Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of articles written by students enrolled in Jennifer Bloom's graduate seminar on academic advising at the University of South Carolina during the spring 2009 semester. As part of her course syllabus, Dr. Bloom required each student in her class to submit an article to The Mentor or other publications for consideration.
Many colleges and universities are struggling to decide whether to mandate that students meet with advisers each semester. Academic advising practices vary from institution to institution and often from one college to the next within a single institution, making it difficult to offer blanket recommendations to help university officials make this decision. However, the advising literature does provide some factors to take into account when deciding. The purpose of this article is to share the pros and cons of mandatory academic advising and to make recommendations for institutions considering a transition from non-mandatory to mandatory advising. For the purpose of this article, we define mandatory academic advising as required meetings between adviser and student each semester/quarter prior to the course registration period for the upcoming semester/quarter.
Pros of Mandatory Advising
There are many positive ways in which academic advising contributes to student success. Good advising can provide students opportunities to interact with a faculty or professional adviser, feel more connected to their institution, clarify course selection, and serve as an educational and/or vocational check-up.
At institutions that mandate advising, students are guaranteed to interact with at least one employee of the institution each semester/quarter. This may be the only interaction students have with an institutional employee outside of the classroom. Habley (2004) stated, Academic advising is the only structured activity on the college campus in which all students have the opportunity for one-on-one interaction with a concerned representative of the institution (ACT News, ¶ 5).
Mandatory academic advising not only connects students with college professionals, it creates a connection to the campus as a whole. The 2005 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) found the quality of academic advising is the single most powerful predictor of satisfaction with the campus environment for students at four-year schools (Carey, 2008, ¶ 12). In addition, NSSE data found:
Students who rate their advising as good or excellent are more likely to interact with faculty in various ways, perceive the institution's environment to be more supportive overall, are more satisfied with their overall college experience, and gain more from college in most areas. (Carey, ¶ 12)
Advising also can help students complete their degree requirements in an efficient manner. The adviser can clarify degree requirements and make recommendations regarding specific classes. Art Farlowe, student services manager for the College of Journalism at the University of South Carolina, stated:
We know that the university has an obligation to assist students in navigating a sometimes complex, confusing system of regulations. Most students just can't remember every rule. Neither can most advisors. But, with a good advisor a student has a better chance of making sure he/she is doing everything to graduate on time. (A. Farlowe, personal communication, February 26, 2009)
Academic advising can also serve as an educational and vocational check-up for students. Advisers can monitor academic progress as well as explore career aspirations with students. The adviser can link education with vocational goals to ensure the student is on the right path to success.
Cons of Mandatory Advising
In some cases, academic advising does not play a positive role in a student's life. As Tinto (as cited in Dyer & Myers, 2005, p. 284) found, more students leave college before completing a degree than stay and graduate. One factor in this low retention rate is student dissatisfaction with a university. According to Corts, Lounsbury, and Saudargas (2000), academic advising is often a frequent source of this dissatisfaction. The negatives associated with mandatory academic advising include advisers' lack of time to pay attention to individual students, poor quality academic advising, and the perceived coddling of students.
Logistical issues such as staffing, especially at large institutions, can hinder the possibility of implementing mandatory academic advising. If there are too many students assigned to a single adviser, the possibility of short, impersonal advising sessions is greater. This will leave a negative impression on the student, not only of the adviser but the institution as a whole, which the adviser represents. If the advising session is simply to sign off on next semester's schedule, it is likely the student will feel that the mandatory meeting was a waste of time. In addition, strong academic students who can master their course schedules by themselves might view a requirement to meet with an adviser as pointless. Institutions must ask, What does advising mean on our campus? If advising is utilized simply for scheduling classes, mandatory academic advising might not be useful.
When advising is mandatory, a student might feel that it is the adviser's job to choose his or her classes for the next semester. In a sense, the perception might be that the role of the adviser is to coddle students by telling them what classes they need to schedule each semester. Helen Halasz, a former adviser for the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, stated:
With mandatory advising, it is possible to ensure students make progress towards graduation in a timely manner. The level of control rests with the department, rather than the student. Does mandatory advising help prepare students with decision-making skills they need to have in their professional lives? Or is it a disservice to not allow them the freedom to make and learn from their own mistakes? (H. M. Halasz, personal communication, February 23, 2009)
Before instituting mandatory academic advising, each college or university needs to consider multiple factors that could determine the success or failure of such a program:
- Staffing limitations: Consider the size of the student body and the feasibility of mandatory academic advising. If the institution implements mandatory academic advising, it must ensure that quality, not quantity, can be the focus.
- Budget and space limitations: Instituting mandatory academic advising will most likely mean that additional money and space must be allocated to advising. Be aware of budgetary implications of such a move.
- Impact on the faculty and/or professional advisers: Before decision makers elect to implement mandatory advising, it is imperative that they consult the people who will be doing the advising. They must learn about any concerns and attempt to address them before officially announcing the decision to institute mandatory advising. Who does the majority of academic advising at your institution? Is it faculty or professional advisers? Faculty might feel they do not have time to incorporate mandatory advising into their already full research and teaching loads. Is advising considered in the promotion and tenure decisions of faculty? Professional advisers also need to be consulted to find out how this will impact their advising loads. What are the incentives for professional advisers to increase their workload?
- Students' opinions: Conduct focus groups with current students and hear what they have to say regarding the academic advising process. What do they expect from academic advisers? Do they support the decision to make advising mandatory? Listen to their suggestions and desires concerning the student-adviser relationship.
- Institution's definition of academic advising: Is advising a matter of simply scheduling classes? Does it also involve helping students identify their life and career goals and then devising a comprehensive plan for accomplishing these goals? Students and advisers alike need to have a clear understanding of what academic advising means on the campus before implementing mandatory advising. If the institution simply defines academic advising as assisting students in the scheduling of courses, then mandatory academic advising might not be a good choice.
- Academic advising models that define advising in a broad sense: We suggest using Appreciative Advising specifically. Appreciative Advising is the intentional collaborative practice of asking positive, open-ended questions that help students optimize their educational experiences and achieve their dreams, goals, and potentials (Bloom, 2008, p. 179). For more information, visit http://www.appreciativeadvising.net.
- Realistic time frame: If the institution decides to implement mandatory advising, adequate notice for students and advisers is essential. This information will need to be publicized in a variety of ways, including on websites, in course catalogs, and via announcements in classes. The more notice all parties receive the better.
- Adequate adviser training: Before making the move toward mandatory academic advising, institutions should ensure that well-structured training is available to all advisers. Advisers will now be meeting with students who are not choosing to be advised, therefore training must address how to deal with such students as well as cover other conceptual, relational, and informational items (Brown, 2008).
- Advising rewards: If the campus does not have a systematic way of rewarding effective academic advisers, launching a mandatory advising program presents a good time to begin or expand such a rewards program.
Mandatory academic advising has the potential to benefit different institutions depending on various factors. If a school considers moving from non-mandatory to mandatory advising, administrators must weigh the pros and cons that this move will include. In addition, it would be helpful to consider the recommendations made in this article before any decision is made.