.

Through a critical examination of advising policies and practices, advisors and administrators can challenge traditional norms and move towards a more compassionate and empowering advising model. By considering the tone of communication, reevaluating no-show policies, redesigning paperwork as educational tools, and embracing advising technology, advisors can foster an atmosphere of support and trust, allowing students to thrive.

Cruelty-free advising acknowledges the diverse challenges faced by today's students and seeks to remove unnecessary barriers while promoting individual responsibility and growth. By embracing this philosophy, advisors can ensure that advising remains a vital and transformative component of the higher education journey, providing students with the guidance, support, and resources they need to navigate transitions, achieve their goals, and ultimately succeed. Through this intentional and compassionate approach, advisors contribute to creating an academic environment that is not only cruelty-free but also empowering, inclusive, and transformative for all students.


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.

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