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Zackary W. Underwood, University of North Carolina Wilmington

ZackaryUnderwood.jpgThanks to a university-sponsored grant, I created an innovative paperless advising process for University College at University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) that is helping to save the environment. Paperless advising resulted in three distinct positive outcomes for my office: meeting student expectations, addressing future policy changes, and increasing financial savings.

Before discussing the positive results, I want to explain the method of paperless advising and how it is different from the former paper-based model in my office. University College at UNCW advises all incoming freshmen and select transfer students. Formerly in University College, each advisee had a physical file folder with a label and three pieces of paper. University College created an estimated 2,700 physical folders per year. Folders were filed in each advisor’s file cabinet and each advisor had access to only his or her student files.

The new paperless advising at UNCW makes existing paper-based forms digital by scanning them. The digital forms are turned into writeable PDF documents and then distributed to advisors. Advisors use a PC, Mac or iPad to fill out the forms and then once completed, email those forms to the student as opposed to giving the student a physical copy of the form. Forms are also emailed to a central email address for the office where they are linked to a document imaging system. “[Document Imaging] makes documents easy to find and retrieve, enhances the ability to share documents across campus…and preserves document integrity” (Villano, 2006, para. 2). The document imaging system is similar to a giant digital file cabinet, instead of only having access to my advisees, I can now access any advisee’s file in my office digitally.

After their advising meeting, students immediately have digital copies of their meeting notes available in their email 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Kittelson (2009) described the creation of electronic student folders as one of the emerging technologies in the current time called Advising 3.0. Academic Advising 3.0 includes incorporating the lessons of face-to-face interaction with current technology to meet students’ digital expectations.

Students expect academic advising to be just as digital as they are. Prensky (2001) calls today’s students digital natives because they are surrounded by technology and grew up in a technologically savvy environment. After experiencing paperless advising, one of my students said “Wow, you have all the gadgets and technology.” Students at UNCW can order tickets digitally for sporting events, pre-order their books online, and even check online to see how many of the library’s computers are available. With the continuation of processes like online registration, online major declarations and ratings for professors online, students demand more technological communication.

Students live in a world of tablets, Twitter™ and instant answers via Google©, which makes paperless advising not just an advantage, but an expectation. “This is the world that 18-year-olds have grown up in. They live in the digital realm and they expect others to do the same” (Gordon, 2008 p. 304). By going paperless, UNCW is joining other universities such as The University of Florida, Towson University, University of Idaho, and Monmouth University to meet student needs with paperless advising (Vilano, 2006). Strategic plans across the nation are addressing this concern for more technology in advising.

NACADA’s first strategic goal is globally addressing the academic advising needs of higher education. Today’s global student will not necessarily meet with advisors in their offices, but may be abroad. Formerly, students abroad would have to call an advisor, and the advising sheet would stay with the advisor only. Paperless advising gives the opportunity to instantly send advising sheets worldwide digitally. “If academic advisors want to reach their advisees, and their advisees are living in a digital world, then advisors need to become part of that world as well” (Gordon, 2008, p.305). Today’s students are not always able to meet face to face, but these students still deserve the same advising resources. Paperless advising can provide the same advising information to students domestically or abroad.

The most recent North Carolina university-wide system Strategic Plan Final Draft acknowledges the necessity of advising electronically:

Each campus will implement electronic advising support software. At a minimum, software will be used to create a comprehensive advising portfolio that documents all advising encounters, makes the record of advising available to students and advisors, and follows the student across majors in different colleges and degree programs. (UNC Board of Governors, 2013, p. 54)

One of the difficulties with adapting new technology in this economically distraught climate is the lack of technology funding for innovation. As current president of NACADA Joshua Smith says, “As advisors, we are the innovators and challengers of the status quo” (Smith, 2013, para. 5).

As innovators, advisors are often asked to be responsible for more advisees and more programming with less funding. Paperless advising at UNCW is saving the university money and is also saving the environment. As we transition to paperless in the future, instead of having 2,700 paper files, my office will have 2,700 digital folders. Instead of printing approximately 8,100 sheets of paper per year (three sheets per folder), we are creating the documents digitally. By not buying the folders and paper, my office is saving 15 cents per student folder. Along with saving money there is no longer a need to buy folders, print the three advising sheets or get frustrated over label-making.

As an advisor, I started the paperless process for my office through grant funding. All it takes is one grant or one advisor to use their pre-existing skills to make an entire advising office digital. There are frustrations, hiccups and bugs to fix, but the positive outcomes far outweigh the negative. Going paperless is still a work in progress, but seeing early positive outcomes of meeting student expectations, addressing future policy changes and saving money helps advisors stay confident that they are on the cutting edge of technology with today’s digital students.

Zackary W. Underwood
Academic Advisor
University College
University of North Carolina Wilmington


Gordon, V. (2008). Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kittelson, L. (2009). Millenials, Modules, and Meaningful Advising. Duluth, University of Minnesota.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon 9(5), 1-15. Retrieved from https://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Smith, J. (March 2013). From the president: Keeping academic advising in the forefront of conversations in higher education. Academic Advising Today36(1). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/From-the-President-Keeping-Academic-Advising-in-the-Forefront-of-Conversations-in-Higher-Education.aspx

UNC Board of Governors (January 17, 2013). Our time, our future: The UNC compact with North Carolina strategic directions for 2013-2018 final draft. Retrieved from http://faccoun.unc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/2013UNCStrategicPlanJan16DRAFT.pdf

Vilano, M. (2006). Document imaging:The road to paperless. Campus Technology, November 2006. Retrieved from http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2006/10/Document-Imaging---The-Road-to-Paperless.aspx

Cite this article using APA style as: Underwood, Z.W. (2013, September). Paperless advising for today’s students.  Academic Advising Today, 36(3). Retrieved from [insert url here] 



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