For two and four-year institutions, retention, persistence, and completion generally are the
overarching goals. According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success 2018 survey results, the three most important student success factors driving institutional offerings for first-generation students were retention, completion and degree attainment, and academic performance (Figure 1).
Given the importance of academic advising, research consistently highlights its great significance for students’ personal, academic, and social lives. Light (2001) states, “It is hard to imagine any academic support function that is more important to student success and institutional productivity than advising” (p. 81). Advising services in higher education assist first-year students to choose courses and appropriately schedule them, help select a major, and plan a future career. In this respect, the academic advisors’ impact on a first-year student’s social integration (Robbins et al., 2009) and retention (Gordon et al., 2011) in higher education is essential.
Institutions can show students the way through the power of academic advising because structured advising increases student retention. Academic advising is a decision-making process through which students, scaffolded by advisors, search for educational benefits available to them by better understanding themselves and learning how to navigate and utilize the resources of the institution to meet their own individual needs, both personal and academic. From my experience in higher education, I do understand that many factors contribute to a student’s decision to stay or leave an institution, but overall student retention can be predicted and influenced. The key appears to be a repetitive interaction by persons who have a vested interest in some aspect of that student’s academic life, and one of the most important components of establishing this strong connection begins with faculty (Williamson et al., 2014). Braun and Zolfagharian also make the argument that student growth and retention can be accomplished more easily and at lower costs than recruiting new freshmen when focusing on quality advising and student satisfaction (2016).
High-quality advisors ensure that students have the information they need to make good choices and clear guidance that highlights how the implications of student choices can fundamentally alter their progress. Students need a reliable source to receive accurate information on how to fulfill degree and general education requirements, and to engage in academic planning as students strive to save valuable tuition dollars and complete college as efficiently as possible (Baker and Griffin, 2010). The Center for Community College Student Engagement Report (2018) shows that effective advising may have a larger impact on returning students and thus colleges’ persistence and graduation rates. The report highlights that 78 percent of returning students reported meeting with an adviser, compared to 62 percent of entering students. According to CCCSE, that detail is significant because less than 50 percent of first-time-in-college students return to the same institution the following fall, an indication that early advising leads to increases in retention. The report found higher engagement among students who had longer advising sessions, met with their adviser more often, and had an adviser who helped them develop academic and career plans.
Educational institutions continue to try to increase student performance which can lead to a successful avenue to graduation (Niranjan et al., 2015). The retention of students is challenging for institutions regardless of their location (Wray, Aspland, & Barrett, 2014). For decades, higher education has recognized student attrition as an area to monitor, and the impact can be seen in student growth, persistence to graduation, and student satisfaction (King, 1993). Unfortunately, not all students will graduate at the same rate (Darling, 2015). Universities must realize once a student is enrolled, it is their obligation to help the students remain (Darling, 2015). As noted by King (1993), academic advising is the only structured service on a college campus to guarantee personal interaction with student representatives of the institution. Maintaining effective undergraduate academic advising programs to meet the needs of all students is an ongoing challenge for universities throughout the country (Anderson et al., 2014).
Academic advising core competencies
According to the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA), the core competencies for academic advising and serving as the foundational elements for effective advising practices and training programs are three content components: conceptual, informational, and relational.
- The Conceptual component provides the context for the delivery of academic advising. It covers the ideas and theories that advisors must understand to effectively advise their students.
- The history and role of academic advising in higher education
- NACADA’s Core Values of Academic Advising
- Theory relevant to academic advising
- Academic advising approaches and strategies
- Expected outcomes of academic advising
- How equitable and inclusive environments are created and maintained
- The Informational component provides the substance of academic advising. It covers the knowledge advisors must gain to be able to guide the students at their institution.
- Institution-specific history, mission, vision, values, and culture
- Curriculum, degree programs, and other academic requirements and options
- Institution-specific policies, procedures, rules, and regulations
- Legal guidelines of advising practice, including privacy regulations and
- The characteristics, needs, and experiences of major and emerging student
- Campus and community resources that support student success
- Information technology applicable to relevant advising roles
- The Relational component provides the skills that enable academic advisors to convey the concepts and information from the other two components to their advisees.
- Articulate a personal philosophy of academic advising
- Create rapport and build academic advising relationships
- Communicate in an inclusive and respectful manner
- Plan and conduct successful advising interactions
- Promote student understanding of the logic and purpose of the curriculum
- Facilitate problem-solving, decision-making, meaning-making, planning, and
- Engage in ongoing assessment and development of self and the advising
Without question, an understanding of these content components will provide advisors with the
knowledge and skills to be effective for their students. If academic advisors are the major support
systems that impact student retention, they must voluntarily stay abreast of national research and
implement best practices and trends. Our institution has made it a priority that general education
academic advisors are engaged in ongoing professional development opportunities as well as
purchase yearly NACADA memberships.
- Prescriptive advising: This represents the traditional relationship based on authority between the academic advisor and the student. Simply put, a student asks a question and you answer directly or tell them exactly what to do.
- Proactive advising/Intrusive advising: This advising model is based on the idea that not all students are going to take the initiative/may not know how to take the initiative when in need of advising. Taking the best parts of both prescriptive advising and developmental advising.
- Appreciative advising: A method of asking open-ended questions specifically to help guide students toward a better understanding of their own thoughts, wants, and needs related to academic purpose and goals.
- Developmental advising: This is an approach that is not solely focused on the student’s personal or academic decisions but also on the student’s rational processes, environmental and interpersonal interactions, behavioral awareness, ability to problem solve, and their decision and evaluation skills. Advisor and student are partners in educational discovery.
Advising is known for being the “cornerstone for student support.” Based on our institution’s data in Figure 2, and as a component of our quality enhancement plan (QEP), we have chosen to implement the Proactive (Intrusive) Advising Model for the upcoming 2023-2024 school year, and we will be collecting and analyzing data. The research has found the Proactive (Intrusive) Advising Model enhances student motivation and increases class attendance, retention, and the number of credit hours completed per semester. In addition, for job-embedded QEP professional development, the general education academic advisors had a book study, The New Advisor Guidebook-Mastering the Art of Academic Advising, written by Folsom, Yoder, and Joslin. This resource subjoined with NACADA educational webinars, e-tutorials, and scholarly research articles has provided us with a structured framework for advising first- and second-year students as well as first-generation students.
Regardless of what advising model your institution is currently implementing, high-quality advisors must ensure that students have the information they need to make future employable choices. Advisors must serve as a reliable source of accurate information on general education and degree requirements to engage students with their academic and career planning. That is why it’s imperative for students to receive clear and comprehensible guidance so they can envision the relevance of it all. Advising is especially vital to a student’s educational journey, particularly for low-income, first-generation, and students of color because service for this student population requires intentionality.
From my extensive reading, academic advising differs across many campuses, but it still remains critical to the success of any institution. It is necessary that we concentrate on building relationships because students need to feel a sense of belonging that will help increase their self-confidence and academic engagement. There is also a need to augment the frequency of one–on–one interaction because student satisfaction with academic advising has been associated with persistence, retention, and graduation.
I realize the hard truth is that success in college is strongly related to precollege academic preparation and achievement. However, there is always someone who can change the trajectory of one’s future.
“Are you coming back next semester?”
“Yes, my academic advisor is really guiding me.”
Dr. Dimple J. Martin is the director of the Quality Enhancement Plan at Miles College. Martin is a former early childhood education lecturer at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, a former assistant professor of early childhood education, and a faculty professional development coordinator at Miles College. She also has over 18 years of administrative K-5 Literacy Leadership.
Advising Core Competencies Model (2017). nacada.ksu.edu/resources/pillars/corecompetencies, 39(9), 1700-171.
Anderson, W. W., Motto, J. S., & Bourdeaux, R. (2014). Getting what they want: Aligning student expectations of advising with perceived advisor behaviors. Mid-Western Educational Researcher, 26(1), 27-51.
Baker, Vicki L., & Griffin, Kimberly A. (2010). Beyond Mentoring and Advising: Toward Understanding the Role of Faculty “Developers” in Student Success. About Campus, 14(6), 2-8.
Benson Grace, Wesaw, Alexis, & Whitley Sarah. (2018). First-generation student success: a landscape analysis of programs and services at four-year institutions. Center for First-Generation Student Success.
Braun, Jakob, & Zolfagharian, Mohammadali. (2016). Student Participation in Academic Advising: Propensity, Behavior, Attribution, and Satisfaction. Research in Higher Education, 57(8), 968-989.
Darling, R. A. (2015). Creating an institutional academic advising culture that supports commuter student success. New Directions for Student Services, (150), 87-96.
Gordon, V. N., Habley, W. R., & Grites, T. J. (Eds.). (2011). Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook. San Francisco, Cal: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Hale, Margo D., Graham, Donna L., & Johnson, Donald M. (2009). Are Students More Satisfied with Academic Advising when There Is Congruence between Current and Preferred Advising Styles? College Student Journal, 43(2), 313-324.
King, M. C. (1993). Academic advising, retention, and transfer. Academic advising: Organizing and delivering services for student success, 21-31.
Light, R. (2001). Making the most of college: Students speak their minds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Robbins, S., Allen, J., Casillas, A., Akamigbo, A., Saltonstall, M., Campbell, R., et al. (2009). Associations of resource and service utilization, risk level, and college outcomes. Research in Higher Education, 50(1), pp. 101–118.
Williamson, Laurel V., Goosen, Rebecca A., & Gonzalez, George F., Jr. (2014). Faculty Advising to Support Student Learning. Journal of Developmental Education, 38(1), 20-22. Cal Maritime Advising Best Practices – What OUR Faculty are doing in Advising Sessions.
Wray, J., Aspland, J., & Barrett, D. (2014). Choosing to stay: Looking at retention from a different perspective. Studies in Higher education or more information about the NACADA Academic.