The primary role of the academic advisor is to help students identify the most direct path to program completion. The traditional model of academic advising involves a prescriptive approach where the advisor is the expert whose role is to provide academic recommendations related to courses and programs which the student is then expected to follow (Barron & Powell, 2014). Given the number of students attending college in any given term, this model maximizes the number of student/ advisor interactions. While this framework does allow institutions to serve a large number of students, the focus of the advising appointment is very narrow (course based) and does not address any number of other issues related to the student’s matriculation. Further, the onus is on the student to know that he or she needs to meet with an advisor, figure out which advisor to meet with, how to schedule an appointment with the advisor, and then show up for the meeting.
With the number of first-generation students attending college, many institutions have turned to “proactive” or “intrusive”advising whereby the advisor proactively reaches out the the student at key milestones such as mid-semester before registration for the next semester opens (Varney, 2012). These meetings may include discussions related to course selection, but usually do so in the context of a larger picture or plan – which includes consideration of the student’s long and short term goals.
“Appreciative” advising is an approach that indicates a relationship between the advisor/ advisee where the focus is on helping the student reach his or her full potential. Similarly, “holistic” advising is an approach that takes the entire student into consideration (Gordon et al, 2011). To advise holistically, advisors need knowledge beyond courses and programs. They need to genuinely care about their students and understand their needs. Where is the student developmentally? emotionally? financially? Based on this information, what does the student believe he or she is capable of? Is a full time course load realistic? Are there certain course combinations better suited to this individual based on his or her situation?
In 2014, Terrell Strayhorn of The Ohio State University suggested that higher education practitioners reframe how we view academic advising from that of course and program expert to that of a cultural navigator (Strayhorn, 2014). Students will not thrive in their courses regardless of how well prepared they are academically if they cannot manage other aspects of their lives. A cultural navigator goes beyond telling students what to do to showing them how to do what needs to be done. He or she acts as a guide, helping students navigate the path towards graduation. It is commonly accepted that getting to graduation has less to do with academic ability than it does with all of the other factors that play a role in a student’s decision to persist – financial support, sense of belonging, family obligations, motivation to earn a degree, attitude towards college, etc. For first time students, particularly those who are the first in their family to attend college, going to college is like being dropped in a foreign land without any understanding of the language or culture and without a tour guide. Advisors are in the unique position to act as that tour guide teaching students about the culture and helping them navigate their own unique path to graduation.
Barron, K. E., & Powell, D. N. (2014). Options on how to organize and structure advising. Academic Advising, 14.
Gordon, V. N., Habley, W. R., & Grites, T. J. (2011). Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook.
Strayhorn, T. L. (2015). Reframing academic advising for student success: From advisor to cultural navigator. The Journal of the National Academic Advising Association, 35(1), 56-63.
Varney, J. (2012). Proactive (intrusive) advising. Academic Advising Today, 35(3), 1-3.