Three Ways Advising Has Evolved

Published: November 15, 2018

Across the nation, institutions are working to get to know their students better – to learn in detail what students’ daily lives are like. Are they hungry or housing insecure? Are they the first-generation students? What are their academic, career and financial goals? As institutions work toward their completion agendas, they are moving away from understanding academic advising solely as an academic transaction. At the same time, the field of faculty and primary-role advisors continue to push for comprehensive wraparound services that frame and respond to student needs holistically. This shift requires institution-wide reflection on the current student experience from recruitment through graduation, change and leadership management and the strategic use of technology. Academic advising is one of the most impactful levers in this landscape, where 6-year graduation rates for full-time students hover at 55% (Tyton, 2015).  NASPA is developing and managing a network of leading organizations to help institutions redesign their academic advising practices to ensure equitable outcomes for all students.

Two experts from NACADA – The Global Community for Academic Advising and Achieving the Dream have provided insight on the beneficial ways the academic advising field has evolved over time and the most prevalent challenges. Dr. Jennifer Joslin is the Associate Director for Content Development at NACADA, and Dr. Mei-Yen Ireland is the Executive Director of Holistic Student Supports at Achieving the Dream. In what follows, they describe three continuing shifts in the field and the persistent challenges institutions face when engaging in advising redesign.

Advising is now front-and-center in the student success movement

There has been increased recognition of the key role that advising plays in the student experience as we have begun to understand that meaningful relationships with faculty and primary-role advisors can foster a sense of belonging and meaningfully impact student outcomes.  As more institutions focus on guided pathways reform, advising is seen as a critical mechanism for institutions to enhance large-scale institutional transformation of the student experience.

Dr. Joslin suggests, “This comprehensive view of the student experience situates academic advising within the larger context of institutional conditions. In this view, we understand that student success depends on food security, engaging first-year student experiences, clear pathways through meaningful curricula, safe and empowering campus environments, advising career ladders, thoughtful onboarding of faculty advisors, sustaining financial aid, visionary campus leadership, and other many factors at our complex institutions.”

As institutions reimagine the central role of advising in promoting student success, they are looking more intensely at the student experience from the student perspective.  Institutions are determined to create a more seamless and personalized student experience.  To do this, institutions are engaging in thorough process and communication mapping from application through graduation and they are including students in the mapping activities.  Dr. Ireland describes, “The attention to creating deep, meaningful structural, process, and behavioral change with the students at the center has been exciting to witness.”

The role of the advisor has evolved

Faculty and primary-role advisors are now seen as critical student support staff focused on teaching and learning, rather than solely focusing on registration. They are having career, academic, and financial conversations with students with an emphasis on connecting students to the academic and personal services they need to make college life feasible, including emergency aid, childcare and more.  This broader role requires the institution to make structural and process changes that breakdown siloed departments, disconnected services, and disparate technology so advisors can guide students through a seamless experience.

Dr. Joslin reminds us, “Teaching and learning is about building meaningful relationships with students and successful advisor-student relationships are at the heart of student success. A teaching and learning approach is the foundation of many effective academic advising practices and influences the assessment culture of a campus, including the identification of performance indicators that serve the institutional mission.”

When we focus on the critical role of teaching and learning in academic advising, we remind primary-role advisors that they are more than schedule-builders, and we reinforce for faculty advisors that working with students outside of the classroom is part of student learning.

The role of technology in advising has evolved

There is increased understanding that the academic advising relationship and student learning has to be balanced with technology decision-making and implementation. Institutions are investing in technology tools that have the potential – when purchased and implemented wisely – to transform academic advising and student success. Until recently, many institutions used tools originally designed for admissions or financial aid offices to track student progress.

Dr. Ireland notes, “The surge in advising and planning technologies over the past 10 years has opened an opportunity to reimagine the possibilities of advising, both in the kinds of planning conversations advisors can have with students and in the ability to monitor and check-in on students’ progress.”

Today, some institutions have the opportunity to select enterprise-wide academic advising-centered tools that fundamentally change how advisors work with student populations to meet institutional needs and goals. In addition to tracking progress, thoughtful and intentional use of technology has the power to enhance advising interactions by providing students with the ability to complete routine tasks on their own, freeing up time for more meaningful career and planning conversations with advisors.

Institutions that involve academic advisors and administrators from the beginning of the decision-making process benefit greatly from their hard-won expertise and increase the engagement and eventual implementation of new tools, products, and services.

What this could mean for your institution

While it is exciting to witness the continual growth of the field, institutions struggle with identifying and responding to many structural and process changes necessary to create an ideal student experience. When attempting to build and refine the ideal student experience, institutions often grapple with a lack of clarity around current roles and responsibilities. As Dr. Joslin stresses, “It is critical that institutions are ready – structurally, attitudinally, culturally, and behaviorally – for the aspirational goals they are working to achieve.”

Some important questions to reflect upon at your own institution are:

  • Has the institution developed common academic advising goal statements, student learning outcomes, and objectives?
  • Are the roles and expectations of professional advisors, faculty advisors, success coaches, or navigators clear?
  • Does the institution have a robust training and development plan for faculty and primary-role advisors?
  • Does the institution have a plan to train colleagues on new tech tools in the absence of a training and development program?
  • Does the institution’s academic advising community have common goals, communication pathways and academic advising councils or forums?
  • Do individuals at the institution have a shared understanding of cultural responsive approaches or of equity goals and measures?
  • What communication or workflow is needed to ensure the different advising roles provide a consistent student experience?

These questions require time and cross-functional campus engagement to answer, but leaders in the field are here to help. For example, Achieving the Dream developed a “Holistic Student Supports Redesign Toolkit” to help institutions with these and many of the other challenging redesign steps, and NACADA offers resources including a clearinghouse, journal and LISTSERVS.

This blog was originally posted on November 15, 2018 on the NASPA blog.


Dr. Mei-Yen Ireland

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Dr. Mei-Yen Ireland currently serves as a program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She previously held the role of Executive Director of Holistic Student Supports at Achieving the Dream.