Academic Advising Resources


A Theorist’s Guide to Advising Administration
Authored by: Karen Sullivan-Vance and  Sarah Ann Hones

Advising administrators often face budget cuts, personnel issues, assessment demands, five year plans, mid-year reports, angry parents, upset students, and multiple deadlines.  As higher education becomes increasingly complex, advising administrators must educate themselves continually on topical issues affecting students and student success.  We have had the opportunity to learn a good deal about advising administration, and about ourselves, as we have moved up the ranks from front line advisors to our current roles as advising administrators.  As theory enthusiasts we recognize the relevance of theory and how it can and does apply to our work. 

So what is theory? While practice keeps us grounded in the day-to-day running of our offices, theory gives us a foundation upon which we can base our practice. Daily practice can exist without theory, but we believe academic advising is richer for having various theories to draw from in working with students, parents, staff, and faculty. The real joy of theory is that there are numerous theories that can apply to multiple situations.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

At many institutions staff is being cut or furloughed, programs are losing resources, and administrators are struggling to maintain services. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1970) suggests that it is difficult to focus on ideas of higher order when the basic needs required for survival are in danger. At many institutions, these are stressful and tenuous times. Administrators are being asked to redirect their energies to work that seems much less applicable to their daily survival. In this climate the idea of viewing advising administration through the lens of theory emerges and takes shape.
Envision an advising administrator climbing a mountain with limited equipment. Not only is the administrator out of breath, but she does not have everything she needs for a successful attempt. In some ways this analogy parallels Maslow and what is occurring on campuses today. Advising administrators are being asked to take on increasingly arduous tasks with little to no resources; we are expected to somehow make everything work. As Maslow noted, we cannot cope unless our basic needs are met; nor can administrators create successful programs without the proper tools and resources.

Chickering’s seven vectors
When we reflected on our time in graduate school, in relation to student development theory, we recognized that returning to the classroom after a long hiatus was challenging. Just as our incoming students often feel overwhelmed and challenged so too did we as graduate students. This is reminiscent of Chickering’s seven vectors of development. Chickering suggested that we spiral through a series of what he refers to as vectors or mileposts of development that include developing competencies, managing emotions, and establishing identity (Evans, Forney, and Guido-DiBrito, 1998, p. 38-40). As we enter new transitions we return to repeat these vectors based upon our new situations. In returning to the classroom, we were challenged to develop competence for our new environment. Similarly, as new advising administrators we found ourselves spiraling back to a stage of developing competence and identity all over again.

Imagine an advisor offered his first administrator position. He expresses concern to his supervisor over an area of weakness: his lack of experience with budgets. What happens when the supervisor tells this new administrator not to worry since there is only a small budget? Like our students, advising administrators can spiral down to developing competence and working their way through the vectors. It can be challenging and also a little nerve wracking for the new administrator, especially as he may not initially realize what is occurring. When we, however, are faced with a new paradigm there is an adjustment period and new advising administrators need to recognize this and give themselves time.

Scholssberg’s transition theory
As we moved into advising administration we recognized that transition theories were particularly applicable. Nancy Schlossberg’s transition theory, as referenced in Evans, et al, suggested that when we identify a transition period, certain factors can be effective in working through the issues associated with change. Schlossberg identifies five areas: situation; recognition of situation and transition; self; supports; and strategies (Evans et al, 1998, p. 113).  In her theory, Schlossberg recognized that change happens: change of staff; change of reporting structures; and change of expectations. 
Frankl’s resiliency theories
Viktor Frankl, who specialized in studies of resiliency, said “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves” (as quoted in 2006, p. 2).  Frankl suggested that we find or make meaning in order to adapt to the changes in our environments. He stated, “Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual” (as quoted in 2007, p. 1).

Beginning administrators may find themselves in situations where they are short of staff. They must recognize that the situation, while not remaining static for the long term, is the reality for the short term. On the positive side, this opportunity gives administrators the chance to learn about every aspect of the office and what is needed to develop an action plan for change. New administrators should look for partnerships with colleagues who can provide support for the day-to-day struggles and help them develop a set of strategies to bring about change. Sometimes it is rewarding to just recognize that each day completed is not only an accomplishment, but one day closer to changing the situation. 

Sanford’s theory of challenge and support
Sanford’s theory of challenge and support, as cited by Evans et al (1998), is a daily tool we utilize in working as administrators (p. 33). How do we, with limited budgets, provide professional development, services to students, and support for staff who are often overwhelmed by various demands? We see in higher education a push toward more, better, faster, but coupled with limited and often decreasing resources for these efforts. When we work with students we know that too much challenge with little or no support can equal failure. So too does this occur with staff. 
No one wants to be told she is going to hike a mountain without the gear needed for a successful climb. Our challenge as administrators is not only managing the often limited resources, but to become creative in our support of advisors. In discussions with staff we must be honest and transparent about limitations as we continue to dialogue about available support. For example, each year staff may create professional development plans that focus on areas they want to improve. While there may not be monies in the budget to support these plans, we have learned that we may be able to piece together funding from other sources. Our response to challenging issues is to look for creative ways around or through them rather than becoming paralyzed by inertia. 

Kuh’s campus culture that supports student success
Kuh (Evans et al, 1998 p. 275) suggested that campuses can provide unique opportunities for students to see how their life relates to their studies. In this way students can build networks between their academic and social lives as they build their degrees. Successful administrators build partnerships of networking with colleagues across campus to move their offices and services forward in this same way.. Advising is integral to the campus community and if we are all concerned about fostering student success then creating working partnerships with colleagues benefits everyone.
We must be able to envision opportunities. Consider the example of the administrator who involved her staff in drawing up plans to reconfigure the office to make it more user-friendly for students. After working on a budget she took the plans to her supervisor and noted why this new layout would benefit students. While the supervisor was interested and understood the reasons for the move, funding was not available. Disappointed, the administrator went back and informed the staff that they would have to wait awhile for this to happen, but that the office would change at some point. Five months later, there were end-of-year funds available for distribution. By envisioning the opportunity and leveraging it, even with no guarantee of success, the administrator was able to get the office layout changed, which resulted in a more welcoming environment for students.

Advising administration has offered us the opportunity to learn about ourselves, the level of our resilience, and how theory can, and does, apply to the situations we encounter daily.  The analogy of climbing a mountain speaks to us as we continue to learn and reconsider the intricacies of our work. We find ourselves striving to find meaning in our all-too-often hectic routines. Theory is one way we have found to examine the work we do in the context of our profession. We recognize that theory provides us the resiliency we need to continue to face the challenges of our work.

Authored by: 

Karen Sullivan-Vance, Director

Academic Advising and Learning Center

Western Oregon University


Sarah Ann Hones, Director

Center for Advising and Career Development

Washington State University




Evans, N.J., Forney, D.S., Guido-DiBrito, F. (1998.) Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Frankl, V., (2006.) Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. Boston: Beacon Press. Quotation retrieved from


Frankl, V. (2007). Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. Boston: Beacon Press. Quotation retrieved from


Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and Personality (second edition). New York: Harper and Row.

Cite this using APA style as:

Sullivan-Vance, K. and Hones, S.A. (2009). Maslow, Meaning and Me: A Theorist’s Guide to Advising Administration . Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website

Posted in: Advising Theory
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |
The contents of all material on this Internet site are copyrighted by the National Academic Advising Association, unless otherwise indicated. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of an original work prepared by a U.S. or state government officer or employee as part of that person's official duties. All rights are reserved by NACADA, and content may not be reproduced, downloaded, disseminated, published, or transferred in any form or by any means, except with the prior written permission of NACADA, or as indicated or as indicated in the 'Copyright Information for NACADA Materials' statement. Copyright infringement is a violation of federal law and is subject to criminal and civil penalties. NACADA and National Academic Advising Association are service marks of the National Academic Advising Association.

Index of Topics
Advising Resources

Do you have questions?  Do you need help with an advising topic? 
Email us.