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Advisor training and development: Why it matters and how to get started
Authored By: Julie Givans Voller

Training new academic advisors takes time and energy; providing professional development for experienced academic advisors can be even more challenging. There is a financial cost as well – it’s expensive to buy materials and refreshments for on-campus trainings, let alone budgeting to send people to conferences.  Besides, we know advisors are so busy they seldom have time to leave their desks; clearly they seldom have time to attend a lecture or workshop.  In these lean times, can institutions afford the time and money it takes to provide coordinated training and professional development for academic advisors? 

The training and professional development connection
While the short-term cost may seem steep, the fact is that institutions serious about student learning, persistence, and graduation rates must provide training and professional development for their academic advisors. Research (Klepfer & Hull, 2012) demonstrates that academic advising significantly contributes to student persistence towards graduation (para. 8 & 9). When we fail to provide coordinated training and professional development we leave students vulnerable to the luck of the draw:  Which students met with the advisor who read the e-mail about the new graduation policies? Which students met with the one who deleted the email by mistake?  At some institutions, students are vulnerable based on the major they select.  For example, if the business advisors were the only ones on campus who participated in a webinar on advising military veterans, it is likely that students who are veterans are going to be better served in that degree program than in others.

Coordinated training and development of academic advisors is important because all students, regardless of major or luck of the draw, deserve to have access to advisors who are knowledgeable and up-to-date on the policies, procedures, theories, and resources that help them succeed. Training and professional development for advisors helps students by setting expectations for advisor job knowledge and performance, while providing advisors with the tools and practice needed to meet those expectations.

Using training and professional development to set expectations for advisor job performance also helps the institution.  For example, if all advisors are expected to discuss general education requirements with students, then institutions  must provide a forum for all advisors to learn about requirements and keep their knowledge up-to-date. When relevant professional development opportunities are provided, academic advisors can be held accountable for checking student understanding of requirements. In turn, learning outcomes can be assessed for both advisors and students.

People want to feel competent at their jobs; providing advisor training and professional development can improve job satisfaction.  Those who advise, view professional support (e.g., participation in NACADA events) as a job benefit, as well as a reward for a job well-done (Drake, 2008).  Rewarding advisors with professional development opportunities is a win-win situation for an institution. As advisors become better at their work with students, they are happier and more likely to remain on the job. Employee turnover is costly and affects organizational performance (Allen, 2008). Thus, neglecting training and professional development for academic advisors hurts not only students, but also the institution which bears the costs of reduced efficiency and employee turnover, in addition to student attrition.

While the 2011 NACADA National Survey (Carlstrom, 2013) revealed modest improvements over prior years, the results suggest that too many institutions still fail to invest in training and development for academic advisors.  On the positive side, 71% of the institutions that responded reported offering at least one training or professional development activity for their academic advisors, such as a one-day workshop, regular staff meetings, or needs-based individualized development. Yet, only 56% -a little more than half – of the institutions responding offer two or more training and professional development opportunities for advisors, and nearly 10% reported providing no training or professional development at all.  Of most concern was the finding that 60% of institutions provide no pre-service training to new academic advisors.  These figures suggest that at many institutions, undergraduates receive academic advising from people who, conceivably, know less about the institution than students do.  Students suffer as they will not receive the information and support they need to persist and graduate and institutions suffer when they earn a reputation as being indifferent to student needs. Clearly, training and professional development programs for academic advisors have long-term benefits that far outweigh the short-term costs – so how can advisors and administrators bring such programs to more institutions?

Steps to developing effective advisor training and development programs
There are many ways to cultivate and implement advisor training and development programs. Although advising is delivered differently at each institution, there are some universal steps that should not be missed.

First, consider the audience. Will the development program be targeted to advisors who also have faculty and teaching responsibilities?  Towards those for whom advising is their primary role?  Towards peers or graduate students assisting with advising? Consider, too, the types of students who are advised and which academic programs the target audience advises. Remember also that new advisors have different needs than those who have been advising for many years.  While offering training to new advisors takes time, providing professional development for experienced academic advisors can be even more challenging, as training coordinators must look beyond ‘the basics,’ to identify resources and experts with the skills to support continuous improvement.

Second, determine the content of the training or development program – what do the advisors need to know?  Conduct a needs assessment to determine who is likely to engage in training and development. What they would like to learn? How do they prefer to learn it? (Musser, Hoover & Fernandez, 2008).  Even an informal needs assessment can result in increased buy-in from stakeholders and leaders within the institution’s advising community.

Third, utilize results from the needs assessment, along with accepted advisor development charts (Folsom, 2007), and situational knowledge to determine the topics needed and the goals to be achieved. Outline learning goals as early as possible to ensure that the training stays on topic and that the desired learning takes place. Delineating learning goals make it possible to assess the success of the training beyond participant satisfaction.

Fourth, make sure training and development programs and materials include relevant conceptual, relational, technological, and personal components, in addition to the informational details of the topic (McClennan, 2007). When we go beyond the teaching of institutional information, we help ensure well rounded advisors who teach students “how to make the most of their college experience” (Miller, 2012).

Fifth, consider various delivery methods. While a lecture accompanied by slides may be best for some audiences and content, a creative method of delivering content can often increase both learning and audience satisfaction.  The use of advising manuals, case studies, guest speakers, common reading groups, video and audio materials delivered via learning management system, Wikis, and role plays are just a few methods to consider.  Offering the same or similar content via multiple delivery methods is also a good idea; advisors, just like students, have different learning styles and can benefit from repeated exposure to key topics.

Finally, compare the proposed training and professional development program with exemplary programs in the field (Givans Voller, Miller & Neste, 2010).  Looking at programs developed by others can help fill in training gaps and provide unique ideas for addressing professional development needs. 

Whether the plan is to create an advising manual, a half-day workshop, or a fully-funded, comprehensive plan for pre-service training, the key is to take the first step to improve advisor training and professional development in ways appropriate to the culture and context of the institution. Training and professional development programs help advisors, they help the institutions, but most importantly they help students get the information, guidance, and support they need to learn, reflect, persist, graduate, and make their dreams come true. 

Julie Givans Voller
Director of Academic Advising
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Arizona State University


Allen, D. G. (2008).  Retaining talent:  A guide to analyzing and managing employee turnover. SHRM Foundation, Alexandria, VA.  Downloaded from:

Carlstrom, A. (2013). Results of the 2011 national survey of academic advising. (Monograph No. 25). Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site

Drake, J. K. (2008). Recognition and Reward for Academic Advising in Theory and in Practice. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, and T. J. Grites (Eds.), Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook (2nd ed.) (pp. 396-412). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Folsom, P. (Ed.) (2007). The new advisor guidebook: Mastering the art of advising through the first year and beyond (Monograph No. 16). Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association.

Givans Voller, J., Miller, M.A. & Neste, S.L. (Eds.) (2010). Comprehensive advisor training and development: Practices that deliver (second edition) (Monograph No. 21). Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association.

Klepfer, K., & Hull, J. High school rigor and good advice: Setting up students to succeed.  Center for Public Education, National School Boards Association (retrieved  from:

McClellan, J.L. (2007). Content Components for Advisor Training: Revisited. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site

Miller, M.A. (in press). Structuring our conversations: Shifting to four dimensional advising models. In Carlstrom, A., 2011 national survey of academic advising. (Monograph No. 25). Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources 

Cite this using APA style as:

Givans Voller, J. (2012). Advisor training and development: Why it matters and how to get started. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

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