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Why Academic Advising Leads to Student Success

Photo: Courtesy of MD Duran on Unsplash

Charlie L. Nutt, Ed.D.

Executive Director, NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising

When I assumed the executive directorship of NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising in 2007, the emerging state of the profession was moving away from transactional activities, like registration and choosing courses, and increasingly toward academic advising as a teaching and learning experience. 

During the Great Recession, families were forced to reconsider their plans; high costs and uncertain career prospects meant the value of higher education was being questioned. College and university administrators turned to academic advising as a vital resource to help students persist and ultimately graduate. Academic advisers help students navigate the complexities of their academic program and overcome the inevitable challenges that arise during their college journey. 

Today, the global pandemic is once again causing difficulties for students in accessing and continuing their studies. More than ever, students need to make the most of their college education, while minimizing debt and time to degree. Academic advising has never been more critical to student success than it is today. 

Improving the entire curriculum

As Marc Lowenstein (2000) noted, “an excellent advisor does the same for the student’s entire curriculum that the excellent teacher does for one course.” Academic advisers help students navigate their institutions, graduate on time and with less debt, and develop the essential academic and nonacademic skills and experiences that prepare them for life after graduation. Academic advisers connect students to the curriculum, but also to those meaningful extra- and co-curricular activities that help students develop critical life skills to take into the world of work. 

Increasingly, institutions are investing in academic advising and enacting the leading best practices to better support their students. These academic advising best practices include:

  • Professional Development: Academic advising is a profession and requires academic advisers to actively pursue their own commitment to learning and improving. Institutions must provide resources and opportunities for their advisers’ professional growth. Academic advisers inform and are informed by the emerging best practices in the field, which leads to better student and institutional outcomes.
  • Manageable advising caseloads: The best adviser-to-student ratio varies based on a variety of factors and responsibilities. It is the ratio that allows students frequent and easy access to meaningful advising conversations, and for advisers to proactively engage with their students. Before asking “What is the ideal adviser-to-student ratio?” we must first ask “What do we expect our academic advisers to do?”.
  • Assessment: Robust assessment will explore student learning outcomes related to academic advising. Often, satisfaction surveys are the only tools used to assess academic advising, but they paint an incomplete picture. 
  • Leveraging Technology: Technology provides advisers with tools that automate processes and maximize efficiencies, and allow students and advisers up-to-the-minute information. As a result, students are empowered and advisers have more time to focus on transformational engagement with students. 
  • Data Analytics: Analytics tools can provide real-time information and identify students who may benefit from additional academic interventions, resources, and opportunities. Data analytics tools, used ethically, have great potential to close equity gaps through strategic outreach and support. These tools ensure academic advising resources are deployed where they are most likely to be impactful. 

A gateway to opportunities

Higher education is an investment that is both a key economic driver within communities and a gateway to opportunities for students. I believe we will continue to see a greater awareness of the role academic advisers play as change agents in higher education. 

In the future, academic advising must continue to be connected to the instructional missions of our colleges and universities, and NACADA will continue to build academic advising connections around the world, which ultimately benefits students. But the ultimate outcome for NACADA’s work in the future must be to cement teaching and learning as the core of academic advising. 

Academic advisers are teachers; they help students make meaning of the curriculum and, empowered by high-quality professional development experiences and an expanding body of literature from across the globe, prepare students for life after graduation. Academic advisers add tremendous value to the institutions they serve and are essential to their students’ success.

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