The challenge: Who should take primary responsibility for advising students, and when?
As the responsibilities of academic advisors increasingly extend beyond course registration to include multiple areas of student support, academic leaders face an ongoing debate about advising roles. Specifically, they have to determine how to structure advising to best support student retention and completion:
Should faculty handle all academic advising, or should students “graduate” to a faculty advisor after their first or second year working with a professional staff advisor? Or should institutions cut out faculty’s advising role entirely, leaving provosts to manage faculty resistance and resentment over losing a significant area of oversight on campus?
Reframe the questions to focus on a holistic view of advising
This debate over “ownership” assumes that advising is one discrete activity. In fact advising occurs through a wide range of activities on campus and concerns an increasingly complex set of questions. University leaders do not have to choose between professional or faculty advising, but can leverage both faculty and staff in a broad, holistic vision of advising that encompasses a range of activities.
Once we move away from the question of who “owns” advising, it is possible to create a definition of advising that integrates every aspect of the student experience and ensures students get the help they need at the point they need it.
Create clear, differentiated roles for faculty and professional advisors
If advisors are to serve students’ best interests, the optimal advising model must target students’ problems, which are so complex and varied as to require a multifaceted approach. A monolithic advising model is poorly suited to handling simple transactions and complex, academic concerns with equal care and attention.
Transactional, non-academic questions, for example, rarely require one-on-one discussion and are best supported through easy-to-use self-service tools. For example, when a student needs a new ID card, she can order it online through a fully automated form, saving both student and staff time.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, complex academic questions are typically the clear realm of faculty. Faculty are uniquely positioned to answer in-depth questions about undergraduate research opportunities or their academic subject matter, for instance. They are also likely to embrace serving as mentors to students in a meaningful capacity, rather than viewing their advising role as secondary to more important responsibilities.
Related: What role should faculty play in student success?
Dozens of Discrete Student Problems Require Variety of Differentiated Roles on Campus
The “gray area” between these two poles, however, is ripe for innovation. Professional advisors focused on holistic support, tracking student progress, and intervening when students fail to meet academic milestones or deadlines are now common at progressive institutions. Many have even hired “success coaches” with a deeper background in counseling or social work to work intensively with high-risk students.
“The key to our shift to professional advising within the colleges has been to frame their role as entirely different from faculty mentors. Faculty should really be sitting down with students and having deeper conversations about their discipline, not worrying about registration, financial aid, or scheduling.”
Unbundling advising roles in this way helps to smooth organizational transition toward professional advising and allay faculty fears about a loss of authority. As one provost told us, professional advisors largely took on tasks that ate away at faculty time, freeing them to work with students in ways they found more fulfilling and relevant to their academic background.
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Defining the Faculty Role in Student Success