Report on Student Advising Services
See also Executive Summary
Report on S-9912: Review resources currently available for student advising, including those provided by departments, schools or colleges, Career Services and Psychological Services. What types and how many staff/faculty are available for advising? What types of advising are carried out, and by whom (faculty, staff)? How are advisors providing information on course selection, major requirements, post-graduate opportunities? How are advisors receiving their own training? At what stage of their academic careers do students avail themselves of these services? Are electronic media being efficiently utilized to provide advising? Make recommendations for improving academic advising, publicizing its availability, and encouraging students to make better use of these services. This charge should be coordinated with the Academic Services Committee of the New Brunswick Faculty Council, which has considered a parallel charge, and units on Camden and Newark campuses, as appropriate. Respond to Senate Executive Committee by October 2002.
The importance of advising services in the academic environment has been supported in the literature and in Rutgers’ own internal studies. Academic advising is the one process that virtually every student participates in during their college career, and the one that requires the regular personal interaction between faculty or staff and students that is considered a critical component in long-term retention.1 Richard Light, after interviewing students and faculty from almost 100 institutions of higher education about their perceptions of what contributes to a satisfactory undergraduate experience, found that “of all the challenges that both faculty and students choose to mention, providing or obtaining good academic advising ranks number one. In fact, good advising may be the single most underestimated characteristic of a successful college experience.” 2
At Rutgers, a survey of 1,295 former Rutgers students who had discontinued their studies for three consecutive semesters3 found that user satisfaction with advising/counseling services was lower in all areas than that of graduating seniors.
Advising Services – Satisfaction Rates
|Service||Former Students||Graduating Seniors|
While greater dissatisfaction with some services (e.g., Career Services) might to some extent be attributable to the fact that these students were not here for the full four years and so had less opportunity to use these services, these finding are consistent with other studies of student perceptions of advising services and student satisfaction.4 Perhaps most significantly, in the Rutgers survey students that withdrew consistently reported a lower rate of faculty interaction than those who graduated.
As a result of the increased recognition of the importance of the role of academic advising in the past quarter-century, the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) was established in 1977. NACADA has developed a Statement of Core Values of Academic Advising (1994) [Appendix A], and formulated the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) Academic Advising Standards and Guidelines (1997) [Appendix B], the accepted national standards for academic advising in higher education. NACADA has also developed Standards for Advising Distance Learners (1999) [Appendix C].
NACADA standards are grounded in the tenets of developmental advising5 in which the advisor acts as a teacher/mentor rather than just a conveyor of information or advice relating to general requirements or curricula. Thus the NACADA Standards and Guidelines state that:
The primary purpose of the academic advising program is to assist students in the development of meaningful educational plans that are compatible with their life goals.and that:
Institutional goals for academic advising should include:
The present charge is at least partially the result of concerns raised during the Senate’s Educational Policy and Planning Committee’s discussions and recommendations pertaining to the “access to majors” and the School of Business issues. It was felt that in many cases good advising was critical to informed student decision-making, and that too often that advice was either unavailable, inaccurate, or unsought.
The charge is extremely, perhaps unrealistically, broad. Rather than wait and try to address every point listed in the charge, the Committee chose to report its findings and recommendations to date and seek input on where to go from here. This is an issue that different players come to with very diverse viewpoints; since the colleges, schools, and departments all have their own way of dealing with advising, our structure doesn’t really allow for any easy solutions.
Over the course of the Spring 2002 semester and into the Fall 2002 semester, the Committee
At Rutgers, general (pre-major) advising falls under the purview of the student’s college or school; once a student declares a major they are normally assigned/expected to meet with a departmental advisor. Structurally, this corresponds most closely to the “Satellite Model” of the seven academic advising organizational models first proposed by Habley (1983).8
In the satellite model, separate advising offices are maintained for each academic subunit (college or school). Generally, this office/unit is responsible for advising services for all students in that subunit until such time that specific conditions (e.g., general requirements met; major declared) are fulfilled. Results from the latest (1997) American College Testing Service (ACT) survey on advising practices indicate that this model was only utilized by 6 percent of reporting institutions, most often by large (10,000+ students) four-year public institutions.9
In their analyses of the section of the 1997 ACT survey in which respondents were asked to assess their satisfaction with the effectiveness of their programs in achieving eight NACADA program goals and to assess program effectiveness on eleven variables, Habley and Morales10 found that the satellite model was the most negatively viewed both in terms of satisfaction and effectiveness. They caution however that mean scores should not be used to select a most effective model, but that “the key factor in the success, or lack thereof, of an advising model resides in the degree to which there is a fit between the model and institutional culture. The culture includes the institution’s mission; the role of faculty; various programs, policies, and procedures; and student needs.”11
“The institution must have a clearly written statement of philosophy pertaining to academic advising which must include program goals and expectations of advisors and advisees.”12While the University does include “academic advising and acting as a mentor” as part of ‘Teaching’ in its “Criteria for Appointments, Reappointments and Promotions” in University Regulations and Procedures [Section 3.3.18a13], neither Rutgers as an institution, nor most of the individual school or colleges, seem to have developed formal statements of an academic advising philosophy, or a coherent set of program goals and expectations.
The Task Force Report found that “College deans indicate their aim is to provide individualized advising assistance based on a student’s year in college (e.g., first-year, transfer with less than junior year status, transfer with junior year status, etc.), major, desired profession, academic goals, and/or career goals.”14
An examination of the materials that the various units make available [Appendix D] does seem to confirm that most view advising in the traditional, informational, sense rather than approach it as the developmental process that current national standards recommend.
One notable exception is Livingston College which includes the NACADA “Core Values” in their Academic Advising Manual,15 and also spells out the roles of the advisor and advisee in an interactive advising process in their first-year student advising handbook.16 However, the Manual also indicates that the core values are included so as to “facilitate individual reflection and inform our collective dialogue,” which would seem to imply that these values have not formally been endorsed by the college.
Without some consensus as to the philosophical basis of academic advising and program goals, there can be little consistency in the provision of advising services university-wide or even within a single unit.
“Reframe advising as a partnership that would go beyond class selection to focus on how students succeed in and out of the classroom. Develop clearly defined expectations and responsibilities for students and academic units. Articulate what students can expect from the unit, and what the unit expects of students.”Obviously what in many cases would be a radical shift in academic advising philosophy and approach is not something that can happen just by affirming a philosophy or distributing a list of “core values.” This is a process that will take time and will require the cooperation of trained and motivated advisors.
“The academic advising program must be staffed adequately by individuals qualified to accomplish its mission and goals. The academic advising program must establish procedures for selection, training, and evaluation of advisors, set expectations for supervision, and provide appropriate professional development opportunities.”17As part of their study, the Academic Advising Task Force surveyed the Deans of eleven Rutgers units responsible for admitting first-year students18 and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in New Brunswick. The Task Force also held five focus groups comprised of a total of 30 first-year and transfer students representing all three campuses and eleven different academic units.
As reported in the Deans’ survey, at most Rutgers units general (pre-major) academic advising is done by a core group of administrative/professional staff augmented by faculty advisors. At Mason Gross all advising is done by faculty, while at Pharmacy advising is done by administrative staff and student advisors. At University College general advising is done by four full-time professional counselors and a part-time graduate student. In addition to Pharmacy, the School of Engineering and Livingston College also make use of student peer advisors.
A number of the Deans listed inadequate staffing and the difficulty of getting enough faculty advisors as a major weakness of the current advising program. Students also noted feeling rushed by advisors, and experiencing difficulty in scheduling appointments with an advisor. The issue of advisor availability is an especially critical one as studies have shown that perception of advisor availability is one of the critical factors in determining student levels of satisfaction with advising.19
Despite the recognized need for additional advisors, no college/school seems to have any formal recruitment program except for the recruitment of peer advisors. While there is probably some sense of “We’ve tried before; faculty just don’t want to do general advising,” in light of the critical need there must be renewed attention given to recruitment. The larger the number of faculty advisors, the lower the student-advisor ratio. Being assured of a more manageable number of advisees might encourage more faculty to act as advisors. And while personal contact is usually the most effective recruitment tool, setting up an email campaign, for example, is a simple mechanism for reaching large numbers of faculty with minimum effort and cost.
Units that have chosen to rely solely on professional staff for pre-major advising also need to periodically assess whether or not their staffing levels are adequate in light of current demands. Habley notes that in contrast to earlier surveys, the 1997 ACT survey revealed that many advising centers now have “inordinately” high student-advisor ratios, and in general “are in a state of crisis created by increasing expectations and responsibilities without allocating necessary human and fiscal resources.”20
While the 1997 ACT survey found that only about one third of all institutions provide training for faculty advisors21, at Rutgers five of the twelve units surveyed had some formal training program for general (pre-major) academic advisors. These ranged from an annual three-hour training session (College of Nursing) to an annual three-day session (Livingston College).
Student focus groups noted inconsistencies in levels of advisor knowledge
and skills; a number of the deans also noted problems with advisor proficiencies
and the need for more extensive training. A move to developmentally-based
advising would make the issue of training/retraining even more critical
as this would be a new concept for many advisors.
“The academic advising program must have adequate and suitably located facilities, technology, and equipment to support its mission and goals. Facilities, technology, and equipment must be in compliance with relevant federal, state/provincial, and local requirements to provide for access, health, and safety.”23As noted in the Task Force Report, the use of technology in the advising process varies greatly between units and is certainly not being used to its fullest potential. The Task Force made several recommendations in this area including:
Task Force Recommendation 3: Investigate the use of web-based advising assistance for ALL colleges (technological capabilities defined and implemented on university level with flexibility for college-specific applications). Attention should be given to leveraging the use of computing resources and offering students some consistency of service. For example, creating a single web-based point of contact for students that would provide general information and allow links to college/major-specific information.In its review and compilation of the major Rutgers University web pages relating to academic advising and counseling [http://newark.rutgers.edu/~natalieb/advising.htm] the Committee noted that while in general there has been marked improvement in the past six months in the layout and utility of many of the individual unit advising sites,
It should also be noted that all advising services need to be better integrated; both students and advisors need easy access to information concerning career and general counseling services. There is no good central point for accessing this information.
For example, while Rutgers New Brunswick Career Services has developed a Career Opportunities in… series25 based on RU majors that summarizes the major and lists related occupations, typical employers, and examples of jobs obtained, the Career Center in Camden has a Major Career Fields guide26 that has links to professional association sites, job sites, etc. While these resources complement each other, it’s unlikely a Camden student is going to look at the New Brunswick site, or a New Brunswick student bother going to the Camden site.
The Rutgers College Counseling Center has some useful guidelines for Referring Someone Else for Counseling,27 yet there is no clear path that would direct an advisor to this resource.
Recommendation: Any central student advising services site that is developed should include links to career and personal counseling sites and documents.There is no question that the implementation of such a system would be highly beneficial to students and advisors alike. Except for NCAS in Newark which implemented a degree audit system this Fall, there is no college/university mechanism for monitoring individual student progress towards graduation. In the absence of such a monitoring system, it is possible for students to be close to graduation without having ever declared a major or taken into account what the major requirements might be.
Task Force Recommendation 4: Implement a University degree check system to allow for better coordination between departments and students/colleges, and up-to-date monitoring of the academic career by students and academic advisors.
In the absence of a university-wide monitoring system, some colleges/departments have developed their own systems for assisting students check their progress toward the degree. For example, Rutgers College has a site that students can use to check their progress in completing their general (college) requirements [http://rcoas.rutgers.edu/checkdr.htm], while the New Brunswick FAS Psychology Department has developed a site that allows a student to checkoff what psychology courses that student has completed and then be presented with a list of major/minor requirements remaining [http://psych.rutgers.edu/undergrad/courselist.html] .
At their May 10, 2002 meeting the New Brunswick Faculty Council unanimously passed a resolution stating:
“The New Brunswick Faculty Council recognizes the desirability of developing a University-wide computer system to monitor the progress of students toward their degree and requests that Vice-President Seneca appoint a committee composed of representatives of the Registrar, RUCS, deans, and academic departments to review the technical, economic, and procedural implications of such a system and to make recommendations about how to proceed.”A University-wide committee was formed and is currently looking at degree checking systems that would track both general and major requirements. However the cost implications (about $125,000 plus three additional staff) are not insignificant and the acquisition of such a system at this time may not be seen as feasible in light of the current budgetary situation. However the acquisition of a degree checking system should be seen as not just a convenience to individual students and academic advisors, but something that could significantly impact the institution by helping to ensure that more students would be able to progress in an orderly fashion toward timely graduation. With fewer last minute surprises of requirements unmet/credits lacking, more students are likely to be able to complete their degree within four years. In view of the increasing demands on limited university resources, the implementation of a university-wide degree checking system which could in some measure alleviate some of those demands must be seen as a priority.
One of the most frequently voiced concerns of advisors and those responsible for advising services is the failure of many students to participate in the advising process. The Advising Task Force found that approximately 70% of the schools that they looked at in their web-based benchmarking search had instituted an automatic “hold” feature in their electronic/telephone registration system.28 Students are unable to register until they have met with an advisor who is then responsible for removing the “hold.”
The University Registrar will currently set such holds for specific groups (e.g., at risk students below a certain GPA) if requested by a dean or department. While this may be something that Rutgers may wish to consider implementing across the board in the future, until such time as the pool of trained advisors has been significantly expanded such as system would probably overwhelm the already strained existing advising resources immediately prior to registration each semester.
Task Force Recommendation 5: Identify internal “best practices” within current advising programs as well as external practices identified through the benchmarking study. Establish forums for discussion and dissemination of best practices.The Committee concurs with this recommendation. Internally, Livingston College in particular should be commended for its academic advising efforts including
Other Task Force Recommendations
Task Force Recommendation 8: Develop a regular segment for RUTV that features faculty talking about particular disciplines, courses and potential careers to provide more detailed information about available areas of study. Allow students to call in. Stream live over the web with e-mail link. Archive the “interviews” and make them available to the students on an on-going basis.While the Committee found this to be an interesting idea, most members were not convinced that such segments would attract a large enough audience to make a “call-in” show viable. In addition, it should be pointed out that RU-TV is only available on the New Brunswick campus.
Task Force Recommendation 9: Work with Retired Faculty Association to assist with the advising process.The Committee found this recommendation problematic. Retired faculty may not be familiar with current requirements and programs. In addition utilizing retired faculty in this process would seem to be contrary to the goal of creating a bond between student and current faculty that has been identified as important for effective advising.