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Sep 27 / Royanne

Holistic Academic Advising and Its Impact on Student Retention by Namrata Murthy and Cheryl D. White

Namrata Murthy and Cheryl D. White are doctoral candidates in the Educational Leadership & Policy Studies/Higher Education Administration cohort at Wayne State University. Both Cheryl and Namrata are studying aspects of student retention as part of their dissertation research. This information is adapted from the presentation, “Holistic Academic Advising and Its Impact on Student Retention,” that Namrata and Cheryl gave at the Student Retention Conference, “Completing College: What it Takes, What’s at Stake,” on March 14 & 15, 2013, in Auburn Hills, MI.

Student retention has been a focus at postsecondary institutions for a number of years. Initially, the theoretical foundation of student retention was viewed through a psychological lens, meaning that student retention or the lack thereof was seen as the reflection of student’s individual attributes, skills, and motivation. Students who did not stay at their institutions were thought to be less able, less motivated and less willing to manage the rigor of a college curriculum. In the 1970s, the view of retention began to change from a psychological to a sociological framework. Specifically, student retention began to take into account the role of the environment, e.g. the institution, in students’ decisions to stay or leave. Tinto’s book, Leaving College, was the first to lay out a detailed longitudinal model that made explicit connections between the environment, which includes the academic and social systems of the institution and the individuals who shaped those systems and student retention over different periods of time (Tinto, 2006).

Numerous programs and strategies have been developed to positively impact the retention rate of students. One such strategy to consider is Holistic Advising. Academic advising has traditionally focused on class scheduling and program requirements. Holistic advising also takes into account students’ personal, social, financial, emotional, developmental, cultural and ethnic issues. Holistic advising is applicable for traditional, nontraditional, FTIAC and transfer students.

Key tenets of the Holistic Advising approach are as follows:

• Recognize that advising is a cultural and culture-bound activity.
• Respect diverse points of view by demonstrating sensitivity to differences in culture and gender.
• Communicate in a clear and unambiguous manner with advisees.
• Enable advisees to participate actively in advising process by challenging them with new, more demanding ideas or choices and encouraging them to ask questions to clarify these ideas and explore these choices.
• Respect the confidentiality of communication with the student.
• Help advisees evaluate and reevaluate their progress towards personal, educational and career goals.
• Provide tasks to be completed before the next advising meeting that will require the advisee to use information-gathering, decision making and problem-solving skills.
• Use institutional technology (e.g., degree audit reports) to augment advising, recommend interactive software (e.g., SIGI PLUS) that can help advisees clarify goals, and identify career options and communicate with advisees via e-mail.
• Help students explore career goals and choose programs, courses and co-curricular activities that support these goals.
• Assist students in consideration of their life goals by helping them relate their experiences, interests, skills and values to career paths and the nature and purpose of higher education.
• Support the institution’s educational philosophy and policies.
• Model the tenets of the university and demonstrate enthusiasm and knowledge about the goals and purposes of higher education.
• Have accurate information about the policies, procedures, resources and programs of students’ departments.
• Provide timely feedback, reinforce the learning that has taken place, and applaud student successes.
• Participate in professional development that focuses on the educational issues that influence advising and the student population served.
• Provide materials to advisees and refer them to others when referral is an appropriate response.

Additional considerations for non-traditional and transfer students are:

• Consider what sacrifices they are making to attend school.
• Ask questions to get more information about the whole life of the student.
• Ask about their work, and if there are busier times of the year.
• Help the students to plan as far in advance so that they are ready for each step in their academic program.

The Holistic Advising approach has been used with students enrolled in the Engineering Bridge (EB) program at WSU. The EB program is designed for those students who are interested in the engineering field but require additional foundation work in mathematics and science in order to succeed (WSU Undergraduate Bulletin, 2011-2013).

The following chart shows the data for MAT 1050 performance for the fall 2012 semester. Students who participated in EB are denoted as “BE 1060“ (in red). EB students significantly outperformed students who were not in the EB program; 82% of the EB students earned an A or B. For WSU students in general, only 43% earned a B or better.

MAT 1050 F2012

To summarize, the Holistic Advising approach can bring meaning to the advising practice and help students to feel more adjusted and supported throughout their academic careers. It has helped academic advisors in the College of Engineering to establish high levels of service while remaining student-focused. Whether working with traditional or nontraditional students, FTIAC or transfer students, Holistic Advising will help to better meet your particular population’s needs — even during “express” appointments—as well as reviving your practice and making an impact in your own division as well as the university.


Final Report of the Lt. Governor’s Commission on Higher Education & Economic
Growth (2004). Retrieved from

Lau, L. K. (2003). Institutional factors affecting student retention. Education, 124(1), 126-136.

Noel, L. (1985). Increasing student retention: New challenges and potential. In L. Noel, R. Levitz, D. Saluri & Associates (Eds.), Increasing student retention: Effective programs and practices for reducing the dropout rate (pp. 1-27). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Tinto, V. (2006-07). Research and practice of student retention: What next? Journal of College Student Retention, 8(1), 1-19.

Undergraduate Bulletin (2011-2013). Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.


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