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Ralph G. Anttonen and Michelle M. White, Millersville University

Ralph Anttonen.jpgDMichelle White.jpguring lean budget periods in colleges and universities, advisors can learn from individuals who successfully developed or restructured programs with minimal or non-existing funds. This process is especially crucial now when advising programs at all levels are being challenged to justify their expenditures. Research exists that can help advisors understand the skill set needed to successfully build, maintain, or restructure advising in these challenging times.

Outlined by Anttonen & Chaskes (2002), further described by Chaskes & Anttonen (2005), and reaffirmed by White & Anttonen (2007), the Advocates Skill Set needed to meet these challenges includes a passion and caring for students, patience and persistence, a sense of humor, good listening skills, creativity, and flexibility. Individuals who are risk takers and are willing to endure conflict in bringing about institutional CHANGE are savvy in “academic politics,” the number one skill mentioned for building successful new ventures.

Let us examine the advocates skill set in depth:

  • Passion and caring for students are behaviors illustrated by constant devotion and time spent working for, and with, students of all ability levels. Such commitment to students must be genuine and perceived as authentic.
  • Patience and persistence demand that advisors are willing to expend effort over a long period and not be discouraged by failure. In other words, program objectives and goals must be maintained in spite of setbacks that are inevitable in the academy. Very often we must talk to our supporters to regain the strength to move forward.  DON’T EVER GIVE UP.
  • Sense of humor is a must in the ever-changing world of program development in higher education. When all else fails, we must be able to laugh at ourselves, as well as at the multiple and unforeseen delays in establishing or restructuring an advising venture. In higher education Murphy’s Law is apropos and one must remember O’Malley’s corollary which stated, “Murphy was an optimist.”
  • Good listening skills demand that all involved receive quality attention. Never just listen to supporters; actively engage in conversations with those opposed. It is only through such discussions that we can realize the possibility of changing opinions. We must understand the agendas of those we engage—be they overt or covert.Creativity and flexibility cannot be overstressed, as the academy includes many with strong opinions and varied ideas. The best plan in the world can be undermined by a strong campus contingent. Keeping the core mission of the advisement program in the forefront, advisors must be willing to take divergent paths to reach desired outcomes while remaining true to their values.

Additional advice for these financially challenging times:

Gain support from key administrators such as the president, the chief academic officers, and other key campus individuals.

A senior faculty or administrator with campus-wide credibility and the ability to rally the support of key decision makers is a must. Campus credibility is not established quickly; it must be developed over time. Support from campus change agents can help us navigate within the institutional governance structure.

Back up plans are necessary. If Plan A does not work, Plan B might; when Plan B does not achieve the desired results, then it is time for Plan C. Timelines for completing various stages of the process are important. We must be mindful of the institutional calendar and clock when scheduling, researching, and planning. Research, including benchmarking, resources, and a clear understanding of campus politics, is vitally important.

The dreaded cry “let’s form a committee” must be heard and acted upon. No one person in isolation ever succeeds! Although frustrating and slow, major constituents and opposing voices must be involved and encouraged to speak. Committees must include those with the political power to bring about collaboration. Consider involving key people such as administrators (academic, student, and financial affairs), union leaders, faculty senate presidents, chairs of important curriculum committees, and student leaders. Ultimately, working committees must create a coalition, forge a shared vision and goals, share the benefits and costs of a program with the institution, and align the mission of academic advising with the institution’s mission statement.

Will there be opposition? Yes! People within higher education are very protective of their turf, fear change, and have personal or hidden agendas. Will conflict occur? Absolutely! Such conflict must be addressed through compromise and the development of trusting relationships. Honesty, integrity and transparency produce positive participation.

Most importantly, even when reducing the scope of a program or initiative, we must never eliminate the CORE of the program as we remove frills, partner with others for space and dollars, and share assessment data regarding increases in student retention based on an initiative’s outcomes.

Finally, as one senior advocate stated, “One must realize that politics exist and one must be willing to credit others when the program succeeds.” Keep in mind that we in higher education seldom share kind words of appreciation to all the individuals involved in an initiative. Share the kudos sincerely and liberally.


Many successful campus change strategies are included in the Advocates Skill Set. Advising administrators will find the advice shared in this skill set helpful in forming the solid collaborations needed for building, maintaining, or improving an advising program in our current budget times.

Ralph G. Anttonen
Director of the Exploratory Program
Professor & Chair, Dept. of Academic and Student Development
Millersville University

Michelle M. White
Director of Academic Advisement
Associate Professor, Dept. of Academic and Student Development
Millersville University


Anttonen, R. G., & Chaskes, J. (2002). Advocating for first-year students: A study of the micropolitics of leadership and organizational change. Journal of the First-Year Experience, 14(1), 81-98.

Chaskes, J., & Anttonen, R. G. (2005). Advocating for first-year students. In M. L. Upcraft, J. N. Gardner, & B. O. Barefoot, Challenging & supporting the first-year  student (pp. 191-203). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

White, M. M., & Anttonen, R. G. (2007). Mentoring, advocacy, and leadership: Revisiting first-year student advocate award recipients. NASPA Journal, 44(3), 432-456.

Cite this article using APA style as: Anttonen, R.G. & White, M.M. (2010, September). The advocates skill set: Lessons learned for building, maintaining, or restructuring advising programs in lean budget times. Academic Advising Today, 33(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2010 June 33:2


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