Implications of Data on Administrator Beliefs
Authored By: Joshua Smith
Respondents’ perceptions of upper-administrators’ beliefs about the role of advising, as reflected in the 2011 NACADA National Survey, can be interpreted in several ways. First, I examine the meaning associated with the overarching survey question and the few divergent patterns across covariates, such as who advises. Next, I make some assumptions about the findings in light of existing research and experiences in the field. Finally, I posit future research that might help uncover more nuanced understanding of upper-level administrators’ beliefs and actions that guide their advising policies.
"It is very difficult to walk a mile in another man's shoes." Based on that long-standing proverb and the challenge of defining the persons who constitute an upper-level postsecondary administration, one should interpret the responses to the 2011 NACADA National Survey with caution. Survey participants split evenly in their responses to items on administrator perceptions of the advisor role in student development and assisting with course enrollment, with slightly fewer reporting that their upper-level administration viewed the primary role of advising as teaching and facilitating student learning. Over 10% reported that they did not know the beliefs of their administrators. This latter finding could be a function of proximity: Some advisors have little contact with upper-level administrators and would not have enough information to make a determination. Others may not have felt comfortable identifying who or how many people constitute upper-level administration on their campus. At some institutions, the upper-level administration is quite small, whereas other institutions have numerous associate or vice provosts and chancellors. Those who contributed to making a) student development, b) assisting in course enrollment, and c) teaching and facilitating the top three categories of advisor roles as perceived by administrators likely have some first-hand evidence for their responses.
One could speculate that the perspective of upper-level administrators on the role of advising may have been shaped primarily from their time as a full-time faculty members. Due to the variety of their academic positions and institutions, administrators likely have experience in numerous roles and encountered multiple advising models throughout their faculty careers. However, the consistency in perceived beliefs suggests that the various contexts of administrators’ experiences did not characterize their views on advising.
In many areas of higher education research, slicing the data by independent characteristics, such as size and type, creates a multitude of distinct and statistical differences, but not for this subsection of the advisor survey. Only parsing of advising personnel data revealed meaningful differences among reported administrator perceptions. Respondents from institutions with full-time professional advisors reported that, among the top three roles, fewer administrators perceive teaching and facilitating student learning as the primary job of advisors. Furthermore, they were less likely to choose teaching and facilitating learning than were respondents from institutions with full-time faculty advisors. This result makes sense because faculty members teach and facilitate student learning, while full-time advisors, often with degrees and professional development in student development fields (e.g., counseling, student affairs), often consider student development as one of their primary responsibilities.
Survey participants reported that administrators consider helping with student development as a key area of advisor responsibility, indicating that they understand that effective advising plays an integral role in a student’s collegiate experiences. Little research relates to this area of inquiry, but results of some studies can be applied to these findings. The Southern Regional Education Board’s (SREB’s) Promoting a Culture of Student Success (Bradley & Blanco, 2010) demonstrates that campus leaders who intentionally and consistently funded and supported targeted programs and services, including high quality academic advising, enjoyed high retention and graduation rates. The leaders were lauded for their efforts because their campuses serve a high percentage of low-income and first-generation college students. They created conditions and placed expectations on campus administration to form intentional connections between advising, first-year experience courses, supplemental instruction, and other student service programs.
The recipients of the Annual Pacesetter Award, given by NACADA to an upper-level administrator, demonstrate effective leadership in the field of academic advising; their stories illustrate ways they transformed their campuses by valuing advising and individualizing student support efforts. Their narratives speak to a growing commitment to advising, which encourages full-time professional advisors who may feel that upper-level administration does not hold advising in high regard.
To extend the effort, advisors and advising administrators need to inform campus leadership of their approach and how it affects student development and learning. Additionally, advisors must engage in scholarly inquiry, share the results with campus leaders, and disseminate manuscripts to the various higher-education outlets.
The use of large scale surveys to examine perceptions of important issues, such as the role of advising, offers qualified benefits. The large sample sizes and consistent information gleaned from well-crafted questions are meaningful across a wide range of individuals. The various demographic and contextual data that accompany perception reports also help researchers examine the contextual factors that might help explain statistically significant differences on items or subscales. However, no one can probe participants for more nuanced understandings of their selection of a particular criterion on a Likert-type scale, nor can the experiences that led them to their current beliefs or perceptions be fully ascertained.
Similar to the SREB study, future research on administrators’ beliefs should include extensive interviews with provosts, presidents, and chancellors at campuses offering different advising models. Beyond understanding the primary role of advisors, researchers should inquire about the importance of advising and the ways in which campus leaders situated advising in their strategic planning.
Members of the NACADA Board of Directors piloted an interview protocol with campus leaders to get a glimpse into their perceptions of advising, including their view on the relationship of advising to retention. With the small and varied sample, the effort showed that upper-level administrators made connections between high quality advising and retention; they requested more information and research on the relationship between types of advising and student outcomes. Results also showed that associate provosts and other mid-level leaders had direct responsibility, thus leaving the respondents higher in the system somewhat disadvantaged in considering some items. Revision and expansion of this protocol to address mid-level administration could help extend the findings reported in the 2011 NACADA National Survey.
The following questions for upper-level administrators may help advance an inquiry about their perceptions of advising at a specific institution:
- To what extent does your campus publicly recognize academic advising?
- Is academic advising included in faculty promotion and tenure guidelines? Is it considered a part of teaching, research, or service responsibilities?
- Are the campus advising-awards programs offered out of the president’s or chancellor’s office?
- To whom does the director of academic advising report?
- Does academic advising appear within strategic planning documents?
- How often, and from whom, do administrators receive information and data about the role and impact of academic advising on campus?
- How is academic advising positioned in discussions and programs to increase retention and graduate rates?
- How is academic advising connected to other support services on the campus?
Bradley, P. A., & Blanco, C. D. (2010). Promoting a culture of student success: How colleges and universities are improving degree completion (Southern Regional Education Board Pub.10E02). Available from http://www.sreb.org/cgi-bin/MySQLdb
Cite this resource using APA Style as:
Smith, J. (2011). Implications of data on administrator beliefs. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web Site: