Good Advising Isn't Always FunKaren Southall Watts | Contract Trainer, Pacific Community Resources Self-Employment Program
There’s been a bit of “mission creep” over the years in the world of higher education advising. There was a time when admissions advisers, program advisers, and even instructors actually gave…advice. Over the years, as a very hands-on instructor and in my capacity as a tutor I’ve heard a lot of stories that illustrate the holes in higher education advising. It’s not that there aren’t some good advising departments around the country, but as we re-examine our entire education system we must also look at how advising is serving and sometimes failing our students. Failure to ask tough questions in the beginning leads to more wasted time and tuition and feelings of failure later.
In the new educational climate (see the many articles on students vs. customers) many advisers sound more like sales staff than educators. True, it is important to fill those seats every semester. However, are we setting students up for eventual failure when we focus on enrollment numbers and not the individual needs of students? Faculty members, including the legions of adjuncts, are frequently disconnected from other essential school programs like developmental education, disabilities services, and advising. Often instructors don’t have the time (or sometimes the inclination) to ask students probative questions before dispensing a quick recommendation. Enrollment and course selection end up as isolated events instead of acting as the beginning of a broader educational process. The lack of robust advising and orientation programs means that schools share some of the blame for low completion rates, poor performance and dismal post graduation job prospects. We know better; why don’t we say so?
Here’s a typical situation I’ve seen repeated over and over again. A returning student, who has been out of the educational system for years and feels anxious about this, and who has heavy family and job responsibilities, is encouraged to take a full course load in their first term back. What are the chances this student will succeed? Advisers and instructors know there are only 24 hours in a day. When a student tells us that they are already drowning in work and parenting duties why do we encourage them to pile on classes? Are we afraid to suggest a more realistic approach?
Another all too common issue is the selection of a program or course of study. Nursing might be a “hot” career field, but is it really appropriate for the student sitting across the desk from you now? Instead of churning out graduates with less than marketable degrees, we should be challenging students up-front about their plans for that psychology or sociology degree. We need to be asking students at the beginning of their college careers how they plan to pay for their education and if they have a career plan. In today’s economy we also need to ask if they have a Plan B. Sometimes that job in a chosen field doesn’t materialize for months or years. How will they survive, pay back student loans or refocus their job search?
When a student pays tuition they are paying for more than access to a textbook and instructor. They are here, in our institutions, to benefit from the whole range of knowledge we can give. Advising students in higher education should not be a series of unrelated appointments to fill out forms. Good advising is a process that should lead to increasingly prepared students and wiser decisions. And it will not always be fun. In fact, solid advising, like other like other teachable moments may be uncomfortable. Learning the realities of time management and career planning can be just as tough as mastering the 15 page paper or study skills for math exams. As educators we must make sure we are guiding students along the road to conquering all of these, even when it means asking the hard questions.
Author Perspective: Educator