Advising Satisfaction: Implications for First-Year Students’ Sense of Belonging and Student Retention

  • October 31, 2012

Krista M. Soria, University of Minnesota

Many scholars have noted the importance of academic advising in promoting the successful transition and retention of first-year students. For example, King and Kerr (2005) noted that “academic advising is clearly a key factor in challenging and supporting students in making a successful transition to college, feeling a part of their institutions, and achieving their educational goals” (p. 320). While many acknowledge the importance of academic advising in a student’s educational journey, concise empirical evidence on the relationship between academic advising and student retention is relatively mixed (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). For example, Metzner’s (1989) important study revealed that the quality of advising has only small and statistically non-significant direct effects on persistence while high-quality advising had a statistically significant positive effect on persistence as transmitted through its positive impact on grades and satisfaction. Thomas (1990) also found that the quality of academic advising plays a role in students’ retention. While these studies are significant in the field of academic advising, they address only the perceived quality of advising; therefore, the present study focuses on the relationship between first-year students’ satisfaction with advising and retention to their second year. The research question guiding this study is as follows: Is advising satisfaction associated with first-year students’ sense of belonging and retention when controlling for additional variables?

Satisfaction with Academic Advising

Academic advising matters to students. In an oft-quoted statement about the importance of advising, Light (2001) concluded, “Good advising may be the single most underestimated characteristic of a successful college experience” (p. 81). Light (2001) also noted that student satisfaction with academic advising is an important part of a successful college experience. Findings demonstrate that when students partake of advising services, they feel better about their advisers as well as the institution as a whole (Nadler & Nadler, 1999; Peterson, Wagner, & Lamb, 2001). Many scholars have noted that academic advising plays an important role in student retention (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991; Tinto, 1993); yet, empirical studies examining an explicit link between advising satisfaction and student retention are relatively scarce.

The development of effective advising relationships rests upon a foundation of student satisfaction; if students are dissatisfied with advising, they are unlikely to view their academic advisers with warm regard, a factor which may compromise their ability to become integrated into campus life, develop mentoring relationships, or develop a sense of belonging within the institution. Students place a premium on academic advising, and a large study of 81,094 students from eighty-seven four-year public colleges and universities found that students rate academic advising as the most important priority among twelve campus-related characteristics—even higher than campus personnel rate academic advising (Noel-Levitz, 2011). Yet for decades, national surveys have found that academic advising is one of the college experiences rated lowest in student satisfaction (Allen & Smith, 2008). Since student retention is linked to satisfaction, efforts to learn more about the effects of students’ satisfaction with academic advising are therefore critical for higher education institutions seeking to improve retention rates.

Theoretical Framework

Based upon Price’s (1977) model of employee turnover, Bean’s (1980, 1983) causal model of attrition views student attrition as analogous to employee attrition in work organizations. Bean’s model includes four categories of variables: student dropout (the dependent variable); satisfaction and institutional commitment (intervening variables); factors including integration, grade-point average, goal commitment, living on campus, among others (organizational determinants); and precollege characteristics including academic achievement, socioeconomic status, among others (background variables). In Bean’s model, organizational commitment variables influence intervening variables (satisfaction and commitment), which in turn influence the decision to withdraw from college.

Bean (1980, 1983) found that satisfaction is one of the most important variables in explaining institutional commitment (although gender differences do exist with regard to satisfaction’s direct and indirect effects on dropout). Metzner and Bean (1987) found similar results for nontraditional students: Satisfaction is important in predicting students’ intent to leave the university. While it is important to acknowledge that satisfaction with advising is not the only significant indicator of a student’s decision to withdraw from a university or persist until completion, advising satisfaction plays an important role because of its interconnectedness to other influences on student integration and institutional commitment. For example, a student who receives poor advice may register for incorrect courses, thus registering for courses that are beyond his or her level of preparation. Such a scenario likely yields a student who is dissatisfied with advising and also struggling academically. So while this study investigates the relationship between advising satisfaction and retention among first-year students, it is important to acknowledge the complex interplay of variables that ultimately influence a student’s desire to withdraw from college.


Instrument and Participants

The Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) survey is based at the Center for Studies of Higher Education (CSHE) at the University of California-Berkeley. The survey was administered in spring 2010 to 28,237 students across a large, public university classified by the Carnegie Foundation as having very high research activity. All undergraduates enrolled spring 2010 were included in this web-based questionnaire. Among the total students surveyed, 5,400 were first-time, first-year students and the response rate among these first-year students was 35 percent (n = 1,904).


I used demographic control variables, including student gender, race/ethnicity, first-generation status, and social class. Gender and race were dummy coded (female = 1, male = 0; students of color = 1, all other students = 0). International and other/unknown students were excluded. First-generation students were defined as neither parent having earned a bachelor degree, either in a foreign country or in the United States, and were dummy-coded (first-generation = 1, non-first-generation = 0). Table 1 demonstrates survey participants’ demographic characteristics. The participants in this study were mostly female, White, and non-first-generation students.

Table 1: Frequency of Demographic Variables
Variables Number (n) Percentage (%)
Male 838 39.1%
Female 1305 60.9%
American Indian or Alaskan Native 25 1.2%
African American 84 3.9%
Hispanic 50 2.3%
Asian 232 10.8%
White 1604 74.8%
Other/Unknown 5 0.2%
International 143 6.7%
Non-First Generation 1167 74.4%
First Generation 401 25.6%

The outcome measures in this analysis were related to students’ satisfaction with advising. Students were asked to rate their satisfaction of advising by answering the following question: “How satisfied are you with the following aspect of your educational experience?” Students responded to four advising options: 1) advising by school or college staff on academic matters; 2) advising by faculty on academic matters; 3) advising by student peer advisers on academic matters; and 4) advising by departmental staff on academic matters. These items were scaled from one to six, corresponding to “very dissatisfied” through “very satisfied.” At this university, most first-year students are assigned school/college or department staff advisers compared with faculty or peer advisers. Table 2 demonstrates students’ ratings of satisfaction for each of the four types of advisers. The majority of students tended, on average, to indicate being “somewhat satisfied” to “very satisfied” with each type of adviser.

Table 2: Rating of Satisfaction with Four Types of Advisers
Very Dissatisfied Dissatisfied Somewhat Dissatisfied Somewhat Satisfied Satisfied Very Satisfied
n % n % n % n % n % n %
Faculty 28 1.7% 45 2.8% 125 7.7% 562 34.4% 736 45.1% 136 8.3%
Student Peer Advisers 22 1.4% 36 2.2% 179 11.1% 711 43.9% 581 35.9% 89 5.5%
School or College Staff 27 1.7% 45 2.8% 130 8.0% 526 32.3% 708 43.5% 191 11.7%
Departmental Staff 23 1.4% 38 2.3% 162 10.0% 583 35.9% 690 42.5% 128 7.9%

I also developed several factors as predictor and control variables using factor analysis on seventeen items with oblique rotation (promax). The final analysis retained three factors: sense of belonging, campus climate, and academic engagement. Table 3 shows the factor loadings after rotation in a pattern matrix, with factor loadings over .40 in bold. The factor scores were computed using the regression method and saved as standardized scores with a mean of zero and a standard deviation of one. The factors had relatively high internal reliability (Cronbach’s α > .80) (Table 3).

Table 3: Summary of Exploratory Factor Analysis Results for the SERU Questionnaire
Item Campus Climate (α = .91) Academic Engagement (α = .86) Sense of Belonging (α = .86)
Students are respected here regardless of their religious beliefs .860 -.010 -.018
[…] sexual orientation .853 .008 -.097
[…] race or ethnicity .831 .003 .031
[…] political beliefs .823 -.003 -.026
[…] their disabilities .813 .008 -.051
[…] gender .782 .025 .071
[…] economic or social class .736 -.035 .119
Asked an insightful question in class -.006 .865 -.041
Contributed to a class discussion .011 .864 -.013
Brought up ideas or concepts from different courses during class discussions -.015 .855 -.036
Interacted with faculty during lecture class sessions .009 .774 -.012
Communicated with a faculty member by e-mail or in person -.012 .626 .047
Had a class in which the professor knew or learned your name .012 .622 .111
I feel that I belong at this campus -.005 -.020 .902
Knowing what I know now, I would still choose to enroll at this campus -.019 -.033 .859
Overall social experience .005 .031 .785
Overall academic experience .019 .066 .721

Note: Campus climate items began with “Indicate how strongly you agree or disagree with each of the following statements” and were coded one (strongly disagree) to six (strongly agree). Academic engagement items began with “During the academic year, how often have you done each of the following” and were scaled one (never) to six (very often). Sense of belonging items for academic and social experience began with “How satisfied are you with each of the following aspects of your educational experience in your major” and were scaled one (very dissatisfied) to 6 (very satisfied); additionally, the remaining sense of belonging items began with “Please rate your level of agreement with the following statement” and were scaled one (strongly disagree) to six (strongly agree).

Additional variables included students’ retention from their first year to their second year; students’ cumulative grade-point averages; the number of D, F, or W (withdraw) grades students received in their first year; living in residence halls; and enrollment in a first-year seminar course, which is optional at this university.


I conducted ordinary least squares regressions to examine potential associations between advising satisfaction and sense of belonging controlling for the effect of other variables. The overall regression for the model was statistically significant, F(15, 1431) =35.75, p < .001 and the model accounts for 27.3 percent of the variance in sense of belonging (Table 4). This model suggests that advising satisfaction for all four types of advisers (faculty, peer, college or school staff, and departmental staff) is positively associated with students’ sense of belonging. The results suggest that a one-unit increase in satisfaction with faculty adviser is associated with a .10 increase in students’ sense of belonging. Additionally, a one-unit increase in satisfaction with peer advisers is associated with a .14 increase in sense of belonging while a one-unit increase in satisfaction with school/college staff is associated with a .08 increase in sense of belonging. Finally, a one-unit increase in department staff satisfaction is associated with a .13 increase in students’ sense of belonging. Other factors positively predictive of sense of belonging in this model include living in residence halls and enrolling in first-year seminars. Academic engagement and campus climate were also positively predictive of sense of belonging, while the number of F grades students received was negatively associated with sense of belonging.

Table 4: Regression Analysis Predicting First-Year Students’ Sense of Belonging
Predictor B SE
Constant -2.33*** .24
Faculty Satisfaction .10** .03
Peer Satisfaction .14*** .03
School/College Staff Satisfaction .08* .03
Department Staff Satisfaction .13*** .04
Female -.05 .05
Students of Color -.02 .06
First Generation .02 .05
GPA .06 .06
D Count -.06 .09
F Count -.32*** .09
W Count -.15 .08
Lives in Residence Halls .25*** .07
First-Year Seminars .11* .05
Academic Engagement .22*** .02
Campus Climate .11*** .02

Note: R2 = 27.3%. * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001

A logistic regression was conducted to predict students’ retention from year one to year two. A test of the full model against a constant-only model was statistically significant, indicating that the predictors are reliably distinguished between returners and non-returners (χ2 =69.76, p < .001, df = 15). The only advising satisfaction predictor significant in this model is satisfaction with advising provided by school or college staff. Controlling for other variables in the model, as satisfaction with school or college staff advising increases by one unit, the odds of persisting for a second year are 1.48 higher (Table 5). This finding provides evidence for the importance of advising satisfaction for students’ first-year retention—as most first-year students on this specific campus receive advising from college/staff advisers, the observed relationship between satisfaction with college/staff advisers and students’ retention resonates with the advising structure on this campus. In this model, grade-point average and enrollment in first-year seminars are positively predictive of students’ retention. Further, first-generation students reported lower retention, and the number of W grades students received is also negatively associated with students’ retention from year one to year two.

Table 5: Logistic Regression Analysis Predicting First-Year Students’ Retention
Predictor B SE Wald’s χ2 eβ (odds ratio)
Faculty Satisfaction .05 .18 .08 1.05
Peer Satisfaction .04 .18 .04 1.04
College Staff Satisfaction .40* .20 4.00 1.48
Department Staff Satisfaction -.24 .22 1.20 .79
Female -.55 .31 3.20 .58
Students of Color .69 .42 2.74 1.99
First Generation -.95** .29 10.82 .39
GPA 1.12*** .31 13.16 3.06
D Count .53 .43 1.53 1.69
F Count -.28 .38 .56 .75
W Count -.64* .31 4.30 .53
Lives in Residence Halls -.51 .40 1.64 .60
First-Year Seminars .80* .32 6.37 2.23
Academic Engagement .09 .13 .46 1.09
Campus Climate -.20 .14 2.05 .82
Constant -.63 1.30 .24 .53

Note: R2 = .05 (Cox & Snell), .16 (Nagelkerke). * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001

Discussion and Limitations

This study suggests that advising satisfaction is important in enhancing students’ sense of belonging and retention. Specifically, satisfaction with faculty, peer, college/staff, and departmental advisers is positively predictive of students’ sense of belonging when controlling for additional factors. Additionally, satisfaction with college/staff advisers is positively predictive of students’ retention. Clearly, academic advising is an important component of first-year students’ transitions to campus. This study suggests that, when students are more satisfied with their advisers, they tend to benefit from enhanced integration and retention. This study provides further evidence to substantiate the importance of academic advising on college and university campuses.

An inherent challenge to any study exploring advising satisfaction is that satisfaction is inherently subjective; in other words, students may be dissatisfied with advising for a variety of untenable reasons specific to the students’ individual situation (e.g. personality, poor advice, lack of access, etc.). This study did not take into account the wide variety of factors that contribute to students’ satisfaction with academic advising; therefore, it is recommended that advisers seek to discover measures that contribute to students’ advising satisfaction that are unique on their own campuses.

Furthermore, this study is limited by institutional context—a large, public research university. Due to the institutional context, the advising models employed on this campus may not be generalizable to other campuses; for example, small, private liberal arts colleges may have predominantly faculty advising models and students may evaluate their satisfaction differently based on those campus-specific models. Finally, survey research is sometimes limited by factors including non-response bias. In this study, the respondents were relatively similar to the institutional population, with the exception that more females proportionately responded to the survey as existed in the population.


In conclusion, this study provides evidence for the importance of students’ satisfaction with advising in relation to their integration and retention. While students’ satisfaction with advising is composed of numerous factors not explored in this study, it is recommended that future studies seek evidence for the elements of satisfaction that matter most for students’ integration and retention. Suggested areas of inquiry include students’ perceptions of their advisers as mentors and teachers, the frequency and duration of advising contacts, and the connections that advisers help students to build in campus. Finally, advisers should consider developing detailed assessments of advising satisfaction on their own campuses. In learning which areas of the advising experience matter most in students’ satisfaction with advising, advisers will be better positioned to enhance those areas of practice for the benefit of students.


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About the Author(s)

Krista M. Soria, University of Minnesota

Krista M. Soria is an analyst for the University of Minnesota’s Office of Institutional Research in Minneapolis, MN. She is also pursuing a Ph.D. in the Educational Policy and Administration program at the University of Minnesota. She can be reached at

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