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Michael E. Geroux, University at Albany
Vincent J. Kloskowski, III, Oxford Hills Community Education Exchange

Vincent Kloskowski.jpgMike Geroux.jpgUsing a sociological lens, advisors can begin to formulate a sense of understanding towards the concept of whether higher education promotes social reproduction or social mobility for first-year and specialized student populations. Discussion on this topic is open for debate, much of which is based on the type of institution being referenced. If examining a prestigious private liberal arts institution, the viewpoint might differ as compared to a public higher education institution or a community college, given the different types of student populations and their social backgrounds. In analyzing institutions throughout the United States, it is important to recognize some of the key themes present, particularly those of social inequality and stratification within the context of higher education. These themes play a pivotal role in the areas of college matriculation, retention, persistence, student engagement, and ultimately degree completion. Further stated by Kimball and Campbell (2013), according to Vincent Tinto (1993), effective retention programs reflect policy maker understanding that academic advising underpins student success. This highlights the importance of advising theory and framework that addresses social mobility of first-year and specialized student populations. 

The emphasis on advising theory and framework within the field of higher education is in large part due to the work of advisors and their expertise as related to having a thorough understanding of students, including social context, backgrounds, motivation for attending college, the choice of attending said college, and the goals for each student. The advising profession, as an interdisciplinary field, does not profess a theoretical base; instead, advising scholars borrow key theoretical insights from other disciplines to form a current knowledge base (Kimball & Campbell, 2013). Referencing literature from across several disciplines, such as psychology, philosophy, and sociology, advisors are equipped to further understand how inequalities can impact the success of their students, leading to the design of approaches to support all students as well as the potential for social mobility. Furthermore, the foundation of advising rests on the knowledge of three essential components: conceptual, informational, and relational. Conceptual refers to the theory and approaches the advisor practices; informational is the knowledge that advisors gain through training and development; and relational student development practices are built through communication and interpersonal skills used in fostering systemic relationships. 

Advising Theory and Framework in Social Mobility

Structured academic advising, offered early and consistently, will build a culture of support and growth for students as they begin to identify and work towards their personal and educational goals. Coherent first-year experience programs, which include pre-college and ongoing orientation programs, first-year seminars, and other new student advising and study group experiences, appear to be linked to a variety of positive outcomes for first-year students (Kuh et al., 2007, p. 79). The key element is the ability of all types of higher education professionals focused on student engagement to take time (throughout the semester and year) to actively listen and learn about their student’s backgrounds, including socioeconomic status, family upbringing, and their K-12 experiences. One of the key areas in the category of individual-level analysis is that of socioeconomic stratification and the influence it has on college access, matriculation, and degree completion. Supported by Wolniak et al. (2016), the most promising explanations of class-based stratification in higher education are those focused on the mechanisms employed by higher status groups to maintain their social advantages. This is more prevalent when one considers the increase of college access to students from all backgrounds. 

This information will equip the advisor to then formulate a well-designed, individual-based plan of action to capitalize on the numerous campus resources that help promote student success. Understanding that a student’s experience in college will continually change both academically and socially, advisors work to address the ever-changing needs of their students. Referring to Tinto’s Model of Institutional Departure, Aljohani (2016) stated that academic integration can be measured by the student’s grade performance and intellectual development, while social integration is measured by the student’s integration with college society (peers and faculty). Not only are advisors discussing academic concerns with students, they often address the social system as well. It is here where students have the chance to broaden their horizons as they establish their niche within the institution. Student retention is also shaped, directly and indirectly, by social forces both internal and external to the campus community, especially those that influence students’ sense of belonging and membership in the social communities of the institution (Tinto, 2012). 

Oftentimes, students are not aware of numerous opportunities afforded to them on campus, and as the door is opened with assistance from an advisor, the possibilities have the potential to become endless. Based on individual motivations and goals, advisors can connect students with a variety of campus resources and organizations that would be a good fit for the student. At its best, academic advising addresses the personal, intellectual, social, vocational, and psychological needs of students: academic advising practices that are designed well often communicate to students that their college or university values their holistic institutional engagement and has an abiding concern for their growth and development (Braxton et al., 2014, p. 102). Keeping this student success framework in mind, it is also interesting to note that the performance gap between underserved and wealthy students can be minimal in kindergarten but over time manifests itself by creating a deeper subset of an accumulation of advantages and wider gaps in academic achievement by the end of high school (Mullen, 2010). 

In addition to building a learning trajectory focused on institutional structure and student populations, it is necessary for advisors to become well-versed in developmental and advising theory. Those who understand and apply theory in their approach to advising will discover deeper meaning in their practice, leading to a more authentic approach of advising. As stated by Roufs (2015), developmental theory makes a connection between prescribing classes to a student versus the proactive guidance given to students in helping make decisions that clarify and define an outlook centered on values, goals, and objectives. This latter philosophy provides a foundation for advisors who bring theory into practice by laying the groundwork for productive and strong advisor-advisee relationships. 

One such specialized population of student learners that deserves a great deal of concentrated student support while incorporating advising theory and framework to help address challenges with social mobility includes active military and student veterans engaged in pursuing higher education opportunities. As advisors and higher education professionals, we must strive to incorporate advising theory and framework used as a holistic approach for these students both inside and outside of the classroom. This specialized population of student learners, like many others, are invaluable to the collective landscape of higher education degree attainment and promotion of social mobility. Continued systemic efforts to enhance student success initiatives for active military and student veterans must be identified as a systemic priority to help break down the barriers in academic achievement often encountered by this specialized student population and others.


Students from first-generation, specialized populations and first year limited income (FLI) communities who gain access to higher education must be supported by advisors with robust resources incorporating advising theory and framework to help students build a trajectory of new life opportunities. The ongoing discussion for social mobility within higher education needs to take into consideration the understanding of the social inequalities embedded in K-12 and higher education. Key insights into the backgrounds of students and their purpose for pursuing higher education opportunities will help affirm the understanding of a student’s background and goals towards achieving academic success along with career and life fulfillment. Higher education institutions can begin to develop and implement programming that ensures students are receiving the support and guidance needed for their success. As such, embracing and supporting the diversity of the holistic student community collective is both crucial and integral when incorporating, designing, and promoting advising theory and framework centered on actively promoting and enhancing social mobility for first-year and specialized student populations.

Michael E. Geroux, MSED
Assistant Director
Academic Support Center
University at Albany
[email protected]

Vincent J. Kloskowski, III, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Oxford Hills Community Education Exchange
[email protected]


Aljohani, O. (2016). A comprehensive review of the major studies and theoretical models of student retention in higher education. Higher Education Studies, 6(2), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.5539/hes.v6n2p1

Braxton, J. M., Doyle, W. R., Hartley III, H. V., Hirschy, A. S., Jones, W. A., & McLendon, M. K. (2014). Rethinking college student retention. Jossey-Bass.

Kimball, E. & Campbell, S. (2013). Advising strategies to support student learning success: Linking theory and philosophy with intentional practice. In J. Drake, P. Jordan, & M. Miller, Academic advising approaches: Strategies that teach students to make the most of college (pp. 3–15). Jossey-Bass. 

Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Buckley, J. A., Bridges, B. K., & Hayek, J. C. (2007). Piecing together the student success puzzle. ASHE Higher Education Report, 32(5), 1–182. https://doi.org/10.1002/aehe.3205

Mullen, A. (2010). Degrees of Inequality: Culture, class, and gender in American higher education. Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Roufs, K. (2015). Theory matters. In P. Folsom, F. Yoder, J. Joslin (Eds), The new advisor guidebook: Mastering the art of academic advising (pp. 67–82). Jossey-Bass.

Wolniak, G., Wells, R., Engberg, M., & Manly, C. (2016). College enhancement strategies and socioeconomic inequality. Research in Higher Education, 57(3), 310–334. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-015-9389-4

Tinto, V. (2012). Completing college: Rethinking institutional action. The University of Chicago Press.

Cite this article using APA style as: Geroux, M.E., & Kloskowski, V.J. (2022, March). Using advising theory and framework to address social mobility of first-year and specialized student populations. Academic Advising Today, 45(1). [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2022 March 45:1


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