Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Advising and Registration

This one is a little detail-y for civilians, but higher ed folks will get it.

Every semester, we have an advising period for continuing students.  Students are supposed to see their assigned academic advisors before choosing their classes.  The advisors have the PIN numbers for the students to register online; the idea is that the students have to contact the advisor to get the PIN.  (It gets more complicated than that, but you get the idea.)  The “nudge” is supposed to get the students to bother to show up, on the theory that students who have contact with advisors are likelier to make good decisions -- and therefore to stay on track academically -- than are students who are left to their own devices.

Advisors can be full-time faculty, adjunct faculty on additional contracts, or full-time staff advisors.  (Adjuncts are not required to advise; those who do it get paid extra for it at a rate agreed to with their union.)  Every full-time student is assigned an advisor.

In practice, I’m told almost unanimously, advising sessions are scheduling sessions.  Students will show up with a list of the classes they want and ask the advisor to put them in.  Frequently, most of the session consists of negotiations over available timeslots.  (“I have to be out by 1:00, and I don’t want any gaps.”)  This strikes me as a wasteful use of faculty and staff time.

So this semester, we’re trying something new.  And I’m curious to hear from my wise and worldly readers about whether they’ve seen or done something similar.

Over the past few years, we’ve tried asking advisors to focus more on “big picture” issues than on finding open seats in desirable timeslots, but the gravitational pull of registration has just been too powerful.  So this year, we split the advising period and the registration period.  This semester, for the first time, the advising period ends before registration begins.  The idea is to force, by default, the discussions away from “is there anything at 9:00?” and towards “where do you want to go from here?” and “is this the right program for you?”

Students will still get their PINs from their advisors, but the PINs won’t be effective for a few weeks.  The incentive to show up is still there, but the incentive to spend the advising session playing “find the open seat” is gone.

My guess -- and we’ve only just begun, so there’s no way of knowing yet -- is that after the initial awkwardness of any new system, we’ll see a bifurcation.  Some meetings will be brief and perfunctory, but others will take advantage of the new opportunity to focus on larger issues and actually focus on larger issues.  I’d much rather have faculty use their knowledge of their field -- and of academe generally -- to help students figure out the larger issues of what they want to be when they graduate, and how they want to get there.  A student who knows why she’s doing what she’s doing will be much likelier to stick with it.  And she can find her own open seat.

Wise and worldly readers, have you seen or worked with a system like this?  Is there anything we should know to expect?