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Steven Schaffling, Syracuse University

Steven Schaffling.jpgAdvising has grown in recent decades to serve many strategic goals as universities have realized its effect on student success and completion (Young-Jones et al., 2013). However, as Shaffer and Zalewski (2011) stated, “the substance of academic advising in the current climate must be radically revised to serve the needs of current and future students who are planning to participate in the postindustrial economy” (p. 75). Here, the authors are specifically talking about redefining what advising is and how academic advising as a term is no longer broad enough to describe the content of what advising needs to be. Shaffer and Zalewski go further when they say, “academic advising without career advising builds a bridge to nowhere” (p. 75). Shaffer and Zalewski proposed that a human capital model of advising should be followed to assist students in articulating what they know as was also suggested by DiConti (2004). In other words, students must be able to articulate what competencies they have learned that employers value and see as transferrable (Kovalcik, 2019). In order to accomplish this, advising must move to an integrated advising-as-teaching model, whereby academic and career advising learning outcomes are achieved through an association with a single advisor. This is most critical for advising programs in the liberal arts.

Liberal arts and sciences programs often tout the concept that their graduates can do anything with their degree. While this statement is directly supported by the vast diversity of economic sectors in which liberal arts students enter (Domingo & Roberts, 2017), the statement is too broad and untethered for many parents and traditionally aged students to assess its truth or how it comes to fruition. For instance, it is far less conceptual and easier to understand that a business degree will lead to a career in business. The tether that needs to be connected for liberal arts students comprises the competencies that year after year businesses cite as the most sought after in their employee searches (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2020). Advisors know that students learn these competencies throughout their undergraduate liberal arts education, both through academic coursework and experiential education. But where do students learn how to effectively articulate that they have learned these competencies? Where do students learn to tell the story of how their undergraduate experiences have given them the competencies that employers are looking for? As Shaffer and Zalewski (2011) argued, this is where the advisor role needs to be expanded to serve students today.  

The concept of teaching students how to articulate their learned competencies through an interview, resume, or cover letter comes from what might traditionally be considered career advising, if it is actively taught anywhere at all. When it comes to advising in the liberal arts, however, a fundamental shift needs to occur in the definition of advising to affect the continued long-term success of these historical degree programs. The requisite shift is towards a model of integrating career and academic advising and changing what advising is for student success.

Academic advising programs in the liberal arts that practice an advising-as-teaching model must redefine their learning outcomes to include career advising topics. The concept of transferrable competencies learned explicitly through undergraduate liberal arts programs is simply one critical outcome and only the beginning. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (n.d.) defined eight competencies for career readiness, including communication, critical thinking, and equity and inclusion. Undoubtedly, almost all liberal arts programs would pride themselves on producing graduates who excel in these competencies, but where are students being taught how to articulate they have learned these competencies? Some believe that there is a gap not in the competency acquisition but in the ability of students to articulate this to employers (DuRose & Stebleton, 2016; Goodwin et al., 2019; Kovalcik, 2019). When it comes to the job of teaching students how to articulate that they have learned these competencies (e.g., orally through interviews and written in resumes or cover letters), the work needs to be taken up by advising. In doing so, advising vastly increases its value to the liberal arts. This would allow liberal arts programs to directly state they have a resource that not only increases student success within college, but also employability success postgraduation. These two pieces wrapped together in a single advisor allows the student to far more easily navigate decisions rather than having to piece together conversations that would normally happen with two different student resources.

Specifically, advising programs must shift and practice an integrated holistic advising model that sees their advising practice cover learning outcomes across both traditional academic advising topics and career advising ones. The relationship between the advisor and the student has the potential to be one of the most powerful in creating student success (Tinto, 2006). However, advising needs to evolve to leverage that relationship to create continued success for the student beyond the confines of the degree itself. In liberal arts advising, it is no longer enough for advisors to play the role of a curricular guide without engaging the full student decision-making process. Students have co-curricular and experiential engagements throughout the entirety of their undergraduate degree program, and these experiences affect their academic plans and decision-making. Advisors must incorporate conversations around these experiences and opportunities into their advising to help the student make curricular decisions. Likewise, advisors must assist students in flushing out how classroom experiences have changed their plans and help them tie these adjustments directly to opportunities, such as internships. 

At Syracuse University, in the College of Arts and Sciences and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, the advising office has embraced and implemented such an integrated model. This required a reorganization of advising services and a redefinition of advising itself. The office serves approximately 5,000 undergraduates across 60 degree programs spanning arts, humanities, and the sciences. The advising curriculum is mapped across all eight semesters and four years of an undergraduate student’s degree. Career advising has been implemented in a scaffolded manner beginning with learning outcomes mapped to the very first semester, including the introduction of competencies that students will learn throughout their degree. Internal assessments of the program and the mapped learning outcomes continue to show yearly improvement. Most critical from an advising perspective, the integration has allowed for the continued development of career advising tools that allow advisors to be better equipped to guide their students, who continue to see the increased value of both their advisor and their degree program. 

Steven Schaffling, Ed.D.
Assistant Dean for Student Success
College of Arts & Sciences and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs
Syracuse University


DiConti, V. D. (2004). Experiential education in a knowledge-based economy: Is it time to reexamine the liberal arts? The Journal of General Education, 53(3–4), 167–183. https://doi.org/10.1353/jge.2005.0003

Domingo, A. & Roberts, B. (2017, August). Putting your liberal arts degree to work. Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2017/article/liberal-arts.htm?view_full

DuRose, L., & Stebleton, M. J. (2016). Lost in translation: Preparing students to articulate the meaning of a college degree. Journal of College & Character, 17(4), 271–277. https://doi.org/10.1080/2194587X.2016.1230759

Goodwin, J. T., Goh, J., Verkoeyen, S., & Lithgow, K. (2019). Can students be taught to articulate employability skills? Education and Training, 61(4), 445–460. https://doi.org/10.1108/ET-08-2018-0186

Kovalcik, B. C. (2019). Developing employability skill articulation in college students: A framework and practitioner approaches for co-curricular educators. The Journal of Campus Activities Practice & Scholarship, 1(2), 26–32.

National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2020, January 13). Key attributes employers want to see on students’ resumes. https://www.naceweb.org/talent-acquisition/candidate-selection/key-attributes-employers-want-to-see-on-students-resumes/

National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). (n.d.). What is career readiness? https://www.naceweb.org/career-readiness/competencies/career-readiness-defined/

Shaffer, L. S., & Zalewski, J. M. (2011). A human capital approach to career advising. NACADA Journal, 31(1), 75–87. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-31.1.75

Tinto, V. (2006). Enhancing student persistence: Lessons learned in the United States. Analise Psicologica, 24(1), 7–13.

Young‐Jones, A. D., Burt, T. D., Dixon, S., & Hawthorne, M. J. (2013). Academic advising: Does it really impact student success? Quality Assurance in Education, 21(1), 7–19. https://doi.org/10.1108/09684881311293034

Advising in the liberal arts needs to make a fundamental shift in the definition of advising towards a model of integrating career and academic advising and changing what advising is for student success.

Posted in: 2022 March 45:1


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