The literature has made us aware of the importance of a student’s connection with a faculty member, advisor, or other significant adult and its impact on academic success and retention of students. For first-generation students, this can be especially critical, as they require assistance not only in what to take and why, but also how to understand and negotiate this new and overwhelming environment. Universities employ a variety of methods and people to attempt to ensure that this connection be established and maintained. Advisors often fulfill this role for students in their first year in higher education.
Advising structures and systems vary widely from institution to institution and may include a combination of both faculty and professional staff. Despite the frequently cited notion that advising is an activity that should somehow be inherently rewarding, the people who fulfill these roles look for meaning in and recognition of their performance in advising. Instead, professional staff express frustration with systems that frequently do not allow for career advancement, and faculty want to know how advising will advance their promotion and tenure agenda.
What can chairs and deans do to ensure quality advising for their students? What can they do to have advisors who feel valued and who value this important relationship with their students?
1. Value advising. If advising is not perceived to be an important activity by chairs and deans, faculty and staff will not place much value on advising either. Good developmental advising can teach important life skills to students and increase their chances of academic success. If you value student success and retention, you must value advising.
The importance that your university, school/college, or department places on advising is best evidenced by where it is found in your mission, strategic goals, policy, personnel, and procedure documents. What is the place of advising in your position descriptions, position ads, yearly evaluations, and tenure and promotion documents? Do your ads identify advising as a required position activity—or is it hidden under “other duties as assigned”? Do your search committees ask questions appropriate to assessing a candidate’s suitability for, skills in, and commitment to student advising? Does your university promote the idea of advising as a teaching activity—or is it always relegated to the “service” category? Does your university convey in its new-faculty orientation the importance of and expectations for advising?
2. Provide orientation and professional development related to advising. Who, if anyone, is responsible for the education (and continuing education) of advisors on your campus? Do all advisors receive consistent information across the university? In addition to the information they need to help students register for their next semester, ensure that your faculty receive advisor training that includes theories of student development; the communication skills necessary to talk with students of all races and ethnicities effectively and sensitively; and knowledge of resources to assist students in exploring, setting, and meeting their academic goals. For consistency across the organization, university advising committees should be charged with studying and recommending standards of orientation and continuing education for advisors.
3. Reward advising. Does your university, school/college, or department give out advising awards? Do these have the same stature as similar awards for teaching or research? Institute a campus advising award that is chosen through a peer-review process. Identify and recognize the outstanding advisors at the same time that other faculty and professional staff awards are given. Publicize the efforts of your outstanding advisors in a way that is equal to the way you publicize your outstanding teachers and researchers.
For faculty, advising must be recognized and rewarded through the promotion and tenure process. This usually requires a culture change and will not happen overnight. Your chief academic officer may need to be educated about why the change is necessary and where his or her influence is critical to the process. Recruit respected senior faculty who are also excellent advisors to serve on key campus, school/college, and department committees charged with reviewing and revising promotion and tenure criteria, guidelines, and procedures. Ensure that your promotion and tenure documents include advising as a legitimate teaching activity with outcomes that are measureable, specific, and recognizable to the faculty as scholarly work.
Developing, rewarding, and retaining great advisors is imperative for student success. Make sure yours know they are valued.
Office of Academic Affairs (2007). Examples for documenting and evaluating teaching. Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne. http://www.ipfw.edu/vcaa/promotion/PDFs/ExpTeaching.pdf
Vowell, F.N. and Wallet-Ortiz, J. (2003). Using a portfolio to document advising effectiveness. Academic Advising Today, 26(1). Retrieved 4/1/09 from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/worth.htm
Kathleen L. O’Connell, PhD is the associate vice chancellor for faculty affairs and a professor of nursing at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne.
Excerpted from Valuing and Rewarding Academic Advising: Models for Chairs and Deans, Academic Leader, volume 25, number 6, page 4.