Why Do We Assess Academic Advising?

 

By Kelly Essler, Administrative Coordinator, and Jenna Kurten, Program Manager, Office of the Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
 
 
Background
 
During the 82nd Texas Legislature Regular Session, Senate Bill 36 was enacted, amending Subchapter C, Chapter 61, Section 61.0117 of the Texas Education Code (TEC).  This bill requires that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) establish “a method for assessing the quality and effectiveness of academic advising services available to students at each institution of higher education.”  A working group tasked with development of an advising assessment plan recommended an approach, now called the Texas Method, which follows the NACADA Guide to Assessment of Academic Advising, 2nd Edition (2010).  This method allows for customization of requirements depending upon the structure of each disparate university in Texas but maintains a consistent focus on measurable deliverables, including outcomes-based results.  As required by the Texas Method, this document outlines our main reasons for designing an assessment plan for academic advising services and identifies individuals involved in our process as well as the larger community of stakeholders who have interest in the success of our undergraduate student population.
 
Reasons for Assessment
 
Texas A&M University has articulated the importance of strengthening our undergraduate academic experience.  Through a number of planning initiatives, Texas A&M has addressed the importance of preparing our students for success before and after graduation. 
 
One of the 12 imperatives of Vision 2020 is enhancement of the undergraduate academic experience.  Vision 2020 recognizes the importance of an institutional commitment to graduating enrolled students.  Often, this commitment is expressed through undergraduate retention rates, and ours are in need of improvement as compared to our national aspirant schools.  Advising is a key to retaining students.  The following excerpt (Campbell and Nutt 2008, 4) provides a good perspective on ways that advising influences student success and retention:
 
“When viewed as an educational process and done well, academic advising plays a critical role in connecting students with learning opportunities to foster and support their engagement, success, and the attainment of key learning outcomes. Viewing academic advising as an educational process moves it from a paradigm of teaching that focuses on information or inputs to a paradigm of learning that focuses on outcomes for student learning. In this way, academic advising supports key institutional conditions that have been identified with promoting student success.”
 
As part of the Academic Master Plan, the university adopted a number of student learning outcomes for each degree level.  In many cases, advisors engage with students in settings where they are able to most directly articulate learning goals to students.  Advisors can help students reflect on ways that their academic and non-academic experiences alike are contributing to these outcomes.  Hunter and White (2004) believe that academic advising is “perhaps the only structured campus endeavor that can guarantee students sustained interaction with a caring and concerned adult who can help them shape a meaningful learning experience for themselves.”   Advisors provide consistent context and direction to students so that their academic experiences become more meaningful. 
 
Action 2015 and the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) developed as part of our institutional Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) reaffirmation process in 2012 helped to operationalize our desire to help students achieve learning outcomes set forth in the Academic Master Plan.  In particular, these documents articulated the need for high-impact learning experiences (e.g. undergraduate research, service- or community-based learning experiences, capstone courses).  Advisors are key in communicating these opportunities to students.  The 2002 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) data indicated that students most likely to demonstrate the highest levels of student engagement were those who were most satisfied with their academic advising (Gardner 2003). George Kuh (1997) suggested that it is “hard to imagine any academic support function that is more important to student success and institutional productivity than advising.”  The advising community at Texas A&M University recognizes this awesome responsibility and is prepared to embark on a more comprehensive assessment of its impact on student, and thus institutional, success.
 
Student success can be impacted through meaningful advising efforts directed at certain critical stages of a student’s experience.  Assessment is a mechanism to gauge our effectiveness in meeting learning outcomes established for academic advising.  Assessment keeps us accountable to stakeholders by:
  • Documenting student learning;
  • Establishing shared responsibility for student learning;
  • Ensuring meaningful programs and services are being offered;
  • Illustrating that resources are being used effectively;
  • Closing the loop to ensure that collected data is used to inform future improvements to advising services; and
  • Helping to define the expertise and role of advisors in a student’s academic experience.
 
 
Identification of Stakeholders
 
Texas A&M University’s mission states that the university “strives to prepare students to assume roles in leadership, responsibility, and service to society.”  Our stakeholders, therefore, are vast and numbered, each having an interest or a stake in our academic enterprise, whose ultimate goal is to provide each student opportunities to influence their success even beyond Texas A&M.  This wide range of stakeholders includes, but is not limited to, the following groups:
  • Students/Alumni
  • Parents
  • The State of Texas/Legislatures/Taxpayers
  • Employers
  • Advisors/Staff/Faculty/Administrators
 
More detail about stakeholders can be found in Appendix I.           
 
 
References
 
Campbell, S. M. and C. L. Nutt (2008). Academic Advising in the New Global Century: Supporting Student Engagement and Learning Outcomes Achievement. Peer Review, 10(1), 4-7.
 
Hunter, M. S. and E. R. White (2004). Could fixing academic advising fix higher education? About Campus, 9(1), 20-25.
 
Kuh, G. (1997). The student learning agenda: Implications for academic advisors. NACADA Journal, 17(2), 7-12.
 
John Gardner (2003) as quoted by Joe Cuseo on the First-Year Assessment List FYA-LIST@listserv.SC.EDU , 02/05/03.
 

 
Appendix I: Additional Comments on Stakeholders
 
1.       Students/Alumni
  • students’ success after graduation reflect on the institution and its reputation
  • advisors have the opportunity to provide or facilitate valuable lifelong learning opportunities
  • students have more enriching experiences when high quality advising helps students understand the academic and extra-curricular opportunities available to them
  • advisors help students reflect on ways that their college experiences can influence their life path
  • students want their institution to have a reputation they can be proud of; this is established, in-part, by the quality of its graduates
2.       Parents
  • often have a vested interest in students’ timely graduation and later success
3.       The State of Texas/Legislatures/Taxpayers
  • our elected officials determine a significant portion of our institution’s budget and are held accountable for efficient use of resources, often calculated through measures of student success
  • constituents make demands of higher education in response to the needs of the state and workforce
  • institutions are asked to address the changing needs of state demographics, and subsequent success of those demographic populations
4.       Employers
  • demand a certain level of excellence and training among prospective employees
  • build relationships with students and the university for recruiting high quality students
5.       Advisors/Staff/Faculty/Administrators
  • want an established reputation of service in academic advising
  • build confidence of students and alumni
  • provide some uniformity to expectations of academic advising across campus
  • benefit from global recognition resulting from a well-trained student and alumni population
  • are able to more easily cultivate student learning when advising complements the classroom experience