Three Reasons Academic Advisors Should Be a Go-To Resource for Student...

Student Success

Three Reasons Academic Advisors Should Be a Go-To Resource for Student Success Efforts

By Alex Aljets     Mar 26, 2018

Three Reasons Academic Advisors Should Be a Go-To Resource for Student Success Efforts

This article is part of the collection: Innovations in Student Success: From Campus Collaboration to Tech Implementation.

I wasn’t surprised when my first student delayed graduating because a required capstone class was full; perhaps she waited too long to register. But when my fifth and sixth advisees couldn’t get spots and when it happened again the following term, I knew the problem wasn’t the students. There were too few instructors due to a change in budget allocations, yet university policy required capstone class sizes to remain small—issues that were well outside my influence as an academic advisor. Although I couldn’t do anything about the broader course access issue, I continued strategizing with my students about how to snag those few coveted seats in the course.

A couple years later, I began managing student success projects at my university in partnership with 10 other institutions in the University Innovation Alliance. As I coordinated cross-campus initiatives, I found myself looping back to my former advising colleagues, asking questions: Does this proposed policy make sense for students? What data about students would they find helpful? How could this technology tool be improved? It was then I realized that academic advisors may be best known for providing support and guidance to students, but their insights can also be a great resource for colleges and universities working to improve student success.

1. Advisors identify patterns affecting the student experience.

While students can describe the challenges they face as individuals, advisors can describe the barriers to student success they see over and over again. Such insights provide administrators a window into the collective student experience by highlighting recurring issues that indicate a systemic barrier rather than an individual student problem.

After Michigan State University launched Go Green Go 15—a credit momentum campaign to encourage students to complete 30 credits over an academic year—administrators sought feedback from advisors at a town hall event. Advisors noted that students wanted to register for 15 credits, but were often unable to because of time conflicts between courses. Exploring this further, administrators noticed that too many courses were scheduled between 10am and 3pm; specifically, 22% of courses were scheduled at 10:20am Monday through Thursday. Armed with this new understanding, administrators are now working to spread future classes out across additional days and times to provide more options for students. Had advisors not highlighted this pattern, administrators may have attributed lower engagement with Go Green Go 15 to other issues and tried to solve the wrong problem.

2. Advisors bring a broad perspective on campus technology.

Advisors are frequent and comprehensive users of the various systems in the campus technology landscape. Although they most frequently engage with integrated planning and advising services (IPAS), early alert, and student information systems, advisors also help students navigate student-facing technologies and utilize instructional technologies when teaching courses.

When Oregon State University conducted a campus-wide inventory of student success technology platforms, we learned that academic advisors regularly utilized 65% of the 43 existing technologies. Advisors can draw on this broad exposure and contribute to exploring and testing new campus systems, making technology recommendations, delivering trainings, and even developing new education technology tools. Oregon State has an advising technology committee that meets quarterly to discuss and plan for how product updates and new tools fit into the existing landscape.

3. Advisors facilitate connections.

Having both frequent conversations with students and an understanding of university policies, advisors can bridge divides to increase success of cross-campus initiatives. When Purdue University wanted to redesign its change of major process, it gathered a team of advisors. They leveraged their empathy for students who switch majors and their understanding of university policy to create an improved process that better serves both students and the institution.

As educators who guide students through their major curriculum while discussing outside-the-classroom experiences, advisors are also a nexus between academic affairs and student affairs. When Oregon State University’s housing department wanted to start new living-learning communities, it connected with academic advisors to learn about the needs of students in specific academic fields. The resulting housing communities are run in partnership with the academic colleges.

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Through identifying patterns, weighing in on campus technology, and making connections, academic advisors can help colleges and universities better address barriers to student success. This observation extends to other university professionals who work closely with students, such as residence hall directors, financial aid advisors, instructors, and even peer mentors. Although all are limited by what students choose to tell them, their input can be of great value.

If your organization does not have a history of engaging advisors, your advisors may wonder why administrators are now seeking their input. Colleges and universities can begin building trust by asking for specific feedback from advisors and then acting on the insights (like with MSU’s Go Green Go 15 campaign). Advisors care deeply about helping students succeed; expressing genuine commitment to removing obstacles to student success and a desire to learn where those obstacles exist is a great way to open such conversations. Take care also to reward or offset additional asks that may overstretch advisors’ capacity. (Advisees still need them too!)

The need for more college graduates and the increasing diversity of learners at our institutions challenge those of us in higher education to better understand and address barriers to student success. New programs, technology tools, and initiatives are more effective if selected and implemented with a deep understanding of the people they seek to serve. Advisors are already present on your campus and know students well, making them natural partners for campus efforts to improve student success.

Five Twitter Accounts to Follow

Here are five accounts I follow for discussions of student success in higher education.

1. @AcAdvChat hosts bi-weekly Twitter chats where academic advisors discuss ideas, share resources and talk about current issues in advising. The multi-year archive of past chats on their linked blog is a great way to see what advisors are talking about.

2. @ImFirstGen celebrates students who are first in families to go to college, featuring student stories, advice and resources.

3. @AchieveTheDream features articles and stories about student success initiatives at community colleges with a focus on access, pathways and equity.

4. @UIAinnovation features neat things universities are doing to facilitate student success at the 11 University Innovation Alliance institutions and beyond. It’s a shameless plug for an organization I’m associated with, but I do enjoy following their tweets.

5. @OpenIDEO posts great resources and strategies for human-centered design, a problem-solving framework that is has helped me think differently about how we design educational experiences for students.

Alex Aljets (@alexaljets) is the University Innovation Alliance Fellow at Oregon State University.

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