An Alternative to the Developmental Theory of Advising

Marc Lowenstein, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey


This article was invited by a member of the editorial board of The Mentor based on an exemplary conference session presented by the author.

Developmental advising is the completely dominant paradigm in the profession today. Its hegemony seems almost never to be questioned. But even with so successful a paradigm, it is valuable occasionally to inquire how it got to be so dominant and whether that dominance is (or ever was) warranted.

Developmental advising was initially presented by Crookston (1972) as an alternative to a construct that he called “prescriptive advising,” and it gained much of its early plausibility and acceptance from its favorable juxtaposition with the less-attractive alternative. That juxtaposition may still be the key to developmental advising's appeal. The very expression “prescriptive advising” has a bad sound to it and certainly seems to refer to something that no self-respecting adviser would want to be associated with. If the only alternative to developmental advising is prescriptive advising — as even NACADA's membership application clearly presupposes — then surely developmental advising is the place to be.

I believe, however, that prescriptive advising is a straw man. It is not the correct “opposite” for developmental advising and certainly not its sole alternative. In other words, the argument (usually not stated explicitly) that says

is unsound because its first premise is false. We will see that the comparison of developmental with prescriptive advising is spurious and that more attractive alternatives exist, which must be thoughtfully evaluated before the developmental model can win by default.

Let us start by looking at prescriptive advising. Prescriptive advising is a style of advising (and also a style of teaching) that is characterized by

Although some writers recently have been noting that a certain amount of prescriptive advising may be necessary, for the most part people in the early 1970s were receptive to the idea of moving away from this top-down model. In both teaching and advising, the times were calling for a different approach. And there was developmental advising, arriving at just the right moment!

But developmental advising is not the appropriate opposite of prescriptive advising. Developmental advising is not a style of advising; it is a theory about the content of advising.

The style of advising that is the opposite of prescriptive advising is what I will call “collaborative advising.” In collaborative advising, the adviser and student are seen as partners. This style is characterized by

Clearly, the same contrast between prescriptive and collaborative styles can be seen in the classroom as well, and our era has seen much discussion of active learning and collaborative approaches to teaching. The features of Crookston's developmental model that make it seem so superior to the prescriptive approach (see his Table 1) are really features of the collaborative style.

The key question is does embracing the collaborative style require accepting the developmental theory of the content of advising?

The answer is, NO. Most of us want to be collaborative advisers most of the time, but we do not have to subscribe to the developmental theory in order to take this approach. That is because there are other views of the content of advising, different from the developmental paradigm, that are equally collaborative in style and, thus, equally opposed to prescriptive advising.

Specifically, we will now look at what I call “academically centered advising,” which I propose as a worthy alternative to developmental advising. Developmental advising and academically centered advising are competing theories about the content of advising, though both are collaborative in style. The drawbacks of prescriptive advising as a style are, therefore, not relevant to this comparison.

How are the two models different? In the simplest terms, developmental advising focuses on the student's personal growth and development while academically centered advising centers on the student's academic learning. The following chart, admittedly over-simplified, lays out some of the ways that an academically centered advising paradigm differs from a developmentally centered paradigm, even though they are both collaborative approaches.

Developmentally Centered Paradigm

Academically Centered Paradigm

Goal of advising

Facilitating student's intra-personal growth and development, including cognitive, affective, etc.

Facilitating the student's ability to interact with and draw maximum benefit from the academic program and curriculum.

Paradigm relates advising to ...

Counseling

College teaching

Who should do it?

Student development staff

Faculty or other academics

How shall they be trained?

Focus on the behavioral sciences, presumably developmental psychology in particular.

Broad but coherent liberal arts education, with almost any liberal arts specialization.

Who should oversee it?

Student Affairs

Academic Affairs

How should we hire advisers?

Look for specialists in the advising field who have studied student personnel or student development at the graduate level.

Look for people who may or may not have advised before, but who are student centered and mentally agile and understand curricular relationships.

This chart is designed to emphasize the difference between an academically centered model of advising and the developmental perspective that is most prominent today. The reader may feel that it exaggerates the differences. This is correct, in the sense that actual practice may combine features of both paradigms; possibly neither is found in its pure form anywhere.

But the purpose of either model is only partly to give an accurate description of current practice; it also seeks to provide an ideal toward which practice might strive. Put differently, a theory of academic advising tries to describe what advising would be at its best, though the activity may only sometimes approximate that vision.

I urge that advisers consider the possibility that advising at its best is like what I have called academically centered advising. I envision the exemplary adviser as someone who

How should the reader decide which paradigm to embrace? Arguments over paradigms tend to be circular, each side presupposing the rightness of its own model as a basis for arguing on its behalf. I would, however, urge two considerations on behalf of the academically centered model.

First, this model has particular appeal for anyone who sees the liberal arts as being at the center of higher education, since it presents the adviser as facilitating the goals of liberal learning.

Second, I think the academically centered model is superior in that it lays out a role for advising that is uniquely necessary in a higher education setting. Advising, I think, ought to be “about” something that is unique to college. I don't question the need for developmental counselors; in fact every young adult (and perhaps the rest of us as well!) could use one. And that's the point — the thing that college students need more than the rest of us is an academic facilitator.

Some proponents of developmental advising have been acknowledging lately that there is a place in their practice for prescriptive advising — sometimes you just have to tell the student that “this is how it is.” In the same spirit, I would acknowledge that the academically centered model could leave room in its ideal practice for a bit of the developmental perspective. Even my “exemplary adviser” will benefit from some knowledge of theories of human development to help him or her choose strategies, though I'm not convinced that the finest details of these theories are critical.

But this acknowledgment yields no ground on the question of which is the better theory of advising. Granting that advising can be enhanced by some knowledge of student development is a far cry from saying that facilitating the student's growth and development is the purpose of advising. That purpose, I hold, is the one described by the academically centered paradigm and pursued by the “exemplary adviser” described above.

Reference

Crookston, B. (1972). A developmental view of academic advising as teaching. Journal of College Student Personnel, 13, 12-17. Reprinted in NACADA Journal, 14:2, 5-9.

Author's note

I am grateful to Peter Hagen, Martha Hemwall, and Kent Trachte for their informal conversations and various conference presentations on this subject and to Joyce Buck and Walter Levy for further encouragement.

Marc Lowenstein is Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. He can be reached at (609) 652-4606 or Marc.Lowenstein@stockton.edu.

Published in The Mentor on November 22, 1999, by Penn State's Division of Undergraduate Studies
Available online at dus.psu.edu/mentor
Privacy and Legal Statements | Copyright | © The Pennsylvania State University | All rights reserved