Advising for Student Success

I am taking a bit of a philosophical approach to the issue of advising for student success as we begin the new calendar year. Interestingly enough, the "new year" I resonate with most is the beginning of the academic year, usually in September! Yet the turnover to a new calendar year is very definitely a time for reflection and pause, and not just because it's so amazingly cold!

In the advising world, we like to talk about student success. At my institution, I hear us talking about how to create success, and I have encouraged that discussion at as many levels as I can. How do we make that happen? In advising, it's important to connect student success and persistence to academic progression, within the academic cycle. Understanding the academic cycle, and how students progress throughout their academic lives, is key (for me) to understanding how advising can make a difference.

I've been rereading parts of Beyond Foundations: Developing as a Master Advisor. One of the chapters that relates to these ideas is entitled "Defining Student Success" (Stephen O. Wallace and Beverly A. Wallace in Grites, T.J., Miller, M.A., & Givens Voller, 2016).

This chapter focuses on an authentic understanding of student success and wonders if there is one single, or key, definition that fits all of our work with students. There are institutional (academic) definitions that certainly can impact an advisor's work, as well as definitions that are created when governments and industry want to link productivity (e.g., graduation rates, retention statistics) to success. Harrell and Holcroft (2012) focus on student learning outcomes and the personal nature of the definition of success. Love (2008) continues to refine the understanding by focusing our thinking on the idea that a student constructs their own vision of a future, charts possible paths, and takes steps along that path. Again, this is seen as an intentional process that results in and from learning. There is a strong developmental component, and the pathway(s) are not linear. I believe that advising for success along the academic cycle can make a difference.
Advisors are key individuals in the student's academic cycle.

At a personal level, each interaction provides an opportunity to build relationships and develop a deeper understanding of students, individually and collectively. Then we can work with students to help them understand what success means.

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A developmental understanding of where the student is at – considering goals, and the reasons they persist, probably will change over time, especially as students become more engaged with the learning that takes place throughout the academic cycle. At an institutional level, advisors are partners who understand their own and students' roles in the institution and can make connections that are needed for academic progression. Moving (nudging?) students to success will be both personal and institutional, and strategies will also be required for/with students who have not met their desired goals.

At the risk of making this too long, I'd like to share a few advising strategies we've been talking about as we review the new NACADA and CACUSS competencies at our institution. They are not meant to encompass all approaches currently in use, but to have us think about where and how advising has its greatest effects for creating success.

We will foster student academic success using an integrated system of developmental, holistic and proactive advising.

  • Different styles/forms of advising will be used, depending on the situation.
  • Use transparent resources that link to the academic cycle, e.g., the First Year Planning Guide, a campus-wide degree audit system, and a career compass developed for specific programs.
  • Work with students to map a future pathway, beginning with orientation, course choices, admission or entry into a program either at the first year or higher levels, decisions regarding specialized program requirements and progression, ultimately leading to graduation.
  • Provide timely feedback about progression along the academic cycle. Thinking again about the "new year"… Even though we may think of the academic cycle as a year-long process, it will change as students develop, continuing to spiral to higher levels of understanding and self-assessment.

Students will ultimately begin to understand the post-secondary processes more deeply and as they progress through their academic work, will acquire new language, deepen understanding of requirements, and become more engaged participants in their own learning opportunities.