Monday, August 12, 2013
How to Count?
Has anyone out there seen, used, or figured out a reasonably accurate way to measure the marginal impact of positions like these against each other?
It is statistical formulae. Without doing these calculations, I would go with a hunch that a academic adviser who stayed in touch with his/her students every semester would have an effect because he/she would be advising the student well and the student could see s/he was completing something which would keep the student's hope of graduation up.
Yet each of these could be good depending on the personality of the person and his/her willingness to work closely with students. A kind interested person with whom the student has a trusting relationship is always helpful to a student.
So I'd recommend that the relevant evidence is obtained from a job search -- or, rather, three job searches, and you pick the one candidate from any of the searches who clearly understands the mission of your institution and is committed to doing whatever is necessary to help students persist and graduate.
This is the academic equivalent of drafting the best player, not for position need. There are reasons to be careful with such an arrangement, but if you make clear that you *might* hire more than one person but definitely will *not* hire just to fill a position, that might add some seriousness to the search committees.
Lacking data, you can only decide based on subjective factors specific to your institution.
Data at my college support a possible FOURTH choice: We made the decision to allocate the equivalent of a permanent full-time staff position to pay for student tutors who operate in all three of the areas you mention. (It is cost effective, provides economic support and additional learning opportunities for good students, and encourages students to use all 3 of those resources.) But this makes sense for us because we have some study centers, one co-located in the library for writing courses, which you might not have.
This assumes, of course, that none of the areas have a glaring shortage. If they all have a glaring shortage, then you need a plan to hire one in each area over the next 3 to 5 years and take the "best available" approach Prof Dorn suggests to fill them.
Regarding the subjective criteria, I'll assume a CC environment. Our advisors have such a high work load that they cannot follow up every student as was suggested above, even if we had twice as many, so they do not have regular contact with students. If you have the resources to do regular intrusive advising (maybe you have the staff and system in place to identify and personally contact potential failures in the first few weeks of the semeter), then the suggestion from the first commenter would be best. The tutor and librarian can't drag a student in and force them to get help.
Looking at those three job titles, I would pick the one that has the most contact with students in relation to their overall academic career. I would say that students generally approach librarians about research topics/information for one particular project or class (though certainly this is not all that librarians do). Tutors help individual students (admittedly quite a lot of them) in specific subjects, so an argument could be made for a tutor in Math, if students are dropping out because of Math requirements.
However, in my opinion, the advisor theoretically is there to assist ALL students with their course exploration, divisional requirements, course selection, major declaration, graduation auditing, etc. In addition, depending on the nature of the position (and the individual in it, as Anonymous 8:21 notes), the academic advisor is in position to refer students to tutoring, librarians, counselors and other resources available to the student for academic success, retention and graduation purposes.
All that said, I recognize my own bias: I was an academic advisor for many years..
The problem with trying to find research-based answers is that the effect of an additional person in any position is likely to be different from the average impact of the people in existing positions. (This is the difference between what economists call "average product" and "marginal product.") It's possible that job category A has a high average impact on retention or graduation, but that an additional person in that category would have little impact. And most statistical analyses do not distinguish well between average impact and marginal impact.
Personally, I read the question a bit differently. If you're asking which position is best-suited for improving retention/graduation rates, then I think a current survey/analysis would serve you well. I'll assume here that all 3 types of positions listed currently are represented on your campus.
I would investigate which positions are most in demand by students most likely to drop out and least likely to graduate (Throwing money after students who would graduate anyway wouldn't help improve retention or graduation rates). If your college uses exit surveys, look at the results from those with minimum GPA's and drop-outs, though drop-outs may not fill out surveys. See which services these students used most often, and which least often. Also survey the current librarians, tutors and advisors to see how many students they meet with on a semester basis (if they can't give you an estimate, it'll be telling), what their students' most common issues encountered are, and what follow-up information they can provide about success rates. That may give you a college-specific answer to your question.
As a librarian at a research university, I was taken aback to see a librarian position considered in this category, but I do get the CC context. Retention and persistence of individual students depends on so many variables; career aspirations, program match, financial situation, family circumstances, romantic circumstances , before we even get to academic ability. As other posters have noted, best to know the salient reason(s) at your institution. Maybe you need a dating co-ordinator/agony aunt position. :) To be serious, as a senior manager of library, writing, learning, EAL/ESL services, I would strongly recommend analyzing these positions not in terms of their individual student contact or front line service delivery but rather for what larger scale systems or programs they could develop and coordinate. For example, teams of (lower)paid or volunteer student tutors can be very effective but not if they aren't selected, mentored and monitored by a professional with expertise in subject matter and service delivery. The professional position is still key. Bottom line, use your professional positions at their highest level and for broadest impact. And then since I am a librarian, I would also argue that connection with faculty as well as students is very important in designing/delivering programs and librarians can have an advantage over other positions in this regard for all the stereotypical yet iconic reasons. "Fort Book" is still a powerful metaphor for faculty and students alike and library engagement a strong predictor of student success. For example, see http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/aug/05/electronic-data-trail-huddersfield-loughborough-university (And whether institutions are tracking too much information would be another good discussion...)
That's a cop-out though. Let's say you've GOT 3 equally stellar people (in terms of their job responsibilities), but you can only keep one.
In this case, I would select bubble "Not enough data to answer the question".
IF the chief barrier to retention/graduation for your students is passing intro math, keep the tutor.
IF the chief barrier to retention/graduation is personal issues (like finding affordable childcare, not having reliable transportation, depression, ect.), keep the academic advisor (who, because ze is stellar, is great at matching problems with resources in the institution and community to help students succeed).
IF the chief barrier to retention/graduation is not being able to use a computer, or being able to conduct research, hire the librarian (because stellar librarians do these kind of things).
However, if you have no clue what the chief barrier for YOUR students is, hire the librarian. Because ze is best equipped to help you find that information. Or any other information you need.