As large public universities, such as those within the California State University (CSU) system, focus on increasing student success, efforts to improve student advising are front and center. As institutions endeavor to become more student-centered, it’s worth asking: do students perceive advising challenges and opportunities the same way as institutional leaders do?
In a two-part study, Destination Integration (Part 1 | Part 2), my co-authors and I gathered data from administrators, faculty advisors, professional staff advisors, and students at five CSU campuses to understand both efforts underway and efforts needed to improve the quality of advising.
In part one of the study, we found that campus administrators are pursuing five broad strategies to better integrate academic advising and leverage limited advising resources. The campuses are:
- using advising councils, committees, task forces, and summits to better integrate advising services while retaining decentralized structures and staff reporting lines;
- implementing eAdvising tools to support workflow and analytical functions to better target advising resources and support a more proactive approach to advising;
- offering professional development trainings and related events to help advisors create community, disseminate effective practices, share information, and increase consistency in advising;
- developing shared positions and cross-functional advising teams to encourage cross-unit collaboration; and
- designating a senior administrator (on four of the campuses) to be responsible for coordination of campuswide advising.
In part two of the study, we heard from students, as well as faculty and professional staff advisors, about their perceptions of the challenges and ideas for potential solutions to improve advising. Students validated and gave texture to findings from campus administrators and added new insights.
Here, in their own voices, are some of their comments about their challenges with advising.
“‘Just do these courses, get your degree, and get out,’ kind of stuff.”
Students value a holistic approach to advising, but they say it’s rare for advisors to help them with co-curricular, career, and longer-term goals. This perception is validated by professional staff advisors, who perceive a gap between their holistic philosophy and the institutional reality that advising is focused narrowly on course selection and academic requirements for graduation.
“They’ll cancel out of nowhere, and you just rode the bus for an hour and a half for nothing.”
Students shared administrators’ perceptions about insufficient advising resources and difficulties accessing advising. Students who live off campus or who have work and family responsibilities outside of school said they face particular challenges with access.
“They just pinballed me around.”
Students also shared administrators’ concerns about the fragmentation of the advising environment. They reported having to consult multiple advisors, starting over again with each one, to find the one who had the information they needed.
“Sometimes it feels very cookie cutter.”
Here’s where students introduced a concern–lack of personalization–that was not identified by institutional leaders. They said they want advisors to do more to tailor information and help to their particular circumstances, needs, and educational goals.
Students identified the major challenges with advising as falling into three buckets: difficulties with access, fragmentation of supports, and lack of personalization. The first two challenges were high on the radar of institutional leaders we spoke with and helped guide the strategies they were pursuing to improve advising. However, administrators were not focused on the third issue of personalization that students consistently raised.
What can we glean from the introduction of student perspectives on advising solutions? Are the five strategies that institutional leaders are pursuing responsive to students’ concerns? Students validated institutional leaders’ prioritization of increased use of eAdvising tools, better professional development for advisors, and strategies to improve the integration of advising functions across disparate campus units. They also pointed to ways that institutional leaders could go further to meet their needs, especially for personalization.
When it comes to accessing advising resources, students want and expect a more seamless and sophisticated integration of technology into advising interactions.
“If they could do [something] like FaceTime, that would probably be very helpful, because it’d be easier from my room.”
“I feel like we get too many emails, and we have to shuffle through them. It’d be nice if there was somewhere online where we could see all the notifications.”
“When you’re navigating between the schedule of classes, your academic requirements, and then your degree planner, and then your actual shopping cart for your classes, you get lost in all of it.”
Students also see a need for professional development that will help advisors tailor advice to their circumstances:
Maybe some type of training in understanding that people have different circumstances and why they might not be able to graduate in four years, and that students are from different backgrounds, could help.”
“People don’t tell you, ‘If you do this minor with this major, that will help you a lot afterward,’ and stuff like that. No one talks about that.”
Students also validated the need for better communication and integration across an advising landscape that is too dispersed:
“I think they should all communicate with each other. For example, if I see my EOP counselor, my EOP counselor can talk to my major advisor and then my major advisor can talk to my GE advisor. They all talk to each other and the three of them come up with a plan.”
“Even if it was just one advisor per college that had knowledge in GE, too, if they’d train [major advisors] in GE. Maybe that’s not their forte, but they at least have an idea of the classes that would transfer over, or how to navigate that, that would be helpful.”
The perspectives of these students suggest that campus advising improvement strategies are headed in the right direction to address many of the concerns they articulated. In addition, their voices add nuance that can help institutional leaders better respond to students’ varied needs and legitimate expectations for more personalized support on their academic journey.
To learn more about our findings and see our eight specific recommendations for improving advising, read our full report.