Heidi Koring, Peer Advising Interest Group Chair
Informal peer advising is not new. Tom Grites, commenting in a November 2001 Mentor Advising Forum, stated that “Undergraduates are ALWAYS peer advisers. They advise in the residence halls, the cafeterias, on the bus commute, in the local pub, etc.” Orientation leaders and resident assistants regularly function as informal peer advisors. But, in a time when every student counts, most institutions prefer that sharing of vital information not be left to chance. Formal peer advising programs direct and channel peer advising to ensure that students are given advice by peers trained to impart accurate information and to make appropriate referrals.
Formal peer advising programs are rapidly growing enhancements to academic advising programs. A February 2004 NACADA survey revealed that over 65% of institutions surveyed have peer advising or peer mentoring programs; over 36% of the institutions without formal peer advising programs are considering implementing such a program. Why are institutions adopting peer advising programs? What advantage does peer advising have at the college or university level?
Peer advising offers several advantages, including versatility, compatibility with pre-existing academic advising programs, sensitivity to student needs, and the ability to extend the range and scope of advising to times and venues when advising is not usually available. Additionally, those serving as peer advisors benefit from the leadership development included in such programs.
Peer advising is versatile and can be tailored to the needs of the institution. For instance, peer advising can range in intensity from “friendly contact” – a relaxed and informal contact by experienced students to new students in transition – to intensive programs in which peer advisors in residence halls provide 24-7 assistance.
Peer advising is compatible with all advising delivery models. It does not have to be implemented institution-wide, but can be limited to a single major program or a sub-set of students. Some peer advising programs pair peers with faculty advisors as part of a faculty advising model. Still other peer advising programs feature peer advisors who work in an advising center. Some peer advising programs are housed in individual academic schools or departments within the university; others are housed within student service units, e.g., centers devoted to first-year or multi-cultural students.
Although peer advising programs typically address needs of first-year students, peer advising has proven to be a positive intervention for many student subsets, especially at-risk and minority groups. Walters (2003) found peer advising to be an important factor for new student success at Onondaga Community College (p. 50). McConnell (2000) found that peer advising assists first generation college students transition to their academic environment (p. 82). Whelley et al (2003) state that peer advising relationships are helpful for students with disabilities (p. 42). The NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources lists forty-three successful peer advising programs; many of these programs are designed to assist sub-sets of students like the Boston College Department of Romance Languages Peer Advisor Program, the University of California at Irvine Peer Academic Advisor Program for Honors students, and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Peer Advising Program for multicultural students. A NACADA monograph on peer advising will include many exemplary peer advising programs, including those which meet special needs. (Note: this monograph is scheduled for fall 2005 publication; watch the monthly NACADA member Highlights for details.)
Peer advising programs extend the scope and availability of academic advising programs by providing advising in residence halls, through student-friendly communications media like instant messaging, and during evenings and weekends when faculty advisors or professional advising staff are not available to answer questions. Some peer advising programs begin during summer orientation and continue through the academic year. Such programs create a smoother transition by providing services in the period between summer orientation and the start of the fall semester through telephone or email contact between entering students and peer advisors.
Peer advisors benefit from participation in the program as much as the students they serve. Peer advisors form close mentoring relationships with their supervisors. They develop leadership skills through their experiences in the program. Some programs provide intensive, credit-bearing training programs for peer advisors, including instruction in developmental psychology, counseling, and educational theory. These skills benefit peer advisors not only when they are actively advising, but also after they graduate. A 2001 graduate of Lynchburg College, who spent three years as a peer advisor, is now an assistant dean at a Midwestern preparatory school. She reports that she uses the knowledge and experience she gained as a peer advisor daily in her present position.
Everybody wins when peer advising is added to an institution’s academic advising program. The advising program wins, since peer advising is a versatile and flexible addition to a pre-existing program. The students served benefit, since peer advising extends the scope and availability of advising services and can be used to target at-risk groups for additional attention. Finally, the peer advisors themselves win skills they can use beyond their college years. No wonder peer advising is a fast growing enhancement to today’s academic advising programs.
Heidi Koring, Director
Grites, Thomas. (2001). Advising Forum. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal. Retrieved 2/17/2005 from http://www.psu.edu/dus/mentor/.
McConnell, Peggy J. (2000). What community colleges should do to assist first-generation students. Community College Review. 28 (3), 75-87.
Walters, Evon Washington. (2003). Editor's choice: becoming student centered via the one-stop shop initiative: a case study of Onondaga Community College. Community College Review. 31 (3), 40-54.
Whelley, T., Radtke, R., Burgstahler, S., Christ, T. (Autumn, 2003). Mentors, advisers, role models, peer supporters: Career Development relationships and individuals with disabilities. American Rehabilitation. 27 (1), 42-49.
Cite this article using APA style as: Koring, H. (2005, June). Peer advising: A win-win initiative. Academic Advising Today, 28(2). [insert url here]