​How Technology is Impacting Advisors’ Work: Perspectives from the Field

Student Success

​How Technology is Impacting Advisors’ Work: Perspectives from the Field

By Ana Borray and Nancy Millichap     Jul 27, 2017

​How Technology is Impacting Advisors’ Work: Perspectives from the Field

This article is part of the guide: Crossing the Finish Line: Stories on Student Success and What Colleges Are Doing to Get There.

Technology-enabled advising tools such as degree-planning software or predictive analytics are altering the status quo for many students, faculty and administrators. But impacts on daily life and work are perhaps most dramatic for those whose jobs are directly changing with the addition of these technologies: college advisors.

A professional advisor usually works with students on course planning, registration, and academic counseling, and directs advisees to resources such as financial aid or tutoring when needed. The task may sound simple until one considers scale: a typical student-advisor ratio could be anywhere from 500 to 800 students per advisor. Keeping on top of individual interests, needs and plans for that number of students is a daunting, if not nearly impossible task.

But over the last seven years, a number of advising technologies have been introduced to make an advisor’s day-to-day responsibilities more manageable. Products such as EAB’s SSC Campus, Civitas’ Illume/Inspire for Advisors, and Hobsons’ Starfish enable advisors to make informed actions by offering more detailed information about students, including their advising history and how students are performing in particular classes. Other platforms have allowed students to register and choose classes—formerly a core part of an advisor’s job duties—by themselves online.

While helpful in many ways, the tools are also fundamentally changing the way advisors view their roles and the work they do. To better understand how technology is impacting a college advisor’s day-to-day experience, we spoke with three professional advisors from EDUCAUSE integrated planning and advising for student success, or iPASS, grantee institutions, who shared how technology is changing their work. Here is what we heard:

Advisors have more information readily available.

Student success planning systems like Starfish allow advisors to see data from several systems, including students’ grades, programs of study, and notes from past advising appointments. Advisors say having this information has armed them with more useful information prior to their one-on-one appointments with students. (Previously, an advisor might have access a student’s grades from past semesters, but little else.)

“We take it for granted now that all our notes are in one place and you can get a comprehensive view of a student,” said Stefanie Crouse, an advisor at Montgomery County Community College.

The opportunity to work with more detailed information has also fostered more intentional and informed interactions between advisors and their students.

“With more data points, I can be proactive rather than reactive,” said Demetrios Godenitz, an advisor at Colorado State University. He finds that the tools available to him promote more outreach, allowing him to organize students by specific queries and send them targeted emails after, for instance, the first chemistry exam.

In the same spirit, Matthew Hibdon, an advisor at Middle Tennessee State University, shared, “Now that [we] can drill in and see patterns in students’ lives via the information in the system, it’s more feasible to be proactive and ask forward-looking questions.”

Better information allows for more personal and time-sensitive communication.

With more information about students, the advisors we spoke to said they now personalize their messages to students and can simplify the process for setting up advising appointments.

Godenitz said that the combination of more information and better communication tools allows him to reach out to a targeted group of students based on specific criteria. For instance, an advisor might target students who have a combination of factors that put them at risk, such as being a first generation college student with low grades.

“[Having more student information] can have a huge impact on advising. I have current data and can target specific populations when they are ready to hear things,” Godenitz said.

For Hibdon, students who benefit from the knowledge that the tools provide are not necessarily only those who are doing worst. He quoted a co-worker as saying, “Some days, our job is to decide whether we should provide a butt-kick or a rah-rah. It’s easier to give informed feedback, in both directions.”

Hibdon went on to note that their platform, EAB’s SSC Campus, gives him and his colleagues the time to identify and work not just with students who are at risk, but also those with GPAs between 2.0 and 3.0—a group he dubs the “murky middle,” which otherwise might not receive special attention. Using data available through the platform makes it possible, Hibdon explained, to offer more customized services for particular students, making advisors more accountable for the work they do.

Advisors must adapt.

With technologies now available that provide more personalized data about students, advisors using these tools recognize that the way they interact with students is changing fast. They are moving away from being “course registration clerks,” or helping students sign up for classes, into a role that incorporates more teaching and coaching. And that shift hasn’t been easy for everyone.

“For some of our advisors, competency in technology has [required] a huge professional development.” Crouse said “Some really like and embrace it. For others, wrapping their heads around this identity shift is more difficult.”

But as course registration processes move into a self-service environment, advisors can devote their time instead to a more holistic style of advising, turning their focus to students who are at risk of not continuing and paying closer attention to personal needs.

“What’s hard for all of us is understanding that change is constant now,” she adds. “There has been a revolution in [academic advising] over the last five years, and it’s not going to end.”

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