Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Advising Handoff

To get a sense of the stuff that drives administrators crazy, see if you can spot the hole in the three decision rules:

1. Students need academic advisors from day one.

2. Students' academic advisors should be faculty in their chosen majors.

3. Students shouldn't have to change advisors.

If you guessed "but students don't always know what they want to major in," you win! (I'd also give credit to "but students change their majors all the time!")

Over the past couple of years, I've heard plenty of complaints about academic advisement. I had thought -- incorrectly, as it turned out -- that the major student complaint would be advisors who didn't know their programs, and/or who gave incorrect information about degree requirements. In fact, the primary student complaint was having to change advisors upon choosing a major.

Who knew?

The students drew a distinction between the advisor and the advice.

I had made the mistake of thinking of advisors the way I thought of them when I was a student: someone who could clarify rules if I needed it, but who was otherwise useless.

The students, by contrast, see the advisors as something closer to sherpas, helping them climb the mountain. They form a bond of trust, even if a relatively light one, and any time the advisor is changed the bond is broken. Given how tenuous the connection between the student and the college can be, especially in the early going, that light bond can mean a great deal.

It would be easy to square the circle by stipulating that every advisor would be an expert in every program, but that's just not gonna happen. Given some degree of specialization, it's pretty much inevitable that the first-guess assignments will include some mismatches. But to many students, the cure is worse than the disease.

Shows ya what I know.

Wise and worldly readers, I assume that many of you have dealt with this too. Have you seen a relatively seamless way to execute the advising handoff?