Academic Advising Resources


by Beth Giroir and Jeremy Schwehm

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 30% of undergraduate student enrollment at public and private institutions is composed of adult students aged 25 and above (National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2012). When making a decision to pursue a postsecondary degree, affordability and convenience often influence adult learners’ choice of higher education providers (Pusser et al., 2007) leading more than 77 percent of prospective adult students to consider enrolling in a fully-online program (Stokes, 2006). Many adult students typically return to college in after an extended break, and are choosing to attend classes through an e-medium to attain their educational goals. Here authors outline how intrusive advising can support adult students’ transition into fully-online program.

Overview of intrusive advising
Intrusive advising, also known as proactive advising, is an effective approach for reaching college students. The premise behind intrusive advising is to encourage the student to seek out assistance, by deliberately structuring “student intervention at the first indication of academic difficulty in order to motivate a student to seek help” (Earl, p. 28). “The intrusive model emphasizes the importance of the role of trained and responsive professionals to guide students toward degree completion.” (Earl, p. 29).

Engagement academic advising, as defined by Yarbrough, can also be applied to the intrusive model. In the engagement model, the advisor is the primary mentor for the student in an academic setting. Students who have repeated advisor-advisee interactions are more likely to persist and graduate from the institutions (Yarbrough, 2002; Klepfer and Hull, 2012). In Yarbrough’s model the advisor/mentor needs to be equipped with the following knowledge to be effective in the engagement model: (a) familiarity of degree completion; (b) academic catalog requirements, any changes, additions, or deletions to the institution requirements; (c) aware of any past challenges students may have faced with the major; (d) knowledge of interviewing techniques; (e) an understanding of the mentoring advising process (p. 65). It is also important that the advisor be familiar with the advising process of Yarbrough’s model which includes the following steps: (a) identify student assumptions, (b) encourage the student to recognize unclear assumptions, (c) identify the future goals of the student, and (d) direct the student through the meeting the requirements of the curriculum (Yarbrough, p. 63-64). The merits of the engagement advising model compliment that of the intrusive model in that the goals of engagement advising are components that attribute to a successful intrusive advising experience. 

Adult learning theory
In their Model of College Outcomes for Adult Learners (MCOAL), Donaldson and Graham (1999) highlight six experience areas for adult students: (a) prior experiences; (b) orienting frameworks such as motivation, self-confidence, and value system; (c) adult’s cognition or the declarative, procedural, and self-regulating knowledge structures and processes; (d) the “connecting classroom” as the central avenue for social engagement and for negotiating meaning for learning: (d) the life-world environment and the concurrent work family, and community settings; (e) and the different types and levels of learning outcomes experienced by adults (p. 28). Advisors who use intrusive advising strategies to connect with students then should use MCOAL as a means for conducting the resulting advising session. When advisors use goal setting, explore students’ past experiences, and ask questions that help students understand themselves, a comprehensive intrusive advising experience can be built for students.

Incorporating intrusive advising
There are four basic strategies to inclusive advising: care, proactivity, knowledge, and holistic. Regarding care, students who feel that the institution cares about them, or that they have an attachment to the institution, are more likely to persist and be academically successful than students who do not get that feel and effective attachment (Capps, 2012; Heisserer and Parette, 2002). Proactivity is another key component to the intrusive model; the advisor needs to make the first move with the student regarding advising and have contact with the student on a regular basis (Glennen and Baxley, 1985). The advisor also needs to be knowledgeable about the institution and the resources available at that institution (Yarbrough, 2002). By having this knowledge, the advisor can provide and/or direct the student to the resources nessecary for student success (Upcraft and Kramer, 1995). The holistic factor is a hallmark for intrusive advising. Today’s adult student has many external factors that impact their success as the institution; many have work and prior life experiences, have been exposed to different people and cultures, and are can be very independent (Giancola, Munz, and Trares, 2008). In order to effectively advise a student, it is important to know what outside influences might impact the student’s ability to earn a degree, and how to balance those influences with the academic demands.

Overview and Application of advising model at mid-size, public institution
A mid-size, public institution is currently is using the intrusive model with its undergraduate Accelerated Degree Program. This online program is comprised of approximately 800 students, with the vast majority being aged 25 and older. When a student inquires about this program, they are immediately assigned an advisor who will review any transfer institution transcripts and create an unofficial degree plan to help the prospective student determine their progress toward earning a degree.   Once the student applies and is accepted to the institution, the same advisor will work with the student through phone calls, emails, or office visits to confirm the unofficial degree plan and move forward to find suitable courses for the next available term. At this point in the process, the advisor will discuss with the student any outside factors including family responsibilities, employment, civic duties, and other involvements, to determine, an appropriate semester course load for the student.

By understanding the non-academic factors that will have an impact on the ability for the student to complete coursework, the advisor can work to provide a balanced approach and not overwhelm the student. Once the student begins classes, the advisor will provide any other support the student needs and will seek out the student during the term if there are any issues (financial aid, registrar’s office, veteran’s affairs, etc.). Currently, the advisors contact the students at least three times per term; with average advising loads of 250 students for academic advisors and 75 advisees for faculty members, which provides the most manageable amount of quality contact the advisor can have with the advisee. The number of contacts with each advisee varies based on the needs of the students.  Advisors contact students via email or telephone as these methods have proven to be the most effective for reaching students. .  The advisor is the key point person for the student and works as the student’s advocate with a variety of student support offices including financial aid, registrar’s office, veteran’s affairs, student accounts, and other campus offices. Many times the advisor will contact the student support office on the student’s behalf to learn information applicable to the student’s need. If the advisor can address an issue, it may be resolved in one call. If not, the advisor will pass the information along to the advisee and then coach the advisee to contact the student support office.

Many safeguards are employed to mitigate common obstacles students experience as they move toward degree completion.  There is frequent communication between the advisor and other faculty and staff regarding the student’s course performance, particularly for students who are on a probationary status. Additionally, an early warning system, coordinated through the university academic advising center, is utilized to proactively identify underperforming students.  The earlier the student can be referred, the quicker any issues can be resolved. These safeguards require advisors to regularly communicate with faculty members regarding any student issues. With these protections in place, the advisor can be prepared for as many different scenarios surrounding the advisee’s success but the advisor can never be ready for every type of situation that may occur. The primary goal is for the advisor to form a relationship with each advisee, thus building a continuous dialogue between the advisor and the advisee so potential situations can be handled with ease.

Adult students seek convenience and affordability when selecting a postsecondary institution. Academic advisors who use intrusive advising principles and are guided by adult learning theory can smooth the adult learner’s transition into postsecondary education and positively impact persistence to degree completion. As demonstrated in this article, intrusive advising can be successfully employed in a fully-online program to the successful completion of a baccalaureate degree.

Authored by:

Beth Giroir, Ph.D
Assistant Professor
Arkansas Tech University

Jeremy Schwehm, Ph.D
Assistant Profesor
Arkansas Tech University


Capps, R. (2012).  Supporting adult student persistence in community colleges.  Change, 44(2), 38-44.

Corley, M. (2003).  Poverty, racism, and literacy (ERIC Digest No. 243).  Columbus, OH:  ERIC Clearinghouse of Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, Ohio State University.

Cross, K. (1981).  Adults as learners: Increasing participation and facilitating learning.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Donaldson, J. and Graham, S. (1999).  Model of college outcomes for adults.  Adult Education Quarterly, 50(1). Retrieved from

Earl, W. R. (1998).  Intrusive advising of freshmen in academic difficulty [Electronic version]. NACADA Journal, 8(2).

Giancola, J., Munz, D., and Trares, S. (2008).  First versus continuing-generation adult student on college perceptions: Are differences actually because of demographic variance.  Adult Education Quarterly, 58(3), 214-228.

Glennen, R.E. (1975). Intrusive college counseling. College Student Journal, 9(1).

Glennen, R. E. and Baxley, D. M. (1985). Reduction of attrition through intrusive advising. NASPA Journal, 2(3), 10-14.

Heisserer, D.L. & Parette, P. (2002, March). Advising at-risk students in college and university settings. College Student Journal, 36(1), 69-84. Retrieved April 1, 2007 from EBSCOhost database.

Klepfer, K. and Hull, J. (2012). High school rigor and good advice: Setting up students to succeed. National Association of School Boards’ Center for Public Education. Retrieved from

Knowles, M. (1975). Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers.  Chicago:  Follett Publishing Company.

Pusser, B., Breneman, D. W., Gansneder, B. M., Kohl, K. J., Levin, J. S., Milam, J. H., & Turner, S. E. (2007). Returning to learning: Adults’ success in college is key to American’s future.  Lumina Foundation. Retrieved from

Stokes, P. (2006). Hidden in plain sight: Adult learners forge a new tradition in higher education. The Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Total fall enrollment in degree-granting institutions, by level of enrollment, control and level of institution, attendance status, and age of student.  Retrieved from:

Upcraft, M.L. & Kramer, G. (1995). Intrusive advising as discussed in the first-year academic advising: Patterns in the present, pathways to the future. Academic Advising and Barton College, 1-2. 

Yarbrough, D. (2002).  The Engagement model for effective academic advising with undergraduate college students and student organizations. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, 41(1). Retrieved from

Cite using APA Style:

Giroir, B. & Schwehm, J. (2014). Implementing intrusive advising principles for adult learners in  online programs. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse Resource Web Site:

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