Jesse Poole, Nevada State College
Institutional policy acts as a deliberate system of principles, serving as a compass that aids us in making rational decisions and achieving certain outcomes. These policies can provide rules, regulations, guidelines, directions, and/or principles for how to fairly and consistently make decisions (Welsh & Harris, 2015). Simply put, policies help students, parents, faculty, and staff understand the institution’s values and how those principles are employed in everyday operations. While there is a significant amount of literature that discusses higher education policy (Kaiser et al., 2014; Richardson & Martinez, 2009; St. John et al., 2018), an exhaustive search (including Academic Advising Today) yielded no literature on the topic of policy development in the context of academic advising. As a result, this article will discuss the fundamentals of policy development as described by the Wayne Welsh and Phillip Harris Model, why the model was chosen for this article, and how the model can be used when developing policies in academic advising and student success.
When it comes to policy development models, there are plenty to choose from, spanning various disciplines. However, the author of this article has extensive experience in drafting and implementing policy and programs while utilizing the Welsh and Harris Model. Interestingly, this particular model is derived from the field of criminal justice. When viewed from the surface, this might appear to be an unlikely candidate for student success and academic advising policy and program development. However, it is common practice for policy developers and program managers to utilize interdisciplinary models, including those from fields outside of their own.
Why This Model
In this case, Welsh and Harris’ Model is more congruent with the field of academic advising and student success than one might think. The simplest way to explain the commonalities is by noting some of the key goals, outcomes, and functions of a student success and/or advising office and a criminal justice policy or program. The clearest connection between the two is that they both serve at-risk populations.
Many models, including Welsh and Harris, overlap policy development and program planning, and rightfully so as new advising policy tends to spark changes in process or require the creation of a new program that should be evaluated. While you may notice elements that apply to program planning, this article will focus on the development and implementation of policy.
Fundamentals of Policy Development
The Welsh and Harris model involves seven phases:
- analyze the problem
- set goals and/or objectives
- design the policy
- create an action plan
- implement the policy
- evaluate the outcomes
- reassess and review
While the above noted concepts appear simple, each phase has sub-phases or steps within them—totaling over forty steps to the process. Don’t worry, while each phase of the process is important to consider, not every step will be utilized when developing and implementing policy. Additionally, not every sub-phase or step will be discussed in this article. Similar to others, this model begins with analyzing the problem.
Analyzing the Problem. As higher education professionals and administrators, it is commonplace to be engaged in analyzing and assessing issues and programs, either at the institution or department level. Yet, often we find that the group of individuals who are pushing for the need for change are doing so based on anecdotal or empirical evidence. When this occurs, it is often easy to drive the need for change. But, what if this scenario isn’t part of your reality? What if you aren’t in such a position of power where you can simply make a decision to change something that isn’t working? What if others don’t quite see the problem that you do? This is also a common situation to be in. When this occurs, often the best course of action is to consider the following:
- document the need for change
- describe the history of the problem
- examine and identify (if possible) the potential causes
- consider any previous interventions
- identify barriers to change and supports for change
Set Goals and Objectives. Similar to constructing a college course, it is important to identify goals and objectives of the change. Drafting institutional policy that will [likely] require the signature of the provost and president is no joking matter. Depending on the institution, your policy initiative may pass through the eyes of over a dozen people, multiple committees, and be the conversation over several meetings. Throughout the policy process you can expect these participates to ask, “What do you plan to get out of these changes?” Having clear and concise goals and objectives provide a clear understanding to those who might not have context to the problem.
Design the Policy. Equally important is how the policy is designed and structured. When developing such important rules, be sure to ask yourself:
- Who will be affected?
- Who will be responsible for carrying out the policy once it is in place?
- What student population will the policy impact, and what procedures need to be specified?
In advising, policies can have detrimental and long-lasting effects on students. Thus, understanding who will be impacted and how is critical. While colleges and universities often work well beyond the recommended advisor to advisee caseload, it is crucial to determine who will be responsible for managing the new policy.
As part of the policy development process, you will need to determine if the office responsible for executing the changes has the capacity to do so. Do not, however, let this question discourage you from moving forward in the policy process. There has been more than one occasion where this author developed and sought approval of a policy knowing that the resources to employ the changes would not be available for some time.
Create an Action Plan. Action planning is similar to an implementation timeline, but it also includes the directions of how the policy changes are going to be carried out. While there are many different ways to outline what actions should be taken, and in what order, consider utilizing a Gantt chart in your project. Gantt charts are horizontal graphical depictions of a project schedule in which the x axis variable is determined by the creator (typically measured in weeks or months). Simply put, what are you going to do, when are you going to do it, and how long will each step take? When designing your action plan, be sure to include the policy proposal process, as this is something that project and program managers often exclude. As part of this step, be sure to identify the resources needed, how you plan to acquire or reallocate resources, and consider mechanisms for self-regulation if applicable.
Policy Implementation & Monitoring. After developing an action plan for your policy, you are all set, right? Not so fast. In higher education, we love data. One of the first questions your boss will likely ask is “What mechanisms are you going to use to measure its impact?” Keep in mind, this is not the same as evaluating the actual incomes—it is the design and creation of the instruments that will be used to collect data (observation, surveys, interviews, etc.). These instruments will vary depending on the policy; however, in academic advising we often like to use survey data to measure learning outcomes and student satisfaction. Whatever the tool, be sure the data it produces passes muster and is consistent with research standards in which the information can be quantified in a meaningful way.
Outcome Evaluation. Over the last five years, student learning outcomes have gained more and more traction, and for good reason, as they help us determine a student’s skills and abilities based on what they have learned. Policy outcome evaluation in academic advising is just as important. After all, advising is teaching (Lance, 2009). Before implementing your policy, consider what type of evaluation best fits the changes you plan to make. The three common types include impact evaluation, performance evaluation, and efficiency evaluation. An important piece to remember here, you don’t have to fully develop your measurement tools before submitting your policy. While some would argue it is ideal, others would say it is not necessary at this stage.
Reassess and Review. There are many reasons why a policy initiative can fail. Some of the more common reasons include:
- conflicting or overly ambitious goals
- poor design
- poor implementation
- failing to maintain the support of key stakeholders (in many cases, the front line advising staff)
As you draft your policy and construct your implementation plan, be sure to consider the above. At this phase, you should be ready to implement your policy. Keep in mind, policy implementation is a continuous practice of adaption, negotiation, and communication (Welsh & Harris, 2015). As incoming data is analyzed and procedural issues are identified, remember that the assessment wheel is simply that—a cyclical process that places the values, vision, and mission of the institution at its core. From there, identify the outcomes, gather your information and evidence, interpret the evidence, implement change, and reassess (Maki, 2002).
Final Thoughts & Tools
There is a plethora of very useful tools that can aid you in your journey. Below you will find links to documents, templates, and examples that may help you get started. Whatever your policy or program idea, don’t be discouraged by barriers, as they are all too common in the world of higher education. If you take anything from this article, remember that ideas can create momentum, even a policy proposal.
Associate Director of Academic Advising and Student Success Initiatives
Academic Advising Center
Nevada State College
Tools to Consider when Drafting Policy
Needs assessment: https://www.extension.uidaho.edu/publishing/pdf/BUL/BUL0870.pdf
Cost analysis: https://www.smartsheet.com/free-cost-benefit-analysis-templates
Impact model: https://www.wordtemplatesonline.net/impact-analysis-template/
Logic model: https://ed.sc.gov/finance/grants/scde-grants-program/program-planning-tools-templates-and-samples/logic-model-templates/
Kaiser, F., Maassen, P., Meek, L., Vught, F. V., Weert, E. D., & Goedegebuure, L. (2014). Higher education policy: An international comparative perspective. Elsevier Science.
Lance, A. (2009, June). Advising is teaching: Advisors take it to the classroom. Academic Advising Today, 32(2). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Advising-IS-Teaching-Advisors-Take-it-to-the-Classroom.aspx
Richardson, R. C., & Martinez, M. (2009). Policy and performance in American higher education: An examination of cases across state systems. Johns Hopkins University Press.
St. John, P. E., Daun-Barnett, N., & Moronski-Chapman, K. M. (2018). Public policy and higher education: Reframing strategies for preparation, access, and college success. Routledge.
Trowler, P. (2014). Higher education policy & institutional change: intentions and outcomes in turbulent environments. CreateSpace.
Welsh, W. N., & Harris, P. W. (2015). Criminal justice policy and planning (4th ed.). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
Cite this article using APA style as: Poole, J. (2021, June). Policy like a pro: How to develop sensible policy in academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 44(2). [insert url here]