The Division of Undergraduate Studies was established in 1973 by Penn State's University Faculty Senate to improve advising opportunities for exploratory students and to develop and coordinate a University-wide information network to support academic advising. The division plays a critical role in guiding and educating students as they navigate an increasingly complex academic environment.
The division serves as an exemplary model of academic advising for students, advisers, the University, and other institutions worldwide. Reporting directly to the vice president and dean for undergraduate education, the division has five principal University-wide responsibilities across eighteen colleges and twenty campuses:
The Division of Undergraduate Studies provides a temporary academic home for two important groups: new students and transitioning students. While enrolled in the division, students work with academic advisers to explore their personal characteristics (interests, abilities, values, etc.), the characteristics of the University's academic programs, and the compatibility between the two. Students also explore co-curricular opportunities and prepare to enter a major. More than 7,000 students are enrolled in the division systemwide.
Through interactions with academic advisers in the division, students make well-informed educational plans and develop meaningful educational experiences for themselves. The division provides systematic decision-making tools, accurate and timely information, individual attention, and referrals when appropriate.
The Division of Undergraduate Studies has one of the highest baccalaureate admissions yield rates among all Penn State college choices; approximately 40 percent of students who receive an offer to the division decide to matriculate at Penn State. Potential students view the division as a crucial resource to help them successfully navigate the complexities of the University.
The division is consistently the largest enrollment unit for new, first-year students at all campuses. The percent of the first-year class choosing to enroll in the division consistently ranges from about 22 percent (at University Park) to as much as 50 percent at other campuses.
Up to 80 percent of entering Penn State students express some uncertainty about their initial choice of major. New students choose to enroll in the division because they recognize the need for time and experience before making a decision about a program of study.
Students in Transition
After enrolling first in one of Penn State's colleges, students may discover that their original choice of program is not compatible with their interests and/or abilities and may request enrollment in the division later in their academic careers.
Students at Risk
Up to 65 percent of students who change into the division with grade-point averages below 2.0 ultimately graduate from Penn State within five to six years, contributing to increased retention and graduation rates for the University. The division is the only academic unit authorized by Senate policy to accept students with CGPAs below 2.0.
Persistence of Choice
Upon completing the exploration process and moving to a college/major, about 95 percent of division students remain in their chosen college, thus affirming the appropriateness of their decisions.
First-year students who start in the division graduate at a slightly higher rate than their classmates who start in one of the degree-granting colleges. This fact provides evidence that, when appropriately advised, exploratory students do not take longer to graduate.
NSO is Penn State's "orientation" for all entering first-year students and their families, actively engaging students through a campus visit and through preparatory and follow-up programming to set the stage for academic planning during the first year.
Developed with leadership from DUS, the academic components of NSO — educational planning sessions and academic consultations — teach students about Penn State's academic colleges, the General Education program, and graduation requirements, as well as include time to meet with an academic adviser to discuss educational options and decisions.
The division's academic information network is the only network of its kind in the University. It connects people (advisers, students, administrators, faculty, and other staff), colleges, campuses, advising offices, academic programs, support services, and other resources.
A network of division programs coordinators affiliated with the University's academic colleges and campuses supports the University's academic advising programs by coordinating, developing, and disseminating up-to-date information about academic programs, policies, and procedures.
Accurate and Timely Information
At every Penn State undergraduate campus, this network makes it possible to provide consistent, impartial, and accurate academic advising to all students and serves as an academic resource for students, faculty, administrators, and the community at large. Without this formal network, academic information would quickly become inaccurate and random; its flow inefficient, costly, and chaotic.
The variety of undergraduate colleges and campuses, the ongoing addition of new associate and baccalaureate programs, and the availability of a multitude of co-curricular programs are adding to Penn State's rich and complex array of options. The ability to advise all students accurately and in timely ways is possible only when academic advisers are knowledgeable about all of the University's academic programs. Developing, maintaining, and delivering information about the University's academic options is one of the key functions of the academic information network.
The division provides academic advising, information, and referral services to anyone who requests assistance, including students enrolled elsewhere in the University, prospective students, families, faculty, and staff. On a walk-in basis and by appointment, division advisers help students who are not enrolled in the division evaluate their educational plans, answer questions about exploring major fields, provide general information about academic policies and procedures, and refer students to appropriate resources.
The division provides pre-law advising to current and former Penn State students and maintains a pre-law advising website. The University's pre-law adviser is housed in the division and provides group presentations and individual appointments to students who are considering law school, regardless of the student's campus of enrollment. The pre-law adviser also conducts information sessions for advisers and other University staff.
Provisional Student Advising
The division is responsible for advising all provisional students admitted to the University, assisting them in finding appropriate academic programs and meeting requirements for degree status in their chosen college or major.
The division practices sustained intellectual inquiry through research, assessment, publications, presentations, and professional development to help shape and define the dynamic and evolving field of academic advising.
The division has published monographs such as The Penn State Adviser, Advising for General Education, Student Characteristics Matter: Implications for Academic Advising, and eLion: Penn State's Comprehensive Web-Based Academic Advising System.
The division maintains a variety of key advising websites, including the Undergraduate Advising Handbook, Academic Advising Portal, MajorQuest, MinorQuest, Pre-Law Advising, Think Global, and The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal.
The Mentor is a peer-reviewed journal that rapidly disseminates new advising ideas and hosts discussions of advising issues. This initiative provides a unique vehicle for adviser development at Penn State and worldwide. The National Academic Advising Association selected The Mentor as an Outstanding Advising Publication Award winner (Electronic Category).
The division administers the Starfish® Enterprise Success Platform, the suite of academic advising tools selected by Penn State to integrate with LionPATH to deliver advising notes, early progress reports (EPRs), and online scheduling of advising appointments. Starfish offers the Penn State community—including faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students—access to a robust student success system that can flag students at risk, pinpoint areas of concern, and connect students with valuable services and early interventions.
The division promotes excellence in faculty and staff advising throughout Penn State by providing professional development experiences for advising colleagues.
Each fall, the division hosts a professional development conference on academic advising. This conference attracts administrators, faculty, and professional academic advisers from most of Penn State's colleges and campuses, as well as attendees from a variety of other institutions in Pennsylvania and nearby states. In addition, the division coordinates advising seminars at the University Park campus and provides other opportunities for professional development at campuses across the state.
Division representatives at each undergraduate campus provide advising development sessions for both new and continuing faculty and staff advisers.
The division is active in Penn State's University Advising Council and serves as a conduit for student, staff, and faculty advising concerns to the council.
National Involvement and Leadership
The division contributes to the scholarship of advising and plays a leading role in the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA). Division staff members hold leadership positions within NACADA and other national organizations. Division staff routinely present sessions at local, regional, national, and international conferences. The division is also a member of the Association of Deans and Directors of University Colleges and Undergraduate Studies and the CIC Academic Advising Administrators group.
The division is a leader in academic advising. Its programs are regularly studied by other universities each year, serving as models for the development of similar programs at other institutions.
Multiple division advisers have received Penn State's Excellence in Advising Award and have been honored as outstanding advisers by the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA). The DUS Navigator: A Guide for Educational Planning received a NACADA Outstanding Institutional Program Award, and division advisers and advising programs have won regional and national advising awards.
The division is widely recognized as an expert in the field of academic advising. For example, the Hewlett Foundation awarded the division a $150,000 two-year grant for its Discover House (residential living/learning community) General Education project.
Through ongoing research, the division develops strategies to improve the quality of advising. In addition to applying these results at Penn State, the division presents its findings at professional conferences and in journals to benefit the advising profession as a whole.
Since 1973, Penn State has realized the economic, educational, and organizational benefits that result from the unified staff of Division of Undergraduate Studies advisers and coordinators at every Penn State undergraduate campus. The division provides a first or transitional academic home, academic advising, and professional advisers for thousands of students. These students (many of whom would have had no other academic home) are retained within the University, graduate, and become appreciative alumni and successful members of their chosen professions.
As student success and retention continue to be primary goals for Penn State's undergraduate programs, and tuition dollars continue to play a significant role in the economic health of the University, it is imperative to promote the Division of Undergraduate Studies and its programs as the University Faculty Senate envisioned and enacted them.