Kenn Skorupa, Adult Learner Commission Chair
When we think of adult learners and how to approach them as admissions counselors, program advisors and instructors, several aspects of their adult status usually come to mind. Among these are the fact that adults play multiple roles in their lives, that they often have anxiety about returning to school and that many times they are experiencing some sort of life transition at the time they decide to return to school. One characteristic of current and prospective adult students that is often overlooked, particularly by the administration, is the fact that they are consumers and are generally looking for the most out of their time and money.
As educators, we don’t like to fashion ourselves as being sales personnel. If I wanted to get into sales, I would have gone into an industry where I could have actually made money. The irony is that when we, with our graduate degrees representing the university and all it has to offer, encourage potential adult students to go back to school to get a better job and make more money, the fact is that these adults are usually making more money than we are without a degree. So, if we really knew what we were talking about, we probably wouldn’t be having the conversation with the person in the first place.
But then again, money isn’t everything. The benefits of a college degree go way beyond the tangible aspects of time and money. But how do you convince a person so fixed on these commodities that they really will enjoy the process, that they will experience a great deal of pride and accomplishment and that their view of the world will be enlarged and enriched? For those people who do not enter your office believing these things, it is going to be a hard sell. And what about that change in perspective? It can be quite a difficult adjustment for some adults who achieve a good deal of personal growth in a relatively short time. “If a learner’s mate, friends, or coworkers are vested in particular ways of viewing the world, they may find it unsettling, at best, and threatening, at worst, to be challenged (by new) perspectives" (Taylor, Marienau and Fiddler, 2000).
This feeling of being threatened often presents itself during initial contacts with adult prospective students. The conversation goes a little like this. The student says, “You know, I don’t even need this degree. I mean, I have gotten along perfectly fine without it. It’s just a piece of paper.” At this point you feel an obligation to defend your background, your profession and the rest of the academic community. You nod your head and say, “Well... “ And if you are really in a surly mood, you say, “That’s true, but if you change your mind later, give us a call.” The reverse psychology thing usually works in this situation. Often they proceed to come up with 8 to 10 convincing arguments for why they should actually do it.
One reason for this reluctance to return to school has to do with their previous experience of the power struggle they have had with educators. And unfortunately, this power struggle still exists in some classrooms. Taylor, Marienau and Fiddler (2000) state, “most of us learned how to be educators in learning environments where the authority figure took responsibility for nearly every aspect of the process, what was done, how it was done, and how it was evaluated (including) who spoke, when, and to whom.” Few adults wish to invest a good deal of their resources into a situation that will not allow them the freedom to learn in a cooperative and interactive environment.
And then there’s the competition. How does your program compare to all others available out there? Well, that is a tough question. Often it is difficult just keeping abreast of all the available program options in your own institution, let alone those from other institutions. For adults, shopping for a college program is often no different than getting that new car, buying insurance or calling the travel agent. Josie Gibson, from New Mexico Highlands, tells how a recent prospect was looking for a hard-core sales pitch. “She wanted me to convince her to not attend the other schools rather than focus on what we had to offer,” Gibson said. In addition, adult students expect that you have all of the resources, staff and latest technology at your fingertips to provide instant answers and processing of requests. Little do they know about the budget realities that many academic institutions face. After all, what you are selling costs a fortune.
But what exactly is it that we are selling? It’s not a product. It’s not a service. What we are selling is an opportunity. We are offering them the opportunity to pay their tuition and then they have to do the work. While we can do everything possible to make their stay in our institution pleasant, seamless and supportive, they still must have the dedication, motivation and talent to create meaning and worth to what we are offering them. Dean Julian, Ed. D., N.C.C. from University of Pittsburgh, College of General Studies, says that adult learners have different psychological needs and perspectives than traditional-aged learners. “Adult students have a greater need for motivation, inspiration and guidance since they have more responsibilities than younger students whose primary responsibility is school,” Julian said. Julian goes on to say that adults respond better to low pressure and that trust is very important in the relationship with their advisors. Julian believes that many adult students have some degree of fear and stated, “When they verbalize their fears, they feel better about the investment.”
How else does this consumer mentality of adult students present itself? Janice Ford Freeman, from the University of Alabama, Birmingham says that you can see it in the attitudes these students have about instructors. Ford Freeman says that adult students will complain that the instructor is too easy or that they let the students out of class early or that the course content is poorly organized. She notes these complaints are seldom heard from traditional-aged students. In addition, Ford Freeman says that adult students often want to know as much as possible about a course and the instructor before taking it. Requests for syllabi, instructor ratings and the purpose of topics included in the curriculum are common from adult students.
And how does an advisor relate to adult students differently than traditional-aged students? “I am less directive with adults. I try to explain things in greater detail and find that my relationship with them is less formal,” Freeman said. Julie Fellers Hook, from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, agrees that adults are more consumer oriented. According to Hook, adult students research their decisions more, they often consider their time to be a more important investment than their money, they place greater emphasis on the reputation of the institution and they are much more assertive.
The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), in a recent publication (2000), outlined their “Educational Principles That Work for Adults Who Work.” Included in their list of principles of what the institution should provide adult learners were the following: to overcome barriers of time, place, and tradition to create lifelong access; to address the career and life goals of adult learners; to provide an array of payment options; to assess skills acquired through the curriculum and experience; to provide multiple methods of instruction; to enhance student capabilities to be self-directed learners; to provide information technology to enhance the learning experience; and, to engage in strategic relationships and collaborations with employers and other organizations.
So, what does all of this tell us? How do we balance ”the customer is always right” with student responsibility? How do we provide the service that adults expect with resources directed primarily towards traditional-aged learners? How do we inspire trust, motivation and courage in our adult learners? How do we satisfy their desire to get the most they can for their investment?
First, we must become strong advocates for the direction of budgetary resources toward our growing population of adult students. And second is to remind yourself of how you felt the last time you were left on hold, the last time you were overcharged for something on your credit card or the last time you could not decide whether to invest your pension funds into one option or the other. Then take the time to listen to your students and remember to end each conversation with the question, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (2000). Serving Adult Learners in Higher Education: Principles of Effectiveness. Chicago: Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. www.cael.org
Developing Adult Learners by Kathleen Taylor, Catherine Marienau, and Morris Fiddler. Copyright 2000 by Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA.
Want to read more about these critical advising issues?
Find annotated bibliographies of articles, books and web pages dealing with this and other Critical Issues in the NACADA Clearinghouse for Academic Advising Resources
Betsy McCalla-Wriggins, NACADA President
This is always a bittersweet time of year for me... the leaves on the buttonwood tree in our back yard are already turning brown and falling on the yard. The last lilies have bloomed and there is nothing else planted that I can pick and bring into the house for a fresh bouquet. Summer will soon be a distant memory... yet the fall always brings with it the excitement of new beginnings.
New beginnings take many forms. On campus, we see that excitement in the faces of our students...
At NACADA, we are also excited about a new beginning. At the conclusion of the fall conference in Salt Lake City, our association will be operating under the new organizational structure you as members approved last year. Serving on the new Board of Directors with me will be Ruth Darling, Buddy Ramos, Elaine Borrelli, Wes Habley, Jo Anne Huber, Nancy Lapp, Alan Welch, Eric White, and Roberta Flaherty. Our focus will be long range and strategic planning while the Council and Divisions will focus on direct service to our members and more operational issues. The Executive Office staff will also assume more responsibility as they continue to be the wonderful people who transform ideas into realities.
We also want to support you as you consider your own “new beginnings”... Whether you are new or experienced, full-time or faculty advisor, administrator or Dean, we want to provide you with opportunities to get recharged and to rekindle some excitement in your professional life.
Two specific activities you may want to consider and start planning for early this academic year are the new Advising Administrators’ Institute and the Summer Institute on Academic Advising. The Advising Administrators’ Institute is designed for those needing additional information on how to administer an advising initiative and is scheduled for San Antonio, Texas on Feb. 12–14, 2003. We already have 25 people registered so don’t wait too late to sign up.
The 16th Summer Institute was held in Colorado Springs July 7–12, 2002, and we had a record 283 participants and faculty. This is the largest ever institute, and we even had additional people on the waiting list. So the Summer Institute Advisory Board is exploring various options so that we can accommodate this demand. As those decisions are made, we will announce it in the NACADA monthly update. Start now to consider bringing a team from your campus to next year’s event.
As you consider where you are and what your professional development needs are, I hope you will share your ideas. If you have a need, I know that there are many others within NACADA that have that same need. Together we can make a difference. We are limited only by our ideas. I have lots of those, as I am sure you do as well... please let me know what they are.
And, don’t forget... plan some exciting new beginnings for yourself this fall.
Roberta 'Bobbie' Flaherty, NACADA Executive Director
The world of NACADA continues to revolve and spin! We are working diligently to continue to expand, enhance, and improve the services we provide to our members, their institutions and students.
First, the number of NACADA participants at our professional development opportunities, as well as our membership, continues to grow. At the 2002 NACADA Academic Advising Summer Institute, we had 283 participants and faculty take advantage of the intensive week-long institute. An exciting part of this year’s institute was the number of teams from institutions across the country and internationally who took advantage of this opportunity to learn and develop an action plan to help improve advising on their campuses. Special thanks to Diane Matteson and Bev Martin from the Executive Office for the planning and organization prior to the institute and their hard work at the institute! Also a special thanks to Wes Habley, SI Director, and the great faculty Nancy
King, Peggy King, Alice Reinarz, Eric White, Susan Campbell, John
Burton, Jerry Ford, Tom Kerr, Charlie Nutt, Buddy Ramos, Tom Brown,
Rusty Fox, Randy Jedele, Kim Roufs, Faye Vowell, Mike McCauley, Gary
Kramer, and Betsy McCalla-Wriggins.
With this huge enrollment, we are presently exploring with the Summer Institute Advisory Board the possibility of hosting two institutes next summer.
Our membership to date is 6737, which is over 100 more members than our final count for 2001—our growth continues to demonstrate the importance of academic advising to student success in higher education. Additionally, registrations for the national conference in Salt Lake City are rolling in! John Mortenson and his committees have done a wonderful job in planning our 26th Annual Conference—we look forward to seeing many of you there!
There are several new initiatives that are in the works to be initiated for our membership in the upcoming months:
We are continuing with these initiatives and many more to provide the highest quality services to our members. I encourage you to watch for the implementation of these initiatives and to contact me at any time if we can assist you or provide additional support and services.
Roberta 'Bobbie' Flaherty
NACADA Executive Director
February 12-14, 2003
San Antonio, TX
The First Annual Academic Advising Administrators' Institute will be an intensive institute focused on the knowledge base for advising administrators. The institute will also provide extensive opportunities for seeking solutions for current administrative concerns, expanding your network of colleagues, and providing hands-on strategies for improving the advising program on your campus.
Who Should Attend
To assist our membership in learning as much as possible about NACADA and to grow in leadership within the organization, NACADA has in place the NACADA Leadership Program. This program is for members who wish to become more actively involved in their professional organization and move toward assuming leadership positions at all levels, state, regional, and/or national. Participants in the program are assigned to a NACADA leader, either past or present, who has a clear understanding of the organization, has been involved in various capacities as a leader in the organization, and who has a genuine interest in working with new members in cultivating their leadership skills and in assisting them in the goal of leadership within the organization.
If you are interested in learning more about NACADA and becoming more involved as a leader in any capacity, then becoming a part of this important leadership program is a must for you!
For more information please contact the NACADA Executive Office, firstname.lastname@example.org or 785-532-5717.
The close of the national conference in Salt Lake City will see the beginning of the new governance structure for NACADA. Two years ago, then President Buddy Ramos charged a Task Force with reviewing and making recommendations for a more efficient governing structure that would provide opportunities for more members to be involved, relieve the volunteers of work that could be done by the executive office staff, provide for the continued growth of the organization, and shorten the response and development time for programs to meet member needs. First a task force worked to determine the framework for such a governing structure and then a second task force worked on the details of its implementation. Now it is time to see it in action!
Grassroots involvement is a basis of the new organization so the new structure allows for many options for first time and continued involvement. Members may get involved on the Region level by serving on a regional conference or other regional committee, by serving on a committee within a Commission, or by serving on a National Committee. All Regions, Commissions, and Committees will elect chairpersons who will represent them within three respective Divisions (Regional, Commission, Administrative).
Members who have served as Region, Commission, or Committee Chairs are eligible to be elected to serve as Division Representatives who convene and lead their respective Divisions. There is also a second Division Representative who will be appointed to assist with Division leadership. These two Division Representatives from each Division then represent the Divisions on, and constitute, the NACADA Council along with the Vice President and the Executive Director. The Council reviews all proposals from the Divisions, integrates ideas among Divisions, and prioritizes recommendations to be forwarded to the NACADA Board of Directors.
Nine elected Board members and the Executive Director comprise the NACADA Board of Directors. They will act on recommendations from the NACADA Council based on the Strategic Plan that the Board is responsible for developing and maintaining and the financial implications of each proposal for the Association. The Association’s President and Vice President will be elected from among the Board of Director members.
So, it sounds like all the details are covered, but I’m sure we will run into some rough spots, some obvious and embarrassing omissions, and some joyous revelations as we begin to implement this plan for taking NACADA to new heights. Please volunteer to get involved and bear with us as we smooth the bumps! Your first step could be completing the volunteer form on our web site under “Association Information” at www.nacada.ksu.edu. We need you!
Leslie L. Hemphill, Cloud County Community College
Advising students with disabilities presents many challenges to the college advisor. However, skilled advising can go a long way towards ensuring the success of a student with a disability. To effectively advise a student with a disability requires a thorough understanding of the student’s goals as well as the student’s disability, the barriers the institution may have inadvertently created, and the resources the college provides that can be used to assist the student in pursuing his or her educational aspirations.
Advisors who become familiar with the difficulties imposed by a particular disability can logically deduce the importance of some advising practices. For example, if the student is taking medication, are there certain times of the day when the student is less alert? This could have important implications when developing a class schedule. In a similar fashion, students experiencing clinical depression often have more difficulty in the morning.
Information concerning the impact of various disabilities is particularly important in attempting to determine if the college poses structural, educational or bureaucratic barriers for a student. Many colleges have buildings that were constructed before federal laws regarding accessibility were implemented. Awareness of the campus could prevent enrolling a student who uses a wheel chair in a class that can only be accessed by a stairway. Depending upon the amount of time allowed to pass from one class to another, any student with a mobility issue might have difficulty with classes scheduled back to back in different buildings.
Educational barriers are less visible but no less demanding for students with disabilities. Students with learning disabilities often have difficulty with structure and organization. Instructors who break material down into small sequences and then present it in a logical step-by-step fashion serve them well. Advisors should attempt to learn something about the teaching style of various instructors and enroll students with disabilities accordingly.
It is also important for advisors to know the rules and regulations of their institution. Only if you know the rules are you in a position to take advantage of them for the benefit of the students with whom you are working. Financial aid and course substitutions are two obvious examples of areas that can be used to a student’s advantage. A student with a disability can receive a full Pell Grant even though the student is enrolled in less than twelve hours, if their disability warrants it. Other students may qualify for a course substitution. Advisors need to know the procedures on their campus for such things as obtaining a course substitution if they hope to assist students who qualify.
Finally, when working with a student who has a disability, an advisor would be wise to develop collaborative relationships with faculty, financial aid, counseling and other organizations within the college. This can be one of the most important tasks an advisor can undertake. Earlier it was suggested that a knowledge of the campus could prevent enrolling a student in a class they could not physically access. A working relationship with those in the college who schedule classes can preempt such a problem by insuring that additional sections of the course are available in classrooms that are accessible. In the unlikely event that only one section of a required course is being offered and the classroom is not accessible, strong allies can help to persuade the administration to move the course to an accessible classroom or create an additional accessible section.
There are two important allies an advisor should network with for assistance with such problems. The first is the individual designated by the college to enforce compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The second ally is the person or persons at the college responsible for establishing eligibility for accommodations, determining the nature of the accommodations needed by a particular student and helping to insure that the student receives the accommodations for which they are eligible. While the titles for these two potential allies may vary from one campus to another, federal law requires that they exist and that they be readily identifiable on any campus.
Advising students with disabilities may present many challenges, but meeting these challenges can provide long term rewards for you and the students you serve.
Leslie L. Hemphill
Cloud County Community College
Lynn Higa and Michael Kirk-Kuwaye, Assessment of Advising Interest Group Co-Chairs
Say “assessment” to most people and they think it’s like taking cough syrup—you don’t particularly like the taste, but you know it’s good for you. As the Assessment of Advising Interest Group (AAIG) co-chairs, we’d like to change this somewhat negative view of assessment. (Those of you already on the assessment bandwagon can stop reading now.)
We do not consider ourselves experts in the assessment field nor do we have a fully developed assessment program, but we aspire to create a place to “talk story” (as we say in Hawaii) about assessment with colleagues across the country. In creating this place, specifically this Interest Group, we have talked with the experts and top-rated program administrators as well as with advisors who are doing expert work with their programs. We are convinced that all advising stakeholders should be included in any assessment conversation. Here is some of what we’ve learned on this great (and still ongoing) assessment journey:
As advisors we engage in hallway hypothesizing—“Seems like all the people who like engineering dislike these types of classes.” “Are students really being changed by this program?” Advisors raise issues of what needs to be, but perhaps currently is not, being assessed.
Advisors collect information all the time. In our daily conversations with students we ask purposeful questions and observe their behavior. We write advising notes, complete student information forms, and tabulate reports on student counts. The list is endless. We don’t advocate the collection of data for data’s sake. Instead just be aware of the wealth of information flowing through our offices each day. One assessment sage said that while formal instruments and procedures are good, they often confirm what we know by experience.
“It’s not my job, let the administration or the institutional research do it.” Sound familiar? Yet advisors must be involved in the design stage of most advising assessments — where the questions are determined. Advisors have a broad view of the student’s educational experience, working on both sides of the curriculum-student development divide. We see first hand the learning and development that results from advising. We are also sensitive to the rhythms of the academic semester that can affect the quality and quantity of data collected.
If we are not involved, others will write the questions for us. We need to ensure that what is being measured is important and appropriate for our particular office or program.
Get an overview of assessment: take a class, go to a conference, read monographs. Or better yet, meet with your colleagues at the Assessment of Advising Interest Group (AAIG) meeting at the Salt Lake City National Conference this September. Join us as we continue our discussion of assessment practices and instruments that work. We’ll have small group discussions covering assessment of advisors, students, and programs/colleges. Bring an instrument, reference/study, and practice to share (10 copies). Learn about the new AAIG website that includes assessment site links, instruments, and practices.
We’ll also see if the assessment metaphor can be changed to something more pleasant – perhaps like sipping a fine wine, sharp and clean at first, with an earthy complexity at the end.
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Tim A. Champarde, Lansing Community College
I wonder how many of us have the kind of job that puts us in contact with those we consider to be heroes on a daily basis. I have a job like that. I’m a college advisor and many of my heroes are the students who come in to see me for direction every day.
Personal Tragedy vs. National Threat
I remember vividly one such student who stopped by last year. “Abby” had lost her home and her family business in a freak act of nature right around 9/11. A tornado had gone through the area and, aside from damage to a nearby power station, only her house and her family’s business next door were destroyed, forcing her, her two children, and her husband to relocate. The business would have to be closed for about a year. It was the kind of horrific event that would cause even the most tolerant of people to shake their fists at the sky and scream, “Why?!”
At a time when our entire nation reeled in disbelief and fear of further attacks, Abby was wracked with guilt, stemming from the fact that, on the one hand, the world was on a heightened state of alert for terrorists, while on the other hand, far from the destruction of 9/11, her family had almost been destroyed by an act of nature. With history being rewritten about the most dastardly attack on U.S. soil, her story was buried in the shadows cast by terrorism.
Abby’s heroism also went largely unnoticed. Somehow, stuck in the crotch of this irony of personal horror versus national threat, Abby made her mind up that the means to a solution was to return to her community college and finish her degree. I marveled at her tenacity and courage! When she came in to see me for direction, she was concerned about how to deal with the obstacles in the way of her goal: staying with family was wearing out its welcome; her daughter kept waking up from nightmares, while fearfully walking far from windows during the day; and strain on her marriage was compounding her fears. What does one offer a student to sharpen the concentration needed to study under such circumstances?
As I listened to Abby’s story, another part of my mind was churning on options that would help her develop an effective strategy. The immediate options were pretty obvious. But Abby needed much more than the routine referral approach—she needed something to make her feel empowered to win this battle life had forced her into. In short, she needed compassion with a sense of direction.
One of my role models for compassion is a fellow advisor I work next to, Joan Tirak. Joan lives out her beliefs like few people I have ever known. An active member of Pax Christi, which is renown for its activism in issues of peace and justice, Joan serves every student with her fullest attention and talent. I was especially moved by what she was able to do for one of her students, a refugee man from an African country whose people had suffered horrible massacres.
Red tape abounds for students from other countries, especially since 9/11, and this student had tried to work through a number of different people to achieve what he needed, only to be rebuffed at every contact. When Joan was able to reach the source of the problem and work out a solution, the man expressed such gratitude and happiness that the walls of our offices vibrated with the energy! I don’t know that I’ve ever seen any student so thankful for the work a campus colleague had done, hugging each other and laughing, as though a great victory had been won. He was reflecting the kind of heart this woman has. A model of compassionate action, Joan had become this man’s hero. They often see each other and he still beams with gratitude.
Another of my compassionate heroes on campus are financial aid advisors. They are routinely the pincushions for angry and disappointed students and their families. Gratitude is too little expressed by those they serve. While poking my head into the office of one of these under-appreciated public servants, we talked about recent vacation experiences. He described a hiking adventure where being so lost even his compass was of no use. The image of someone lost using a compass to find his or her way stayed with me for some time. In fact, it hit me like a lightning bolt as I pondered the word “compassion” for this article: compass is a part of compassion.
The Needle with Two Points
The Chinese are among the first people to have a recorded history of using a compass for navigation, on land and on sea. These first compasses relied on a natural magnet—a lodestone—to point in a consistent direction to set one’s bearings. The affection held for this device is still evident today in the Chinese words for lodestone: tzhu shih, literally translated as “loving stone.” Apparently the love spread to the west, as the French word for magnet, aimant, also means loving. One could argue that compassionate advisors are like magnets, attracting students who seek to use them for direction. Perhaps ideal advising involves not only compassion but, like a compass, it reveals a means for positive direction as well.
But that’s only half the story. As I pondered further the function of a compass, it occurred to me that the needle has two points, north and south. In my own experience as an advisor, I have learned a great deal from students and the challenges they have presented me. Not only do they rely upon me for care and direction, I often need them in the same way. “If one student has this problem,” I reason, “many others do as well.” Listening to my students and finding the means to help them achieve their goals often gives me a sense of direction where students in general are heading. We each are like a compass to the other, a sort of yin yang of advising.
Is This Kansas?
Which brings me back to Abby and the tornado. She came to me needing a compassionate ear and a plan for where to go from here. I flashed on the story of the Wizard of Oz and how Dorothy’s world had come unraveled by a tornado. One of the lessons she learned was to stand up and face what scares you. Ironically, of course, we discover the “terrible Wizard” is himself as frightened and apprehensive about life as anyone else. Dorothy discovers she’s her own best hero, since everything she needed, including the means to return home, was already with her—if only she believed.
Abby lit up at the suggestion that the solution to her nightmare life was already in her grasp. I praised her for rising above the clutter surrounding her and bringing herself to where another courageous step needed to be taken: the pursuit of her degree. When I suggested whatever it was inside her that impelled her to do that would also provide the direction toward everything she needs, she glowed with a smile and seemed finally at peace, more determined than ever to overcome the forces against her. She thanked me for helping her; I thanked her for her inspiration.
You are Here!
Vacationers at rest stops invariably consult a map with a little red arrow labeled “you are here.” Where are we as advisors, as educators, today? Let’s be like a compass to one another to compassionately point the way where service to students is concerned. Our compassion, our “common passion,” is learning. Let’s not merely dispense education but inspire others to seek new ways to learn. Let us be as courageous as firefighters and other rescue personnel confidently charging forward and providing the way to what people need. Let us draw our inspiration from the examples of those we serve—our students. In doing so, we will inevitably motivate them to become better achievers and life-long learners.
Tim A. Champarde
Lansing Community College
For Further Reading: