Relocating advising from service to teaching pays big rewards, campus hears

“A change is occurring in academic advising,” Dr. Eric White of Pennsylvania State University told an audience of faculty and staff advisors Sept. 19. Advising is increasingly being seen from the perspective of teaching, instead of through the traditional lens of service.

A new statement being prepared by the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) places advising “right at the core of the university experience,” according to White, who is associate dean for advising in the Division of Undergraduate Studies at Penn State and a specialist in advising students with undecided majors.

The statement says, “Academic advising is integral to the teaching and learning mission of higher education.” It points out that advising teaches students about being members of the higher education community—something White said he doesn’t think universities generally communicate well to their students—and engages students beyond their own world views.

By moving advising away from the “service” mode, students are no longer seen as paying customers (in the form of tuition), but as members of a relationship in which they also have responsibilities and accountability. “Service is fine for a restaurant or a store, where ‘the customer is always right,’” White said, “but it’s not what we want for advising.” Academic advising is another place where students can learn to be capable, independent, lifelong learners, which will serve them far better, he said.

When viewed from the teaching and learning perspective, it follows that academic advising has the same components of teaching: curriculum (what advising deals with), pedagogy (how advising does what it does) and learning outcomes (the result of academic advising).

The advising curriculum involves everything from communicating the higher ideals of education to the pragmatics of choosing a career path and course selection. It also ties the institution’s academic curriculum to its co-curricular activities. Going far beyond simple scheduling, advising helps students learn the expectations of the institution they are at and to understand its particular culture and mission. “What is the nature of the school they’ve tied their fates to?” White said.

Next, “academic advising, as a teaching and learning process, requires a pedagogy that incorporates the preparation, facilitation, documentation and assessment of advising activities,” White said. Just as a professional in any other field would do, advisors should prepare for their student interviews by learning and reviewing what they already know about the student. Documentation plays a crucial role both in this preparation and in later assessment of outcomes, he said, but is often left out of the process.

“We then have to assess our interactions to know what’s been learned. If you approach advising from a teaching perspective and it’s related to outcomes, the assessment will be easier,” White said.

The outcomes of advising may vary considerably from an undecided major to a student who is struggling to an honors student, White said, but in all cases an important outcome is for students to eventually craft a coherent educational plan based on an assessment of their abilities, interests and values. This should not be overlooked, he said, noting the many cases of students pursuing majors they truly have no interest in simply to satisfy parents’ wishes or that the student perceives as high-paying but uninspiring—and either dropping or flunking out or having to change careers later in life, when it is much more difficult.

Another outcome is that they understand the academic requirements of the program they choose (and, if planning to go on to a professional or graduate program, what they must accomplish as an undergraduate) and take responsibility for meeting those requirements.

Advising tied to retention
The results of the sixth national ACT Survey of Academic Advising reveal that many colleges and universities are not offering effective advising to their students, White said. Too often it is seen merely as an adjunct to scheduling and course selection.

But research shows that meaningful interaction with a concerned university member is a key factor in retention and perseverance to graduation. Academic advising offers a way for colleges to offer students that interaction, White said.

The current survey shows more institutions have developed stronger advising services, but few have a “formal, structured program to effectively promote advising as a deterrent to dropout.”

The frequency of advising should be tied to the type of student being advised, he said, adding “undecideds need a lot.”

Advising of first-year students is particularly important, White said. “The data say that if you don’t get them in the first year, they’re prone to leave,” he said, adding that advising “should really be part of the admissions process.”

The National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and NACADA will be issuing a monograph on academic advising of first-year students in November, he said, recommending that BGSU advisors check it out.

Assessment of advising
White strongly recommended that higher education institutions regularly assess their own advising—from the program to the individuals to the outcomes. “Accreditors would love it if you could connect assessment with learning outcomes for advising,” he said. “If we get a handle on that, we’re way ahead of the game.”

Campus ‘advising as teaching’ events set
BGSU faculty and staff advisors are invited to attend a workshop tomorrow (Sept. 26) on “Advising as Teaching,” from 10-11 a.m. in the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology, 201 University Hall. “Campus Resources for Students” will be offered Thursday (Sept. 28) from 9:30-10:30 a.m., followed by “Technology Tools for Advising” from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Oct. 3, and “Academic Policies” from 1:30-2:30 p.m. Oct. 5. Register online at or call 2-6898. The workshops are sponsored by the vice provost for academic services and the Advising Network.

September 25, 2006