Academic Advising Resources


Note:This is an article in a series celebrating NACADA 30th anniversary. In this series current NACADA members build upon the work done within the 1995 monograph, Advising as a Comprehensive Campus Process , as they highlight the important connections advisors make across campus.

From Bridges to Coalitions: Collaboration between academic advising units and offices that support students of color
Authored By: Blane Harding

Starting in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the number of diverse students entering institutions of higher education drastically increased. Engberg (2004) noted that “few colleges and universities were prepared for the inherent challenges in educating such a diverse population of college students” (p. 473). As a result Multicultural Centers and Advocacy Offices that serve diverse students began to form on college campuses across the country to address the specific needs of this student population. Still even today, students of color tend to leave colleges and universities at higher-than-average rates.

More programs than ever are offering tutoring, supplemental advising, and career services. Despite the current emphasis on retention and graduation rates across the country, Maldonado, Rhoads, and Buenavista (2005) state that “the reality of failed retention efforts also has brought us to look for alternative methods and theories to enhance academic support systems for diverse student populations” (p. 606). Maldonado et al. go on to assert that “dominant retention theories in higher education tend to adopt a social integration position arguing that the key to retention and academic success is the development of a sense of connection with the institution” (p. 607). Dale and Drake (2005) suggest an alternative approach and state that “only when everyone on campus -- particularly academic and student affairs -- shares the responsibility for student learning will we be able to make significant progress in improving it” (p. 51).

Academic advising units and offices that serve students of color play a critical role in retention and graduation of these students and must develop strategies to establish and maintain partnerships. Although it is beyond the scope of this article, we must not “fail to recognize the importance of students as agents of social change” on our campuses and allow them to “mediate their own environments” (Maldonado, et al., p. 609).

Although the initial purpose or intent of Multicultural Centers and Advocacy Offices was to provide a “home” for diverse students, the focus has shifted more recently from programming (faculty, and administration (lines 376-377). The CAS Standards challenge units to move from establishing bridges between their programs to developing healthy coalitions that combine their resources and expertise to effectively serve student of color.must establish, maintain, and promote effective relations with relevant campus offices,”Brown (1995) states “academic-advising and minority student offices seek to orient students to the culture of the institution and help students to achieve educational goals and refine the skills needed to perform in the classroom” (p. 63). The Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS), (2005), established that academic advising “must be fully integrated into the process of the institution (line 381)” and “

Bridges serve to separate offices into independent units while coalitions tend to unite offices through on-going partnerships, shared objectives, and collaborative work. Coalition building requires a systematic process involving advising units and offices that serve diverse students to address their personal, career, and academic goals. The structure of these coalitions serves as the foundation yet it is the building of relationships between campus units that serves as the mortar and holds these coalitions together. Relationships are crucial because, as Parker (1991) stated, some believe that “imposing rules and bylaws and other organizational restrictions” is enough to sustain this partnership (p. 1193). Coalitions cannot be held together by this artificial means. Parker (1991) further noted that “from the process of coming together we develop purpose that has meaning for all members of the coalition, and from common purpose flows organizational form or guides to group behavior” (p. 1194).

Parker (1991) further asserted that it is not the structure, statement of purpose, or bylaws that make for effective coalitions but the “core acceptance of different perspectives each person brings to the group, including, and most importantly, perspectives coming from different cultural backgrounds”, (p. 1194). The goals must be mutually beneficial and arrived at through mutual agreement. This serves as the foundation for working to better serve our students and “unity is not achieved through homogeneity but by bringing heterogeneous elements into a whole”, (p.1195).

Kezar (2003) noted that “both structural (formal organization, rules, planning processes) and cultural strategies (dialogue, common vision, staff development) are important to the process of facilitating collaboration” and that “creating a culture of collaboration involves altering values, purposes, underlying assumptions, beliefs, myths, and rituals” (p. 14). Units must transcend their self-interest and listen to the voices and perspectives of others to create meaningful strategies. Brown (1995) asserted that offices that serve students of color must be seen as equal partners in this coalition so that they “can use their considerable influence with the students they serve to ensure that these students are aware of and connected to resources on campus and in the community” (p. 61).

Academic units and advisors not housed in offices that directly serve students of color must develop a trust with these students and the personnel in the multicultural offices that serve them in order to more fully develop their partnership and collaboration efforts. Birge, Beaird, and Torres (2003) stated that “as they grow, strong partnerships are built upon a diversity of voices, skills, and resources. Partnerships must reflect a collaboration of multiple dimensions in order to develop comprehensive responses to complex problems”, (p. 133). In other words, partnerships developed between academic units and offices that serve students of color assist students of color in making sense of their marginalized experiences and utilize all the campus has to offer in terms of personal and academic support. These issues may include race, ethnicity, religion, and identity but also incorporate concerns of opportunity, access, understanding, and ultimately retention and graduation.

As relationships begin to develop between offices there must be shared objectives and agreements between all concerned if we are to move toward collaboration. The shared objectives must be derived through continued dialogue and understanding and may include:

  • A commitment to the whole student
  • Recognition and appreciation of individual differences
  • A commitment to facilitating student development, success, and learning
  • Providing quality services to meet student needs
  • A commitment to providing access and opportunity
  • Shared governance

Once objectives are agreed upon by those involved, the steps necessary for effective collaboration can begin to be developed. Dale and Drake (2005) outline six steps necessary for effective collaboration:

  • Define Partnerships as a Core Value: sustain systematic support for collaboration
  • Focus on Collaboration in Professional Development Programs: this may be multicultural or diversity training, skills needed to create effective partnerships, or understanding the relationship between student development and student learning from a cultural perspective
  • Ground Partnerships in Real Institutional Problems and Opportunities: retention, access, achievement gap
  • Leverage the Assessment Movement: develop tools to evaluate both collaboration efforts and effectiveness of each unit/office involved
  • Modify Organizational Structures to Facilitate Collaboration: have shared responsibilities
  • Realign Budget Allocations to Support Collaboration (pp. 55-57)

As one can imagine, there is not a simple solution for establishing effective coalitions and this can seem daunting at times. Coalitions tend to weaken as time passes but as Helfgot and Culp (2005) stated, “despite these challenges, student support services have survived because practitioners focused on one organizing belief; their mission was to help students succeed” (p. 33). In order to facilitate longevity and maximize effectiveness, certain principles must be adhered to by all partners involved. This allows for the sustaining of partnerships over time and involves all stakeholders in defining the issues and developing solutions for the students of color face on your campuses. Jacoby (2003) has stated principles for good Community Campus Partnerships that can be readily applied between academic advising office and offices that serve student so color.

Jacoby's (2003) principles include:

  • Partners have agreed upon mission, goals, and measurable outcomes for the partnership.
  • The relationship between partners is characterized by mutual trust, respect, genuineness, and commitment.
  • The partnership builds upon identified strengths and assets, but also addresses areas that need improvement.
  • The partnership balances power among partners and enables resources among partners to be shared.
  • There is clear, open, and accessible communication between partners, making it an on-going priority to listen to each need, develop a common language, and validate/clarify the meaning of terms.
  • Roles, norms, and processes for the partnership are established with the input and agreement of all partners.
  • There is feedback to, among, and from all stakeholders in the partnership, with the goal of continuously improving the partnership and its outcomes.
  • Partners share the credit for the partnership’s accomplishments.
  • Partnerships take time to develop and evolve over time. (p. 14)  

There are many challenges to any effort for the establishment of effective collaborative efforts on college campuses. Simply having an agreement and mutual understanding of the principles mentioned above is not enough. Birge, Beaird, and Torres (2003) acknowledged several challenges including poor planning and design, the complexities of higher education, weak or inconsistent leadership, and the lack of clarity concerning goals as major reasons for the ineffectiveness or collapse of collaborative efforts (p. 134 ) . Although overcoming all of these is crucial for the maintenance of sustained effective efforts over time, in terms of developing such a collaboration between academic advising and units serving diverse student populations, a lack of communication and partnerships along with a misunderstanding of cultures are the primary reasons these collaborative efforts either fail or do not truly serve the needs of these students. Multicultural Centers and Advocacy Offices are often marginalized on campuses and the establishment of trust and relationships is even more critical for this collaboration.

The benefits of collaboration to students far outweigh the barriers that may be in place or the struggles to maintain a strong working relationship between academic advising units and the resources that serve students of color. This article provides a framework for the establishment of this process along with the steps needed if we are to accomplish our goals and serve students to the best of our abilities. Every campus is different and every unit has its unique issues. When we know institutional climate, organizational structures, advising delivery systems, the functions of current units, the strategic plan or mission of all involved, and the demographics of our campuses, then we can adjust strategies and approaches to help our students succeed.

Blane Harding,
Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs
University of Kansas


Birge, J., Beaird, B. & Torres, J. (2003). Partnerships Among Colleges and Universities for Service-Learning. In B. Jacoby and Associates,

Building Partnerships for Service-Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brown, T. (1995). Linking Academic Advising Programs and Offices Serving Ethnic Minority Students: A Key Connection In Support of Student Service. NACADA Monograph Series No. 2.

Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS). (2005). Academic Advising: CAS Standards and Guidelines. Retrieved June 22, 2009, from

Dale, P. & Drake, T. (2005). Connecting Academic and Student Affairs to Enhance Student Learning and Success. In S. Helfgot & M. Culp (Eds.), Community College Student Affairs: What Really Matters. New Directions for Community Colleges, No. 131. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Engberg, M. (2004). Improving Intergroup Relations in Higher Education: A Critical Examination of the Influence of Educational Intervention on Racial Bias. Review of Educational Research, 74 (4), pp. 473-524.

Helfgot, S., & Culp, M. (Eds.). (2005). Community College Student Affairs: What Really Matters. New Directions for Community Colleges, No. 131. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Jacoby, B. & Associates. (2003). Building Partnerships for Service-Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kezar, A. (2003). Achieving Student Affairs Success: Strategies for Creating Partnerships Between Academic and Student Affairs. NASPA Journal, 41 (1), pp. 1-22.

Maldonado, D., Rhoads, R, & Buenavista, L. (2005). The Student-Initiated Retention Project: Theoretical Contributions and the Role of Self-Empowerment. American Educational Research Journal, 42 (4), pp. 605-638.

Parker, S. (1991). Understanding Coalition. Stanford Law Review, 43 (6), pp. 1193-1196.

Cite this using APA style as:

Harding, B. (2009). From Bridges to Coalitions: Collaboration between academic advising units and offices that support students of color. Retrieved -insert today's date- from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

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