Even before the Guided Pathways movement cast a spotlight on advising reform, most institutions were already grappling with how to scale meaningful guidance to their students. While most colleges would look to add new sub-specialties of advisors, Alamo Colleges District decided to elevate the quality of their advice through a rigorous professional training curriculum.
Alamo noticed that their advisors were spending their limited time on transactional tasks. Advising sessions were typically treated as one-off conversations centered on course scheduling and registration. In turn, students were not receiving the quality, goal-oriented academic and career advice needed to guide their college experience.
Recognizing that simply lowering their ratio with more advisors was prohibitively expensive—some community colleges estimate that they would need to commit up to 6% of their annual operating budget to hire enough advisors—Alamo decided to retrain their existing advisors.
Professionalization, not proliferation
The crux of Alamo’s success is the goal-based advising curriculum they developed in partnership with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL). All advisors complete a three-tiered training module that standardizes knowledge and competency across siloes, enabling a cross-departmental case management model focused on student success.
The first tier is an online module that provides essential training on institutional process and Guided Pathways. The second tier includes best practices on advising. Finally, the third tier builds on previous competencies with current labor-market data to center advising conversations around career exploration. To incentivize participation and completion, Alamo rewarded advisors who completed the full training with a $1,000 bonus and a title of “certified advisor.”
Under this new advising model, Alamo was able to convert a lot of their disparate advising segments (e.g., support specialists and orientation advisors) into “certified advisors,” achieving a 46% increase in the number of professional advisors. Most importantly, the benefits to students are significant. Advising conversations are now planned at major student milestones, allowing students to view their advisors as a trusted, single point of contact from onboarding to completion.
The data tells a similar story: since the beginning of this initiative, the percentage of students with a formal academic plan increased by more than 20%. As a result, credits at graduation are down by 12%, saving students an average of nearly a full semester.
Developing an intensive advising curriculum provides colleges an opportunity to leverage their unique understanding of students’ experiences into effective advising practices. Key to any advising training program’s success is the ability to evolve from a traditional, fractured approach to a unified and comprehensive model.
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