Integrative Theory of Academic Advising: A Proposition

Matthew Church, University of Louisville

Recent scholarship has proposed several theoretical approaches toward academic advising, and there is a lack of consensus on which is the most useful version. The detrimental manifestation of this occurrence is the possible theoretical schism that could arise in academic advising communities. Many disciplines in the academic realm are split along theoretical lines and hampered by the need to legitimize and promote one's particular theoretical approach. The pursuit of academic advising is and always should be focused on aiding the student and the institution, first and foremost, and all subsequent theoretical formations should be aligned along this aim. This is not to say that the previously purported theories are negligible but to propose that there is a need to formulate a theory of academic advising more focused on the traditional aims of advising. The purpose of this article is to evaluate five main theoretical strains of academic advising theory and to identify their positive and negative contributions to the larger field of academic advising. Upon the presentation and completion of this evaluation, a rationale for a proposed integrative theory will be provided.

For purposes of evaluation and comparison, the theories to be discussed are prescriptive, engagement model, academically centered, developmental, and student-centered. The gauge for the viability of the differing theories and approaches discussed in this article will be composed of a dual litmus. The obvious measure is the benefit to the student/advisee and the institution. The second gauge will be the NACADA Core Values Statement, which lists academic advisers' various responsibilities that should be incorporated into any viable academic advising theory. NACADA outlines six main responsibilities of academic advisers: academic advisers are responsible to the individuals they advise, to their institutions, to higher education, to their educational community, for their professional practices and themselves personally, and for involving others when appropriate in the advising process (NACADA, 2005). The core values statement should be at the heart of all advising procedures and actions. The combination of these two evaluative measures allow for the appraisal of the theories of academic advising mentioned in the earlier text.

Prescriptive advising, the oldest and most basic approach to academic advising, is characterized by a hierarchical relationship, top-down approach, one-directional flow of information, and the student as a passive recipient (Lowenstein, 1999). While prescriptive advising can form a component of the academic advising process, this method eliminates student choice and involvement. If the student is going to simply enter an academic advising appointment and be handed an advising slip, then advisers are little better than the course catalog. The goal of academic advising is to help students along on their educational paths, and dictation does little to aid in this pursuit. While not preferable, prescriptive advising has some merit in its straightforward approach and presentation of the essentials.

The engagement model forms an antithetical approach to prescriptive advising. In the engagement model, the adviser focuses on developing a relationship with the advisee to enhance student self-sufficiency in the pursuit of a degree (Yarbrough, 2002). This approach suggests that advising should begin with a student's list of goals and aims rather than a list of the curricula and requirements. The engagement model exhibits five primary assumptions: admittance, introduction to the university catalog, sense of student academic strengths and weaknesses, exploration of degree options, and personal priorities for success (Yarbrough, 2002). Deriving from these assumptions, this model suggests four steps in engaging the student in a learning environment: identifying the assumptions articulated by the student, assisting students in clarifying these assumptions, clarifying goals, and guiding the students through the curriculum (Yarbrough, 2002). The detriments to this model are idealism and assumption. The primary assumptions of this model would work in an ideal advising situation, but unfortunately not all students will know their academic strengths and weaknesses, look at the catalog, or have clear goals upon entering higher education. The model appears to be predicated on the foresight of the student and leaves little room for advising undecided students. The model offers benefits in its focus on student goals and objectives but does not allow for the realistic advising of students (particularly undecided students) in current higher education.

Academically centered advising is another approach to advising that exhibits some merit. This model facilitates the student's ability to interact with and benefit from institutional academic programs, course sequencing, and complementary course scheduling, and aims at gaining the tools for lifelong learning (Lowenstein, 1999). This excellent model displays a requisite focus on the academic core of advising and on fostering a love of learning. The downside is that it lacks a universal applicability and its utility hinges on the academic devotion of the student.

Developmental theory is another widely accepted approach, but it focuses more on the content of academic advising than the process. The crux of developmental theory is that it focuses more on the development of the student and the formation of career goals, values, and decision-making ability. The downside to this is the assumption that all students think ahead to their careers or are in need of formulating goals and decision-making skills.

Student-centered advising is an approach to advising that aids the student in developing the skills and behaviors needed to become a learner and expands the domain of concern to include learning through the whole college experience (Melander, 2002). The main focus is on a merging of the curricular and co-curricular to allow for holistic development as a learner. While the aim of this approach is admirable, one must face the fact that many students don't want to focus on their life occupation and pursuit of learning.

Though the aforementioned approaches all have merit, none emerges as a clear-cut choice in terms of approaching advising. Therefore, this paper proposes a new academic advising approach known simply as integrative advising. The goal of integrative advising is flexibility and utility. Instead of opting for a particular approach, integrative advising employs multiple approaches to suit differing student situations and is composed of aspects of the previously mentioned approaches. Integrative advising has at its root the six responsibilities exhibited in the NACADA Core Values statement and also the four ethical traits purported by Kitchener (2000): nonmaleficence (not causing others harm), beneficence (doing good or benefiting others), autonomy (freedom of action and freedom of choice), and fidelity (faithfulness, loyalty, honesty, or trustworthiness).

Integrative theory focuses on the student and what is best for both the student and institution. Though this quality is displayed in the other theories, it forms the core of integrative theory. The theory also contains a prescriptive element in that each meeting must contain at least a statement of requirements needed and completed. One cannot remove the curricula from advising. Borrowing from the academically centered advising model, integrative theory focuses on complementary course scheduling and course sequencing as yielding a well-rounded education. The other tenets of this theory focus on reductive advising, which involves either a future career or an external pursuit identified by the student and the construction of a schedule based on these goals and interests.

Five Components of Integrative Advising Theory
  1. A core formed by NACADA's core values and Kitchener's ethical traits: beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and fidelity
  2. An element of prescriptive advising to convey the essentials of the curricula
  3. A focus on a well-rounded education
  4. Reductive advising focusing on identifying career goals or interests and arranging complementary course schedules
  5. Student approval
The last step is vital. One can employ all the theory and research for the best approach to advising, but, if the student nixes the idea, the process is a loss. The fifth step reverts back to the core values and fidelity, all of which place the onus on the adviser to satisfy the student and the institution.

This approach may not become an agreed upon theory to advising and may be jettisoned upon review, but it is the theory I use in my approach to advising. The basic goal is to help students know what they need to complete and help them to identify a plan of study that allows them to enjoy the college experience and gain a good education. Student satisfaction and enjoyment should be paramount in the advising process and that is the reason for the proposition of the integrated theory of advising. Integrative theory can be viewed as somewhat analogous to common-sense or generalist advising. The main assumption is that the adviser adheres to the core values of NACADA and focuses on three main aims of academic advising: requirements to graduate, a quality education, and student satisfaction. By utilizing integrative theory and the requisite approach embodied by this theory, academic advising can continue to benefit higher education by helping students to graduate with a degree; a well-rounded, quality education; and an enjoyable college experience.


Kitchener, K. S. (2000). Foundations of ethical practice, research, and teaching in psychology. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Lowenstein, M. (1999, November 22). An alternative to the developmental theory of advising. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal, 1(4). Retrieved April 27, 2005, from http://www.psu.ed/dus/mentor.

Melander, E. R. (2002, November 27). The meaning of “student-centered” advising: Challenges to the advising learning community. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal, 4(4). Retrieved April 27, 2005, from

NACADA. (2004). NACADA Statement of Core Values of Academic Advising. Retrieved April 19, 2005, from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website:

Yarbrough, D. (2002). The engagement model for effective academic advising with undergraduate college students and student organizations. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education, and Development, 41, 61–68.

About the Author

Matthew Church is academic adviser in the freshman/sophomore division of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Louisville. He can be reached at or 502-852-5502.

Published in The Mentor on June 15, 2005, by Penn State's Division of Undergraduate Studies
Available online at
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