Register for the UIA National Summit HERE!
 

The Future of Academic Advising Transcript

The Future of Academic Advising Transcript

Note: This interview originally aired on May 26, 2022 as a Chronicle of Higher Education Virtual Event. The transcript of this event is intended to serve as a guide to the entire conversation, and we encourage you to watch on demand. You can also access our summary.

[Start of recorded material 00:00:00]

Ian Wilhelm:
Welcome, everyone, and thank you for joining to today’s session, where we’ll be discussing academic advising, and how it’s gonna be impacting the future of our institution. I’m your host for today, Ian Wilhelm with The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Bridget Burns:
And I’m your co-host, Bridget Burns with the University Innovation Alliance. Academic advising has long been something that we know is a priority, but it doesn’t necessarily move high enough up on the priority list that we need it to in order to drive change. Today we’re gonna have a conversation drawing in experts from various vantage points to discuss the critical aspect of the future of academic advising. And while it has always been a critical aspect of higher ed, the implementation of advising differs dramatically by institution. And varied implementation can often get in the way of evolving efficacy and impact across higher ed.

Ian Wilhelm:
Today we’re gonna hear from a number of experts who can give us some vantage points on this about how to support students, how to do that better in the future than what’s been done in the past, and of course, how advising plays a key role in that. And what needs to change, what gets in the way, and how colleges can do it better together.

Bridget Burns:
So, for a little background, the UIA – the University Innovation Alliance – is a multi-campus laboratory for student success innovation that helps university leaders dramatically accelerate the implementation of scalable solutions that will improve outcomes for more diverse graduates, to improve the number and diversity of graduates in this country. The UIA is founded and led by a pioneering group of university presidents and chancellors who are committed to breaking down silos to collaboration, and leading on testing, sharing, and scaling ideas across the sector to help more students succeed. And a key piece that leads into today is that the Alliance, in the past since 2014, has managed to increase its low-income graduates by 46%, graduates of color by 85%, and produced 97,000 more graduates.

And a critical aspect of that was, in early years of the alliance's formation, they won the First in the World Award that was created by the U.S. Department of Education, and did a 10,000-student randomized control trial on the implementation of proactive advising. And so, today, we’re fortunate to not only be joined by the person who was the Secretary of Education at that time, we’re also gonna be unveiling a playbook that is designed to help administrators, no matter where you sit at whatever type of institution, that you can actually work on the implementation and improvement of proactive advising on your campus. So, that will be shared with you in the chat and also on the heels of the webinar.

But, as I mentioned, the critical piece there was that this was something that was supported by the U.S. Department of Education, and that was led by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Arne, if you’re able to turn on your camera, we’re ready to hang out with you.

Well, welcome. So, Arne Duncan is a managing partner at Emerson Collective, and the founder of Chicago Cred. Thanks so much for joining us today to chat a little bit about the background before we lead into the conversation with our other experts.

Arne Duncan:
Look forward to the conversation. And first, congratulations. And you sort of blow through those numbers fast. Those are really, really significant numbers, never stats, these are individual lives, these are families who, generations will be changed because of the chance to not just to go to college, but to graduate. I say all the times, all the students that you guys have helped to graduate, they weren’t necessarily smarter than students a few years before them, they weren’t necessarily better prepared. What they were was better supported. Systematically, systemically, you guys better supported them and helped them get across the finish line. So that’s just remarkable, remarkable work. And thanks so much for all of your evolution and hard work.

Bridget Burns:
Well, it’s all the work of the campuses. And part of it, though, that was really important in early years was that the Department of Education and the White House were critical allies in helping incentivize the kind of behavior that we’re talking about today, which is thinking about and focusing on big shared problems that the sector needs people to actually put differences aside, not just be assessed with the boundaries of your own institution, but actually work on how do we improve how we support students collectively. And, so I want to turn to first, that model of the First in the World Award, which was fantastic, and has led to a great deal. It was really incentivizing collaboration for student success innovation. Why do you think we need more collaborative innovation work in higher ed, like the kind that you incentivized, in First in the World?

Arne Duncan:
Well, as you know better than I, we have a couple thousand institutions of higher education, and many of the problems, not all, but many of them, many of the challenges, are shared. Are common. And so the idea of having a couple thousand institutions trying to figure this out by themselves doesn’t quite make sense to me. And having really smart, really committed people come together to share best practices, and getting a playbook that you’re laying out today, I think will be so helpful and so informative for folks moving forward. We have to all be in this together. The idea of doing this in silos, being competitive with each other, it just – this fight is too important. It’s bigger than all of us. So, getting people to come together, to make mistakes, to fail, to learn from those, but ultimately get the kind of results that you’re getting, I think that’s the only way we’re gonna have progress at scale. I’m tired of little pilots, little models. We gotta scale what works as fast as we can, and that’s exactly what your collaborative has done.

Bridget Burns:
So, we are in violent agreement on that. But I do want to ask about the role of government, in encouraging and incentivizing this behavior. What role do you – I know that you’re no longer working in the government, but what role would you like to see, perhaps state, federal play in encouraging innovation and practice support for students?

Arne Duncan:
So, the constant question, and whether it's at the state level or the federal level, whatever they’ll take their part in education, what’s the appropriate role of the federal government for this topic’s webinar in higher education, and I do think this actually cuts across all of education, K-12 as well – setting some bold goals, and I’m a much bigger believer in carrots rather than sticks. I don’t think you beat people into doing better, and you sort of build a coalition of the willing, folks who are frankly dissatisfied with the status quo, who want to do something better, set a bold goal. I always talk about ambitious but achievable goals. And then put some resources behind it to help them get there.

And for me, it was never about what my idea was, or what President Obama’s idea was, I always thought the best ideas are out there in the field, it was really about empowering people to do what works and to take it to scale. And again, that’s what you guys have done brilliantly. So I think a very, very appropriate role to adopt in education would be the ultimate, bipartisan, nonpartisan issue. There’s nothing Republican, Democrat, or left or right about having more young people go to college, and very importantly, more young people not just go, but graduate. And for me, this is nation-building work. This is work that’s trying to sustain our democracy, which I’m frankly very worried about these days. And so we’re all in this together, and the federal government can help to incentivize, can help to convene, can help to shine a spotlight on what’s working, that’s something that I think should transcend administrations, transcend parties, that should be a constant.

Bridget Burns:
I completely agree. And it’s super important for higher education to lead on this, especially when you talk about democracy, because the original founding purpose of higher education in this country was the preservation of democracy. So, this is a moment where we’re looking for the kind of collective leadership that I think you were incentivizing, both with First in the World, but I also think the White House College Opportunity Summit. Which we’re hopeful they might consider doing again, because it asks institutions, again, to not just think about their own institutions, but focus on the big collective challenges that we’re all sharing.

I wanted to shift to why you think higher ed needs to focus on evolving how we advise students. Today we’re going to be really focusing on the future of academic advising, which we know is a critical backbone at higher ed, and how we do the work of education. But it needs to evolve, and I wanted to give you a chance to share why you think it’s important.

Arne Duncan:
Well, I think, again, just having so many folks participate in this webinar is actually very encouraging to me, because I think I could make a pretty compelling case that we can talk about majors, how is your economics department, how is your government department, political science, whatever. But what’s always sort of a little bit underneath the radar is how strong is your academic advising, how strong are your supports? And I think I could make a pretty compelling argument, that might be your most important department at the university. Because we know the majority of folks who go to college don’t graduate. And that’s a devastating reality. And we talk a lot about the cost of college and college being too expensive, and we all agree to that.

But for me, what’s always the worst-case scenario is we’ve taken all that debt and don’t have a piece of paper. Don’t have a degree to show for that. And you’re in a really tough financial and life position. And so, shining a spotlight on this, and having universities take as much pride in their academic advising, and try to recruit students to their campuses based upon that strength, and not just based upon how pretty their campus is or how good the major is or how many wins the football team might get, this is the reason to come to university. No one goes to college ever – I don’t think anyone has ever gone to college saying, "My goal is not to graduate." But that’s what’s happened. And people talk about systems being broken, and I hear that. But I often think, systems that aren’t broken, they’re basically designed to get the results that they get. They’re perfectly designed to get the results that they get. And I think we’ve been too complacent. We’ve sort of let it go that the majority of folks that go to college don’t finish. And for me, that’s an untenable reality that we have to change, and change together, and obviously that’s the point of this conversation today.

Bridget Burns:
I completely agree. And I find that often, you don’t see advising in executive cabinets. You don’t see it high up on the org chart. But it is really the backbone of the institution. They’re the last person that students talk to before they walk out the door and never come back. They are the ones who are there as the helpful triage support and coach. More and more we’re asking them to do a million other things that we don’t support them being ready to do, and they’re handling it but – so it’s super important for us to think about how we help higher ed move from playing defense with advising, and playing offense, and that’s really what proactive advising is, which this study helped us validate, works across any type of institution.

The last thing I want to ask and give you just a chance to say whatever you like: I’d like to know what you’d like to see from higher education. In the vantage point you sit, you have a unique chance to see all the things higher ed should be doing and maybe we’re not, and I would love to hear what you’d like to nudge and see.

Arne Duncan:
On the challenges, focus on the academic part, but as you know that’s just one piece of it, in thinking about students' mental health and all the challenges that folks are dealing with coming out of the pandemic, and still being in the pandemic, quite frankly, and talking to university presidents who really take this seriously and hearing what are the top of the list of concerns that their students have. It’s often food insecurity. It’s housing insecurity. And if you’re worried about how you’re gonna eat, or how your family is gonna eat, if you’re worried about where you’re gonna live or where your children are gonna live, it’s pretty hard to concentrate. It’s not a lack of will, it’s not a lack of desire, it’s not a lack of intellect. It’s pretty hard to concentrate on the academic part of this.

And so, really having a holistic mentality, a holistic mindset that whatever those very real challenges, whatever those very real barriers are, not their easy answers, but the university is gonna do whatever it is in its power to help overcome them so students can pursue their dreams and cross that finish line and achieve their goals. And if we do this – I’ll just sort of close where we started, Bridget, that I am very – you know, I’m always honest for better or worse – I am very worried about our democracy fraying at the edges now. It’s divided lots of ways by race and class and geography. But I really think it’s divided maybe most significantly around educational opportunities, and sort of the haves and the have-nots. And if you have a chance to go to college today, and graduate, the prospects for your family are pretty strong. And so many first-generation college-goers, students who are helping break cycles of poverty, there’s tremendous upward mobility there. But those that don’t have those opportunities in an increasingly globally competitive, flat world where the jobs are gonna go to where the knowledge workers are, those that don’t have those credentials, don’t have those opportunities, are on the outside looking in.

And that’s very scary, and it can create a lot of fear, which I understand, and a lot of anger, which I understand. And that’s the division that I’m deeply worried about in our country. What I would love to see is, collectively, a generation ago, we led the world in college graduates. It’s not so much that we’ve dropped, it’s that we’re sort of flat-lined, we’re stagnated. A lot of other countries have just out-educated, out-invested, out-innovated. I would love to see us – this is a very ambitious goal, we’re not gonna achieve it overnight – but really try and set the goal of leading the world in college graduates again. And if we could unite behind that, and really do everything we could – not individually, to your point, but collectively, collaboratively – if we could do that, we would not just have the best educated workforce in the world, I’m convinced we’d have a much stronger democracy than we have today. A much less fragile democracy than we have today. So for me, the stakes are extraordinarily high, and whatever I can do to be helpful to you and others, I’m all in, because this is that important.

Bridget Burns:
Well, that’s the perfect message for us to start this conversation. Thank you so much for your continued leadership, beyond education. We’re seeing what you’re doing for the country, and with Chicago Cred, so thank you, and we just really appreciate what you’ve done, and what you continue to do. So, thanks so much.

Arne Duncan:
Thanks back at you. Have a great panel.

Bridget Burns:
All right, thanks.

Ian Wilhelm:
Alright, Bridget, a great conversation with Secretary Duncan there. Struck by the idea that the system might not be broken, but the idea that it may be set up to do what it’s supposed to do in some ways. Not have the best results for all students. Certainly a powerful way of saying it.

But now, let me bring in our experts from all across higher education to talk about what needs to happen for the future of academic advising, now that we have that great framework set up by the former secretary. I’m gonna join here, welcome these folks to the conversation, Melinda Anderson, who is the Executive Director of NACADA. CJ Powell is the Special Assistant in the Office of Post-Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education. And finally Tim Renick, Executive Director, the National Institute for Student Success at Georgia State University.

We also want to hear from our audience members out there. Please do use the Q&A box to ask questions or make comments. Originally, I planned to get to audience questions later in this hour. I also want to start a short poll right now that you can all respond to, which will help us know where we are in terms of academic advising, and what some of the biggest challenges here. So I’m watching this poll now, please do take the chance to respond to it. Asking all of this, what is the biggest challenge to academic advising at your college? We’ve got a couple of topics there for you to pick from, but also there’s another category. So if there’s something that we’ve missed here, please do let us know, and please do use the Q&A box to let us know what it is that we’ve missed when it comes to that question right there.

But now, let me get off to the conversation now, and Melinda, I want to start with you, because you’re on the ground, you’re hearing from advisors, you’re talking with them. Can you share what a student’s expectations and perhaps their experience for advising was in the past, as opposed to what you think it should be in the future now?

Melinda Anderson:
So – I’m sorry, you said the student’s expectation?

Ian Wilhelm:
Yeah, student's expectation, but also perhaps advisors as well.

Melinda Anderson:
Sure. I think when you ask that question about the student’s expectation, students always come into their academic environments really wanting to be shown the way in terms of how they move forward. And I think that what we’re finding now is that with more policies, more processes, and just to be honest, a little bit more bureaucracy that you’re finding at the institutions, it’s becoming a little bit more complicated than what I would say when I was a student in college.

And so, the expectation is, is that I can’t ask questions about things I don’t know. And so, the expectation is that when I come to the table, everything that I need to know, from when we think about the student cycle, from when I’m enrolling, to when I’m registering for classes, to what I understand about my degree requirements, to how I’m paying for school, all of those things need to be laid out for me so that I understand when I’m moving through these processes, exactly what I need to do to be successful. And so, when I think about from a student expectation ten years ago, that’s exactly what was expected. And so, moving to now, it’s just become more complicated from an advising perspective in terms of how I’m ensuring that the student is getting everything that they need in a timely manner in order to make sure that success is sustained.

Bridget Burns:
Tim, I wanted to see if you could build on that, and I know that a lot of institutions think that advising is something that faculty can do, or it’s like a side hustle, and not a real full-time job. And I’m just curious about, if you can share why that thinking might be outdated, or how you coach institutions who are navigating this path. Because at the National Institute for Student Success, that’s what you’re doing, is helping institutions implement these best practices.

Tim Renick:
Yeah, you’re right, Bridget. We’re working with about 40 institutions right now, and a number of them have what is called a mixed model, where they may have some professional advisors, typically in the first year, and then a hand-off to faculty advisors. Just to back up what Melinda was saying, the field of advising is really very different from when many of us went to college. At that time, it was a fairly casual enterprise. You would have a faculty member that maybe you liked, and you’d drop by to talk about what you’re doing, and so forth.

Right now, at Georgia State, we’re tracking every single undergraduate every day for 800 risk factors. Looking at early alerts. The potency of early alerts is being able to intervene with a student in a timely fashion. If a student is struggling in their course, or not attending their class, we need to talk to that student within hours or days, not five or six weeks later. We also have the ability now to have coordinated care, where our academic advisors are in regular contact with our office of financial aid. You know, if a student is running out of eligibility for aid, or falling out of compliance for their loans, and so forth. It’s a complicated enterprise now. And while faculty certainly have the capability of doing so, they don’t have the bandwidth to learn how to navigate these platforms, and respond within 24 hours when an alert is triggered, and so forth. Nor are they best positioned to do so. Most faculty are paid a lot more nationally than our academic advisors are. And there are ways to scale advising in a professional sense that can be much more impactful for our campuses and students, than to rely on faculty to do it on top of everything else we ask faculty to do.

Ian Wilhelm:
I see we have a bunch of questions coming in, Bridget. We might want to spotlight a few of those before we get on.

Bridget Burns:
Yeah, I think folks are answering that earlier prompt about the things that are getting in the way. And so, I think it will be helpful to share a few of those things. We’ve got students' follow-through and lack of engagement. We have another around integrating advising not only academic but mental health. We know that’s a huge issue right now. Systems not – just centering the needs of advisors, getting faculty and professional advisors on the same page. That’s something that we’re definitely gonna talk about. We also have that campus policies, we do not find out about until after implementation. I think we're getting a lot of really great feedback. Senior academic administrators not understanding the complexity of faculty academic advising. Think it’s just a quick meeting with students to get into the next classes, terms classes. So, I think we also have faculty advisor buy-in to proactive advising. Redistributing work to more professional advisors.

So we’re hearing a lot of the same kinds of – or, not same, but just an expanded, I think, underscore of what we’ve indicated is a challenge. And it’s creating a lot more urgency around these issues, and it makes it hard to solve it.

Ian Wilhelm:
And to reiterate that, I was gonna launch these survey polls here just so that the 32% majority or the plurality here said far too many students didn't have advisors for that ratio is a challenge. But Bridget, I saw lots of people in the Q&A also say, "I wish I could have chosen all of these." That all of these are a challenge for institutions, even though we ask for the biggest challenge, yes, it’s a combination of things, as you were indicating.

Melinda Anderson:
Right. If there’s one thing I could emphasize, too, when you think about holistic advising success, it crosses over so many functional areas. Tim, CJ, we talked briefly earlier about financial aid, we talked about student mental health, we talked about engagement, sense of belonging, and when you think about the structure of higher education, sometimes those elements are sitting in different parts of the campus.

And so, when you think about academic advising per se, and wanting to do that well, so I’m looking at the fact here, it says far too many students than advisors. But when you’re wanting to do that well, that’s not 30 minutes. That’s not 15 minutes. That’s an hour. And maybe that student comes back to you. When you think about those elements that you’re trying to connect. And so, when you think about the work of advising in terms of ten years ago versus now, it’s a more coordinated effort. Tim, you’re absolutely right. That case management model, it’s a beautiful system when done well, and it’s one that’s often really required in order to make sure a student is able to navigate all the spaces around the institution in order to be successful. And so, that’s what you’re feeling, and when you’re hearing those comments that are coming through the chat right now.

Tim Renick:
I’ll just add that we’ve begun to think of our professional advisors as concierge of sorts. They’re the touch point for students to begin to gain access to the kinds of other resources and supports they need. The students don’t often go to the counseling center or financial management center as their first spot. They’re talking to their academic advisors, and if the academic advisors are well trained and well positioned in coordinating their work with other offices, then they can connect with students in a timely fashion to all these other supports they need. Sometimes it’s really simple. They need tech help. They need Wi-Fi access at home and so forth. But in other cases, it’s much more meaningful. The advisors aren’t necessarily the experts in all these areas, but they are the touch point by which the student can access these sources.

Ian Wilhelm:
And CJ, I was gonna bring you into the conversation here, because we were talking earlier, obviously, with the former Secretary about how he helped incentivize innovation in higher ed. And I wanted to see what you think the role is for the Department of Education, the federal government and state policy, how can that play a role in supporting advising, or just innovation in that area broadly?

CJ Powell:
Yeah, I think that you might not be surprised to know that I agree with former Secretary Duncan on a lot of his points. I think for the Biden administration's point – sorry, we have motion sensor lights that keep going off – but I think for the Biden-Harris administration, we think about college value and completion as a top priority, and wondering how and answering the questions as to how we can lift up those best practices that are happening across the country that’s coming out of this playbook, for instance, and making sure that we can get institutions from across the country on the same page, and facilitating that innovation.

Right now, in the last omnibus, we had a $5 million post-secondary student success fund. And so, how can those dollars be used to scale up some of these really great things that are happening on campuses? Because pilots are great, and once we see how great the pilots are working, we should be able to go to a larger program to make sure that we’re serving more students. I think we have, as was said earlier, more students who aren’t graduating from college when they get there, even though that’s not their plan, and we now know some practices that can absolutely get students from point A to point Z across that finish line. And I think the role of federal government is to help facilitate those conversations, I mean, those practices for institutions of higher education.

Bridget Burns:
I hope that there’s some interest in seeding more First in the World-style of creative folks teaming up on these again, shared challenges. I’ll turn now – I wanted to make sure that we’re really talking about the steps people need to take if they want to move advising into the future, and how do they prepare for it. So I want to ask, I know that Melinda and Tim, you both have some on-the-ground experience working with this, but CJ as well, you observe this with institutions, and you also have your own experience. When an institution is trying to change its approach to advising, I want us to talk about how do they evaluate whether it’s currently working, and what needs to change? Are there some metrics that, when you engage with an institution, that those are a red flag, or this is a hot-button question that you typically would ask? Offer it to Melinda or Tim, either of you?

Melinda Anderson:
I can jump in first. So, NACADA, when we typically engage in a campus and we’re doing a program review, and we’re asking the question, "What’s working and what’s not working?" – typically, I think, maybe some people might be surprised that we don’t jump necessarily at "What are your retention and your persistence and completion rates?" We’re asking questions: "What are the barriers when you’re working with students? What are the challenges when you’re engaging and collaborating across campuses? How does technology support the work in terms of your practices? What are your policies? Are they outdated in terms of how you’re supporting  students?" And so, we start there, looking at, "What are your practices? What are your processes in terms of how you’re supporting students in terms of being successful? What are your challenges around enrollment management process, right? How are these natural pieces coming together on your campus?"

And I think sometimes people look at enrollment and completion rates to be the proof is in the pudding. Because you could be graduating and completing students, and they could be having a terrible time at your institution. We all know that institutions are resourced differently. And so, just because your completion rates are high, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing things well, or in terms of best practices. And so, when we’re looking at a program review, looking at those natural elements of how technology is assisting you, nine conditions of excellence in academic advising is the framework that we use in NACADA when we’re looking at things like, "How technology is supporting you, how are you looking at how students are learning? What are they learning from the process? Advising is teaching, what are students learning? What are they learning at your institution?"

Because that’s why students are going. And what are those natural processes that should be aligned in order to be successful? So when students are enrolling and understanding their degree programs, they’re understanding financial aid literacy, how are those things working for them, the resources that are on campus in order to support them, the learning centers that are available for their campus in order to support them. All those things are important when you think about student success. And when you think about the students that you’re serving in your institutions, whether those are adult learners, transfer students, or first-time-in-attendance students, they’re gonna have different needs in terms of what needs to be supported. Are they residential or are they commuting students?

And so, when we’re looking at what we need in order to serve students well, that is exactly what we’re doing in order to align services and support from an advising – a holistic advising approach. And I know that the former Secretary mentioned the idea of mental health. And so, when we think about that dynamic now, coming into advising spaces, when we talk about first aid, mental health first aid, that now advising practices are now picking up, and how do we collaborate differently with those services? That is becoming a big part in how we are managing the support of our students as well.

Tim Renick:
And Bridget, I just add a couple really practical things for you to look at on your home campus and ask whether this happening. We know there’s some pain points for students. These are points where attrition is particularly high and likely, especially for students from less well-resourced backgrounds.

So what happens on your campus, for instance, when a student is changing majors? This is oftentimes a move between one college or another. What is the protocol and system for guiding that student from, you know, a business degree over into a college of liberal arts, and landing them safely? What happens when a student withdraws from a course? Is there something that happens then? Or only something that happens six months later? If you’re on top of proactive advising, then you’ll know that, that’s the most potent early alert you can receive, if a student has paid for and registered for a course and is withdrawing in the middle of a semester, how do you respond?

We know, nationally, there’s a strong correlation between the first grade a student gets in his or her major and their chances of graduating on time. So, what happens when a student scores poorly in their first grade within their academic field? What happens when a student is on the path to falling out of compliance with SAP – Satisfactory Academic Progress? So we ask to look at a campus' procedures and ability to handle those very specific areas. And oftentimes, it’s kind of the tip of the iceberg. If they have a systematic plan in effect, and can respond appropriately in a coordinated fashion to those sorts of issues, they’re often quite strong in other ways as well. If, on the other hand, the student switching majors, the student who gets a C minus in their first course in their major is left to their own devices, that’s usually an early warning sign that the campus has some work to do in academic advising.

Bridget Burns:
When I go to a campus and I’m trying to get a sense of things, the other question that I have always found to be really fruitful is if they’ll let me talk with academic advisors one-on-one. Which they won’t always [laughs]. I ask them how many screens they have to go through when they meet a new student before they can diagnose the problem. And I’ve heard as high as 11. And these folks have a 30-minute appointment at most.

I’m seeing in one of the questions, someone commented that academic advising is now a 45-minute appointment. There’s no way for you to be able to handle all of the additional needs students are raising, whether it’s mental health and COVID related, etc., in less than 45 minutes. So if that’s the case, plus you have that the advisors themselves were not centered in the design of how your data systems report, it makes it really challenging for them to be able to feel successful. And that, right now, we’re seeing that people are leaving jobs that feel like they can’t make a difference. The burnout crisis is really about purpose, inspiration, and community, and also not being paid, and exhaustion. So we’ve gotta address making sure that advisors feel like they can be successful, and we also have to reorient the position description for the future. So, I just wanted to offer that as another [crosstalk 00:33:10].

Tim Renick:
Yeah, I’ll say a word about that, Bridget. That some people get tired of hearing Georgia State talk about data. But why data is so important is it can be used to help advisors deal with student issues much more efficiently. So, with 54,000 students at Georgia State, we don’t always have the time to sit down with a student for 45 minutes. But if we know the 230 students who need to submit a particular form by 5:00 this Friday, instead of having the advisors reach out one by one to those students, we can use technology, we can use chatbot, and other means, to create the list, and send out personal messages to those 230 students. That’s what I mean by coordination, and why it’s such a challenge for a number of offices. It means your financial aid office having good information that can be shared with academic advising, so this information can be pushed out and the students can get the help they need in a timely fashion.

Melinda Anderson:
That’s a good point. And I wanted to say, Bridget, before we get too far away, I just want to say thank you for bringing this point about advisor burnout. I’ve been to several campuses in the past year since I assumed this position. And I can tell you, that is one of the questions I do ask, how many screens. I know when I was an advisor, I think it was about six screens. And we know that technology is critical when you think about how complex our positions have become in terms of being able to support students. And I think that we were talking a little bit earlier about the comments and the feedback that we were getting in the chat. It is critical for academic advisors and mid-level managers to be able to build relationships with senior-level administrators, those who are sitting at the cabinet. If you don’t have an opportunity to have a seat at the table, having an advocate sitting there, so you’re talking about implications of your work, talking about what does this look like, how do we continue to build structures that put us in the best situation as possible and being able to support our students.

Not all campuses are resourced in a way where technology can be able to help support you in the way that you’re thinking about your work in terms of practices, when your caseload keeps swelling. But the goal is to be able to help every student to the best of your ability. And so, when we think about the work that we need to do that we know is critical for our campuses, sometimes we can’t afford the technology that we need. And so, when we think about how our policies and practices may be outdated, you can start there thinking about what can we do to streamline our practices, our policies. We know that course program of studies hit some campuses where changing a major is the difference between paying for a course and not paying for a course. So how does your registrar system set up to change the majors so when the student changes the major, they can pay for it?

And so, how are you then able to explain how these practices and processes, when you’re happening at the top, trickle down to the advisor who is trying to just help the student be able to pay for school? And so, when we think about just these natural things that happen, and create more bureaucracy, those are the things, and I hear what Tim is saying. You’re absolutely right. We want to help more students. And so, how do we create more efficiencies? How do we scale up?

And so, sometimes the question I get is, "We can’t afford to pay for that, so then how can we address these things differently?" And so, I do want to offer that for those who say, "Well, we can’t afford to pay for that." Well, my thing is there are things that you can do. There are ways that we can look at your processes, and your policies, and your practices. There’s collaborative effort that you can come together. There’s ways that you can advocate to the provost office and to your chancellors to let them know about the implications of the work that’s happening for you. And I just want to encourage advising counsels, talking, basically having an advocate that’s sitting at that table at those cabinet-level meetings and letting them know, these are the implications of this work that we’re trying to do, because we do not want to continue to lose advisors coming out of this pipeline, because we need them. They are critical. They are the lifeblood of student success on these campuses, and we cannot do this work without them.

CJ Powell:
Yeah, and I would just like to double click on what both you, Bridget and Melinda, said about advisor burnout. I think that is very real. I think we have a dropout crisis right now with our students. And if our advisors are burnt out and leaving the field, who is gonna help those students get back to campus, and if they get back to campus, get through across the finish line? And so, we have to make sure that we are focusing some of that attention inward to those academic advisors, and making sure that they feel supported, and that they feel seen, especially after the last two years, when the crises became much more acute for themselves, as well as for their students. I think that is a lot to expect out of an advisor to be able to just make it through seamlessly.

And so, initially, I want to say thank you so much to those advisors who have been able to serve those students through this. And also want to push institutions to consider how they can support their advisors' mental health. I know that we just released guidance last week on using the higher education emergency relief funds to support the mental health of campus communities including faculty and staff. And I think faculty and staff, especially academic advisors, are often overlooked when it comes to those kinds of things, and we can’t continue to overlook them, because as Melinda said, they’re the lifeblood that are getting these students to and through, across the finish line.

Ian Wilhelm:
Yeah, that lifeblood idea is certainly coming through in the Q&A. I want to read a couple of the comments here just to reiterate the exact same thing you’ve been saying and what Melinda has been saying as well, with a comment here from Christine, who is saying a big part of our roles now during COVID is guiding and supporting students as humans who are re-entering society. So, a much broader definition of what the advisor traditionally would do, probably.

We have a comment here from someone named Cory: "Advisors are often expected to have all the answers and solve all the problems. This was challenging for advisors, very intense and draining." And then Steven Taylor says, "As the caseloads increase, in addition to constant staff turnover and lack of respect for the profession, the advising sessions can be compared to speed dating. So it’s just less time to have that potential moment with the student as well."

So just want to stick on this point just for a second and move on. But Tim, I wonder if you have any practical tips, similar to what Melinda was talking about, of ways we can make sure that the administration is thinking about the concern about burnout, about making sure that the work-life balance for advisors, as their role increases, as well as some of the systematic injustice we’re dealing with as a society that may be affecting advisors as well. How do you make sure those advisors are staying in their roles and feeling the support of the administration?

Tim Renick:
You know, we’ve been feeling it as well during the pandemic. We’ve had the loss of a number of advisors taking other positions, and so forth. And I’m sure, in part, it is because of burnout. In part, it’s because there’s a marketplace now that has lucrative opportunities for people that have the skillset that advisors have. So it is a valued skill set.

I think there’s several things to do. One, we do work to celebrate advising by tracking the impact across the institution. The reality is, we’re graduating 70% more students than we were at the beginning of the decade. I would say the single biggest factor has been our retooling and investment in academic advising, and we make that very public. That these academic advisors, we may not be able to pay them as much as we would like, but they are making a real difference every day. And they’re changing the lives of students in a way that many people go to work on a day-to-day basis across the country, and they would love to be able to say that, "I’m doing something this impactful, and this meaningful."

The other thing we need to do, and Melinda has already touched upon this, is equip the advisors with the tools they need. Bridget was talking about the advisor who goes through 11 screens. The advisor should really have one screen that gives them all the information they need as they’re sitting down to meet with a student. Delivery of that kind of technology is not an advisor issue. That’s an institutional issue, that we have the resolve and the resources to provide advisors with the tools they need. And that’s gonna help reduce the issue of burnout.

Bridget Burns:
So, it sounds like we’re very clear about the expanded challenges that we’re facing, and let’s talk a little bit more precisely about what’s going to be necessary for the future. So the first thing I want to raise is it sounds like we have an expanded expectation for advisors. Whether it’s dealing with mental health challenges, hunger and homelessness, we’re asking them to do a lot more. I wanted to first ask Melinda, do you have, for a campus going forward, how would you evaluate your professional development strategy to support advisors? Or do you have any recommendations around questions they should ask themselves, to position, to ensure that their folks are actually getting the necessary support they need if they are asked these questions, which we know, there’s a lot of liability, and risk, and all kinds of things.

Melinda Anderson:
So, definitely, when we were thinking about the future of advising, I know that we’ve been maybe throwing around this phrase, "holistic student success." But really, what it boils down to is that you have to think about the student as a whole. The idea of their health and wellbeing, you talked about housing insecurity, food insecurity, their mental wellness. I loved how one of the participants said helping the human. And that’s potentially where academic advising is going. And so, how do you do that work well? Well, it’s around the collaborative relationship. The idea of advising being centered, specific ally whether in academic or student affairs, regardless of what your model looks like, you no longer can afford to be siloed in those spaces, in saying, "This is just what I’m responsible for."

And so, when we’re partnering and we’re thinking about the student life cycle, like I mentioned earlier, when students are being admitted into the institution, and how they’re being evaluated in terms of from an academic perspective, but then, what are their needs? Their financial abilities to be able to pay for school. You know, all those things that we’re talking about from an advising perspective and professional development, understanding financial aid policies and procedures.

I mentioned earlier about mental health first aid, but then thinking, probably more systematically, if you will, about how students, how we’re achieving that learning paradigm when students are with us, and then how are we supporting them, whether through academic coaching, so how are we – I always call it sharing the circle, or broadening the circle of concern, if you will, across campus partners. So how are we partnering with student affairs and thinking about how do we work together in order to continue to support and to grow the village that we are creating for our students as they move forward? And so, when we think about career services, for example, it’s not just this idea that, "OK, you’re halfway through, so now let’s think about what your careers prospects are" – like, no, those things start at the beginning.

And then, how we are creating these shared co-curricular experiences for our students? All these things are critical when you think about how we are designing this experience for our students in order for them to be successful. And so, when we think about professional development opportunities, especially around diversity, equity, and inclusion, the idea of building relationships with others, or those who do not look like us, we’ve been talking a lot about that in professional development circles. Especially when I go in, we think about our student diversity, we have advisors. I’m working with students, how do I build relationships? How do I build trust? How do I get students to understand that I’m here for them, and what does that look like? We are having those conversations as well, when we think about professional development opportunities. But I think more importantly, when we think about the future of academic advising, when we think about the critical nature of the work that we do, we are now seeing those senior-level administrative positions, Vice Provost for Student Success, Vice Provost for Academic Advising that are now able to sit at a cabinet level or report directly to the provost.

And so, that is putting policy considerations, issues, concerns, are putting them at that level. And so, I am happy to see that we are finally getting a role that is sitting in senior-level administrative positions so that when those considerations are coming forward, that somebody is saying, "No, this is how that would impact the work that we’re doing." When we say student success, if we’re saying holistically in design, this is the impact, and being able to have those conversations with deans, and associate deans, and so that we’re all on the same page if we say that student success matters at our institutional levels.

Bridget Burns:
When talking about the future of advising, to crystalize it, to answer a question that came up in the chat, I would say that in the past, and most of the time today, we’re playing defense at most. Where students are self-identifying if they have a problem, we wait for them to walk in the door. Or we have them meet regularly with advisors at a certain interval and hope that you catch them when they have a challenge. Whereas the future is really about your data systems being set up for advisors to know information and be able to intervene before a student even knows they have a problem. And that you’re judiciously using your advising hours so that it’s really proactive. So that’s why this playbook around proactive advising is about helping you navigate the piece around centralized versus decentralized, faculty versus professional, etc.

So Tim, I wanted to ask if you could share a little bit more about, as someone who actually implemented something that’s kind of seen as the benchmark for the future of advising, can you help people understand how that shows up for you and talk a little bit about the cost? Because we’re hearing that as well.

Tim Renick:
Yeah, sure. The old model was, for not just advising but most resources on campus, that students would have the ability to self-diagnose their own problems. Once they self-diagnosed a problem they were facing, they would figure out where the resource was available on campus and then find the bandwidth in their day to access that resource. That whole model worked well for certain students in residential colleges full-time in the past. Doesn’t work well for working students, for parents, for so-called non-traditional students today. One, they often don’t have the context to self-diagnose problems quickly. They don’t have necessarily the familiarity with the bureaucracy to find out where to get help. And if they’re working and have children and so forth, they often don’t have the time to access the resources.

So the flip model is, rather than assuming the student will access this passively available resource, is to say all students deserve the help they need when they need it. And what do we need to do to deliver it? One way to deliver that kind of support in a timely and proactive fashion is to have these predictive data points. To be able to know that this student is at risk of falling out of compliance with their financial aid eligibility. Or this student is struggling in an early part of the semester, or not logging onto the LMS for their course. And with that information in hand, not wait for the student to realize, "I’ve got a problem," but to reach out proactively for that student. This has had a profound impact in outcomes, not just at Georgia State, but multiple institutions. And one of the important things about our First in the World Grant is that it showed the impact at Georgia State to be disproportionately beneficial to students from so-called underserved backgrounds, that all the students have benefited from this approach at Georgia State.

But what we showed during the First in the World Grant was that Black students, their graduation rates went up 20% more than their white counterparts once this approach was systematically delivered. Because the old approach of assuming students can navigate a complicated bureaucracy is one that favors the students who are most empowered, and have brothers and sisters and parents and so forth who have gone to college before them. That’s no longer viable. And just to tag onto your last point, or last part of your question, about the cost, it’s also not viable any longer, economically, that our campuses sit by passively while thousands of students drop out for correctable issues that they’re not paying attention to. We’ve been working with a number of institutions in the Midwest where over the last six, seven years, their enrollments have gone down by 20%. There are not more high school students waiting in the pipeline to fill their classes and to provide tuition and fees to fill budget deficits.

What they need to do, what we need to do collectively across post-secondary, is do what we always should have done, which is hold onto those students who have come to us with their dreams and their hopes, and make sure they’re able to realize their educational goals. We can do that by being much more proactive, much more systematic, and by recognizing that the default should be to provide the resource, rather than the default be that the student can figure it out for him- or herself.

Ian Wilhelm:
Thanks Tim. We’ve got a question here from Margaret that I want to pivot off of. Margaret asks, "How would you define advising versus faculty mentoring? And looking to the future, this age-old debate between faculty and professional advisors, it does continue on many campuses. How can that relationship evolve? If advising is not an appropriate role for the faculty, what is the appropriate role? How do we define these places and build those resources, again, looking to the future and giving a sense of what that can be?"

Melinda, I’ll start with you, but I see CJ nodding his head as well. Love to get you in the conversation too.

Melinda Anderson:
Sure. I love that question, because I love working with faculty. I feel that they are critical to a student’s development. And when I think about the difference between a professional faculty and a faculty advising or mentoring model, really, when I think about professional advising, I think about the nuts and bolts.

So for example, general education curriculum, financial aid resources that tie students in right from the beginning of their life cycle. When I think about faculty mentoring, it really is, for example, the discipline. How do I think about connecting deeply to the information that I’m learning? When I think about, for example, if I’m majoring in psychology, and I think that I want to go onto graduate school, or I think about the world of work in which the discipline or the skill set that I’m learning, and the discipline is going to take me further, that faculty member being steeped in the discipline, being steeped in the work, having those rich connections, and their association or their discipline's association, that’s really, being in – so, for example, in their research labs – that is really where the faculty work shines and becomes really critical for developing that student.

And so, when I think about faculty mentoring, that is exactly where a student needs to be. A professional advisor can really connect you to what their research area or topic would be by talking to the student and say, "You know, Professor So-and-so is really great in this area, I think you should really connect with him, I really feel like they would help take you to where you need to be."

And so, when I think about faculty mentoring, it’s really critical. There really should be two halves. You should have a really strong professional – if it was my dream, and I could wave a magic wand at every institution, it would be having a professional advisor that’s able to bring you through from first to four years. And then it would be having a faculty mentor that’s really able to guide you deeply into your discipline and be able to take you forward, whether you want to go to graduate school or the world of work.

Being a pre-professional advisor a couple of years ago, you know how critical faculty are, especially if people want to go into professional spaces as well as into graduate school. But even though, I always tell people, don’t dismiss just going into the world of work in terms of building relationships with faculty, too, in terms of internship experiences that you may have in the summer, or even thinking about going and studying abroad. Those relationships are critical, and they show up in really interesting and amazing ways for students when they build relationships with faculty. It’s not just about having somebody to write you a reference when you graduate. It really is helping you learn on a deeper level.

CJ Powell:
Yeah, I think the roles are quite complementary. You have the professional advisors, ones that get you through, but then that faculty member who is really there to help you with that particular discipline and learn about how that particular discipline can manifest in several different ways in your life and help you through, and learn how that manifests in quote, unquote real world, as well as the academy. And I think those are really huge aspects of having people who serve students on campus. I think, particularly when you think about the diversity of students that we have now, having that faculty mentorship is still really crucial, as well as having that professional advising core that you will have on your campuses to make sure that all of those ancillary questions and critical questions are answered about just, like, how to get through the institution, and the faculty member can be there to help you see how you can connect those dots of the discipline and to the greater world.

Bridget Burns:
I do also want to make sure, before we conclude in just a moment, that we do also turn to one last question, which is around the diversity of who our advisors are, and what we need to do in order to ensure that the future, that our advisors reflect the students they’re needing to advise. We know how much this impacts belonging, and so I wanted to open it up to see if anyone has ideas about what we need to change about how we recruit and prioritize our searches for academic advisors to ensure that they do reflect the students.

Melinda Anderson:
Bridget, you ask amazing and powerful questions, so I will jump into this pool. I’ve actually been asked this question, really, in our professional conferences, and the one thing I will point to, and we talked about it earlier a little bit, not necessarily about advisor burnout, but really around salary, and the way that advisors are having to work. And Tim, you alluded to it, too. The field is being opened up for people that have the skillset that a lot of people are looking for. When I think about just diversity overall in terms of staying in the field of higher education, what are the spaces that people feel welcome, and feel that they can continue to grow and move forward and expand their leadership capacity? And sometimes, in advising arenas, there aren’t career ladders.

And so, when you think about the ability to take care of your household, the ability to grow and to continue to move up from a leadership perspective, whether that is in salary and in title, and being able to expand your knowledge in this profession, and in this field, in academic advising, that’s why I was mentioning earlier, I’m just really excited to start seeing the Vice President or Vice Provost of Academic Advising and Student Success.

You know, people are looking to continue to move up, and so in some spaces, in academic advising, you may just have advisors and a director. You may not even have an associate or assistant director level. And so, when you’re thinking about encouraging a diverse pipeline coming into your spaces, people are really looking for opportunities in order to grow and advance. People are also looking to work in spaces where they feel welcomed, where they feel that they will be celebrated. And so, people have the ability to pick and choose where they want to lay their feet. And so, when I think about advisors who are asking me, "Well, I don’t feel welcome here," or "What should I look for in a mentor, because I’m looking to grow, or I’m looking to change?" I typically ask them, "What’s not working for you right now? What are the things that you’re wanting to do in your future?"

And so, we talk a lot about first-generation students. We have a lot of first professionals, too. And I’m talking right now, I’m a first professional. What does this look like for you to come out of school with a master’s degree or a doctorate and say, "How do I manage this thing called a career and a pathway, and what does this look like for me to grow and to continue to develop in my career?" And so, a lot of people are asking themselves different questions. And the pandemic, the way that we were working during that time on campuses, the flexibility to work differently, and your work, has opened up pathways for people to start thinking differently. And so, that would be some of the things that I would offer about maybe why some pipelines in terms of diversity maybe might not be what people are looking for right now. But I always encourage those to think differently about why they want to continue in this work, and to continue to encourage them to stay within higher education spaces.

Bridget Burns:
And one last question that we usually end with is, Tim, and CJ, what’s one piece of advice that you want attendees to walk away with today before we wrap?

Tim Renick:
I’ll say something that I would like to drive home: that good advising pays for itself. So if the excuse on your campus for not investing in advising is "We don’t have the money," my response would be, "You don’t have the ability not to invest in advising." There was a Boston Consulting Group study a couple of years ago we participated in that showed that the revenues gained from holding onto hundreds and then thousands of additional students more than pays for the investment you make in additional personnel and additional technology. Georgia State is graduating 3,500 more students than we were a decade ago, every single year. That’s a lot of additional revenue. And it wasn’t entirely due to our changes to academic advising. But I can tell you that academic advising is more than covered in cost by those increases in tuition and fee revenues.

CJ Powell:
Yeah, this may be a little on the nose for this group, but really continue to embrace the innovation. We at the Department of Education love to lift up the best practices. And oftentimes, those best practices are really creative thinking outside the box, and I think, what you think might not work because of whatever limitations you want to put on to your own kind of mindset, will probably work better than you think. So let’s continue to try new practices, and let’s bring those practices that have been proven to work onto those campuses, and continue to advocate for that change.

Bridget Burns:
Melinda, did you want to add anything before we wrap?

Melinda Anderson:
Well, I just wanted to encourage those who love this field like I do, and for those administrators at institutions who love to support and uplift your academic advisors, just to continue the good work that you’re doing on your campuses. Your students need you, and there are students that really do appreciate the solid work that you’re continuing to do on your campuses. And again, creativity and innovation that we’ve seen in the pandemic will continue to be the way for us to continue to do the work that we know our students need.

Ian Wilhelm:
Great! Thanks, Melinda. And thank you all for joining us today. We really appreciate your time on this topic, and certainly the audience does, too. We see a lot of folks out there responding and saying appreciation to the panelists for sharing their views and sharing their insights. So thank you very much for joining the discussion today, all of you.

Melinda Anderson:
Thank you.

Bridget Burns:
Thanks everyone.

Ian Wilhelm:
We also want to thank Arne Duncan, of course, for joining us earlier, and I wanted to thank the Chronicle's [Norma Honie? 01:00:57] for making sure the session ran smoothly behind the scenes. Just as a reminder, because I do see some questions in the Q&A about this, each of you will be getting an email from the Chronicle with a link to the new UIA Proactive Advising Playbook, as well as links to some of the other resources mentioned today. That email will also include a link to the recording of this discussion, so please do share with anyone you think should be interested. Of course, I also want to thank my cohost today, Bridget Burns of the University Innovation Alliance. Bridget, thanks for making this happen today.

Bridget Burns:
Happy to do it. And I think that, clearly, based on the Q&A, that there is plenty of interest in us continuing this conversation. So please stay tuned to hear what Ian and I are cooking up to ensure that we’re still focusing on student success, but in perhaps new ways.

Ian Wilhelm:
Yeah, we’ve got over 250 questions and comments, and we really do appreciate all of that, and I will share that with some of my colleagues here, and it does form some of the Chronicle's reporting, certainly. I’ll share it with Bridget as well. But it helps us think about how we cover things as well as perhaps future sessions, as Bridget mentioned. So we do appreciate all of your questions and comments today. And also for all of your hard work in higher ed. It’s an unprecedented time here in our country and in the world. We certainly appreciate all the work you do and certainly appreciate coming to the session today and learning more. So for the Chronicle, as well as UIA, stay well, everybody. Thanks for your time. 

[End of recorded material 01:03:40]

Stay Current! Check out our Blog Go Now

or check our videos YouTube