Reinvigorating Faculty Advising on Your Campus

Michelle M. White, Millersville University of Pennsylvania
Ralph G. Anttonen, Millersville University of Pennsylvania

In the award-winning entry for the Ninth Annual Academic Advising Writing Competition, Don Carlton (2010) gazed into his crystal ball and hypothetically looked at the world of academic advising in the year 2019. He stated,

Budgets for many or most schools will lead to fewer advisers seeing more students. Advising space and support services will be pinched. Most advisers will increasingly rely on mass advising techniques—e-mail, interactive degree charts, interactive computer programs that suggest courses and majors. Schools that now use professional advisers will likely force faculty to assume a greater advising load. (Carlton, 2010, p.1)

If one examines the current budget crisis pervading institutions of higher education, this projection might be occurring at colleges and universities that are primarily teaching rather than research institutions. These institutions may require faculty to be more involved in advising, as advising centers and programs are cut and are not, in administrators’ opinions, essential to institutional survival. While one can emphatically espouse the necessity of advising centers, such debate may be moot as higher education administrators seek to curtail non-instructional costs and trim what they see as unessential to their core instructional mission. While the literature (Allen & Smith, 2008) argues that “good advising” helps in the retention of students and actually saves money, such research may fall on deaf ears as pressure builds to find alternatives to achieving this result with models that return to the early days when faculty did the advising as part of their expected position responsibilities.

The question “What’s in it for me?” refers to faculty’s desire to participate in initiatives that lead to promotion and tenure and must be addressed if faculty are to become effective academic advisers (Engelkemeyer & Landry, 2001, p. 10). A possible answer to this might be found at Millersville University. Five years ago, Millersville University approved a three-credit first-year seminar course (UNIV 103) for exploratory students. This course allowed professors from all disciplines to develop a proposal around a topic of keen interest to them and designed with the same academic rigor as all MU courses include. Each of these course proposals went to the college curriculum committees before receiving approval for inclusion in the general education curriculum. The UNIV 103 course was required of all first-year exploratory students and could be taught for five years. In addition, this concept provided that the faculty member teaching the course would also serve as adviser to the twenty-two to twenty-six students enrolled in the particular innovative venture. Such an approach would allow the students to be in direct contact with their adviser two or three times per week. Since faculty members had advisees in their major fields, they were given the option to choose how many first-year students they would advise. During the past five years, some opted to advise all and some chose anywhere from none to 10­–12 students. When faculty member chose not to advise all the students, the director of the Exploratory (Undecided) Program assigned advisers from its pool of more than one hundred faculty/staff with advising professional development backgrounds to work with the exploratory population.

A faculty member who had chosen to teach a UNIV 103 course was able to count the three credits as part of his/her full-time teaching load. Another benefit was that these faculty members were able to teach outside the required curriculum of their departments and pursue an area of interest that would not be possible within the confines of their discipline. Faculty members, from new to veteran and from assistant to full professors, participated in the ongoing first-year seminar initiative. The seminars were offered in the fall and spring semesters for new students. Examples of recent seminars can be viewed at http://www.millersville.edu/undprgm/freshmanseminars.php.

Yet “What’s in it for me?” (Engelkemeyer & Landry, 2010, p.10) must also examine whether teaching such a course had any benefits in the world of promotion and tenure. McGillin (2003) pointed out that “the answer most frequently given is that faculty will seek out opportunities to advance as advisors if and when that activity is significantly recognized, evaluated, and rewarded” (p. 88). An example of this phenomenon can be explored by examining the original faculty involved in the early years of teaching this seminar course. Four of the associate professors have now attained the rank of full professor and four of the assistant professors attained the rank of associate professor.

A past chair of Millersville’s University Wide Promotion and Tenure Committee was one of the professors who taught the one-credit seminar, the precursor of the current three-credit seminar course. He was a strong advocate who served on the committee for individuals teaching the first-year seminar course.  Other members of the campus committee overseeing this initiative had taught either the one-credit or three-credit course and also had served on the university-wide promotion and tenure committee. They were very supportive of those individuals who risked teaching the first-year seminar outside their departmental curriculum structure. It can be argued that participating in the seminar venture enhanced the prospects for faculty to be rewarded in the promotion and tenure process at MU. It should also be noted that some of these faculty members made presentations and workshops on this initiative at both the national and international First-Year Experience and Students in Transition conferences from 2003 to the present. They highlighted their work in the components of the courses, including the living/learning, community service, and civic engagement concepts; both qualitative and quantitate assessment efforts; and the process used in building such innovative ventures. Specific sessions and presenters were excluded in this paper to maintain the anonymity of the participants.

The first-year seminar initiative would not have happened if the current president of Millersville had not been an advocate for such an initiative at the time she was the provost. With the leadership of the associate provost, who was also an advocate, the president guided the process through an eight-year period from the one-credit seminar to the present general education-approved three-credit, first-year seminar course. As research by Anttonen and Chaskes (2005) has shown, people who build such programs must gain the support of either the president or provost and must be willing to let the faculty develop the actual structure. This program building involves risk taking and patience as the politics of academia must be played. At MU, faculty members voted by a clear majority to approve a new general education curriculum with the inclusion of the three-credit first-year seminar course (UNIV 103).

There is more work to be done at Millersville as issues have emerged that threaten the continuation of this course. It was originally believed that by embedding the effort in the general education curriculum and making it a required course for all incoming first-year exploratory students, all interested faculty would be available to teach it. It was not anticipated that departmental “turf” issues would pose a potential serious problem. While there were enough faculty members interested in teaching the first-year seminar courses, some academic departments were reluctant to release them from their departmental general education and major curriculum courses. Only through the creative leadership and negotiations of top academic administration was it possible to include twelve courses on the fall 2011 schedule. This number of courses met the needs of 99 percent of all incoming first-year exploratory students in 2011. As the budget picture may worsen in future years, the prospect of finding enough faculty approved for release from their departments to teach the first-year seminar course will only become more challenging. By capitalizing on collaboration efforts with faculty and administrators, program leaders established trust, and when coupled with patience and persistence each year, these factors will help to overcome any challenges (Anttonen & Chaskes, 2002). The financial bottom line needed to support this endeavor rests with top campus administrators and the appropriate allocations and negotiations within departments to ensure its continued success.

As you read this article, you may be thinking, “My institution does not have such a first-year seminar. How can faculty become more engaged in advising?” Faculty involvement in advising may be promoted through intrinsic motivators—appeals to logic, altruism, and the creation of opportunities for faculty input or sense of ownership—and extrinsic motivators, such as public recognition (promotion and tenure), monetary compensation, or course release time. The importance of extrinsic motivators is underscored by research indicating that a key to negotiating effective change is addressing the question above,What’s in it for me?” (Engelkemeyer & Landry, 2010, p. 10). Here are some suggestions to consider:

  1. Your administration, if it truly wants to improve and encourage more faculty advising, must set up a campus-wide initiative that has, as its leader, a trusted tenured senior faculty member or administrator capable of working with both faculty and administration. This person must clearly articulate the tenet, ADVISING IS TEACHING. This is defined as teaching in its highest form and its ideal context: a teacher-student ratio of one-to-one; a relevant subject—the student’s own future; and an open-ended, problem-based learning task that requires decision making (i.e., a student’s decision about what major, career, and future life path to pursue) (Cuseo, 2007). The faculty adviser becomes an important guide in this experience, as “advising is the intersection of the teaching and learning experience” (Myers & Dyer, 2007, p. 284). In addition, Marc Lowenstein (2005, p. 69) suggests, “an excellent advisor does the same thing for the student’s entire curriculum that the excellent teacher does for one course.”
  2. The dreaded cry “let’s form a committee” must be heard and acted upon to improve faculty advising. No one person in isolation ever succeeds! Although frustrating and slow, major constituents and opposing voices must be involved and encouraged to speak. Such a committee must include those with the political power to bring about collaboration. Consider involving key people such as administrators, union leaders, faculty senate presidents, chairs of important curriculum committees, and student leaders. Ultimately, a working committee must create a coalition, forge a shared vision and goals, share the benefits and costs of this initiative with the institution, and align the mission of strong faculty academic advising with the institution’s mission statement (Anttonen & White, 2010).
  3. The program builder(s) need to gain support from key administrators, such as the president, the chief academic officers, and other key campus individuals (Chaskes & Anttonen, 2005). High-level administrators need to demonstrate visible support for faculty involvement with advising. Administrators can do this without investing large amounts of time or money by calling attention to the importance of effective faculty advising in formal addresses and written messages to the college community. This recognition allows advising to be part of the institutional culture, contributes to faculty morale, and draws attention to advising campus-wide (Hemwall, 2008). Administrators must also create incentives and provide rewards for faculty involvement in advising students. Faculty incentives, recognition, and reward structures may include the following: certificates of recognition to outstanding faculty, public recognition of faculty out-of-class contributions to advising at well-attended college functions like graduation or convocation, letters of commendation for inclusion in faculty’s personnel file or professional portfolio, and faculty release time or workload reduction for their involvement in advising. Also, administrators may award travel funds targeting faculty participation in state, regional, or national conferences that focus on advising, such as the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) conferences (McGillin, 2003; Kerr 2000). Consideration in tenure, promotion, and merit evaluations is the paramount critical strategy. This consideration, according to Kerr (2000), is the “ultimate in extrinsic rewards” for faculty (p. 352).
  4. At many colleges and universities, power is decentralized and resides heavily in autonomous academic departments that operate by their own rules and reward systems. The higher educational reform movement has “lacked any plan for transforming middle-level university structures, most notably the academic department. Yet the department is arguably the definitive locus of faculty culture” (Edwards, 1999, p. 18). In addition to seeking support from high-level administrators to promote faculty involvement, support should also be sought from mid-level administrators and department chairs, because they exert significant influence on faculty attitudes and behavior. Strategies for enlisting the support of middle-level leadership include asking deans and department chairs to encourage their faculty members’ involvement with students, publicly recognizing their involvement, and rewarding it in faculty promotion-and-tenure decisions. In addition, requesting that deans and department chairs consider faculty candidates’ history of involvement with advising students is one criterion in new-faculty recruitment and hiring decisions (Cuseo, 2008; Edwards, 2007).
  5. Development efforts to engage faculty in quality advising efforts may be offered in conjunction with, or as a component of, the college’s faculty development program like Millersville University’s Center for Academic Excellence. If your campus has a faculty development program, the director may be willing to collaborate, since faculty development efforts involve promoting faculty behavior that contributes to student learning and success.
  6. The establishment of a standing college committee whose explicit charge is to oversee and promote faculty involvement with advising students is imperative. Ideally, this university-wide advising committee should be built into the college’s operational structure or organizational chart, thereby ensuring that attention to this issue becomes institutionalized and enduring rather than episodic (Cuseo, 2008).
  7. Encourage faculty members to join the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) to enhance their advising skills, conduct advising related research, and interact with other faculty interested in quality advising across institutions of higher education. Your campus may have an institutional membership already. In 2001, the NACADA Faculty Advisors Commission was formed, because faculty members are the largest group of college and university professions with advising as part of their contract/teaching responsibilities. The commission was established to assist and train faculty members in their advising responsibilities through its web page, e-mail lists, and sponsored workshops. This commission provides venues at local, state, and national conferences to engage faculty involvement in the process of effective advising.

In the words of Boyer in Scholarship Reconsidered, Priorities of the Professoriate, (1991), “the most important obligation confronting the nation’s college and universities is to break out of the tired old teaching versus research debate and define, in more creative ways, what it means to be a scholar” (p. xii). Boyer’s work is still relevant in our institutions today. Faculty research and scholarship could be more broadly defined to include research on the advising process, and such scholarship could be counted in decisions about promotion and tenure in a fashion similar to discipline-driven research. Such an expanded view of scholarship would be consistent with   Boyer’s call for a “new scholarship” that includes the scholarship of teaching and the scholarship of application (i.e., advising) (Boyer, 1991). Research has shown that student interactions with faculty in an advising relationship are important to overall student learning. Our institutions will benefit from fostering such a learner-centered context, which allows faculty to realize their potential as advisers (Hemwall, 2008).

In conclusion, consider Don Carlton’s 2010 prediction that ten years hence, as budgets get tighter, teaching faculty may be called upon to play a more active role in advising. Make plans through professional development initiatives to aid faculty in becoming engaged in quality academic advising. Examine the successful first-year seminar program at Millersville University and its approach to further engage faculty advisers (http://www.millersville.edu/fye/). Consider the various strategies we discuss to bring faculty advising to new levels. Become an advocate to facilitate excellent faculty advising on your campus!

References

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About the Author(s)

Michelle M. White, Millersville University of Pennsylvania

Michelle M. White, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Academic and Student Development, as well as director of Academic Advisement at Millersville University in Millersville, PA. She can be reached at michelle.white@millersville.edu.

Ralph G. Anttonen, Millersville University of Pennsylvania

Ralph G. Anttonen, Ph.D., is a professor and chair of the Department of Academic and Student Development as well as director of the Exploratory Program at Millersville University in Millersville, PA. He can be reached at ralph.anttonen@millersville.edu.

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