Higher Learning Commission

Advancing Student Success through the Development and Implementation of Quality Metrics in the University’s Advising Systems

Eastern Michigan University

About Eastern Michigan University (EMU)

Since its inception in 1849, Eastern Michigan, first as a Normal School, then as a College and finally as a University, has grown and developed to respond to the ever-changing needs of society. Over the years, EMU has educated thousands of sons and daughters of Michigan, the nation, and the world. The University currently serves 23,000 students who are pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 200 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Health and Human Services; Technology, and its graduate school. EMU was a member of the AQIP program between 2003 and 2012. As a result, the University has built a culture of enhancing quality and continuous improvement throughout the campus communities. Even though the University has chosen the Open Pathway as its new accreditation process, the Quality Initiative we are proposing here for the Open Pathway is a natural continuation of the many initiatives the University has implemented in the past.

Overview of the Quality Initiative

The Open Pathway Quality Initiative (QI) will be a three-year project which focuses resources and efforts toward developing and implementing measures of gauging the quality of advising at EMU. The QI will provide important information for EMU to use to improve its advising systems, a critical element in the system that supports student success. Many scholarly studies have studied the connection between student advising and student success, frequently measured by retention, degree completion or grade point average (GPA) (Habley, 1981; Jones, 2011; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1978; Pietras, 2010; Rendon, 1995; Tinto, 2000; Wilder, 1981). Jones (2011) pointed out that “academic advising is a key ingredient in the retention of students” (p.15). Rendon (1995) suggested that two factors play a critical role in students’ decisions to remain enrolled until completion: making the transition to college successfully through orientation and advisement programs, and making positive connections with college personnel upon initial enrollment.

According to ACT’s (2010) national survey of all colleges and universities, the respondents identified the following campus retention practices as having the greatest impact on student retention: (1) Freshman seminar/university 101 for credit, (2) Tutoring program, (3) Advising interventions with selected student populations, (4) Mandated course placement testing program, and (5) Comprehensive learning assistance center/lab. Habley and McClanahan (2004) further examined the results and found that the quality of advising is positively related with student retention at colleges and universities, meaning the better the quality of advising, the better the retention rate of the corresponding school.

Based on our existing data and research, the satisfaction rate with advising at EMU is relatively low in comparison with other student service areas, and there are connections between student satisfaction with advising and time to degree and overall GPA (EMU’s annual Graduating Senior Exit Survey and Alumni Survey). EMU’s QI project will include three phases. In Phase I, a team of research experts and advising staff will work together to develop comprehensive metrics that can be used to measure the quality of advising. Activities in Phase II will include presenting and training on how to use the metrics for different parts of the advising process and then begin to implement the measures. Phase III will involve analysis of data gathered through the application of the measures and distribute the findings. Going beyond Phase III of the project, EMU will incorporate the findings and make continuous improvements to its advising systems.

The QI is intended to be a critical component of the broader institutional commitment to student success. It dovetails with goals and actions established in a new five-year university-wide strategic plan (http://www.emich.edu/strategicplan) that focus on improving retention and graduation rates. Therefore, the efforts begun during the initiative will continue beyond its threeyear scope. Many of the challenges EMU faces that impact student retention and completion rates will require diligent effort over a long period of time; thus, the initiative serves as an impetus for serious attention and action on improving our advising system endeavoring to contribute to overall student success.

Sufficiency of the Initiative’s Scope and Significance

EMU’s mission states:

Eastern Michigan University enriches lives in a supportive, intellectually dynamic and diverse community. Our dedicated faculty balance teaching and research to prepare students with relevant skills and real world awareness. We are an institution of opportunity where students learn in and beyond the classroom to benefit local and global communities.

EMU’s vision is:

Eastern Michigan University will be a premier public university recognized for studentcentered learning, high quality academic programs, and community impact.

The proposed QI is in alignment with and supports EMU’s mission and vision, which are focused on student learning and success. Eastern Michigan University is a state university that primarily serves the southeast portion of Michigan and includes the Detroit metropolitan area. This region has been greatly impacted by the recent economic situation, particularly by the changes in the automotive industry. The University serves a student population that is increasingly diverse and economically disadvantaged. Ten years ago only 26% of the incoming freshmen cohort was minority students. In the fall of 2012, the percentage had increased to 41%. Additionally, 26% of the fall 2003 freshmen cohort was eligible to receive Pell Grants. Ten years later the percentage has increased to 53%. Even more compellingly, in the 2012 cohort 82% of African-American students, the largest minority group at EMU, were Pell eligible.

With the aforementioned changes in the context, the need for having a more robust, personalized and accurate advising system is especially significant. Additionally, EMU has lower graduation rates than its peer institutions. Based on benchmarking data, EMU’s first-time freshmen retention rate of around 75% is on average with its national peers; while the six-year graduation rate (3- year average at 38.5%) is lower than its peers. Only 12% of freshmen graduate from EMU within four years of matriculation. Analysis shows that more than half of students take fewer than 15 credits per semester, the load necessary in order to graduate in four years. Stronger, more focused advising systems could assist significantly with helping students make better decisions that could contribute to higher degree completion rates.

Eastern Michigan University currently has an advising system with several layers. The University Advising and Career Development Center (UACDC, http://www.emich.edu/uacdc/) is available to all students for advising about the general education part of their degree and for assistance with career/major direction and job seeking. Each of the University’s colleges provides advising related to major requirements. Some colleges have dedicated advising centers and others handle advising through faculty. In addition, a Coordinated Student Advising Center has assisted students who are on academic probation. While this system is generally working, it can be confusing to students, and has been identified through surveys as an area in need of improvement.

According to our annual Graduating Senior Exit Survey, the different types of advising all received relatively low satisfaction ratings, including UACDC (62%), college advising offices (69%), and faculty advising (76%). Through our research and further analysis of the data, we found that there is a connection between satisfaction level with advising and cumulative GPA of students and time to degree. Nevertheless, we also understand that a general satisfaction rating may not be the best measure of the quality of an advising system. Thus, the focus of our QI is not on improving the overall satisfaction rating, but on developing a more comprehensive and objective measure that can help us gauge the quality of our advising systems and assist us with more specific information to improve the excellence of advising.

The QI is significant in many ways, such as:

  • Providing a relatively reliable and ongoing measure for us to gauge and improve the quality of advising,
  • Serving as a strong impetus for a more comprehensive review and possibly reengineering our advising systems,
  • Supporting the integration of services with advising through a more holistic approach,
  • Improving the overall satisfaction rate of our students, which will be measured by other regular student surveys,
  • Serving as one of the key actions to improve student success, as described in one of the four overarching themes—Student Engagement and Success—in the new strategic plan of the University, and
  • Creating a quality improvement model that is applicable and transferrable to other institutions of higher learning.

Clarity of the Initiative’s Purpose

In their study, Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry (1990) discussed in detail the requirements for delivering high quality service. Their model includes identifying five gaps and measuring ten aspects of service quality. These five gaps are:

  1. between consumer expectation and management perception,
  2. between management perception and service quality specification,
  3. between service quality specification and service delivery,
  4. between service delivery and external communication, and
  5. between expected service and experienced service.

Ten service quality aspects include competence, courtesy, credibility, security, access, communication, knowing the customer, tangibles, reliability, and responsiveness. Through our research and benchmarking of best practices in advising, the quality metrics we intend to develop will have four major categories of measures, including:

  • Accessibility and convenience—how accessible and convenient our advising systems (advising staff, office location, service hours, online support, etc.) are.
  • Accuracy—how accurate the information provided by our advising systems is.
  • Empathy and care— how much personal attention, care, and compassion our advising staff members demonstrates.
  • Referral and recommendation— how satisfied students are with our advising system and whether they would recommend the service to others.

The QI will encompass three phases, including development, implementation, and measurement and improvement. During the development phase (Phase I), a team of educational research experts and representatives from the advising systems will follow the above-mentioned four primary categories, use the concept and framework we have reviewed in literature, and develop a comprehensive and executable metrics of measures. To make the quality metrics more complete, the team may decide to add additional measures as needed. After the metrics are developed, the team will test the validity and reliability of the measures through a small-scale pilot program. After the establishment of validity and reliability, the project will enter Phase II. In Phase II, we will begin to implement the metrics among all parts of the advising systems (i.e., University advising, college-level advising, and faculty advising). In this phase, we plan to ask all users (students) of advising to answer those questions presented in the metrics. The metrics will be distributed both through paper and online forms. Data gathered will be centrally stored. In Phase III, research staff will begin to analyze the data and distribute findings. The Provost will then use the findings, in conjunction with other information and planned activities, to work with advising area leaders to develop additional plans for improvement.

Implementation of the improvement plan, focusing on enhancing and strengthening existing advising services, and creating new ones to address detected needs will be continued after the completion of the QI. In recent years, a more robust collection of data monitoring student success has been established by EMU’s Office of Institutional Research and Information Management (IRIM, http://irim.emich.edu). In all phases of the initiative and thereafter, data identifying struggling areas and assessing programs will be used to set goals for improvement and to measure progress toward the goals. Additionally, benchmarking data, where available, will be used.

Other measures will be used to monitor the outcomes of improvement in advising. Since 2010, EMU has institutionalized two annual surveys—Graduating Senior Exit Survey and Alumni Survey (irim.emich.edu under Survey Data tab). Both surveys include three key questions on satisfaction with advising. These three questions ask students their satisfaction levels with academic advising from (1) faculty, (2) college advising office, and (3) UACDC

Evidence of Commitment to and Capacity for Accomplishing the Initiative

Eastern Michigan University recognizes that helping students earn degrees that lay the foundation for their future careers is the pinnacle of its educational mission. Excellent advising is a key component contributing to degree completion. Investing in improving student success is, therefore, a priority emphasized by the Board of Regents, the University president, and a broad range of administrators, faculty and staff.

EMU is in the final stages of developing a five-year strategic plan. The Board of Regents requested that creation of the plan be one of the president’s highest priorities. One of the four primary strategic themes and directions of the plan is the student engagement and success. It is expected that much of the necessary work will be managed by the many departments on campus who are already serving students, such as the University Advising and Career Development Center, Academic Success Partnerships, the Holman Success Center, Student Well Being, Admissions, Financial Aid, etc. The programs and services that can be provided within the context of existing budgets and the ones needing additional budgeted dollars have not yet been identified. EMU faces the challenge of limited financial resources which must be stretched to meet the many competing needs for funds. However, the University’s leadership recognizes that implementing the strategic plan successfully will require funding and improving student success plays a vital role in the plan.

The Open Pathway’s QI provides the University with an additional level of emphasis on this important goal through improving EMU’s student advising systems. The Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs has appointed the Associate Provost and Associate Vice President for Academic Programming and Services to oversee the gap analysis and formulate the comprehensive student success plan. A team of individuals who serve in various aspects of student support and services, enrollment management and institutional research have begun to work on parts of the analysis and on developing plans for addressing how student success can be improved from a broader scope. Addressing the challenges we are facing in student advising and make improvements accordingly will be not only a key part of the overall student success plan but also the central focus of our QI. Table 1 demonstrates the organizational structure that will lead to the implementation of the QI.

EMU knows that improving student success is a difficult task, especially in light of its commitment as an “institution of opportunity” by continuing to matriculate large numbers of students with academic and economic disadvantages and risks. Change will require diligent effort and will probably be slow and incremental rather than dramatic. However, helping more students to earn degrees so that their lives and the lives of their families can be transformed is an extraordinarily important goal and one worthy of pursuing.


Table 1. Leadership and Organizational Support for the QI

Category Lead Responsibilities
EMU Strategic Plan EMU President Oversee the implementation of EMU’s 5-year strategic plan
Strategic Theme 1:
Student Engagement and Success
Provost and Executive VP Oversee the implementation of different
action items and monitor their progress
Goal 2 in Theme 1:
Develop a comprehensive and systematic approach to improve
services and processes that enhance student persistence and
graduation.
Associate Provost and Associate VP
for Academic Programming and
Services
  1. Serve as the Quality Initiative project leader
  2. Chair the Goal/HLC Quality Initiative Action and Achievement Team
  3. Coordinate the implementation of activities/projects
QI: Advancing Student Success through the Development and
Implementation of Quality
Metrics in the University’s Advising Systems
QI Steering
Committee
  1. Develop Quality Metrics; test validity and reliability
  2. Implement the Quality Metrics in all advising systems; gather data
  3. Analyze data, distribute findings, and make recommendations for improvement
QI Outcome Assessment Assistant VP, IRIM
  1. Work with the Quality Initiative team to identify outcome measures and indicators
  2. Lead data analysis and communicate findings/outcomes

Appropriateness of the Timeline for the Initiative

Three levels of the planning process are converging into the focus of this quality initiative. First, the Institutional Strategic Planning Council is in the final phase of developing a 5-year strategic plan for the University which will be in place this fall. In the plan, one of the major themes will be student engagement and success that will lead to specific goals for improving retention and graduation. Second, the Provost has charged key personnel in Academic and Student Affairs to develop a more detailed action plan which will be focused on improving student services and processes, including student advising, to enhance student success. This action plan will be available in December of this year. Finally, once the QI Proposal is approved by HLC, a QI steering committee will be established immediately to lead the accomplishment of the initiative.

By building the initiative into EMU’s next strategic plan, it will assure the alignment of necessary resources to support the implementation of different aspects of the initiative. Table 2 presents an overall timeline for implementing the proposal.

Table 2. Overall Timeline for Implementation

Timeline Activities
September 2013 Submit QI proposal to HLC for approval
Fall 2013
  • Completion of Gap Analysis and Comprehensive Plan
  • HLC Approves QI proposal
Winter 2014

QI Phase I:

  • Establish QI Steering Committee
  • Establish Metrics Development Team
  • Develop Advising Quality Metrics
Summer 2014 Pilot test Quality Metrics; make revisions as needed
Fall 2014

QI Place II:

  • Implement the QI in all student advising activities
  • Begin data gathering
2014-2016

QI Phase III and beyond:

  • Implementation continues
  • Ongoing evaluation of outcomes
  • Communicate findings
  • Identify further directions
  • Make improvements in advising systems
2016-2017 Submit Quality Initiative report to HLC

REFERENCES

American College Test (ACT). (2010). What works in student retention? Fourth national survey:
Report for public four-year colleges and universities (Research Report). Iowa City, IA.

Habley, W. R. (1981). Academic advisement: The critical link in student retention. NASPA
Journal, 18(4), 45-50.

Habley, W. R., & McClanahan, R. (2004). What works in student retention? Two-year public
colleges. Iowa City, IA: American College Testing Services.

Jones, L. (2011). An evaluation of academic advisors' roles in effective retention. Dissertation
proposal. Capella University. Minneapolis, MN

Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (1978). Student-faculty informal relationships and freshman
year educational outcomes. Journal of Educational Research, 71, 183-189.

Pietras, S. A. (2010). The impact of academic advising on GPA and retention at the community
college level. Dissertation Proposal. Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Indiana, PA.

Rendon, L. (1995, May). Facilitating retention and transfer for the first generation students in
community colleges. Paper presented at the New Mexico Institute Rural Community College
Initiative, Espanolo.

Tinto, V. (2000). Taking retention seriously: Rethinking the first year of college. NACADA
Journal, 19(2), 5-10.

Wilder, J. R. (1981). Academic advisement: An untapped resource. Peabody Journal of
Education, 58(4), 188-192.

Zeithaml, V. A., Parasuraman, A., & Berry, L. L. (1990) Delivering quality service: Balancing
customer perceptions and expectations. New York: Free Press.

 

Institution Contact

Bin Ning, Assistant Vice President, Institutional Research and Information Management

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NOTE: The papers included in this collection offer the viewpoints of their authors. HLC highly recommends them for study and for the advice they contain, but none represent official HLC directions, rules or policies.


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