In my multimedia class a few weeks ago, a Boise State faculty member came into our room to discuss with us a program he was starting at Boise State. He was collecting stories from University students, asking them to detail their time here. His goal seemed simple: to understand the student experience in hopes of improving it.
He wanted to know the good, the bad and the ugly about student life. When describing what the bad and ugly might be, he brought up academic advising. The comment wasn’t intended to criticize university advisors, he claimed. The groans and mumbles from my classmates suggested something else –maybe advising services should be criticized.
To be fair, I don’t believe all advising needs criticism. In fact, I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive experience with my advisors. The secret behind that success is a relationship of mutual respect and professionalism, with some degree of closeness tying it all together. A healthy connection with an academic advisor has the potential to make noticeable improvements in a student’s life.
Why closeness matters to students
Having someone advocating for student success is critical. This is particularly true when the university floodgates open, and students are drowning in options.
To mitigate that stress, Sue Ohrablo, an adjunct professor at Valencia College in Florida, advocated for a more engaging advisory role in student life. Her argument is founded on the basic idea that more interaction between student and advisor results in better outcomes. This theory is known as proactive advising.
Proactive advising includes reaching out to students more times during the year than is required. This means sending emails to check in, providing information specific to student interest and developing a mentor-mentee relationship.
“Proactive advising initiatives are aimed at all students with the objective of demonstrating concern and care for students, strategically providing them information and helping them to avoid problems,” Ohrablo said.
Initiating proactive advising shows students their advisors care. It demonstrates an active engagement in that student’s life and can help provide the counseling students need at every step of their academic career.
“Academic advisors are in the unique position to assist students throughout their entire academic career, from admission through graduation,” Ohrablo said. “If a productive relationship is forged, the advisor can become an integral part of the student’s experience, and can provide support and direction for students on an ongoing basis.”
Students have a lot to balance, and single-handedly planning their academics should not be one of them. On the other hand, it goes without saying that advisors have their own set of struggles to deal with. As such, proactive advising efforts should benefit them as well.
Why closeness matters to advisors
By reaching out to students periodically throughout the year, rather than strictly on set appointment dates, advisors have the opportunity to minimize their workload. Keeping up with their students puts an end to frantic enrollment advising sessions, freeing up their own time in the process.
“Initially, advisors may balk at the idea of proactive outreach and advising. With increasing student caseloads, advisors are challenged with keeping up with incoming inquiries, walk-ins, and appointments,” Ohrablo said. “Finding the time to proactively outreach to students may seem impossible and counterproductive. After all, we need to assist the students who have sought our help. However, proactive advising can be a method of workload management.”
George D. Kuh of the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University Bloomington stated that effective advisor-student relationships can improve both student and campus life.
According to Kuh, student success and advising go hand-in-hand. Further, he claims knowing their students well and striving for meaningful interactions can directly impact that success.
“Many advisors go to unusual lengths to learn as much as they can about their students– where they are from, their aspirations and talents and when and where they need help,” Kuh said.
That level of closeness will allow advisors to periodically get in touch with their students, reducing the need for lengthy, stressful meetings at the beginnings and ends of semesters.
Why good advising is important
According to Kuh, advisors play a critical role in the lives of their students. Being that they are some of the first people students interact with on campus and are there to assist them until they graduate, they should remain engaged.
Staying proactive in building and maintaining relationships with students will help advisors mitigate student stress, while decreasing their own workload. Student engagement, academic planning, decision making, problem resolution, retention and a sense of belonging are all outcomes that may emerge from a proactive advising approach. Establishing closeness between mentor and mentee may have illustrious effects on the student’s academic career.