A View toward the Position of Director of Academic Advising: A Personal Plan of Action

Earl A. Jones
James Madison University

Volume: 11
Article first published online: November 18, 2009
DOI: 10.26209/MJ1161536

Keywords: advising, academic advising, adviser, advisor, administration, director, plan

Practical and Theoretical Knowledge Bases that Instill Leadership Qualities in Academic Advising Directors

At times, higher education administrators wish to apply their theoretical knowledge and practical skill sets, acquired through work in university management, to a developmental academic advising unit. Research suggests these administrators should pursue advanced degrees and develop a working knowledge of the critical role that advising plays in classroom learning, student development, and university retention. Universities require comprehensively apportioned academic advising offices to serve the academic and developmental needs of students. Individuals who ascend to the level of director or executive director of academic advising or to an office that also includes learning skills and career development components require the appropriate academic and experiential backgrounds. A master's degree in student development and higher education or, more appropriately, both master's and doctoral degrees will provide the higher education administrator the requisite theoretical and practical backgrounds to lead the organization and assist students as they learn in and outside of the classroom (Tuttle, 2000). Under a director's administration, an advising, learning, and career planning office functions to meet student development needs and help them apply those skills to both their academic course work and their overall development (Gordon et al., 2008; King, 1993). This type of development under a director's supervision and guidance can help the university better meet its retention goals as well as the college's academic mission.

Required Skill Sets Essential to the Position of Academic Advising Director

The director of a university academic advising office requires practical knowledge of college student development theories as well as the administrative ability and theoretical background to effectively manage the office, supervise advisers, and successfully interact with faculty and senior administrators at the university. The director must also add legitimacy to the office, which should include the pursuit of a terminal degree in higher educational administrative leadership including course work in college student development. Those who ascend to director positions report the need to understand college student development theory as well as the usefulness of a terminal degree and a background in both student affairs and academic affairs, in order to successfully navigate the requirements of both arenas. Typically, directors of academic and career advising possess terminal degrees and tenure-track faculty positions within the university's school or college of education (if one exists in the institution), which helps their departments gain recognition and develop a profile of the importance of this position and office at the university (Tuttle, 2000). According to B. Yates, who was recently promoted to the position of executive director of an academic and career advising office at a private Christian university in the Mid-Atlantic states:

A terminal degree as well as practical understanding of the university landscape related to developing a sense of the importance of the advising office's function at the university and the ability of the administrator to relate that importance to the faculty and senior university administrators is essential for success, due to the fact that the office does not seek accreditation like other academic departments (personal communication, June 18, 2009).

Senior administrators as well as faculty members relate academic departments to the ability to successfully obtain accreditation for the university and department. Student affairs administrators focus on the development of the student as a person who can grow into a lifelong learner and successful individual. The director of academic advising must walk a line between both areas of endeavor and ensure that the staff is meeting the needs of the student, the university, and both specific educational areas.

The position of academic and career advising director includes many different responsibilities, including supervisory duties within the department that require an advanced degree and training in higher educational administration (Gordon et al., 2008). The office will house an appropriate number of professional academic advisers depending upon the size and requirements of the student body at the specific institution. The office might also represent a faculty-only model, which features the director and a smaller staff serving as a clearinghouse for advising services primarily performed by departmental faculty academic advisers (Tuttle, 2000). These advising structures are becoming less common as universities discover the importance of a comprehensively apportioned, developmental academic advising office. The director will supervise any associate and assistant director(s) as well as other academic advisers and administrative staff. These offices are similar in structure to any academic department constructed under the supervision of a dean, who oversees assistant/associate dean(s) and the faculty as well as administrative staff. The position of director of academic advising is similar to that of an academic dean or director of a student services department.

The director of advising should also possess a background in college student development theories, familiarity with student affairs functions at a university, a university-level teaching background, and a terminal degree in order to successfully organize and deliver the appropriate services through the university's advising office. B. Yates noted that the person hired to replace him in his former position as the director of academic advising “would require a terminal degree in order to add legitimacy and recognition of the required work of that office among those who were in senior administration in academic affairs at the university” (personal communication, June 18, 2009). The university's hiring committee asked the new director of advising to pursue a terminal degree after accepting the position in order to hold a faculty rank within the college of education at the university. That faculty rank would allow the person to teach courses within an accredited department—courses that likely relate to developmental academic advising as well as instruction with master's and doctoral level students in the areas of higher education administration. Those departments hold accreditations, which can be applied to the director of advising position and office.

The terminal degree program of study would also allow the director to research college student development theory, which has been directly related to the field of academic advising and specifically impacts university retention, student satisfaction, and student learning outcomes (Hagen & Jordan, 2008). A theoretical background in college student development can be obtained through a master's degree program in student affairs in higher education/college student personnel or on a doctoral level. This background is essential and has been directly cited as the theoretical foundation for the field of university-level academic advising. The director of this office must be theoretically and practically grounded in that theory as well as possess the other requisite theoretical backgrounds to successfully deliver developmental advising programs to students, function as the department's administrator at the dean's level, add accreditation-level recognition to the department (which implies the advising office's essential function on campus), and interact with senior administrators within the academic and student affairs divisions on campus.

Action Plan to Achieve the Position of Academic Advising Director at a College or University

Anyone seeking the position of director or executive director of academic advising at a university should include in his or her résumé all aspects related to obtaining and functioning successfully in that position. Serving in the capacity of an assistant director (AD) of a college department's academic advising unit for nine years provides the required practical background to apply for a director of academic advising position at a college or university. While serving in the position of assistant director, the responsibilities also included teaching one or two (depending on the semester and departmental needs) three-credit marketing courses within an academic department. University-level instructional experience provides the academic classroom background that adds legitimacy and accreditation recognition to a director position.

The assistant director also served as interim director of advising while the director/associate dean of student services (ADSS) was out of the country on departmental college-related business at a sister school in Antwerp, Belgium, as well as while the ADSS was away from the office. The interim and assistant director positions include supervisory responsibilities over advising staff within the office. That experience has also allowed the position to interact successfully with faculty who do not have direct academic advising responsibilities within the college, as well as with senior academic and student affairs administrators who must interrelate with this office in order to deliver comprehensively apportioned university-level advising.

During the tenure of the assistant director, the position also provided academic advising to students in almost all nine majors within this college as well as maintained direct advising relationships with all students on academic probation/suspension (academically at-risk students) within the college. Functioning in these advising capacities has allowed the assistant director to recognize the importance of a master's degree background in college student development theory, pursue a terminal degree in educational leadership, and appreciate the usefulness of that background for everyone in the office to function in developmental advising capacities. Currently academic advisers in the AD's office do not hold these specific degree qualifications or the theoretical backgrounds in college student development. As a potential director of an advising unit, this AD would make those qualifications and background a mandatory portion of the academic advising position descriptions for all academic advisers and assistant/associate directors within the unit. The position has also allowed the AD to participate in and conduct position searches, which also provides practical experience required for the future director's position.

The timeline required for an AD of academic advising to obtain the required theoretical and practical background to successfully transition into a possible director of academic advising position at a university or college depends upon the time required to obtain multiple skill sets. This AD has functioned in his current capacity for nine years. During that time the AD has completed a master's degree with the required college student development theoretical background and is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in educational leadership with additional course work in higher educational administration. The AD also currently holds a faculty rank of lecturer and has successfully interacted with senior academic and student affairs administrators while serving in the current position as well as functioning as the interim director within the college's academic advising unit. The assistant director should be practically and theoretically prepared to pursue a director-level position that would fit the obtained qualifications once the appropriate position is identified. When the appropriate director of academic advising position is identified and if the AD is hired to fill it, the practical and theoretical preparation should allow an AD or adviser with this background to successfully provide the requisite educational leadership and help the academic advising department as well as the university meet their respective missions.


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Hagen, P. L., & Jordan, P. (2008). Theoretical foundations of academic advising. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, & T. J. Grites (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (2nd edition, pp. 17–35). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

King, M. C. (Ed.). (1993). Academic advising: Organizing and delivering services for student success. New Directions for Community Colleges, 82(21). Los Angeles, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tuttle, K. N., (2000). Academic advising. In L. K. Johnsrud & V. J. Rosser (Eds.), Understanding the work and career paths of midlevel administrators: New directions for higher education (pp. 15–24). Los Angeles, CA: Jossey-Bass.

About the Author(s)

Earl A. Jones is the assistant director of the College of Business Academic Advising Center and a lecturer at James Madison University. He can be reached at jonesea@jmu.edu.