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Implications Of Professional Development And Reward for Professional Academic Advisors
Julie Givans Voller

Scholarly literature confirms that academic advising makes a significant, positive contribution to student learning, retention, and persistence to graduation (Habley, 1994; Kuh, 1997; McGillin, 2000; Noel, 1978; Tinto, 1987). Yet, data from the 2011 NACADA National Survey suggest that too many institutions across the country fail to provide the training, professional development, and rewards needed to maximize the benefits students receive from academic advising.

In Chapter 4, Past President of NACADA, Casey Self, citing Habley (2006), stated that

Regardless of the persons who provide academic advising at any institution, the success or failure of efforts depends upon a strong training and professional development program.   Anyone assisting students with academic curricula, course registration, relationship building, and general or specific student success services must receive continuous support in the form of training and development.

Even though the success of advising hinges upon the strength of training provided from pre-service until the end of an advisor’s career, the number of institutions supporting comprehensive training and development programs for advisors is low. Comprehensive programs include pre-service training for new advisors as well as ongoing support throughout a new advisor’s first year in the field. Moreover, they include continuous professional development through multiple delivery methods for experienced advisors at all stages of their careers.  Data from the survey (not shown) reveals fewer than one half (47%) of institutions offer two or more external and two or more internal training or development activities, which embody the definition of comprehensive.  Moreover, fewer than one half of the respondents indicated receiving pre-service training and individualized development and nearly one tenth received no training or development.

In addition, the lack of rewards for professional advisors suggests that despite increased awareness of the importance of academic advising to student success, too many institutions continue to give academic advising a low status (Vowell & Farren, 2003).  This lack of institutional support should be a call to action for all advisors¸ regardless of the specific situation on their individual campuses. 

Training and Professional Development

Inadequate training and professional development for academic advisors create problems for active and pre-service advisors and current and future students, who suffer when working with advisors inadequately prepared to help them persist and graduate. The 2011 NACADA National Survey included items about training and professional development provided by external sources, referred to as external, and that provided by the institution itself, referred to as internal. Key findings from both areas shed light on the current state of academic advisor training nationwide.

The overall results indicate that institutions do a lackluster job providing internal training and professional development programs for their academic advisors.  Although nearly three quarters of respondents reported that their institution provides at least one internal training and professional development activity for advisors, fewer than one half independently reported the provision of the same activity (data not shown); that is, no single training venue seems to be universally employed.  While few campuses offer comprehensive advisor training and development programs consisting of multiple offerings, a variety of topics, and diverse delivery methods, the data suggest that institutions or campus associations offer at least one program to support advisors.

While every institution should create a comprehensive training and professional development program, advising leaders can initiate the effort by offering one or two quality programs. Those who can demonstrate, through quantitative or qualitative assessment, that their programs help advisors address student needs may incline their campus to embrace continuous learning as part of its culture.  All advisors and advising administrators should contribute to the effort, whether by assisting in the planning of a single workshop, presenting as part of a brown-bag series, attending the training and development programs offered, and using documentation and word-of-mouth to promote successful initiatives.  Advisors who spend time creating or participating in a campus-wide advisor training and development committee will benefit students, who will move through the advising system with more knowledge, less frustration, and greater autonomy.

Current advisors and advising administrators need to pay special attention to new academic advisors.  According to the survey, 40% of institutions provide pre-service training to new academic advisors. This finding suggests that college students may know more about the institution than their advisors do, creating compounded negative consequences: Students may not receive the information and support they need, new advisors may become frustrated and disengaged, and institutions may earn a reputation for ineffective advising.

In an ideal world, institutional or divisional leadership identifies a training coordinator to oversee the development and execution of new advisor training.  Those outside the perfect realm can still be make improvements to advising, even in contexts where professional advisors work in isolation from other advisors.  For example, those working individually across campus can pool their knowledge into a Google Doc, or other secure, shared web space, to create a list of contact phone numbers and important pieces of information new advisors need to know.  Copies of The New Advisor Guidebook (Folsom, 2007) can be passed among new advisors in person or with a short note of welcome attached via campus mail to a branch in another town. Leaders of campus-based advising groups can share the responsibility of reaching out to new advisors, including those in different academic units. By working together, advisors not only improve the pre-service training new advisors receive but also enhance the community culture and student outcomes of advising on their campuses.

The power of working together is demonstrated through one of the most positive findings from the survey: 61% of respondents indicated that advisors receive support to attend state, regional, and national conferences. Respondents also reported strong institutional support for webinars and publications.  These data directly credit NACADA and the quality of the programs and publications it provides.  While the result may be an artifact of the survey, which was sent initially to NACADA members, it illustrates a positive trend.

To continue building support and procuring funding from institutions, advisors should highlight the potential for sharing external resources among many advisors.  For example, the conference attendee can present the learned material at a staff meeting or write up an executive summary of the experience, including sessions attended and information gathered. Advisors can share reports from external opportunities and other publications in a physical or virtual professional development library. An office or campus network of advisors can pass around most relevant information, which can become the basis of a regular book club meeting where participants discuss implications for their individual contexts. The purchase price of webinars can be rotated among administrative units on a campus, allowing everyone to share the cost and all advisors to benefit from the knowledge offered. After the initial viewing, webinars can also be password protected on a web site for sharing among colleagues at an institution.

With regard to advisor training and professional development, the survey results show that size matters. Fewer small and medium institutions provided multiple internal and external training and professional development opportunities than did large institutions. Despite the small differences among reported commitments (less than 10%) to many of the training activities, the disparity in costly activities—such as supporting attendance of institutes and providing a series of workshops, out of office retreats, regularly scheduled meetings, and pre-service training—indicate particular areas of concern.

To address this disparity, advisors from small nearby schools might band together to share ideas and resources for advisor training and professional development. Those in institutions or units who have purchased a webinar, for example, should consider inviting all advisors from across the campus and even from other local colleges to view it. Advisors from different institutions can carpool to conferences or workshops. Everyone can join the NACADA Small Colleges and Universities Commission to share ideas for training and development.

Within the institution, advisors at small- and medium-sized schools can partner with student services staff to create general services training that can benefit new staff in all areas. In some colleges, advisors can benefit by partnering with faculty members to learn more about their disciplines, courses, and ideas for advising as teaching. Training and development comprise two-way streets in which bridges between staff and faculty bring everyone to a better understanding of ways advisors teach and support students. By thinking creatively about ways to share information and resources, advisors at institutions of all sizes do their part to ensure they and their colleagues receive the training and professional development they need to maximize student learning, retention, and persistence. 


Many academic advisors consider professional development opportunities rewards (Drake, 2008).  Indeed, the 2011 NACADA National Survey results show that professional academic advisors receive travel funds for professional development as the most common reward (25%).  However, 35% of respondents indicated that their institution does not offer any rewards.  As with professional development, institutional size makes a big difference: Fewer small and medium institutions reward academic advising than do large institutions, with a differential of more than 10% for three out of the four primary types of rewards—travel funds for professional development and department/unit and institution/campus awards for advising excellence. Furthermore, more public, doctoral-granting institutions offer a larger variety of rewards than the other institutions.  For example, respondents indicated that doctoral-granting institutions (both public and private) offered travel funds for professional development more than other institutions. More public, doctoral-granting institutions gave both department/unit and institution/campus awards for excellence in advising than other institutions.

How can this dismal situation be remedied? As with professional development, collaboration is the key to improving the reward structure for advising.  Professional advisors must seek allies across their institutions, ensuring that students, parents, administrators, and most importantly, faculty members understand the ways academic advising supports student learning, engagement, and success.  Advisors must spread the word about how advising affects student outcomes at their institution.  Advising leaders, whether assigned, elected, or self-appointed, can then work together to determine, perhaps through a survey or needs assessment, the rewards advisors at their institution value: free parking?  Tickets to sporting events? A letter from their supervisor? The opportunity for flex time or telecommuting?  Then, the next step is to ask questions. Will the parents’ or alumni association or student government collaborate to create an annual advising award?  Will institutional administration match funds for professional development travel?   Can the school newspaper recognize one outstanding advisor each month? Can advisors create a culture of recognition at their institution by agreeing among themselves to recognize one advisor, staff, or faculty member each month with a short note of thanks?  By cultivating relationships, identifying appropriate rewards (even nontraditional ones), and officially requesting recognition, advisors can create meaningful change in the campus climate that encourages and motivates.

Concluding Remarks

Educational institutions rarely operate on a surplus.  Work overflows off advisors’ desks, and time, resources, and incentives seem in increasingly short supply.  Yet every advisor must look for ways to improve training, professional development, and rewards.  Only by improving in these areas can institutions attract and keep the best professional academic advisors.  Research demonstrates that students learn more from teachers who are well prepared and experienced in the classroom (Darling-Hammond, 2010).  Therefore, one assumes that students will learn more from  academic advisors who are well trained and experienced in advising.  Training and professional development prepare and support academic advisors in their work.  Rewards will encourage them to stay in the profession. Institutions blessed with comprehensive academic- advisor training and professional development programs need to promote them, not only within the advising community, but also in their student recruitment messages as well.  What parent would not be attracted to a school that ensured their student’s academic advisor was well trained and required to keep their skills up-to-date? 

The following questions may help advisors and advising leaders address issues of professional development and training:

  • Is an office, organization, or entity at your institution a logical fit to take ownership of creating a training program for new advisors?
  • If no centralized training program for new advisors exists, what can advisors do to reach out to new colleagues?
  • What technological tools are available to deliver pre-service training and professional development?
  • How can advisors collaborate across academic units, and even across institutions, to better share knowledge and resources?
  • What would advisors at your institution value as a reward for excellent work?
  • Are the academic advising stakeholders aware of the research that ties academic advising with improved student retention? Do they know the current state of advisor training and development on campus? Are they cognizant of the current state of academic advisor rewards?

The following suggestion for may help advising administrators enhance training, professional development, and rewards:

  • Utilize networks. Partner with the faculty to learn more about the disciplines, courses, and curricula. Work with student services staff to create general services training for all new staff. Reach out to advising colleagues in different academic units, on different campuses, and even at different institutions to share ideas and resources.
  • Get to know new advisors. Create a virtual space (Google Doc, Blackboard site, Wiki, etc.) to pool the knowledge new advisors need to know in their first year. Pass a copy of the New Advisor Guidebook (Folsom, 2007) to new advisors upon hire.  If advisors work on different campuses, send it via campus mail with a welcome note attached.
  • Take responsibility for contributing to positive change. Create or join an advising professional development committee or volunteer to plan or present a workshop or podcast, and support current programs with your attendance and constructive feedback.
  • Seek funding support for external professional development.  Highlight the ways  information and resources gained from, and the costs of, these activities can be shared across the institution.
  • Assess training and professional development programs to determine their impact on advisor practice.  Then spread the word.
  • Conduct a needs assessment to determine appropriate first steps for improving training, professional development, and rewards.
  • Cultivate relationships with stakeholders. Ask them to assist in recognizing excellent advisors.


Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The flat world and education: How America’s commitment to
     equity will determine our future
. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Drake, J. K. (2008). Recognition and reward for academic advising in theory and in practice. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, & 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 handbook: Mastering the art of advising through the first year and beyond (Monograph No. 16). Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association.

Habley, W.R. (1994). Key concepts in academic advising. In Summer institute on academic advising session guide (p. 10). Available from the National Academic Advising Association, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS

Kuh, G. (1997) The student learning agenda:  Implications for academic advisors. NACADA Journal, 17(2), 7–12.

McGillin, V. A. (2000). Current issues in advising research. In V. N. Gordon & W. R. Habley (Eds.),  Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (1st ed.) (pp. 365–380) . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Noel, L. (Ed.). (1978). Reducing the dropout rate. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tinto, V. (1987). Increasing student retention. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Vowell, F., & Farren, P. J. (2003).  Expectations and training of faculty advisors.  In G.
L. Kramer (Ed.), Faculty advising examined: Enhancing the potential of college faculty as advisors (pp. 55–87). Boston, MA: Anker.

Cite this resource using APA style as:

Voller, J. G. (2011). Implications of professional development and reward for professional academic advisors. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse for Academic Advising Resource Web Site:

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