Making Academic Advising an Institutional Priority

If some faculty do not fully embrace their role as academic advisor, don’t assume that they are indifferent to students’ needs or feel that advising is strictly a student affairs function. More likely, this reluctance is due to a lack of preparation and support.

This was the case at LaGuardia Community College. “Once we started peeling back the layers, we found it was all about faculty needing more information, knowledge, confidence, and support about how to engage students. They weren’t against doing advisement, and I’m sure that’s the case in most institutions,” says Bernard Polnariev, executive associate to the dean of academic affairs at LaGuardia Community College.

More than course selection
Polnariev and his colleague Mitchell Levy, executive director of LaGuardia Community College’s Center for Counseling, Advising & Academic Support, have implemented a faculty development program—the Art of Advisement Faculty Development Workshop Series—that goes beyond the informational elements that comprise most advising preparation programs. This program, which won the NASPA 2011 Student Affairs Partnering with Academic Affairs (SAPAA) Promising Practices award, consists of three parts. In addition to the informational elements (course selection, institutional policies), this program includes conceptual (student development theory) and relational (building rapport) elements.

One of the challenges of implementing such a program is reframing the institution’s culture.

“Advisement must be seen as an institutional priority, therefore training, preparation, and support really must be built in to the institution. It can’t be a stand-alone one-hour workshop. It really has to be part of the culture. Advising is not just something you do. It’s something that you offer and continually assess, evaluate, and learn from. Rather than looking at advisement as a solitary function, we need to be aware that this is something that impacts the whole college. It will ultimately impact retention and graduation rates, which is what we’re all striving for. At the heart of what we’re talking about is tapping into the faculty’s desire to help students and making it comfortable for faculty to engage in this process,” Levy says.

For more on what you can do to make academic advising an institutional priority and give faculty the tools they need to succeed, check out The Art of Advising. In this program, Mitchell Levy, PhD and Bernard Polnariev, PhD will show you how to create, manage and assess three developmental advising initiatives for your campus. Learn More »

Build on teaching skills
Part of getting faculty involved in advising entails relating what they do as teachers to the role of advisor. “There are a lot of parallels between teaching and advisement,” Polnariev says. “As we work with faculty, we illustrate that their roles as teachers and how they go about working with students are really extensions of developmental advising. The skills they need to be effective teachers are really quite similar to the skills needed for effective developmental advisement.”

Understanding different learning preferences, for example, is a skill that serves teaching and advising. “Being in a community college setting where there’s so much diversity, one has to be open to different approaches to reaching different students in the classroom or in advising,” Levy says.

Benefits of faculty participation
The benefits of faculty participation are twofold: institutions can increase their advising staff to accommodate a growing (and increasingly diverse) student body, and faculty offer content expertise that can be very helpful to students as they progress.

“With more and more students coming to college, we’re all doing more with less, and faculty are an untapped resource of additional [advising] staff. Beyond that, the faculty are experts in their fields. A business major really wants to be engaged with a business faculty member. We’re talking about developmental advisement, not just ‘Which course do I take?’ but ‘How do I prepare to major in that field?’ ‘How do I prepare for an internship?’ ‘How do I prepare to transfer to a bachelor’s degree in that major?’ We want the students to be engaged with those faculty who serve as connectors within their fields.

Understand the students’ perspective
An important part of preparing faculty for developmental advising is giving them the opportunity to explore their values and the values of their students. In a values-sorting activity, faculty are asked to identify their values and goals for education, and what they think the students’ primary reasons are for attending college. They then compare their thinking to what the students actually think. (To date, 2,000 students have participated in this activity.) Often, the students’ ideas about the value of a college education and the reasons for attending are quite different from those of faculty. “If there are disconnects in our values versus students’ values, what are the implications of those disconnects, and how might that be impeding our students’ success?” Levy asks.

Excerpted from Encouraging Faculty Participation in Academic Advising Academic Leader, 28.4 (2012): 3,6.