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Student Advising

New Brief Offers Lessons in Advising for Community Colleges

As community college pathways gain steam as a structure for improving student outcomes, advising is turning out to be a vital element in the formula for success. Even in schools without a pathway mode, improving advising can make a difference. To help institutions that want to "redesign or enhance" their advising services, a new research brief by nonprofit social policy research firm MDRC has shared lessons honed over two decades. The report's authors explained that by the term "advising," they mean any kind of guidance given to a college student "about an academic, social or personal matter."

The guidance covers five broad areas with several lessons in each section:

  • Designing a better advising model;
  • Structuring the advising team;
  • Training team members and providing them with tools;
  • Working for continual improvement on how students are supported; and
  • Planning for change and program growth.

For example, the report recommended advising that's "frequent and holistic." Since college students deal with more than just academic hurdles, advising that can also address developing soft skills, balancing multiple demands in life and creating connections to campus will help them "overcome surmountable challenges."

While the authors acknowledged the need for a consistent structure across advisers, the approach also needs "room for flexibility." As the brief noted, "Giving advisers a calendar of topics to follow is helpful," but so is "empowering them to respond to unique and urgent student needs at the expense of following written guidance."

The report also suggested continuing to "reach out to unresponsive students." Those are the students, the authors wrote, who may "not have anyone besides their advisers encouraging them to stay engaged in school."

Where resources are available, the college might consider providing incentives--cash rewards, book vouchers, transportation credits--to students to meet with their advisers, especially early on, to help them "get over the hurdle" of that first adviser meeting.

Giving advisers access to tracking tools, data and the training to use it all has also proven useful, to help them identify the students with the highest levels of need, share progress with the advising team and "assess the effectiveness of different outreach strategies."

"How to Design and Implement Advising Services in Community Colleges" is openly available on the MDRC 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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