Kristi A. Preisman, College of Saint Mary
The national attrition rate in doctoral programs hovers near 50% for reasons such as student demographics, high college costs, technology challenges, isolation, poor program fit, and motivation. Some authors (Cassuto, 2013; Gilmore, Wofford, & Maher, 2016) bring to light that the blame may not necessarily lie with the student who is leaving the program, but rather with the graduate department itself. At this small Catholic university, the online Ed.D. program feels the impact of attrition. While some factors are beyond control of the program, the program director realizes more can be done to support students and help decrease attrition. Online advising, which has been highlighted more recently in the literature, may be a one way to retain Ed.D. students. The director and her faculty are working to positively impact students’ success in the program with the Graduate Advising Space (GAS).
The Ed.D. program director is responsible for both program execution and student advising for everyone in the program. Acknowledging this responsibility, the GAS has become a substantial member of the program. The GAS is a course within the program’s learning management system and was originally created to communicate basic advising information, such as plan of study, textbook information, contact information, and introductory videos; however, it now provides more information for students than “What class do I take next?” The GAS (see Fig. 1) is based on the Core Values from NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising (2017), as well as theory related to socialization (Bragg, 1976) and community in online learning (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2010). This article addresses some strategies used to offer advising support, socialization as an Ed.D. student, and a community for peers and faculty.
Figure 1. Theoretical framework behind the Graduate Advising Space (GAS)
NACADA Core Values
Students rely on their advisors for academic information as well as university navigation, policies, procedures, problem-solving, and decision making (Smith & Allen, 2014). The GAS provides this information to Ed.D. students based in the seven core values of NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising (2017). Those seven core values are caring, commitment, empowerment, inclusivity, integrity, professionalism, and respect. Though these values are aimed at the actions and purpose of the actual advisor, the GAS was created as a tool to help support the human element of advising. Acknowledging that graduate students may never meet face-to-face with the program director (advisor), this virtual space becomes a home base for academic support throughout the program. Below are some select illustrations of how the Graduate Advising Space demonstrates the core values for online learners in regards to academic support:
Caring. “Academic advisors respond to and are accessible to others in ways that challenge, support, nurture, and teach. Advisors build relationships through empathetic listening and compassion for students, colleagues, and others” (NACADA, 2017).
Cross (2018) mentions that students value advisors that care about their successes. The GAS is a place which validates that the program director and faculty care about and are invested in the well-being of the Ed.D. students in this online program. Multiple announcements are made that address not only the advising basics (program of study, textbooks, etc.), but also communication regarding specific milestones, program or institution information, and challenges ahead. The messages demonstrate support and encouragement as students advance each semester. In the GAS, there is also a place called Worthy News to Share! It is here that students share good news, request prayers and positive thoughts, and share personal and professional stories from their lives.
In an online program, it can be both difficult and frustrating to make contact with financial services, technology assistance, library services, or tutoring. These are important aspects of any online graduate program, and it is vital that students have timely and productive access to these resources. In order to provide for the direct needs of students in a world of I want the information now, the GAS provides direct access to institutional resources and websites so that students do not have search through the campus’s main site. By providing easier connections to these aspects of student success, the care provided by the program director is more fully demonstrated.
Commitment. “Academic advisors value and are dedicated to excellence in all dimensions of student success. Advisors are committed to students, colleagues, institutions, and the profession through assessment, scholarly inquiry, life-long learning, and professional development” (NACADA, 2017).
Cross (2018) proposes that students desire advisors to initiate contact at the start of their program because it makes the transition to the online learning environment easier. Maintaining the GAS each semester and making real-time updates when needed demonstrates commitment of the program director to the students. When student needs or programmatic changes arise, the GAS is updated to support student success through the various stages of the program. One specific area that demonstrates the commitment is Suggestions for Success! This evolving section provides information that highlights challenges students may face throughout the program. Resources, videos, and readings address issues such as receiving critical feedback, creating and maintaining a growth mindset, self-regulated learning, and motivation.
Integrity. “Academic advisors act intentionally in accordance with ethical and professional behavior developed through reflective practice. Advisors value honesty, transparency, and accountability to the student, institution, and the advising profession” (NACADA, 2017).
The GAS also includes modules focused on academic integrity, APA reference and citation, and scholarly writing. Each of these modules was created with the intent to lead and guide students in professional work throughout the program and are completed prior to beginning coursework. These ideas are also addressed throughout various synchronous meetings through the program as a reminder for students regarding the importance of integrity in all of their work during the Ed.D. program.
According to Bragg (1976), socialization is a process where “the individual acquires the knowledge and skills, the values and attitudes, and the habits and modes of thought of the society to which he belongs” (p. 9). Socialization contains three distinctive elements: socialization as a continuous process, as a learning process, and as a social process.
To start the socialization process, students gain early experience in the GAS prior to the start of the program. This is the first opportunity for students to begin to feel a part of the program community with their cohort. Throughout the program, virtual advising sessions are held to assist students in each new phase of the doctoral student role .
Woven throughout various stages of the Ed.D. program, students experience socialization as a learning process as they are introduced to their particular roles: student (course work), doctoral candidate (pass comprehensive exam), and researcher (dissertation). During the course of the program, more experienced cohort members join virtual meetings to answer newer members’ questions and address their concerns, thereby providing the less experienced members solid examples and awareness of behaviors, values, and attitudes.
Finally, socialization takes place as a social process between individuals and groups. It is within these interactions that a “reciprocal process [occurs] in both the person being socialized and in the person or group doing the socializing (the socializing agent)” (Bragg, 1976, p. 15). Though this can be more challenging in an online program, students have the opportunity to interact early and often with more experienced cohort members and will, eventually, find role models within their own cohort group. Ultimately, the end product of socialization is for the individual to feel a sense of identity within the group (Bragg, 1976).
Specific keywords arise when examining the research for reasons why students leave online programs. Some common words and phrases include lack of support, quality of interactions, isolation, and disconnection. The Graduate Advising Space was created in order to mitigate some of these negative experiences in online learning by working to create a sense of community among the cohort members. As Shea, Swan, Sau Li, and Pickett (2005) described, elements such as connectedness, belonging, support, spirit, and trust can help to develop a strong sense of community. The idea behind the GAS is to help reduce feelings of isolation as students begin this online program and build continuous bonds between cohort members as they complete the program.
As mentioned previously, one priority of the GAS is to introduce students to the Ed.D. community. Students are exposed to the college and program mission, program outcomes, expectations, and video snippets of the campus. The GAS also incorporates virtual meetings that allow students to meet with faculty and peers to achieve face-to-face contact. It is also suggested at the start of the program for students to meet in person if they are in the same location. These pieces will help students gain an understanding of the program and begin to identify with the community in a low pressure and trusting environment.
The Graduate Advising Space is an important tool in the online learning environment as it provides students a home base throughout the program. It is a space that provides students with academic support, a means of socializing as an Ed.D. student, and a community with peers and faculty with the ultimate goal of decreasing attrition and developing successful and contributing educational leaders in their communities.
Kristi A. Preisman
Program Director and Associate Professor
Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program
College of Saint Mary
Bragg, A. K. (1976). The socialization process in higher education (ERIC/Higher Education Research Report No. 7). American Association for Higher Education. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED132909
Cassuto, L. (2013, July 01). Ph.D attrition: How much is too much? Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/PhD-Attrition-How-Much-Is/140045
Cross, L. K. (2018). Graduate student perceptions of online advising. NACADA Journal, 38(2), 72–80. Retrieved from https://nacadajournal.org
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2010, January). The first decade of the community of inquiry framework: A retrospective. Internet and Higher Education, 13(1–2), 5–9. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/222118442_The_first_decade_of_the_community_of_inquiry_framework_A_retrospective
Gilmore, J., Wofford, A. M., & Maher, M. A. (2016). The flip side of the attrition coin: Faculty perceptions of factors supporting graduate student success. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 11, 419–439. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6d35/82ead6235ddcecc3c968262b7da147a2862c.pdf
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA core values of academic advising. https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx
Shea, P., Swan, K., Sau Li, C., & Pickett, A. (2005). Developing learning community in online asynchronous college courses: The role of teaching presence. Online Learning Consortium, 9(4), 59–82. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249746923_Developing_learning_community_in_online_asynchronous_college_courses_The_role_of_teaching_presence
Smith, C. L., & Allen, J. M. (2014). Does contact with advisors predict judgments and attitudes consistent with student success? A multi-institutional study. NACADA Journal, 34(1), 50–63. https://nacadajournal.org
Cite this article using APA style as: Preisman, K.A. (2019, December). Online graduate advising: It’s much more than what class comes next. Academic Advising Today, 42(4). [insert url here]