Putting College Advising on the Map: The New Methodology That's Creating Buzz

By Jessica Rowland Williams
May 17, 2018
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Earlier this year, several students at University of California, Riverside (UCR) found themselves stuck in a difficult situation. They had failed to register for a full-time course load, so they hadn't received their financial aid, but a hold on their accounts prevented them from enrolling in a full-time course load. It was what you might call “a financial aid loop”.

While just a few semesters ago, these students would have likely fallen through the cracks, UCR now tracks students proactively through a project called Monitoring Advising Analytics to Promote Success (MAAPS).

MAAPS is a 4-year study supported by the U.S. Department of Education that involves all eleven institutions of the University Innovation Alliance and is being led by Georgia State University. This study provides 10,000 Pell-eligible first generation students with a new/specialized form of advising designed to support their success. This advising is analytics based and uses historical data to identify patterns that may predict whether a student is at risk academically.

In many ways, MAAPS advising is similar to other advising programs in that advisors work with students to support their success. There are, however, a few key distinguishing factors:

More Efficient Use of Technology

MAAPS advisors at Purdue University share what they've learned with their advising colleagues

One factor is more and better use of technology to identify problems quickly and intervene sooner. Instead of waiting until the middle of the semester when it is often too late for a struggling student to turn things around, MAAPS advisors know the moment difficulties start happening. From a registration mistake to a bad test score, MAAPS advisors can act on alert through their campus systems and reach out to students immediately.

"Having timely interventions was a key to our students’ success and our technologies helped us do just that," says Georgia State University Academic Advisor Emily Adele Buis.

Buis also stresses that MAAPS advisors at GSU manage a smaller number of students than most college advisors, which dramatically improves the quality of the relationship.

"Now with a smaller population, I am able to be more inclusive and intensive with my students," she explains. "I am now afforded the opportunity to meet with my students multiple of times in the semester. In one student’s case, I had a standing weekly appointment with them!"

Establishing a Plan from the Start

A second distinguishing factor is that MAAPS advisors develop personalized academic 4-year plan for each student from day one and continuously update the plan update the map and track students' degree progress closely throughout their matriculation.

Mario Trejo, an academic advisor at University of California Riverside says, “By being able to map out the full 4 years with the students from the start, we’re able to discuss and incorporate high-impact practices like studying abroad, research, or double majors/minors into their plans. Students are able to get a clearer idea of what it will take to pursue these opportunities and can make a more educated decision before committing fully to those options.”

Early Identification of Academic Issues

A third distinguishing factor of MAAPS advising is that it allows advisors to address course registration issues prior to the start of the semester.

Trejo describes how STEM majors at UCR are very sequential and certain courses are not offered every term. Through proactive advising, UCR advisors have caught several students who didn’t register for a course because they thought they could take it the following term. By simply monitoring each student’s enrollment, advisors have been able to catch these and other issues which might have delayed a student’s progress for even up to a year.

MAAPS advisors at Oregon State University

“Some of our students have faced academic difficulties in the past year,” explains Trejos. “Some have even faced academic disqualification. However, students are given the opportunity to appeal their disqualification, something that many of them didn’t know about, and we’ve been able to work closely with and advocate for them through the appeal process. “

“We’ve used their 4-year plans to map out an alternate major/path that makes more sense for them,” adds Trejos. “They can present this to the Dean of their college as part of their appeal. Almost all of these students have had their disqualifications rescinded and have been given the opportunity to remain enrolled at the University and work toward their new major.”

Putting MAAPS on the Map

Characterized by deliberate, structured student interventions and purposeful involvement with students1, MAAPS has the potential to be a very important new methodology when it comes to supporting academic success. It increases institutional capacity to pinpoint issues quickly which is especially important for boosting student success among first generation and low-income students.

This approach, in fact, is what Georgia State University used as it eliminated the completion gaps in graduation rates between different racial and income groups. It’s now the subject of a longitudinal, 4 year study to measure its effectiveness across the 11 universities that comprise the University Innovation Alliance. Time will tell whether the effectiveness of MAAPS can be observed a larger scale. In the meantime, students will have a more customized, responsive relationship with their advisors and hopefully enjoy the academic benefits of that in the process.

1Varney, J. (2013). Proactive Advising. In J. K. Drake, P. Jordan, & M. A. Miller (Eds.), Academic advising approaches: Strategies that teach students to make the most of college (137-154). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.