Academic Advising Resources

Implications for Advisor Job Responsibilities at 2- and 4-Year Institutions

Jo Anne Huber and Marsha A. Miller

The 2011 National NACADA Survey reports the results for job responsibilities at 2- and 4-year institutions separately because a finding of meaningful differences was anticipated. In addition, as faculty members at the NACADA Summer Institute, we heard numerous members converse about advising issues only to end the discussion with “but we are at a 2-year (4-year) institution, so we are different.” To our surprise, the survey results indicate great similarities in the job responsibilities of academic advisors at 2- and 4-year institutions as illustrated by the percentages of advisors who reported on specific activities. Therefore, we discuss the survey findings in a single article.Of the 21 job activities listed, respondents most frequently indicated the following as job responsibilities (regardless of the type or size of their institution):  

1.    Course scheduling
2.    Course registration
3.    Help students develop a plan of study
4.    Assist with new student orientation
5.    Serve on committees
6.    Help students select a college major

Although many advisors advocate that students complete preliminary scheduling prior to their meeting together, survey results indicate that 98.5% of 4-year college advisors and 96.2% of 2-year advisors help students schedule courses.   Therefore, regardless of advisors’ hope to focus on big-picture issues, the data show that many students need help choosing their courses and finding class sections. Based on our observations over the past 20 years, we contend that as the number of students with responsibilities outside the classroom increases and the number of available course sections decreases, the need for advisor assistance for scheduling will continue to rank as a high priority for advisees and their advisors.

Helping students develop a plan of study toward goal completion is a primary advisor responsibility (96.2% of 2-year college advisors; 97.7% of 4-year institution advisors), especially as colleges and universities work to improve graduation and completion rates. An educational plan of study helps students and parents visualize the steps necessary for students to reach their goals.  In some cases, degree completion will take more time than initially planned even for students who have earned college credit while in high school through Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs or via examination or experience. 

An effective plan of study helps students determine the number of credit hours they can realistically attempt each term.  Students at institutions with flat rate tuition (typically 4-year schools) may choose to take as many classes as their out-of-class responsibilities allow.  To graduate as quickly as possible, some students will take hours at multiple colleges, either online or during summers; however, they should check that credits earned elsewhere will be accepted by the institutions from which they intend to graduate. In other words, students must plan diligently. 

Advisors at 4-year institutions complete documentation of advising appointments, including information about student goals, with regularity, but such documentation may be new to those working at 2-year colleges. We applaud efforts at community colleges and encourage advisors (and others at the institution) to document student reasons for their choices: Does the student take a course to update skills, pursue a vocational certificate, complete an associate’s degree, log hours toward transfer to another institution, or meet multiple goals?  If advisors at 2-year colleges expect to complete the institutional mission, they must compile the documentation needed to meet completion-based funding mandates. 

Survey participants from 4-year institutions ranked advisor involvement in new student orientation programs with the third highest average score. Orientation is an essential job responsibility for many (86.6% of respondents from 2-year and 94.9% from 4-year institutions).  Miller and Murray (2005) delineated ways advisors should connect early and often with incoming students to help them reach their goals.  Results of a Center for Public Education (CPE) study (2012) articulated three factors that predicted student completion: high level mathematics skills, the number of Advanced Placement courses completed by the students, and whether the student connected with an academic advisor.  In considering these factors, college or university personnel can only control the level of advising available or mandated. The CPE report supported the effort to link advisors early and often with advisees: According to Chart 2 in the CPE (2012) study, first-year students, regardless of social-economic background or previous level of achievement, who frequently met with an academic advisor were from 15 to 30% more likely to persist to their sophomore year than students who never met with an advisor.

According to survey respondents, approximately 94% of academic advisors (at both 4- and 2-year institutions) serve on committees, indicating that most advisors do not work in isolation.  Habley (1994, p. 10) noted that “academic advising is the only structured service on the campus in which all students have the opportunity for ongoing, one-to-one contact with a concerned representative of the institution.” Because they often provide the first point of contact for student concerns, advisors bring needed student perspective to administrative conversations, especially discussions regarding campus procedures and policies. Today, more than ever, advisors find themselves collaborating across campus. Advisors can find materials to aid in successful campus conversations in the 2009 NACADA campus collaborations series 

Finally, although not ranked quite as high as the aforementioned items, a majority respondents indicated undertaking career-interest advising (78.7% of respondents from 2-year and 81.0% from 4-year institutions): 9 out of 10 advisors expect to help students select an appropriate major.  When valued by parents, societal interests, and legislatures, goal completion will drive the demand for career advising on campus.  

In the weakened economy, many offices that previously provided career exploration services now focus on job placement, leaving academic advisors to address other career-advising issues.  The number of integrated career and academic advising center links on the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising has increased three-fold since 2009 when McCalla-Wriggins wrote “Integrating Career and Academic Advising.” See Also, those tasked with integrating career and academic advising programs will find The Handbook of Career Advising especially helpful.  

Survey results point to an area for improvement in career advising. Few institutions offer the most effective efforts, which include career planning interventions (Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000). While most advisors help students select majors, fewer help them explore the ways their interests relate to work, connect their choice of a major to broader career plans, or explore information about the world of work. Academic advisors do not bear sole responsibility for offering encouragement and direction with career plans, and the greater focus on placement of career development and counseling centers as well as the multiple responsibilities of advisors mean that institutions must intentionally address the career planning needs of students.

Exploring Similarities and Differences Between Advisor Duties
The following questions will help readers better determine the similarities and differences between academic advisors at 2- and 4-year institutions:

  • How is academic advising defined on my campus?
  • What is the mission of academic advising at my institution? How does the advising mission connect with the institution’s mission?  
  • Where do those with the primary responsibility for academic advising report? Academic affairs? Student affairs? Both? 

As noted by King in chapter 14 (, the survey data suggest that academic advisors most often report through academic affairs (73.7%) on nonproprietary 4-year campuses and either through student affairs (45.2%), academic affairs (24.7%), or both (21.8%) on 2-year campuses. As many as 1 out of 5 professional advisors at 2-year schools work where students access additional services such as financial aid, disabilities support services, and mental health counseling.

However, as Miller stated at the beginning of Chapter 5, no matter their administrative home, “Advisors teach students how to make the most of their college experience” (

Because career advising has increasingly become an academic advising issue,   students will likely express increasing interest in graduate programs during their advising appointments.  As with undergraduate programs, stakeholders view timely completion of graduate degrees as vital to institutional success.   Academic advisors need to help students with internships, resumes, and interview techniques. As a result, targeted training is needed for advisors expected to offer career advising.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion
As readers ponder the findings on advisor job responsibilities, they will notice the many hats worn by advisors: Of the 21 possible categories, 19 job responsibilities were reported by least 1 out of 5 respondents from 2-year institutions, and 16 job responsibilities were reported by 1 out of 5 respondents from 4-year institutions. We suggest the following questions to illustrate important points that will help advisors shape the future of the profession in the 21st century:

  • Does the mission of academic advising coincide with the institution’s mission and vision statements?  Is the advising mission statement current or does it need to be updated?
  •  Is academic advising strongly supported on campus, regardless of where it is located?  Is good advising valued and rewarded?
  •  Where does support for academic advising need to improve? What actions need to be taken?  Who needs to be on board with changes? How can support for improved advising be garnered?  
  • Are significant changes in orientation programs needed for new and transferring students?  How should academic advisors be involved in orientation?
  •  In these economic times, are advisors expected to do more with less? Are academic advisors taking on more duties than in the past with little or no training or compensation?  What support do academic advisors need to undertake these new roles?
  •  Do divisions characterize the realms of faculty and full-time advisors? What actions can be taken to bridge any gaps between advisors?
  • Have some offices merged (e.g., academic advising with career centers or academic advising with learning support services)? Is cross-training encouraged? Should other campus offices be merged?
  • With student goal completion the overriding goal at all levels of the institution, what changes have been made to accommodate this new challenge? How does the institution track student goals and completion of those objectives?
  •  How does the completion agenda affect the conduct of business on campus?
  • How are individual departments/schools adapting to stricter guidelines regarding financial aid and progress toward degree?
  • What are the implications of the CPE (2012) report for academic advising practice?  
  •  What policy changes (e.g., mandatory advising or limits to the length of time students can remain undeclared) have influenced practice? How do these changes affect students and advisors?  
  • What incentives do students receive for completing a degree in a specified time (3 years at community colleges; 4 years where bachelor degrees are awarded)?  What disincentives discourage students from enrolling as long as necessary to complete a degree?

Readers should keep in mind that the survey results reflect an activity identified as a job responsibility of at least one advisor at the respondents’ institutions. Therefore, when applying findings to specific institutions, advisors should first determine the number of advisors engaged in an activity, amount of time devoted to each job responsibility as well for proper achievement of the responsibility, and the priority given to each job at their own and other institutions. For a publishable research study, advisors may wish to expand an examination of the amount of time, number of staff, and level of priority given to each job responsibility across multiple campuses.


Brown, S. D., & Ryan Krane, N. E. (2000). Four (or five) sessions and a cloud of dust: Old assumptions and new observations about career counseling. In S. D. Brown & R.

Lent (Eds.), Handbook of counseling psychology (3rd ed.) (pp. 740–766). New York, NY: Wiley.

Center for Public Education (CPE). (2012). High school rigor and good advice: Setting up students to succeed. Retrieved from

Habley, W. R. (1994). Key concepts in academic advising. In Summer Institute on Academic Advising Session Guide. Available from the National Academic Advising Association, Manhattan, KS.

McCalla-Wriggins, B. (2009). Integrating career and academic advising: Mastering the challenge. Retrieved from

Miller, M. A., & Murray, C. (2005). Advising academically underprepared students. Retrieved from

Cite this using APA style as:

Huber, J, & Miller, M. A. (2013). Implications for advisor job responsibilities at 2-and 4-year institutions. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web Site:

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