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.
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 http://www.cherrycommision.org.
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.
For a while now I have been using a modified version of Madeline Hunter’s ITIP in my advising sessions, and students invariably come away feeling like they have a clearer sense of their academic goals and a plan for how to attain them.
In the 80’s Madeline Hunter developed the ITIP (Instructional Theory into Practice) model for classroom teachers to use in instructional planning, and ITIP has been adopted by many school systems across the country. The ITIP lesson has seven sequential elements, each building upon the other. A lesson can span more than one class meeting. I’ve seen these elements referred to by different terms as teachers and school districts adapt the ITIP model to their unique classrooms and students, but the idea behind each element is essentially the same.
1. Learning Objective: Begin by determining the appropriate level through a task analysis, testing, or Bloom’s taxonomy.
2. Anticipatory Set: This should focus on the learning task and its importance or help activate the learners’ prior knowledge through a demonstration or student activity.
3. State the lesson objective(s) to the student.
4. Input and Checking for understanding: Identify and teach main concepts and skills, using frequent examples and inviting participation. Check for understanding by observing and interpreting student reactions and by frequent formative evaluations with immediate feedback.
5. Guided Practice: Give time for monitored practice after instruction by having students answer questions, discuss with one another, demonstrate skills, or solve problem. Give immediate feedback and re-teach if needed.
6. Closure/Culminating Activity: This stage helps learners make sense out of what has been taught, eliminates confusion, and reinforces major points to be learned.
7. Independent Practice Assignment(s): Independent practice reinforces learning beyond the lesson and ideally into real world settings.
With some adjustment, Hunter’s approach can be used in an individual advising session. As an example, I’ll use a common scenario. A student contacts you and says that she needs help scheduling her next semester and wants you to tell her when she can graduate. She has only looked at STARS during orientation and has never created a plan of work.
Here’s a way you might plan this advising session using a modified ITIP lesson.
1. What are the learning objectives for this meeting?
The student will be able to independently assess degree requirements and set a reasonable goal for degree completion.
The student will be responsible for managing her academic progress.
2. What can you do to activate the student’s prior knowledge and set the tone for the meeting?
You might ask some questions, like: Why did you choose English (student’s major) and what do you love about the subject? What do you think you do best? What made you decide to go to college? What are some things you could see yourself doing if you could choose anything without restriction? What are your responsibilities outside of school? Have a blank copy of the English B.A. checklist and a gen. ed. checklist set out in order to review degree requirements and correlate them with what the student sees in STARS.
3. What are the specific lesson objectives?
Here is where you would address the student’s expectations (course scheduling; time-to-degree), add your objectives in relation to those expectations, and provide a rationale. By the time we are finished today you will be able to: 1) Log into STARS and navigate the tabs; 2) Read a degree audit and understand the difference between program requirements, University general education requirements, and College group requirements; 3) Develop a plan of work in STARS; and 4) create a time-management weekly schedule. Rationale: The reason that it is important to learn how to use these tools is because this is your degree and you need to feel that you are in control of it. No one can care about your degree as much as you do since it is your life that will be ultimately impacted by the academic path you take.
4. Input: advisor’s instructional process.
Have the student take notes throughout the meeting and place hard copies of the English B.A. and gen. ed. checklists in front of her. Turn your computer screen toward the student. If the student hasn’t used STARS before, show how to access STARS (through Pipeline and direct URL). Show how to use Generate New and What If Analysis functions. Have the student check off courses on the hard copy checklists as you go though the different areas of the STARS Degree Audit (major, university, college reqs.). Rationale to student: You need to make sure that the STARS record is accurate and verify departmental advisor’s file info, too. If there are discrepancies between the two, you can address these right away by contacting your advisor–before you get close to graduation.Next, provide the student with a weekly planning document. Show the student how to block out the responsibilities and routine activities for her typical week (including travel time) and look over the remaining time slots, adding up the time left-over. Explain that a college student is expected to spend at least 2 hours studying outside of class for every hour spent in class. For a full-time student, the number of class+study hours should add up to at least 40. Go to the online schedule of classes, and have student identify from her checklists the required courses that have not been completed. Go through the semester courses offerings for those classes one-by-one (by order of core sequence), having the student eliminate those that conflict with outside responsibilities. From the online schedule of classes, print the pages of those course offerings that match the student’s scheduling restrictions and program requirements. Show student how to go to the Plan of Work from the Degree Audit Tab in STARS, and insert the selected courses into the semester table for the upcoming semester. Project into the next semester as well, showing how to use the write-in function whenever there are multiple course options (either/or).
5. Guided Practice: In this kind of a session, the note-taking , checklists, and weekly planner serve as guided practice during each phase of the instructional process. A better way to do this, depending on your time-frame, could be to sit next to the student and have her perform all of the online functions herself while you direct the processes.
6. Closure/Culminating Activity:
Considering what a realistic semester course load for this student should be, calculate time to degree by having the student divide the arrived-upon number of semester credits into number of credits remaining for degree. That is how many semesters it will take for the student to be eligible for degree. Summarize what was covered in the session (referring to student’s notes) and ask the student if together you have covered everything she wanted to achieve. Go to classschedule.wayne.edu, and use the calendars link to find when the next semester’s schedule goes online and the when priority registration begins. Tell student that she is to schedule a meeting with you for a day that falls between when schedule goes online and priority registration begins.
7. Independent Practice: Homework assignment: before next meeting student will prepare by having a degree audit printed, a tentative plan of work for the next semester created in STARS, and a list of questions. Reinforce the need for preparation by explaining that if she has these items already completed, the two of you can spend more time discussing ways to optimize campus and departmental resources while she is a student and talking about how to explore post-degree career options.
Using a model like this has several advantages. It keeps the advising session focused and relevant to the student’s needs and interests. It also helps the student develop problem-solving skills that will improve her chances for student success now and that can be applied in her chosen profession later.
Source: Hunter, Madeline. Enhancing Teaching. New York: Macmillan, 1993.
In August 2010, the Education Trust organization produced a report that confirmed what many of us at Wayne State already suspected: Wayne State University has “the worst racial graduation gap in the country among public colleges” (French, Bridge Magazine/Detroit News).
Within four months of this report, our Provost’s Office published the University’s Retention Implementation Task Force Final Report. The task force made recommendations in six areas: 1. curriculum-general education, 2. academic support-advising, 3. undergraduate teaching, 4. student readiness, 5. learning communities, and 6. financial support for students. University administration soon shifted its focus onto advising as one of the main pillars for increasing student success and improving the institution’s standing in the national academic community. As per the retention task force’s recommendations, the University earmarked 2.6 million dollars for advising improvements to be distributed over a three-year period. Plans were made to hire and train approximately 45 new advisors; 24 of these were allocated to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
This is an exciting time to be an advisor at Wayne State, yet at the same time departmental advisors in CLAS are apprehensive, knowing that as the largest college on campus the eyes of the University are upon them. It is no wonder that some of us are ambivalent about the imminent changes. Advising in our college has been fragmented and inconsistent across the departments. Until now undergraduate advising has been one of many assignments on a faculty member or academic services officer’s full plate. Attention to professional advising training has been minimal and in many cases training is voluntary. With the infusion of 24 advisors into our ranks comes more responsibility and more professional accountability. The added support, however, should allow all of us more time to devote to our students and more time to develop the sort of student/advisor relationships that are so important for student success.
In Chapter 22 of Academic Advising, Rusty Fox explores the importance of the student/advisor relationship. It is a misconception that to be an effective advisor all one needs is a knowledge of the curriculum, an awareness of common institutional policies, and a handful of clerical skills. I’ve heard reports of administrators commenting that “it’s not rocket science”, and advisors across campus are working to dispel that line of thinking. While knowledge of the discipline, curriculum, and institutional policies and resources is important, focusing exclusively on information delivery ignores two of the three basic components of the individual academic advising session, according to Fox. Along with providing information, advisors help students see how academic choices relate to their overall field of study and, more importantly, to their place within a community of professionals. This is the conceptual component of advising, a component in which advisors consider developmental and learning theories as they guide students toward their degree goals. Another, and in my opinion vastly underrated, component is the relational role of advising. This third advising component is the primary focus of Chapter 22.
Fox spends a good portion of the chapter discussing listening and communication skills as ways to earn a student’s trust and inspire confidence. He tells us to remember that above all the advising session should center around the student, focusing on his or her needs. For this reason an advisor should take time to find out a about the student’s background and “translate” the college experience for the student, attempting to place it within a familiar context. Students need to feel that they belong in what may seem like a foreign environment, Fox reminds us, and this is especially true for many Wayne State students who may well be the first in their families to attend college. To smooth the transition to higher education, Fox suggests that advisors employ active listening strategies; for instance, when a student provides information, repeat or reflect it back to the student to verify your understanding. Paraphrasing what the student has said is a similar method to check for understanding. The counterpart to active listening is attentive listening, or simply put, making sure that the student knows that you are interested in what he or she has to say. Waiting for the student to speak, prompting occasionally with open-ended questions, and avoiding interruptions with your own personal stories are some suggestions Fox offers. Noticing patterns in the student’s conversation between one advising session and another can also bring to light an issue that could be impeding a student’s progress (a recurring theme, for instance, should be addressed).
Like most educators, Fox is fond of paradigms and has designed a model based on the letter C to embody the Skilled Academic Advisor. I have condensed the attributes below.
- Competence: has knowledge of the academic discipline, degree curriculum, course content, institutional practices and policies
- Confidence-building: employs effective questioning, reflection, and modeling
- Cordial: is kind and cordial in all dealings
- Credible: has earned the respect of peers and is considered an authority
- Creative: encourages students to explore new ways of thinking and links them to resources and personnel
- Culture (Fox added later): incorporates student’s culture into the advising session
Finally, Fox encourages all of us to shift our thinking about the role of the advisor from that of an information expert to that of a facilitation expert. He explicates the advisor’s many roles, as a tour guide who helps students explore the course bulletin, class schedule and other resources; as a facilitator who assists students to incorporate into their prior experiences what they have learned over the duration of their advising sessions; as an interpreter who explains how and why prerequisites, scores and other university processes exist and makes suggestions for coping with situations unique to university life; and as a coach who helps students create plans of action and encourages them to act upon those plans.
He wraps up the chapter by noting that advisors rarely have time to cover everything they wish to with their students, but he challenges his reader-advisors to commit to their own plans of action by acquiring and trying out new skills, “learning three this month, trying two next week, sharing one with a colleague over lunch.”
I am adding a challenge to that list by asking you, by commenting on this blog, to share as many of your own techniques as you can with our advising community.
French, Ron. “Wayne State University: In a black-majority city, but one of the worst at graduating African Americans.” Bridge Magazine/Detroit News. http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2012/02/at_wayne_st_easy_to_get_in_dif.html. Feb. 28, 2012.
Gordon, V. N., Habley , W. R., & Grites, T. J. (Eds.). (2008) Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. NACADA.
When Ruth Darling visited our campus last year, she spoke about the role of advisors as teachers. Her message hit home because teaching was my first career, and my teacher training and classroom experiences influence the exchanges I have with advisees every day. Since then, I began incorporating the formal teaching methods I used in the classroom into my day-to-day academic advising. The blog post that follows was designed as a refresher and reflection for my own purposes and will hopefully be instructional for you as well. Please add any comments and suggestions you may have after reading it.
As more and more educational theories and prescriptive models emerge, my initial response has often been one of skepticism–Oh, goody, more soup du jour educationese, vocabularies and exercises that more or less describe what I have already been doing naturally. At first glance, the advisor-as-teacher model seems to be more of the same.
Now let me go back to that word naturally. “Naturally” implies a pre-existing ability requiring no training or practice. Of course the word is a falsehood, at least in this context, because everything we know about advising and teaching is based on skills and concepts we’ve acquired from the role-models we have chosen to emulate. We may not be aware of the professional lingo associated with those principles and actions, but we learned and practiced them just the same. What is the benefit of acquiring new vocabulary and studying these models and theories, then, if we are already experienced practitioners? To begin with, academic advisors can strengthen the profession by developing a common platform from which to discuss the issues that we and our students encounter in the diverse and continually-changing world of higher education. Too, we should allow ourselves to become open to different advising approaches. Maybe there are strategies we haven’t considered. Of course what works for one advisor or one student won’t work for another, and we will each continue to choose our own approaches–call them what you will. Finally, being aware of various advising strategies and their corresponding terms is professionally advantageous. Bottom line.
As part of my campaign to be more open-minded, this weekend I read the chapter entitled “Advising as Teaching and Learning” from our Academic Advising Comprehensive Handbook. In the chapter, Drew Appleby provides a comprehensive table comparing the knowledge, skills, and characteristics of effective teachers with those of effective advisors. Some qualities shared by effective teachers and advisors are that they
- are experts in the subject matter (including institutional policies and practices)
- are well-prepared prior to meeting with students
- create a good learning climate
- are effective listeners
- act as resource persons
- provide timely feedback and encouragement
- are good role-models
These characteristics are no revelation to those of us who have been advising for a while. But what is new in Appleby’s table is the advisor’s role as a co-learner in the advising process. In the expanded version of advisor as teacher role, advisors also show students how to learn independently, how to evaluate their own progress, and how to articulate ideas. In short, they teach their advisees to be autonomous. And the most effective advisors commit to ongoing profession growth by engaging in lifelong learning, developing professional networks, and using emerging technologies that promote and support learning and advising. Sounds like more ways to teach a seasoned advisor new tricks, right?
After listing all of these qualities, the chapter culminates by encouraging advisors to create advising syllabi, similar to their teacher counterparts, and provides the basic components for an advising syllabus. Appleby inserts a NACADA URL that links readers to sample advising syllabi from about 20 institutions. These are syllabi from both university and departmental advising offices, including one from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ Psychology Department, Appleby’s home base.
So I checked out Appleby’s syllabus. It follows the recommended template and is a whopping 22 pages long. Wow. Several of the pages contain resource materials that can be grafted from one’s own departmental website or gleaned from institutional websites like the University Advising Center and other academic departments and university offices. The sections I found most interesting and useful were under the following titles: “What is a Savvy Psychology Major?”, “Dangers of Self Advising”, and “Ten Reasons Psychology Majors Graduate Later than They Planned.” These can be adapted to fit any major or subject area. Overall, a departmental advising syllabus project looks doable–with a little bit of creative “borrowing” and a healthy chunk of spare time.
Since fall, I have been working on an undergraduate advising Blackboard site for my department and plan to add an advising syllabus. I’ll let you know when it’s completed. If you already use an advising syllabus, perhaps you could share a link to it in your comment.