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More Frequent, Intensive Advising Cranks up Student Engagement

When Georgia State University added 42 academic advisers, it cost the institution an additional $2 million each year. However, reported Tim Renick, vice president for enrollment management and student success, the investment paid for itself, "because the increased retention rate meant more revenue for the school." Graduation rates there grew by more than 20 percentage points in just over a decade, including among students of color; now Black and Hispanic students graduate at rates comparable to or higher than those of White students.

Georgia State's story features in a new report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin, as an example worth the attention of two-year schools. "If community colleges want to increase student engagement, one place to start is by examining the foundation of academic advising," said Evelyn Waiwaiole, executive director of the center.

To put data behind the impact of advising on retention and engagement, the center surveyed about 180,000 students at 297 colleges around the country. The survey was issued in paper form in the spring semester during class to students enrolled in randomly selected credit-bearing courses. (A parallel survey was given to 9,577 faculty at 86 colleges.) The final report, "Show Me the Way: The Power of Advising in Community Colleges," found that overall, students who get more time in advising with more in-depth discussions during their advising sessions are more engaged in community college.

Yet, the survey also found that the content of those advising sessions varies widely among students. While a majority of students (62 percent of first-termers and 78 percent of returning students) do meet with an adviser, most of those sessions are focused on figuring out what classes they need to take for their educational goals. While two-thirds (65 percent) also said advisers helped them create academic plans, just over half (53 percent) were also able to discuss their commitments outside of school. And most (65 percent) didn't discuss scheduling for a follow-up advising session

The researchers found that while the first advising session for almost half of students (47 percent) lasted 16-30 minutes, students who met with an adviser for more than 30 minutes (16 percent) had higher engagement scores. Likewise, among those students interested in transferring to a four-year school, half reported never using the college's transfer advising services, yet those who did also reported higher engagement.

Researchers measured engagement by looking for the presence of those institutional practices and student behaviors that point to student persistence and completion: active and collaborative learning, student effort, academic challenge, student-faculty interaction and support for learners.

While three-quarters of respondents said the adviser discussed career interests with them, just two in five students (39 percent) said they also covered regional employment opportunities based on those interests.

One group of students — student athletes — reported a distinctly different advising experience. Among returning students, while 67 percent of student athletes said they were required to see an adviser before registration, the share was only 54 percent among non-athletes. Sixty-nine percent of student athletes met with the same adviser in multiple meetings during a term compared to 55 percent of non-athletes.

Based on this set of findings about student athletes, said Waiwaiole in a prepared statement, it's apparent that "many colleges already have approaches to advising that lead to higher engagement." However, she added, while it may be "cost prohibitive" to scale up those efforts to a broader set of students, colleges could examine their advising processes to "consider which aspects of the model might be used for all students."

"Clearly, advising is not the same for all students," said Waiwaiole. "But, when advisers are spending more time talking with students about developing an academic plan, their career ambitions and opportunities for employment — this is where community colleges are seeing greater student engagement."

The report included multiple success stories in advising, such as the one for Georgia State. For example, Cleveland State Community College launched a new advising model in spring 2013 then moved to full implementation by fall 2013. The model revised who gets advised (any student seeking credits is required to see an adviser); who advises (students are assigned a faculty adviser in the pathway they've chosen as a career); what they're advised on (the college developed checklists for each category of students); and how long the advising session lasts (for new students it may take more than an hour). Since putting the new approach in place, the college reported, the three-year graduation rate has increased from 14 percent in fall 2010 to 22 percent in fall 2013; and the number of students earning 24 credits in the first year rose from 10 percent in 2012 to 30 percent in 2016.

"Show Me the Way: The Power of Advising in Community Colleges" is openly available, along with supplementary resources, on the CCDCSE website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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