Here are three commonly used academic advising metrics that fail to measure the impact of advising, and three qualitative measures that DO matter.
by Sue Ohrablo, Ed.D., author of High-Impact Advising: A Guide for Academic Advisors
Advising administrators are challenged with recruiting, training, and retaining effective advisors. They are tasked with positively impacting student success and retention, and are often held accountable for student persistence, academic performance, and graduation rates. Additionally, advising administrators must develop measures to evaluate advisor performance to ensure that they are successfully meeting student needs. Because of these demands, administrators may use quantitative measures to evaluate student success and advisor performance. However, the use of these measures may be a source of frustration and dissatisfaction for advisors and may unjustly place the burden of student success on their shoulders. As a result, advisors may experience burnout that can lead to poor performance and possible departure.
3 Academic Advising Metrics That Fail to Accurately Measure the Impact
1. Number of Contacts an Advisor Makes
The logic is sound. Research has shown that the more engaged a student is with an institution and its personnel, the more likely he or she is to persist. By encouraging advisors to reach out to their students, administrators are hoping to build connections to promote student success. Because of this objective, institutions have developed several quantitative measures to hold advisors accountable for engaging their students. One measure is the number of contacts (calls, emails, appointments, walk-ins) an advisor makes on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. It is a common practice to require advisors to track how many phone calls, emails, appointments, and walk-ins they had in a given period. Some institutions develop a set standard (ex. 30 calls a day) that advisors must strive to meet. Institutions may also choose to measure the percentage of the assigned student population who have been contacted by their advisor. Does the advisor contact each of his or her advisees regularly? Has the advisor reached out to every one of his or her students? In an effort to boost last minute enrollments, administrators may provide advisors lists of students to call with a directive to facilitate registration. These types of campaigns can have the unintended consequence of reducing the advising process to a call-center function which is limited in scope, depth, and quality.
By emphasizing the number or frequency of student contact, the institution risks disaffecting advisors who are striving to focus on providing quality service and support to students. Advisors commonly struggle to keep up with inbound inquiries, assist students, solve problems, and perform numerous administrative duties. When held to quantitative standards, they may find “creative” ways to meet set goals. I have experienced, first hand, the impact of these demands and how some advisors chose to meet them. While struggling to keep up with inbound inquiries and making the requisite outbound calls, I recall commiserating with colleagues and asking how they completed the outbound campaign which required us to note the date and time of outreach efforts and contact with students. Often, I would hear a casual, “Oh, I just put the date in the column on the spreadsheet.” In other words, advisors would not actually make the calls, but would simply indicate that they did to meet expectations. This type of action taken by advisors (which exists more than you might expect) is counterproductive to student engagement efforts and advisor effectiveness. The time taken to fill out the spreadsheet or make false notes in a database could have been better spent actually assisting students. Advisors may become frustrated as they strive to juggle a high volume of student traffic while ensuring that they meet quantifiable standards.
2. Time on Calls with Students
Some institutions measure the length of advising calls and appointments to evaluate advisor performance. They stress the importance of short, concise interactions with students to ensure that more students are contacted and engaged. Advisors who spend “too much time” with students may be negatively evaluated, as it prevents them from contacting other students. Conversely, some institutions require a minimum “talk-time” and hold advisors accountable for sessions perceived as being too brief. In both instances, however, it is important to recognize the developmental needs of students. While some students may only need a few minutes, others may need more time to explore their concerns and options. Students appreciate advisors who take the time to listen to them, engage in discussion, and demonstrate concern. Brief interactions that focus on the informational components of advising (registration, policies, and procedures) do not fully address the comprehensive nature of student needs. Longer advising sessions allow advisors to explore issues with students, as well as teach students how to independently navigate the institution. It is important to recognize that the length of the call does not correlate to the quality of advising. An advisor could easily meet the time expectation during each advising session yet could provide inaccurate information or fail to evaluate and meet student needs.
3. Student Retention Rates
Advisors have a tremendous opportunity to positively contribute to a student’s experience. They can help to reduce student anxiety through providing information and direction. They can provide students a sense of connectedness through the development of an ongoing advising relationship. They can help to remove obstacles which may prevent forward movement for students. They can make effective referrals that will provide additional support to students. They can also contribute to a student’s decision to leave the institution if they are perceived to be unknowledgeable, ineffective, or uncaring. However, advisors cannot directly impact student retention and success. Just as a doctor who prescribes a healthy diet and medication cannot be held responsible if the patient does not take the prescribed medicine and continues with an unhealthy diet, student decisions and behaviors rest entirely with the student. An advisor has no control over a student who chooses not to submit assignments, experiences family issues, or struggles to understand math, and should not be held accountable for resulting difficulties or departure. While we can positively contribute to student success, there are factors and circumstances which extend beyond our locus of control.
Throughout their studies, students may encounter multiple challenges that threaten their success and ability to persist. Adult students may experience financial difficulty which results in the inability to pay tuition. Encouraging continued enrollment may not be in the student’s best interest, as continued enrollment would put the student deeper into debt. Similarly, a student who is failing courses because she is focused on caring for her dying mother might benefit from stopping out to avoid academic penalties and to concentrate on her family. In these instances, advisors should not be penalized for helping students make decisions that are in their best interest, even if it results in a loss of enrollment. There is a greater likelihood that students who perceive their advisor as having their best interests in mind will return to the institution once their difficulties are resolved.
3 Qualitative Measures That DO Matter
Academic advisors play a critical role in supporting students. The information they provide helps students to successfully navigate the institution. The encouragement they provide helps students to feel cared for and connected to the institution. Their ability to engage in problem-solving and the removal of barriers can positively impact a student’s decision to stay or go.
Our students are too important to leave in the hands of unmotivated, ineffective advisors. Advisors must possess the requisite knowledge and skills to positively impact their students. However, trying to quantify the value of advisors through measuring the number of students assisted or the rate at which freshman are retained will not adequately reflect advisor performance. Accountability can be assessed qualitatively by evaluating the quality of advising sessions and the value that each advisor brings to the institution. By reviewing student-advisor correspondence, observing advising sessions, assessing the advisor’s knowledge-base, and considering student and peer feedback, administrators can more effectively assess advisor performance and set standards to which advisors can be held accountable.
1. Student Feedback
Advising should not be a popularity contest; therefore, using student feedback as a sole indicator of advisor performance is not recommended. Just because students say an advisor is good doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is. Just as with faculty who receive glowing student evaluations because they don’t require much work or give mostly As, some advisors may be favorably reviewed by students if they cut corners, give overrides, or make exceptions to policies. However, with careful solicitation of student feedback and analysis of student compliments and complaints, advising administrators can assess advisor performance and provide support and guidance to advisors as needed.
Advising surveys can be helpful in identifying areas of strength and opportunities for growth for individual advisors and the overall department. While surveys can be used to gather quantitative data, they can also be used to capture the essence of the advising experience. Rather than focusing on scores or response rates, focus on what the students are saying. Look for trends. Do students love a certain advisor? Why? What qualities, characteristics, or actions are received favorably by students? By considering this feedback, advising administrators can strategically monitor advisor performance and provide training in areas in which they are deficient.
Advising administrators are tasked with addressing escalated student issues. These issues are a good source of identifying what is working and what is not. By reviewing student narratives articulated through calls and emails, administrators can identify patterns of advisors who struggle to respond to students, fail to follow through on actions, or make mistakes. It is important to research any negative claims a student makes, for it is all too common to claim, “My advisor never helps me,” regardless of whether that is true. While fewer in number, emails or calls that reflect positive interactions with advisors are equally helpful in identifying overall departmental strengths and weaknesses.
2. Quality of Student Interaction and Engagement
The more that an advisor can positively engage students and provide them comprehensive assistance, the more likely the student is to value that interaction. Students who perceive value in a service will use it more readily and consistently, which can contribute to their overall satisfaction and desire to stay.
Observation of student appointments is a good way of seeing advisors in action. How do they approach the advising process? Are their relationships with students strong? Are they providing accurate information? Are they applying analytical thinking to solve problems? Are the concepts and philosophies you promote being applied? Administrators can develop a qualitative rubric that can be used to assess advisor performance and provide constructive feedback to the advisor. Observation is one of the best ways to really see what’s going on with your advising team. If you decide to engage in observation, I encourage you to approach the process collaboratively with advisors. Rather than making them feel like they are being scrutinized, let them know that you are interested in identifying strong practices, individual advising styles, challenges that advisors face, and student concerns. After observing an advising session, administrators can engage advisors in a two-way conversation about the advising process.
Reviewing advising notes and correspondence is another good way to assess advisor effectiveness, identify student issues, and promote advisor accountability. Notes may reveal the topics discussed with students and the actions taken by advisors. Skeletal or non-existent notes may indicate a need for improved documentation or may reflect the lack of comprehensive advising and student engagement. Similarly, a random review of email correspondence can provide insight as to how advisors interact with their students and identify opportunities for improvement. Presenting such initiatives as an opportunity for professional development and advisor support will be better received than if it appears that you are engaging in a “witch-hunt”.
A third strategy for using information about advising to advance departmental and institutional goals is to listen. What anecdotal information are you receiving about individual advisors and your team, as a whole? What advisors do students consider to be great, and why? What causes your students frustration? Are there things within your control that can be improved to make the student experience more positive? Take the opportunity to speak with students, whether in response to their concerns or by proactively engaging them in informal discussion.
3. Accuracy and Thoroughness
It is essential that our advisors are accurate and thorough in their work. There can be significant negative consequences if students are given inaccurate information or if advisors do not complete the work that is required of them. One way to identify gaps in accuracy and thoroughness is to review the complaints and grievances that cross your desk. Do you have specific advisors who constantly make mistakes which you must resolve? Is there an advisor who continues to lag behind in degree conferrals, major changes, or SAP reviews? By observing advising sessions, reviewing notes and correspondence, and considering feedback from students, you can identify areas of concern regarding advisor knowledge and efficiency.
We all want the same thing: to successfully support students in their efforts to complete their college degree. We want them to feel cared for and supported as they develop the skills and knowledge necessary to independently make decisions and take responsibility for their education. Higher education administrators are encouraged to recognize, reward, and incentivize the advising behaviors, methods, and approaches that positively impact student success. By emphasizing quality over quantity, institutional objectives can be met without the risk of alienating or losing valuable employees.
Photo above by Daniel Damas on Unsplash.
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“I highly recommend that all academic advising professionals read High-Impact Advising: A Guide for Academic Advisors, as it will help them to enhance key skills needed to establish positive relationships with students, appropriately assess students’ needs, effectively teach students, and efficiently provide high quality service.”
Jacqueline T. Hollins, Assistant Vice Provost/Director of Academic Advisement, SUNY at Buffalo (UB)
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Jake Shilts, Director, Advisement & Career Services, Miami Dade College
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Shari Saperstein, Associate Dean, College of Undergraduate Studies, Nova Southeastern University
"A student-centered, informative, and practical approach. Dr. Ohrablo presents powerful guidelines geared towards student success for 21st century academic advisors. The handbook offers indispensable information and engaging scenarios that mirror real life college instances that students experience. A key resource tool for academic advisors and higher education professionals."
Dr. DeLaine Priest, Associate Vice President of Student Development and Enrollment Services, University of Central Florida