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Dana Zahorik, Peer Advising & Mentoring Commission Chair

Dana Zahorik.jpgPeer advising supports the achievement of key institutional priorities, including student retention and persistence, promotion of student success, and helping students to meet their career goals. As the economy continues to waver, the number of students enrolling at our institutions climbs as dislocated workers return to college and younger students seek to lower their loan indebtedness by taking classes while living at home. These students bring with them a different set of needs that challenge us to provide effective advising services. Institutions must react and adjust advising services if we are to meet the needs of our changing student populations. Peer advisors can be an integral part of the solution.

Our willingness to adjust advising services is a reflection of the culture an institution embraces. Implementation of peer advising services demonstrates that advising is taken seriously and that addressing student needs is an institutional priority. Peer advising can be an effective strategy for meeting student needs on a peer-to-peer basis. War Soldier (2002) noted that students are able to understand the various life experiences of other college students. This is not to say that advisors are not able to understand college students and their experiences, but that peer advisors can help expand the reach of advisors to connect with their peers. Koring and Campbell (2005) support this concept by stating, “In addition to serving in a variety of roles, peer advisors also work with a variety of populations. Many, if not most, peer advising programs target first-year students as a primary population. Some models target subsets within the first year cohort; others may target specific peers or offer differentiated programs through which advisors work with subsets of first-year students” (p. 11).

Students are working more and going to school less. The number of full-time students at many institutions has declined. Summer enrollment in general has increased (Brown, 2008), and the number of students enrolled in distance education courses has increased. Working students require increased flexibility and the number of dislocated workers entering college has soared. As a result, more students are balancing employment with attending college. Who better to show these students how to balance multiple roles than peers who have successfully demonstrated that they can succeed in college? When successful peers make a simple connection with entering students, they become the important mentor needed for student persistence.

Student financial constraints have contributed to changes in student demographics. Different patterns are emerging as a result. The fear of overwhelming school loans has added pressure to those entering college. McLaren (2004) stated that “some of the recent changes in student demographics may be due to the increased financial demands of continuing an academic education and students’ concerns about future loan debt” (p.173 ). In addition, increasingly rising tuition has forced more students to work full-time while attending school, take fewer courses, or take courses in summer.  Financial constraints may also contribute to the fact that fewer students are living on campus or away from home in general (McLaren, 2004, p.173 ). Students are living at home to help save money, which means that they are on the road more and have commuting costs that may not be covered by financial aid. Travel time must be factored into students’ time management plans. Many students are heads of household and support families while they juggle college, work, and family life (McLaren, 2004, p. 6). Peer advisors can be mentors for these students and refer them to the resources as needed. For example, Fox Valley Technical College utilizes an Emergency Loan system where students in need can be referred to a counselor to receive up to $500 in emergency money to overcome a barrier to finishing their education. A peer advisor can assess the situation and refer the student in need to such a service as well as help connect students to other appropriate resources.

Tough economic times have had an effect on the decision making of some students. Often, dislocated workers must adhere to strict retraining timelines. Many colleges have seen an increase in career counseling referrals because of the increase in the number of dislocated workers. McLaren (2004) noted that “it is very important to refer students to counselors specializing in career counseling and personal counseling whenever necessary.  Students often do not find their way to these types of resources, where readily available in the university, without an academic advisor to point out the importance of such consultations” (p. 174). Peer advisors often serve as the missing link to connect these students to the appropriate resources including career or personal counselors who can help them seek out additional resources.

The informal trust system built between students and peer advisors is something faculty and staff cannot replicate. This trust is a resource that can be used to promote student success. Peer advisors have successfully walked in these students’ shoes and are willing to give back what they received from fellow peers.  Peer advising can provide an invaluable resource to the institutions and the changing student populations we serve

Dana Zahorik
Academic Counselor
Fox Valley Technical College


Brown, L.C. (2008). Advising a diverse student body: Lessons I've learned from trading places. Liberal Education. 94(4) p. 62-63.

Koring, H. & Campbell, S (2005). An introduction to peer advising. In Koring, H & Campbell, S. (Eds.) Peer advising: Intentional connections to support student learning. (NACADA monograph No. 13) NACADA: Manhattan, KS.

Marques, J. F. (2005). Best practices in adult advising: A team conclusion. Recruitment & Retention in Higher Education, 29(8) p. 4-5.

McLaren, Jennifer (2004). The changing face of undergraduate academic advising. Guidance and Counseling. 19(4).

War Soldier. R.S. (2002). Using life’s lessons to mend. News from Native California 15(4) p 25. 

Cite this article using APA style as: Zahorik, D. (2011, March). Peering into the future: Using peer advisors to assist changing student populations. Academic Advising Today, 34(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]
Posted in: 2011 March 34:1


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