Academic Advising Education
Review of Literature
The intent of this literature review is to examine the available research and data relating to academic advising. The history, significance, models, and an exploration of the critical aspects of the academic advising process are incorporated in this review. Additionally, this review will show the positive impact of a well established, comprehensive academic advising plan, and the components that add to its success. Finally, literature on different advising models and previous studies that have specifically addressed academic advising and student retention issues will be reviewed.
History of Academic Advising
The concept of academic advising has been present in some shape or form since the inception of higher education in America (Cook, 2001). Ender et al. (1984) describes academic advising as follows: “Developmental academic advising is defined as a systematic process based on a close student-advisor relationship intended to aid students in achieving educational, career, and personal goals through the utilization of the full range of institutional and community resources” (p.19). According to Frost (2000) and Cook, (2001) faculty members have advised students about their courses of study since colonial times; however, in these early days academic advising was not specifically defined. As research universities emerged in the late 19th century, students sought assistance and guidance within these more complicated structures. Therefore, through time, academic advising activities became more defined, with advisors specializing in personal, vocational, and academic issues.
The academic advising model received renewed attention in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Bloland (1967) stated that: “the faculty advisor is generally a member of the university faculty who has been assigned to the role or who has responded favorably to an invitation to serve as an advisor” (p. 8).
Hardee and Mayhew further described the role of the faculty advisor in the following ways:
- The adviser will assist the student in defining and developing reasonable educational career goals based on his interests and competencies.
- The adviser will assist the student in the progress towards both long range occupational and professional plans and making referrals to other sources for specialized assistance.
- The adviser will assist the student in assessing academic progress towards goals.
- The adviser will serve as coordinator of the learning experiences for the student, assisting with the various needs that include: financial aid, health and psychological, remedial work, financial aid, and religious counseling (1970, p. 21).
Furthermore, Hardee and Mayhew (1970) indicated that to facilitate the foregoing role descriptions, the advisor must have a thorough understanding of the institutions course offerings and comprehensive knowledge of the curriculum. Additionally, the advisor should be familiar with the learning climate on campus; and should have acquired, or be in the process of acquiring skills to adequately communicate with various students in meaningful ways.
In most institutions of higher education, faculty members are required to assume the role of academic advisors (Dressel, 1974, p. 57). According to Dressel (1974), academic advising systems utilizing faculty are based on two major assumptions: first, faculty advisors will guide their advisees in reaching their collegiate goal and second, students will want advice from faculty members concerning their specific academic program (p. 57). Although the functions of the faculty advisor vary for different students, the general advising duties are normally as follows:
- The faculty advisor identifies the general education requirements as it relates to the students educational pursuits.
- The faculty advisor helps the student examine the course offerings in his/her major; relates these to other possible majors; and understands the graduation requirements for the curriculum leading to the appropriate degree.
- The faculty advisor assists the student in exploring the career alternatives for the student’s major and conveys information related to employment opportunities.
- The faculty advisor serves as a coordinator of the student’s educational experiences, and works with counselors, teachers, and the administration regarding scholastic issues (course scheduling, course adjustment, and academic progress) and by making appropriate referral to other agencies.
- The faculty advisor serves as a “faculty friend” by demonstrating a personal interest in the student and serving as a central contact person in obtaining information that can be used to help the student; and, by allowing the student freedom to make his own choices. In this role, the advisor provides the student freedom to make his own choices after the limitations, alternatives, and consequences involved in a decision are pointed out (Hardee & Mayhew, 1970, p. 21).
In 2001, Cook indicates that educational institutions began to view the activity of advising as a discipline worthy of further review. Factors contributing to this change include: declining enrollments, increasing attrition rates, students demanding better academic advising; and, new student populations, such as first generation, under represented, and lower income students. All of which influence the “required individualized academic adjustment and planning” (p. 4). Gillispie (2003) also suggested that the progression of advising throughout history has offered practitioners valuable insight to theories and issues that continue to be of relevant concern to the world of academia. He states an appreciation of the past is an important key to moving academic advising through the next millennium. He also stated, the services directed toward student development are an amalgamation of their historical components (p. 2).
Significance of Academic Advising
Student retention has long been a concern of higher education. Beal & Noel (1980) suggest that there are many influences impacting a student’s decision to remain at an institution. It is, however, very difficult to identify a single solution that will increase student retention because of the complexities of this issue. Researchers, as well, have suggested that academic advising is an important component in the retention of undergraduate students. Crockett (1985) and Gordon (1992) identify the positive impact of high quality academic advising on student retention. They note that academic advising offers the potential of linking students’ goals on a personalized basis with institutional resources. In addition, high quality advising can help students establish their educational goals and relate these goals to their curriculum and future careers. Consequently, they say that academic advising can also encourage academic success by assisting students in the selection of courses that are compatible with their interests, abilities, and career aspirations. Furthermore, academic advising facilitates referral to other services and programs within the institution and helps establish a personal bond between students, faculty and the institution.
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Academic Advising has been noted as an essential ingredient in most successful institutional retention programs (Beal & Noel, 1980). Unfortunately, Crockett and Levitz (1984) found that over three-fourths of all advising programs had no systematic plan for evaluation and one-half did not evaluate the performance of individual advisors. If academic advising is seen as a significant educational activity, then the need to evaluate current academic advising programs and advisors in any educational institution is essential.
Models of Academic Advising
Over time, two predominant models of academic advising have emerged: prescriptive and developmental. In prescriptive advising, a student would meet with an advisor regarding a specific issue or question; but, the advisor would not address more comprehensive academic concerns (Crookston, 1979). In this model, the oldest and most basic approach to academic advising, the student and adviser relationship is based on authority, a top-down approach, and assumes that once advice is given, the student is responsible for fulfilling what the advisor has prescribed for him or her. While prescriptive advising can form a component of the academic advising process, this method eliminates student choice and involvement.
In contrast to the traditional, prescriptive approach, the developmental theory places the emphasis on reciprocated learning and views the student as a whole person with unique experiences and needs (Crookston, 1979). Crookston conceived advising as a process not limited to purely academic concerns; but instead, dealt with the whole student and the issues and concerns that are both directly and indirectly related to formal education. According to Crookston (1979), developmental academic advising:
. . . is concerned not only with a specific personal or vocational decision but also with facilitating the student’s rational processes, environmental and interpersonal interactions, behavioral awareness, and problem-solving, decision-making, and evaluation skills. Not only are these advising functions but . . . they are essentially teaching functions as well. (p. 249)
Furthermore, Crookston (1979) believed that higher education should provide opportunities for students to develop a plan to achieve self-fulfilling lives and that teaching should include any experience that contributes to the student’s growth. He also believed that students and advisors should share responsibility for the nature of the advising relationship as well as for the quality of that experience. Developmental academic advising is a process because it goes beyond simply giving information or signing a form. As Raushi (1993) suggests, “to advise from a developmental perspective is to view students at work on life tasks in the context of their whole life settings, including the college experience” (p. 6).
Developmental academic advising recognizes the importance of interactions between the student and the campus environment, it focuses on the whole person, and it works with the student at their own life stage of development. Raushi (1993) stated that developmental advising is based on “the belief that the relationship itself is one in which the academic advisor and the student differentially engage in a series of developmental tasks, the successful completion of which results in varying degrees of learning by both parties” (p. 7). Frost & Brown-Wheeler (2003) indicate that “developmental advising understands advising as a system of shared responsibility in which the primary goal is to help the student take responsibility for his or her decisions and actions” (p. 234).Advisors who look for potential in students and help them plan and reach new life goals are characteristic of the developmental advising style (Crookston, 1979). Advisors help students realize the satisfaction that can be found when personal growth and self-fulfillment is accomplished. Ender et al. (1984) suggest that student growth occurs in three areas: academic, career, and personal. These researches adopted many of the relational approaches identified by Crookston and discussed the importance of engaging students in thoughtful dialogue about options within and across the three areas. First, they believe that developmental academic advising is an active attempt to stimulate personal and intellectual growth; secondly, it is a psychological and social support function, and finally, an administrative record-keeping activity (p. 250). Advisors see students as maturing, developing, and capable of handling responsibility. The goal of the developmental advising relationship is “openness, acceptance, trust, sharing of data, and collaborative problem-solving, decision-making, and evaluation” (Ender et al., 1984 p. 251). Although writers in the field of academic advisement present a favorable view of developmental approaches in higher education, little evidence is available to demonstrate that advisors consistently use developmental approaches in practice (Ender et al., 1984).Alternatively, Ender (1994) provided several reasons why developmental advising failed in academic practice: commitment is lacking on the part of college administrators; advisors do not know how to apply developmental advising theory; and, technology is making advising less personable. Hemwall and Trachte (1999) also believed that faculty and professional advisors do not know how to apply developmental advising theory. They further explained that many advisors, even those who know how to apply it, have no intention of employing developmental advising.
The researchers generally indicate that students prefer advisement and advisor characteristics that reflect developmental rather than prescriptive approaches to advising. Terry O’Banion (1994) described the five steps that he referred to as “the dimensions of the process of academic advising” (p. 11). The process includes: exploration of career/vocational goals, then selection of program choices, course choices, and scheduling classes and finally, the exploration of life goals. He suggested that the picking and scheduling of classes needs to take place within the broader context of the student’s life and career goals. O’Banion (1992) further suggested that students should be responsible for making decisions throughout the advising process. Advisors are responsible for providing “information and a climate of freedom in which students can best make such decisions” (O’Banion, 1992, p. 11).
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Recent studies have shown that advisors actually use a combination of prescriptive and developmental academic advising. Daller, Creamer, and Creamer (1997) found that prescriptive and developmental advising styles are actually overlapping in nature. In their study, which examined distinct advising styles used by professional advisors, they found that all of the advisors observed used behaviors that are characteristic of both prescriptive and developmental advising.
According to Habley and Crockett (1998) academic advisors, usually faculty members, many times receive very little training in advising. Additionally, only about one-third of college campuses provide training for faculty advisors; less than one-quarter require faculty training; and, the vast majority of institutions offering training programs focus solely on dissemination of factual information, without devoting significant attention to identifying the goals or objectives of advising or the development of advising, and the development of effective advising strategies or relationship skills (Habley & Crockett, 1988).
Academic Advising Perceptions, Practices, and Evaluations
One of the major problems with academic advising is seen as the perception on the part of people responsible for program implementation that advising is primarily an informational function. Implementing an academic advising model requires that a written plan detailing the goals and functions of academic advising be prepared, reviewed, and revised as needed, so that all members of the campus community are aware that a plan exists and are familiar with its objectives (Colby & Railsback, 1988). The college’s plan for advising should incorporate a process to assist students in planning coherent academic programs which take into consideration educational interests, life goals and career aspirations.
Gordon (1992) noted several advantages of a faculty advising system, but also noted many of the faculty are unclear as to the specific roles of advising. For the most part, academic advising is multifaceted and as O’Banion (1994) outlined; various skills, knowledge, and attitudes are required for good academic advising. Although the college student population has changed dramatically since the 1970’s when the O’Banion model was presented, it is still found effective (Burton & Wellington, 1998). However to acquire these attributes, several researchers (Gordon, 1992, Petress, 1996) found that well-planned professional development activities are needed. According to Gordon and Petress, (1992, 1996) faculty need professional development to acquire these attributes and unfortunately, professional development opportunities are often not made available to the faculty. Gordon, Habley & Associates (2000) reported that only about one-third of colleges and universities provide any type of professional development activities for advisors. Of those that do provide assistance, less than one-fourth of these institutions require the faculty involved in advising to participate in these activities. In addition, Gordon and Habley also noted that most of the professional development assistance provided focuses solely on the communication of factual information from advisor to student, with little time devoted to the development of advising concepts and relationship skills that have been found to be critical in developmental advising (Gordon & Habley & Associates, 2000). As summarized by Cuseo (2002), research has repeatedly demonstrated that students value advisors who are “available/accessible; knowledgeable/helpful; approachable; and able to serve as a mentor” (p. 12).
In designing a professional development program for advisors, Habley (1997) envisioned a three category approach. The first category would focus on concept components including a definition of advising, student expectations, and rights and responsibilities of advisors and advisees. Some of the major legal issues involved in advising are defamation, negligence, privacy, and students with disabilities. The second category includes informational components including rules and regulations, program and course offerings, and referral sources and services. The third category involves the relationship components which would include questioning, discussion, and communication skills. Showell (1998) noted that in the past generation, the level of legal awareness needed by academic advisors has increased substantially.
In the past, the faculty advisor was generally a member of the university faculty who had been assigned to the role or who had responded favorably to an invitation to serve as an advisor (Hemwall & Trachte, 1999). However, it is more common than not, to assign students to faculty members in the disciplines in which the students are majoring. Too frequently, however, faculty advisors are assigned to students who are undecided about a major. It is generally assumed that faculty advisors will be able to guide their advisees toward each advisee’s academic goal. The following goals were developed by the Council for Advancement of Standards (CAS) to help clarify the role of the advisor. The advisor role is defined as follows:
- Assist students in self-understanding and self-acceptance.
- Assist students in considering their life goals.
- Assist students in developing an educational plan consistent with their life goals
- Assist students in developing decision making skills.
- Provide accurate information regarding institutional policies and procedures.
- Refer students to institutional or community support services.
- Assist students in evaluating progress toward established goals.
According to Colby and Railsback (1988) “several colleges are attempting to improve contact with students by requiring that students meet on a regular basis with their advisors” (p. 3). Whenever possible students should have the opportunity to meet with their advisors before they register for their first class. As an alternative, advisors should hold meetings with groups of advisees during orientation or the first week of classes. Some colleges are requiring that new students attend an orientation class or workshop to help them understand important aspects of the college. According to Brown (1972) the faculty advisors assigned to students who are undecided about their majors have somewhat different responsibilities. Instead the advisor assists the student’s investigation of potential majors by “referring the student to the counseling center for possible vocational testing and guidance and by referring the student to special activities wherein interests may be explored and experiences gained” (p. 94). Once an undecided student has elected a major, it may be necessary to transfer him or her to a faculty advisor in that major.
Currently, academic advisors are concerned with academic issues, helping students to develop intellectually, set career goals, and graduate from college. Counselors help students deal with personal, life issues and learn more about themselves as individuals (Butler, 1995). Academic advisors and counselors, working together, can provide students with the academic and personal support they need to succeed in college. Habley (1993b) noted that advising contributes to overall student success. He further stated that faculty and administrators “recognize that students who formulate a sound educational/career plan based on their values, interests, and abilities will have an increased chance for academic success, satisfaction, and persistence. Academic advising remains the most significant mechanism available on most college and university campuses” ( p. 1).
Petress (1996) identified four major factors that affect a faculty member’s self perceptions of his or her ability to advise: 1) how advisors interpret their advising role, 2) training and/or guidance that are provided to advisors, 3) expectations of administrators and colleagues for advisors, and 4) recognition and rewards available for competent or exemplary advising.
Frost (1993) suggested that the first objective for the developmental advisor is to help students become more involved in all aspects of college life. To accomplish this, advisors help students become familiar with the programs available to them. Early in the advising relationship, advisors encourage students to begin to look at their long-range academic and career goals and begin planning ways to reach those goals. The second objective that emerged is that developmental advisors help students explore factors that promote student success (Frost, 1993). Advisors accomplish this by helping students learn to make academic, career, and personal decisions. The advisor provides guidance and support, but does not make decisions for the students.
In Kerr’s research, he found that 35 percent of academic departments of postsecondary systems provide some sort of training, but only 23 percent require training for academic advisors (2000). He went on to say that the most common training methods are limited to a single workshop of one day or less per year, or individualized training based on advisors needs. Less than one-third of campuses recognize and reward faculty for advising and, among those that do, advising is typically recognized by giving it only minor consideration in faculty promotion and tenure decisions (Habley & Crockett, 1988). A more recent survey of first-year academic practices at two year postsecondary institutions revealed that only four percent offered incentives or rewards that recognize outstanding advising of first-year students and only 41 percent provided advisor training (Policy Center on the First Year of College, 2003). Gordon suggested other reasons why advising is not implemented in practice. These include: advisors’ lack of time to become involved with students; advisors’ lack of background in developmental theories; students’ perceptions of advisors; lack of funds; lack of training; advising sessions that are not mandatory; and, lack of integration between student services and academic services on many campuses (Gordon, 1994).
Within any given system evaluation tools can be developed for the entire training program as well as individual session topics. Drake (2007) outlines the process of assessment as having six steps: “identifying objectives, designing assessment of those objectives, gathering evidence related to meeting the objectives, interpreting the evidence, evaluating the data and reporting to stakeholders and making decisions affecting training, planning and budgeting” (p. 19). Overall, the evaluation component should communicate to advising administrators whether the program had a direct effect 0on improved advisor behaviors, attitudes and issues identified at the onset of the training (King, 2000). Koring (2005) recommends the use of several types of assessment instruments in order to obtain both quantitative and qualitative results. Types of instruments can include surveys, focus groups, student evaluations of faculty advisors, self-evaluations and supervisor evaluations. The results of the evaluations along with any changes to the advising program based on the results should be compiled and reported to the administration and key stakeholders.
The review of literature strongly suggests that there is great need and much room for improvement in the quality of academic advising programs. The research also suggests academic advising programs need to undergo systemic change at four levels: recruitment and selection of advisors, preparation and development of advisors, recognition and reward for advisors, and advisor assessment and program evaluation.
An effective academic advising program also includes components that address training; accountability, evaluation, recognition and reward for college staff involved with any advising responsibility. Only when sufficient institutional attention and resources are devoted to securing each of these components will the need for a quality academic advising program that promotes student retention be fulfilled.
Finally, incorporating these components in a comprehensive training program and also, as part of an academic advisor handbook will result in a well developed and implemented academic advising program. Whether this handbook is online or hard copy, it acts as a reference point for elements covered during advisor training and for academic advisors to examine topics as they occur in advising situations.
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