Providence College: Angel-Supported Academic Advising

Providence College in the Rhode Island city of the same name, prides itself in selecting the right students for its highly regarded primarily undergraduate programs, and starting early on to assure that the students receive what they seek from their Providence education. Incoming students are contacted with the usual welcoming events and messages from the Student Life office. In addition, new students are invited to take their Spanish language and mathematics placement tests on line prior to coming to campus orientation. All new students now take the math test, and more than one-fourth of the new students take the language test prior to summer orientation. The remainder completes the tests on-line from the Providence campus. The results are immediately available to new students and their advisors to plan the students’ fall course schedules.

This attention to proper course placement, as well as positioning the student at the center of the Providence learning experience, no doubt helps account for Providence’s 92% retention rate for incoming students. This placement/advising partnership also extends to the campus IT organization- students receive their Angel (CyberLearning Labs course management system) login prior to coming to campus. The placement tests are delivered through Angel, simultaneously building a profile of the incoming student and giving that student early access and navigational practice for the CMS that will support much of their coursework.

The advising process is remarkably well-integrated through the assessments and surveys delivered through Angel. For example, each segment of the Spanish placement test is individually password-activated so performance on an early section of the test can be used to guide a student toward early or advanced placement question sets, progressively adapting to the student’s performance. The test segments, which focus on grammar, vocabulary, and listening skills based on interpreting sound files delivered through the Angel assessment interface are summed, the quantitative score correlated to the proper course number and level, and the advisor is provided an aggregated “gradebook” that conveniently provides all needed information in a single electronic place.

Using a similar strategy for math, the on-line test results are electronically delivered to a counselor along with qualitative survey responses from each student. The advisor uses it to propose a sequence of math courses based on existing math competencies and skills projected to be useful in specific majors. The dossier provides a concise and concrete focus for the face-to-face interview conducted for each student (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The advisor’s view of student math performance includes a checklist of demonstrated competencies, standardized test scores and qualitative survey results. The box in the upper right corner holds the advisor’s recommendation for the sequence of math courses that would benefit the student.

In another series of screens, advisors can track academic program information, workshops, internship opportunities, career and subject-oriented campus lectures, and campus announcements. These opportunities and activities can be distributed to student calendars providing a parsimonious way to provide customized campus views for different student groups. This service has proved especially valuable to the approximately 1,000 undeclared and 400 premedical sciences student body.

For about 30-50 juniors, seniors and alumni who are applicants to post-baccalaureate health professions schools, Providence offers an intricate and adaptive Health Professions Advising program. Scheduling, testing, and tracking progress through the application process were once separate, paper-based activities. Here again, compilation in an Angel-delivered database serves student, faculty, and advisor needs. Angel’s “who-dun-it” function is used to send electronic reminders to students who have not completed a necessary part of the application process. This “tickler” function makes the work of staff much easier and keeps students up-to-date without a need to “bug” the HPS administrators.

Advising is as much about matching student interest and needs as it is about proper placement. Discussion, collaboration and conversation remain the heart of the successful advising process, but the Angel-delivered support system adds immeasurably to the efficiency of the system. To “close the loop,” each student is asked to complete an on-line survey about his or her advising experiences at Providence. In the words of student Nicholas Beatty (gathered from an Angel-delivered survey): “I very much like the organizational simplicity that the Angel group site has brought to the application process.”

Carol Crafts, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Providence College, along with Spanish faculty member Nuria Alonso Garcia and Angel administrator Adam Hauerwas, has overseen the migration of advising support to the Angel-enabled functional integration of the Student Services office. The next steps her team envisions include adding French to the placement test inventory and integrating advising groups to support the faculty based academic advising of all Providence College students. They credit Angel for helping them reduce stress, paper, and organizational chaos in the advising process, expanding the time available for the critical human interaction on which good student advising relies.

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