Higher Learning Commission

Enhancing Academic Advising at The Ohio State University

Ohio State University

Overview of the Quality Initiative

Active participation in academic advising helps to ensure that students succeed and flourish at The Ohio State University. Advisors help connect students to the university, and students involved in advising are expected to gain accurate, relevant information to guide them toward a coherent, meaningful, and well-directed education. An ongoing connection to advising enables students to make informed decisions related to their academic goals (including the time in which they seek to complete a degree). A sustained advising partnership will point students toward appropriate resources and support services that, if effectively utilized, can enhance their educational and career opportunities. Advising should also help students avoid taking courses they do not need to complete their degrees. Just as importantly, advising should enable students to select course work that promotes their academic goals, when course options are possible. High-quality academic advising is essential to the university’s overarching goals of putting “Students First” and moving from “Excellence to Eminence.”

To be effective, however, academic advising requires a collaborative relationship between advisors and students—an active, sustained, and intentional process, rather than passive, sporadic, and casual contacts. Students should connect with advisors to plan their educational goals, assess their progress, and consider options, adjustments, and next steps. For their part, advisors should be well trained, thoroughly knowledgeable about the university—its programs, courses, and services; its values, policies, and procedures. Since information is essential to advising, advisors will be able to work with students more effectively if we provide them with ready access to critical information about students and remove institutional obstacles to the flow of that information. Until recently, we have done little to identify and assess what, exactly, we expect from advising, so it should be no surprise that students and the larger campus community do not always understand what advisors actually do.

The work of advisors and advising units during the university’s recent transition to semesters provided ample evidence that academic advising at Ohio State is healthy. The effect of good advising on academic progress was clear. While our continually improving retention rates may be ascribed to the improved preparation of our students and an excellent first-year program, they are at least partially due to the efforts of advisors working with first-year students. At this important juncture—having moved through the semester conversion and, as a result of that process, having reaffirmed the value of excellent advising—Ohio State is intent on advancing advising to the next level. To do so, we will focus on the following goals:

  • Improving students’ engagement with advising resources
  • Training and providing professional development for advisors
  • Defining and assessing the learning outcomes for academic advising
  • Improving access to information needed to guide and support students
  • Enhancing collaboration among advising staff, and between advising offices and other university offices

“Enhancing Academic Advising at The Ohio State University” will be an ongoing initiative. We look at this as an opportunity to integrate and gain momentum for a number of advising initiatives already in progress as independent efforts. These include a recently deployed and re-envisioned training program for advisors; first steps toward assessment of the learning outcomes for academic advising; and communication resources for advisory messages and documentation. Our interest in boosting our capabilities in student analytics aligns well with an emerging institutional commitment to business intelligence and data governance and is a critical next step for any effort to assess the outcomes of advising.

Improving students’ engagement with advising resources. We will begin our advising initiative with a survey, taking stock of where we are, with an aim toward assessing our high-priority concerns. Through focus groups of students and advisors, we will

  • assess the relative strengths and needs of academic advising in the undergraduate units;
  • determine how best to create an environment in which advising across all six campuses of the university can thrive and in which advisors and students can more effectively collaborate in the joint enterprise of advising; and
  • develop more productive, supportive connections and systems based on our findings.

As we decide on implementations, we will determine how best to measure the results, and make adjustments and changes informed by those data.

In the course of this initial survey, we will identify practices that seem promising and effective. What are we doing locally now that we could build on and expand? What might we do that we are not currently doing? Key to this initiative will be determining strategies for connecting students more effectively with advising. Some initial steps in this direction were taken during the course of converting to semesters (mainly, persistent and strategic prompting of students to see their advisor). But without that sea change as impetus, such prompts have become seemingly less urgent and, therefore, less frequent. To develop real engagement—to promote compelling motivation for students to seek and value advising—we need to understand and adjust to how students see themselves and how they experience the university, understandings that will, in turn, inform our advising outreach, communications, and materials.

If we need to provide advising suited to students’ needs, we also need to communicate reasonable expectations for what they should expect from an advising relationship, a partnership in which they will need to act as engaged participants: generally, an appointment with an advisor should be a starting point, not a finish line. Ohio State is a large institution, awash with information. While advisors can be counted on to provide helpful information to students, one primary goal of advising is to help students learn what they need to know to help themselves more effectively. To achieve that goal, we need to teach students to recognize when they need information and to be more skilled in acquiring, evaluating, and using it to answer questions, solve problems, and advocate for themselves. Developing students’ “information literacy” is key to the advising relationship.

Training and providing professional development for advisors. High-quality advising requires well trained advisors, committed to the profession and invested in working with students. We must do everything possible to design and deliver thorough, effective training, as well as to provide appropriate opportunities for both ongoing training and professional development. The training—and its underlying premises of what constitutes excellence in advising—should derive from our mission and vision, our goals and learning outcomes for advising.

We also aim to identify any structural, institutional obstacles to effective advising, especially any impediments to the flow of information to both students and advisors. One central task of advising is to help students plan degrees, a role currently challenged by the fact that, as one consequence of the university’s conversion to semesters, neither advisors nor students have currently reliable information beyond the next term about when courses will be offered.

Since we want, when possible, to retain trained, skilled advisors, we will seek to collaborate with Ohio State’s Office of Human Resources on a formal review of advising roles, duties, and job classifications, to identify appropriate opportunities for advancement.

Defining and assessing the learning outcomes for academic advising. We will establish and begin to assess these learning outcomes using standards developed from the National Academic Advising Association’s Statement of Core Values of Academic Advising and the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education’s Standards for Academic Advising.

Improving access to information needed to guide and support students. Access to student data is critical for strategic, directed outreach. AdvisingConnect, Ohio State’s current computerized system for advising notes and, increasingly, for scheduling advising appointments, is mostly limited to storing information about a student’s advising history. With the emergence of student analytics as a disciplinary focus, this is the right time to determine how we can use available data—including, for example, concerns as different as a student’s performance in critical courses and expected outcomes for different academic programs—to help advisors interact with and guide students more effectively. Expanding AdvisingConnect to include well defined queries of student data, providing advisors with a ready means of outreach to well defined populations, will be one possibility we consider for facilitating more proactive, intentional outreach.

Enhancing collaboration among advising staff, and between advising offices and other university offices. All of these efforts will require more effective communication with both students and advisors. Encouraging collaboration among advising units, advising administrators, and other student support offices will facilitate the sharing of ideas, adoption of proven practices, and more efficient processes. Beyond those efforts, however, it is also critical to promote, across the university, clearer, broader awareness of the role of advising—what it is that advisors do and do not do (and perhaps should not be expected to do). While generally aiming to teach students to learn to advocate for themselves, advisors are, both individually and collectively, among the best advocates students have. Working directly with students, academic advisors are often positioned to see the problems students encounter as they operate within the university’s curriculum, programs, and organizational structure. Connecting advisors and students more closely and regularly will benefit both students and—with willingness to listen, consider, and adjust—the university and its programs.

Relevance and Significance

The academic preparation of Ohio State’s students has increased consistently and substantially over the past 18 years. The average ACT/SAT score for new first-year students has increased from 22.8 in 1995 to 28.5 in 2013, a level we formerly considered acceptable for honors students—students for whom we offered particularly supportive advising. To support these better prepared students, we have regularly added advising programs and services:  a highly successful First-Year Experience program, Scholars programs with living-learning components, Undergraduate Research and Service Learning programs, and increased opportunities for study abroad. Advisors, who have always played a key role in helping students to navigate the institution, routinely direct students to what is available. For many students, however, advising is occasional, a service they resort to only when they need help in solving a problem. While that aspect of advising is certainly important, promoting a more sustained relationship will enable advisors to help more students take advantage of opportunities to enhance and enrich their education both in and out of the classroom, based on the student’s goals in pursuing a degree.

In admitting more highly prepared students, we have assumed an institutional obligation to offer them an education worthy of their talents. We have met that obligation in many ways, but to the extent that students remain disengaged from advising—and the encouragement and direction, the ongoing conversation about curricular choices, career goals, and relevant extracurricular activities that it should provide—their chances to take advantage of those opportunities are more likely to pass by, underutilized, unexploited.

Intended Impact

This initiative, in all of its aspects, is a commitment to student success and to improving the quality of the student experience. Connecting students more consistently, in more sustained ways, with academic advising will better serve the goals and aspirations—the expectations—of the students we now admit. Providing advisors with more focused data about student performance, at the level of individual students and the courses they are taking, will enable advisors to work more proactively with them. Better access to student data will enable advisors to communicate sooner with students who are experiencing difficulty and might benefit, sooner, rather than later, from assessing their academic progress or even considering an alternative academic program. Recurring contacts and more effectively directed communications will help to involve more students in the high-impact practices (undergraduate research, service learning, internships, and study abroad, for example) that will provide them with skills, experiences, and perspectives beyond what they learn in the classroom and improve their preparation for both the workplace and for citizenship.

In more practical, applied ways, we will seek to improve processes, as well as the information available to students and the advisors who help support them. For example, a process that could be enhanced to the benefit of students and advisors alike is as basic as that of course selection and planning. Our General Education program offers extensive latitude of choice in areas where a student’s program does not specify a particular course. A significant percentage of the students who meet with advisors want help with degree planning. With so little history of course offerings following our recent conversion to semesters, however, advisors do not have much more information on this than students. Even in subject matter outside their program, course selection ought to matter to students, and both students and advisors need access to reliable information on when courses will be offered.

This is the right time for an initiative with these goals. The timing coincides with our developing interest in student analytics. With the curricular changes that came with our conversion to semesters, changes that allow considerably more curricular flexibility in some areas, there is more opportunity and need for advising on course choices, double degrees and majors, minors, internships, etc. The Committee on Undergraduate Advising, which helped successfully manage advising during the transition from quarters to semesters, is an ideal group to help manage this project.

Purposes and Goals

The purposes of this initiative are

  1. to enhance the relationship between students and advisors;
  2. to clarify for the university community what it is that advisors do—and for students, in particular, why they should consult regularly with their advisor and what they can expect from doing so;
  3. to develop assessment of learning outcomes for academic advising and training for advisors, and to articulate the one with the other; and
  4. to provide advisors with data and tools to work more effectively and proactively with their advisees.

Evaluation of Progress and Accomplishments

This initiative is itself a commitment to an ongoing university-wide assessment of advising and the adjustments that will follow a careful consideration of results. Our initial assessment, which we will conduct largely through focus groups, will help us

  • to determine the most effective ways to communicate with and persuade students;
  • to continue outreach and communication with specific university audiences and with parents and families;
  • to improve the training we already deliver for advisors; and
  • to determine the initial goals and first steps in improving advisors’ access to information that will improve their ability to support students.

Following our early communication efforts, for example, we will assess progress to date and determine how best to continue. We will consult widely as we fix on and roll out additional processes—training, newly accessible information, enhanced tools—and we will seek assessment feedback after release to determine appropriate tweaks, adjustments, changes. The process will be iterative, rather than involving a single definitive release.

Internal and External Support

This initiative is strongly supported by the Vice Provost and Undergraduate Dean (whose responsibilities include general oversight for undergraduate advising), the Vice Provost for Academic Programs, and the Executive Vice President and Provost. It will also enjoy strong support from the administrators of academic advising units across campus.

Groups and Individuals Involved in Implementation

Wayne Carlson, Vice Provost and Undergraduate Dean

John Wanzer, Assistant Provost

Jennifer Belisle, Advising Resource Coordinator

Committee on Undergraduate Advising (an advisory committee to the Undergraduate Dean)

Committed Resources

The Office of University Communications will assist us in developing a communication campaign. Both the Office of Enrollment Services-Analysis and Reporting, and the Office of Institutional Research and Planning will provide support for improving access to data. We will draw on the systems and technology staff in the Office of the University Registrar and on the Office of the Chief Information Officer for those enhancements that involve changes to the Student Information System; and on the College of Arts and Sciences Technology Office for tools delivered through AdvisingConnect. We will consult with the Office of Human Resources regarding job classifications for advisors to identify a more clearly structured career ladder.

Primary Activities and Implementation Timeline

At the end of an initial period of assessment, by December 2014, the Office of Undergraduate Education will collaborate with the Committee on Undergraduate Advising to produce a report summarizing initial findings and planned next steps. This report will be shared with the Undergraduate Dean, the Vice Provost for Academic Programs (who has oversight for the university’s re-accreditation), the Council on Enrollment and Student Progress (a body of the University Senate), and the Academic Program Advisory Committee (comprised of the Associate Deans to whom advising offices in Ohio State’s 14 colleges typically report).

Once those plans have been vetted through the university’s governance process, we will begin to design and develop “content,” along with a timeline and implementation strategy. A communication plan to promote the value of academic advising and to encourage students to establish an ongoing relationship with their advisors should be timed to coincide with orientation, for students entering in the fall, and with the start of autumn semester 2015, for continuing students, and messages and materials should be developed with those start-ups in mind.

By early 2015, we will begin to consult with the data stewards on the newly forming Executive Committee on Integrated Institutional Business Intelligence and Data Governance. We will identify for them the data we have determined to be critical in working more effectively with students and assessing the outcomes of advising. Also by early 2015 we will determine and plan the when’s and how’s of staged delivery and implementation.

The timeline is outlined below:


Autumn 2014: Conduct initial surveys (primarily focus groups of advisors and students, but we will also do a short electronic survey of students to attempt to measure engagement and advising needs/expectations, preferences)
Spring 2015: Start planning and vetting a communication strategy; make adjustments to the training program for advisors; meet with data stewards to consult on data needs
Summer/Autumn 2015: Begin to implement the communication plan; develop and plan for delivery of student analytics
Spring 2016: Begin the rollout of student analytics
Autumn 2016: Compare results of advising questions from spring 2013 NSSE administration with those of spring 2016; re-administer 2014 electronic survey of students; conduct follow-up focus groups with advisors and students

 

 

Institution Contact

W. Randy Smith, Vice Provost for Academic Programs

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