Angela Ogburn, Elgin Community College
A recent conversation with colleagues from other departments reminded me of a pervasive thought about academic advising on college campuses: it’s just advice, anyone can do it. That this notion persists isn’t surprising. Confusion among higher education professionals about exactly what professional advisors do continues—even in advising offices. Only a couple of years ago, I sat in a staff meeting with another advisor who announced to all, “If these students read the catalog, none of us would have a job!”
As budgets tighten and institutions look to collaborative advising to alleviate financial restraints, conversations emerge about who is equipped to do the job. Can only professional advisors do it? What about faculty advisors? Is a combination of both needed? But answering who can do the job of advising is a premature conversation if the definition of advising is still unclear.
Those of us in the advising realm know that those two words—advice and advise—are not synonymous. But we also know trying to convince all of higher ed of that point can be quite a task. Many would believe it’s of no consequence to use them interchangeably; to some, it’s just like the Gershwin brothers’ “you say eether, I say eyether.”
NACADA (2003) has provided a number of definitions for academic advising that encompass its complexity and thoroughness. Within these definitions the word “process” can be found in almost all of them. Advising as a process implies that there is no one-shop stop for what advisors do—it’s not something to be picked up or grabbed on the go. That one-shop stop does exist for advice, which can be found in the brochure racks around the entrances of campus.
If simply dispensing information from the college catalog or career-related resources such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook can be called advising, then surely any employee of a higher education institution with access to these resources has the intellectual wherewithal to provide this.
As Freitag (2011) notes, there is some variability in the realm of advising philosophy, and he encourages advisors to wrap their skill set around their advising practice purposefully and thoughtfully. But once again, that conversation is premature without a working definition of academic advising.
A thorough understanding of advising, to include its theoretical and philosophical underpinnings, is not needed or expected for all higher ed employees. Comprehensive knowledge of one’s own field is the expectation. But when conversations emerge about collaborative advising, it’s best that a working definition of advising be agreed upon among affected parties.
In addition to reviewing the various definitions of advising, one may also consider the complexity inherent in this singular, semantic difference alone: “advice” is a noun, and “advise” is a verb. The implication of exploring this seemingly nuanced difference is meaningful in its contribution to a definition of advising.
To see advising as a verb is to define advising as an active process of integration. From this view, advising is the convergence of information about the institution and the person of the student. This dynamic process involves both exploration and assessment of the student as well as the institution. Not only are the student’s needs, capabilities, and desires explored, but each is then connected and matched with appropriate campus resources and activities in a meaningful way.
Where advice would be telling a student the importance of campus involvement and what opportunities exist, the act of advising would be the exploration of the student’s interests, past experiences, and future goals and connecting these to what the campus has to offer that may be of benefit and a good fit for the student. In this way, advising is listening turned into meaningful reflection and action. It is thought provoking and purposeful.
As a verb, advising is a fluid process of give and take. It requires an equal partnership of engagement and activity needed by both individuals. It requires checking the student’s tool belt and helping him or her assess what’s there and what is yet to be added. The advisor provokes deep, critical thinking through facilitation, and the student responds with rich, multi-faceted exploration.
Advising is such an active process that some professionals are engaging in advising with a coaching mentality. Research suggests that advising as coaching reinforces skills students need to be both academically and personally successful (McClellan & Moser, 2011). These relationships are full of engagement and forward movement. The diploma comes at the end, an intentional trophy sought after along the way.
Just as learning outcomes for academic success are not measured by content knowledge alone, nor should outcomes for personal life skills be measured by the amount of content information absorbed via advice.
The Association of American Colleges and Universities (2012) has identified “inquiry and analysis; critical and creative thinking; integrative and reflective thinking; written and oral communication; quantitative literacy; information literacy; intercultural understanding; and teamwork and problem solving” as critical mass for student academic achievement. As advisors, we are tasked with not only helping students utilize these skills, but also with educating our campus communities that these skills are likewise applied to personal, life achievement.
If our students only need advice, then I would agree with my former colleague that resources such as the catalog exist for that. And it’s true that sometimes all our students want from us is a quick answer or a finger pointing toward a resource. But more often than not, those quick questions bleed into larger schemas or questions that benefit from further exploration. Fortunately, the profession of advising is all about that exploration.
Advice or advise? The semantics matter. Our students deserve the experience of advising, so let’s answer that call. Let’s not call the whole thing off.
Counseling and Transfer Center
Elgin Community College
Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2012). A Sea Change on Student Learning Assessment: An AAC&U Working Paper. Retrieved from: https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/publications/AACUAssessmentConceptPaper.pdf
Freitag, D.A. (2011). Freedom to choose: Advisor classifications and internal identities. Academic Advising Today 34(1). Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic AdvisingResources web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Personal-philosophy-of-academic-advising.aspx
McClellan J. & Moser C. (2011). A Practical Approach to Advising as Coaching. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Advising-as-coaching.aspx
NACADA. (2003). Paper presented to the task force on defining academic advising. Retrieved fromNACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website:
Cite this article using APA style as: Ogburn, A. (2013, June). You say advice, I say advise: Let’s not call the whole thing off. Academic Advising Today, 36(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]