Academic Advising Resources


Resources for Community College Advising Issues

How does advising differ at a community college from that at a four-year institution?
Author: Margaret C. Peggy King


In terms of organizational models and delivery systems for advising, there are probably few differences. Any of the seven organizational models of advising identified by Wes Habley and researched by ACT, as well as the five delivery systems, can be found at both two and four-year institutions. The one model that is more unique to community colleges is the Self-contained model, because that model grew out of the guidance office concept common in public schools at the time many community colleges were being created. That model is where all advising takes place in a centralized unit, typically an advising or counseling center, and advising often reports through the Dean or Vice President of Student Affairs. Johnson County Community College in Kansas is a good example of that model. Based on results of the ACT Fifth National Survey on Academic Advising, this is the second most popular model at community colleges, so while reporting lines for advising at four-year campuses generally go through Academic Affairs, it is not uncommon for advising in community colleges to report through Student Affairs. The Split Model was most popular (in this model the initial advising of students is split, with an advising office handling specific groups of students e.g. exploratory and faculty handling the others) and the Faculty Only model (where all advising is done by faculty) ranked third.

Probably the key difference in advising at community colleges is the nature of our student population - predominantly first generation, commuter, underprepared and diverse in all ways including age, ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic background. This means that advisors often need to focus on the basics - what is a credit, what does it mean to be matriculated, how do you create a class schedule, how should I manage my time, etc. When dealing with the underprepared student, a significant amount of time must be spent explaining the need for developmental course work – courses the student must take in addition to the degree requirements – and convincing the student that those courses are necessary. Because most of our students are working and/or have families, their time on campus is limited and their time for meeting with an advisor is limited as well. Consequently, the time spent with an advisee typically focuses on the practical rather than the philosophical. In addition, for the same reasons, the advisor needs to be aware of the other things going on in the student’s life because they may have a big impact on the student’s success in college. This also ties in with the need for the advisor to be knowledgeable about referral resources both on and off campus.

Certain issues related to transfer are also unique to community colleges. For example, in addition to focusing on program requirements at the community college, attention needs to be paid to requirements at the four-year institution so that the maximum amount of credits can be transferred. Related to that is the need to help students identify transfer institutions as quickly as possible so that their program can be designed to take advantage of existing articulation agreements. For many community college students, the possibility of transfer to a four year college may never have been considered; consequently, academic advisors also have a responsibility to identify, early in the process, those qualified students who have yet to view transfer as an option, and to provide them with the support, encouragement and skills needed to explore such opportunities successfully. Because many of these students may not be enrolled in the traditional transfer programs, this is not always an easy process.

Advising vs. Counseling?
The issue of advising vs. counseling is often a community college issue. As mentioned above, the Self-contained Model of advising often uses professional counselors to do all academic advising as well as counseling. On campuses with a faculty based advising system there are often counselors to provide the career, transfer and personal counseling that goes beyond the traditional advising responsibilities. On other campuses, there will often be professional academic advisors as well as counselors, with a similar break down of responsibilities. Recently there have been numerous tales of institutions eliminating their counselors and hiring more advisors. This may be a cost cutting measure as counselors often have masters degrees as well as advanced professional certification in their field. The issue is one of definition of responsibilities - what is the role of the advisor and what is the role of the counselor. If counselors are eliminated, who will pick up on their responsibilities, particularly in the area of personal counseling. Students are coming to community colleges with more and more personal issues - substance abuse, prior incarceration, abusive relationships to name a few - these get in the way of their ability to be successful in college. While referral to outside agencies should always be considered, a student in crisis needs assistance immediately. There need to be counselors with the appropriate training to work with them. Advisors typically don't have the background to be able to provide that assistance.

Professional advisors vs. faculty advisors
With increasingly tight budgets, many institutions that have traditionally used professional advisors are moving toward faculty-based advising delivery systems, because they are less expensive. I have always advocated for advising models that use a combination of delivery systems because each brings different strengths. Professional advisors have student development backgrounds, advising is their priority, they are typically housed in a central location with easy accessibility, they are trained to advise across all program areas, and they are trained to work with students who are exploratory or developmental. Faculty bring the valuable expertise related to program and courses, and if they teach in a career oriented program they may also bring expertise related to the job market. Consequently, advising models that view advising as a shared responsibility and that use a combination of delivery systems, build on the strengths of each. Given the complexity of our programs and the increasing diversity of our students, it is unrealistic to expect one group to be able to do it all. Also, it is critical that institutions moving to a greater use of faculty advisors have faculty buy-in. If they do not, students will not be well served.

Community College Advising

Margaret C. 'Peggy' King
Retired, Schenectady County Community College

References and Suggested Readings:

Frost, S. H. (1991) Academic Advising for Student Success: A System of Shared Responsibility. ASHE;ERIC Higher Education Report #3. Washington, DC: The George Washington University.

Frost, S. H. (1991) . ASHE;ERIC Higher Education Report #3. Washington, DC: The George Washington University.

Gordon, V.N. & Habley, W.R. (2000) Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Hankin, J.N. (1996) The Community College: Opportunity and Access for America's First Year Students. University of South Carolina: The National Resource Center for the First Year Experience and Students In Transition.

King, M.C. (1993) Academic Advising: Organizing and Delivering Services for Student Success. New Directions for Community Colleges #82. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Upcraft, M.L. & Kramer, G.L. (1995) First Year Academic Advising: Patterns in the Present, Pathways to the Future. University of South Carolina: The National Resource Center for the First Year Experience and Students In Transition.

Center for the Study of Community Colleges

Cite using APA style:

King, M.C. (2002).Community college advising. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site

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