When Academic Advising Meets Residence Life: An Adviser’s Guide to a Successful Partnership
A large subpopulation on many college campuses is the group of residential students living in campus-operated residence halls. Pascarella and Terenzini (2005) found “remarkably consistent evidence that students living on campus are more likely to persist and graduate than students who commute” (p. 421). Residence halls’ close proximity to campus resources, classrooms, and instructors’ offices make them a primary target group for organizations and campus partners seeking to increase student involvement and retention rates. The majority of residential students are either freshmen or sophomores, the two most critical years in terms of student retention. Given that only 66.7 percent of students are retained between the first- to second-year (American College Testing Program, 2010), it is imperative to determine new creative ways to improve this rate on college campuses. Pascarella and Terenzini (2005) state that “research consistently indicates that academic advising can play a role in students’ decisions to persist and in their chances of graduating” (p. 404). Given that residence life also plays a significant role in providing a positive environment conducive to student retention, it would make sense for academic advisers to partner with the on-campus residential community to help increase retention rates. The purpose of this article is to explain the advantages of academic advisers partnering with residence life as well as to share ideas, methods, and suggestions for creating such partnerships.
Benefits of Academic Advisers Partnering with Residence Life
Studies have shown that higher levels of satisfaction and higher retention rates are observed among students who make a connection with at least one adult during their first year on campus (Astin, 1978). By going into the halls to engage in specific programs within a university’s housing department, academic advisers can begin to build deeper relationships with their advisees by interacting with them outside of their offices. This may help alleviate any anxiety or misconceptions that students may have about academic advisers. The fact that academic advisers spend time in the residence halls shows students that they genuinely care about the students’ success and are willing to do whatever they can to help students achieve their goals. The knowledge that advisers gain while interacting with students in residence halls can enable them to have a more holistic view of students’ lives and provide a more personalized advising approach. Academic advisers can better understand student issues and concerns via these interactions and articulate them to the faculty members within their departments. This knowledge might lead to new initiatives within the academic units to better meet the needs of students.
Ways that Advisers Can Create Partnerships with Residence Life
There is a plethora of ways that academic advisers can reach student audiences and create partnerships with residence life, including participating in hall programming opportunities, engaging with residential learning communities, supporting residence life initiatives, and embedding advising offices within residence halls. By utilizing these methods, academic advisers will gain experience in working closely with residence life and directly impact the growth and development of residential students.
Residence Hall Programming
Most housing organizations actively seek ways to create and strengthen learning environments within their residence halls. They do this by providing opportunities for students to learn outside the classroom through floor or hall programming for their residents. Academic advisers seeking to efficiently communicate information to a large audience of students, particularly to first- and second-year students, can use the residence halls as a venue to reach out to students. Advisers can hold town-hall meetings to help prepare students for their upcoming advising registration appointments, notify students of important upcoming dates such as drop/add deadlines, share information about particular majors and/or careers, address student concerns about their curriculum track, and foster faculty-student interactions.
Residential Learning Communities
Another avenue for partnering with residence life staff is through residential learning communities (RLCs). A residential learning community (RLC) is “a residential education unit in a college or university that is organized on the basis of an academic theme or approach and is intended to integrate academic learning and community living” (Bowling Green State University, 2002, ¶ 2). Research indicates that RLCs, “positively influence persistence and those students who live in living-learning settings are more likely to persist than are similar students in traditional housing arrangements” (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005, p. 604). Advisers can work with these RLCs by helping to coordinate linked classes and block scheduling, in which students take two or more of the same classes together. This enables students to build relationships with their peers and easily form study groups.
Academic advisers can even be instrumental in helping to establish RLCs with themes that are congruent with the majors that they advise. For example, pre-med advisers could partner with residence life to create a medical careers residence life community. Establishing RLCs can be a way to increase student interest in particular majors.
Academic advisers can also help RLC staff make connections to faculty members with interests that are congruent with the theme of the RLC. Academic advisers can target particular RLCs and provide avenues to connect them with faculty members who can then use their expertise to enrich the RLC.
Residence Life Initiatives
Some residence halls sponsor opportunities for students to get to know faculty members better. Academic advisers who are aware of such programs can actively encourage students to participate in these initiatives. For example, at the University of South Carolina (USC), students have a unique opportunity to participate in what is called the “Out to Lunch” program. Sponsored through a partnership between Academic Centers for Excellence (ACE) and University Housing, students can sign up to take a faculty member out for a free lunch at university-sponsored dining establishments. This opportunity for informal interactions with faculty members allows students to connect with faculty on a deeper level and helps students realize that faculty members are real people who have lives outside of the classroom. Other institutions sponsor events like “Dinner with the Dean” or “Coffeehouse Conversations” when residential students can have increased interactions with various administrators or guest speakers. Academic advisers are key players in advertising these opportunities to students.
Advising Office Space Embedded within Residence Halls
Some institutions have academic advisers embedded within residence halls to promote student success by allowing advisers to interact with residents and develop a more holistic view of their lives beyond the classroom. For example, Miami University of Ohio hires staff members that are charged with serving as residence hall administrators and academic advisers for first-year students (Acheson and Rybski, 2009). One advantage of this approach is that “advisers see their advisees as holistic individuals” (Acheson & Rybski, 2009, ¶ 8), and have a more complete view of issues involving changing/dropping courses, adding minors, or changing majors. Additionally, since the level of interaction is much higher, students can be more easily referred to resources across campus.
Another way to embed academic advising in residence life is for academic advisers to seek office space in the residence halls for advising purposes. For example, at the University of South Carolina, the Academic Centers for Excellence (ACE) have offices strategically stationed in several residence halls across the campus to advise students who are on probation, face difficulties in their classes, or need either a writing assignment critique or basic time management assistance (University of South Carolina, 2010).
Getting the Conversation Started
Academic advisers can get the conversation started by doing some initial research on their institution’s residence life program. Advisers can begin this effort by perusing the residence life website to identify the mission and vision statements and look for key values or emphasized programs, as well as any information on current and upcoming initiatives within the department. It will be important to convey how academic advisers can match their strengths and resources with the needs of residential initiatives, programming, and learning communities.
Once an academic adviser has researched the opportunities within residence life, then a simple e-mail or phone call to the housing contact person is in order. Depending on the size of the department, the contact person may be someone who deals specifically with learning communities or is a specific hall director, an assistant director for residence life, or even the director of residence life or housing. A cordial message expressing an interest in discussing how the adviser can become involved in education program or initiatives is an excellent way to introduce the proposal.
At the meeting with the housing official, the adviser should be ready to ask questions about facets of residence life, suggest what advisers can do to help meet the needs of residence life, and demonstrate a willingness to work with residence life on upcoming projects. This dialogue can open the pathway to many future interactions between academic advisers and residence life personnel that can potentially enhance the lives of the residential students.
Residence life should collaborate with advising services to enhance student retention and persistence (Nutt, 2003). By showcasing some of the advantages of partnering with residence life and sharing specific suggestions about how advisers can initiate such partnerships, hopefully academic advisers will seek such opportunities. By collaborating with residence life, academic advisers have the ability to “facilitate students’ social (and perhaps academic) involvement with other students, with faculty members, and with their institution” (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005, p. 421). Promoting success in and out of the classroom can be realized through the collaborative efforts of a synergistic partnership between academic advisers and residence life staff.
Acheson, S., & Rybski, J. (2009). It takes a village: Academic advising at Miami University. NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/clearinghouse/m02/Residence-Life.htm
American College Testing, Inc. (2010). National collegiate retention and persistence to degree rates [Data File]. Retrieved from http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/pdf/retain_2010.pdf
Astin, A. W. (1978). Four critical years. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Bowling Green State University. (2003). The residential learning communities international clearinghouse [Online information page]. Retrieved from http://pcc.bgsu.edu/rlcch/
Gordon, V. N., & Habley, W. R. (Eds.). (2000). Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Nutt, C. L. (2003). Academic advising and student retention and persistence. NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/clearinghouse/advisingissues/retention.htm
Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How college affects students: A third decade of research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
University of South Carolina (2010). Academic Centers for Excellence. Retrieved from http://www.sc.edu/ace
About the Author(s)
Michael Jones is a graduate student in the University of South Carolina’s Higher Education and Student Affairs program. He is also an assistant residence life coordinator for USC’s University Housing department. He can be reached at email@example.com.