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George D. Kuh, Center for Postsecondary Research, Indiana University Bloomington

Well prepared, highly motivated students tend to do well in college and persist to graduation (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). But for various reasons, many colleges and universities enroll students with a mix of educational backgrounds and abilities. At the same time, some institutions seem to be more effective than others in helping students from a wide range of abilities and backgrounds succeed in college. These schools recognize that in terms of learning and personal development, what students bring to college is less important than what they do when they get to college (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).

Academic advisors can play an integral role in promoting student success by assisting students in ways that encourage them to engage in the right kinds of activities, inside and outside the classroom. Advisors are especially important because they are among the first people new students encounter and should see regularly during their first year. From our Documenting Effective Educational Practices (DEEP) study of 20 diverse high-performing four-year colleges and universities reported in Student Success in College (Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, Whitt & Associates, 2005), we discovered some common themes with implications for academic advising (DeSousa, 2005). Here are four of the more important that can be adopted by advisors at other institutions.

1. Advisors know their students well.

Subscribing to a talent development perspective on education, advisors believe their primary task is to help change students for the better by making certain they take full advantage of the institution’s resources for learning. To do this, many advisors go to unusual lengths to learn as much as they can about their students – where they are from, their aspirations and talents, and when and where they need help.

2. Advisors strive for meaningful interactions with students.

Another way advisors contribute to the quality of student learning and campus life is by helping to develop, support, and participate in mentoring programs. Mentee-mentor relationships help create close connections with one or more key persons, relationships that are especially important for students in underrepresented groups on campus. Also, because connecting early with advisees is essential, advisors at DEEP schools are involved in planning and delivering first-year orientation programs and experiences.

3. Advisors help students identify pathways to academic and social success.

In addition to assisting students with choosing the right courses, advisors encourage students to take advantage of the learning and personal opportunities their school makes available. They make a point of asking students to apply what they are learning in their classes to real life issues, thereby enhancing student learning in ways that many academic courses alone may not be able to accomplish. Among the high quality co-curricular experiences that have powerful positive effects on students and their success are service learning, study abroad, civic engagement, internships, and experiential learning activities. Another key to navigating college effectively is for students to learn the campus culture—the traditions, rituals, and practices that communicate how and why things are done at their school.

4. Advising and student success is considered a tag team activity.

At high performing schools, the educational and personal development goals of advising are shared across multiple partners, not just the person “assigned” this task. Faculty, student affairs staff, and mentors along with professional academic advisors comprise the multiple early alert and safety net systems for students in place at DEEP schools – particularly for students who institutional research studies indicate may be at risk of dropping out. Such team approaches go a long way toward keeping students from falling through the cracks and getting students the information they need when they need it.

Strengthening Institutional Responsibility for Student Learning

At colleges and universities committed to student success, academic advisors are partners with faculty and other staff in enhancing their institution’s educational effectiveness. Because DEEP schools seemed to be in a perpetual learning mode – what we called “positive restlessness” – advisors would do well to ponder the following:

  1. What does your institution write or say about itself regarding student success?
  2. Are resources and learning conditions arranged to help students develop their talents?
  3. Can programs and resources be organized more effectively to help students succeed academically and socially?
  4. To what extent are students academically challenged to go beyond what they are expected to do in college?
  5. In what ways and about what topics do academic advisors interact with students? How can these interactions become more meaningful and contribute to student success?
  6. What is the extent to which advisors are involved in programs and experiences that socialize first-year students to academic expectations of the institution?

George D. Kuh
Center for Postsecondary Research
Indiana University Bloomington


De Sousa, D. J. (2005). Promoting student success: What advisors can do (Occasional Paper No. 11). Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research.

Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J. H., Whitt, E. J., & Associates (2005). Student success in college: Creating conditions that matter. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How college affects students: A third decade of research (Vol. 2). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cite this article using APA style as: Kuh, G.D. (2006, June). Thinking DEEPly about academic advising and student engagement. Academic Advising Today, 36(2). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

George Kuh-2006AnConf.jpg

Editor's Post Script: George Kuh, author of Student Success in College, delivered the opening keynote address on this topic, October 18, 2006 at the NACADA National Conference in Indianapolis.

Posted in: 2006 June 29:2


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