Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Advising consolidation to begin next fall

Posted on March 09, 2015 in News
By Sam Hill

Starting next fall USM will be streamlining academic advising by assigning every student both a professional and faculty advisor, each playing different roles in the process.

Professional advisors will guide students through the degree progress reports, making sure general education courses, required introductory courses and prerequisites for upper-level courses are met, while faculty advisors will assist students on a purely academic level, providing insight on course-specific issues students might have.

The division of work and goals within advising is meant to make the advising process more efficient and helpful for students, aiding the administration in fixing the university’s retention problem.

According to Joseph McDonnell, the provost and vice president for academic affairs, USM loses nearly 37 percent of students between their first and second year at school.

“We’ve been looking into a new advising model for a while now,” McDonnell told the faculty senate in a meeting last Friday. “Through surveying students, we found that some were served by student success offices, some through their college and others had not been advised at all.”

Some faculty members questioned the reliance on staff to help students navigate specialized degree requirements and more complex programs and speculated on potential issues.

“I’d be concerned about the integrity of these professional advisors,” said Donald Sytsma, an associate professor of psychology. “If there’s a big push to fill seats in classrooms, how do you stay away from an ‘everything is possible’ mentality you might impart to prospective students?”

Sytsma said that he’s had students who were advised one way by student success, but that what they were told was misleading and that he suspects that convincing students to pay money for classes, even though they might not help toward a degree, has been the goal.

McDonnell explained that USM has regularly used professional advisors and that their aim has always been to move a student closer to graduating.

“They aren’t recruiters,” said McDonnell. “They aren’t talking to students they need to convince to take courses. They’re assisting students who are already here.”

McDonnell admitted that he had heard from students about poor advising situations, but said that the advising is generally successful and that poor advising needed to be dealt with on a case-by-case, one-on-one basis.

Lucille Benedict, an associate professor of chemistry, asked if, in the new system, professional advisors would now specialize in specific programs, noting that an advisors lack of knowledge in a program could lead to a student losing interest as well.

“One of my concerns is that chemistry is one of the more rigorous degrees and people have misconceptions about it,” she said. “Students might encounter an advisor that goes, I can remember my chemistry course, and that conversation usually goes south. Advising that isn’t degree specific isn’t going to help anyone.”

According to McDonnell, a select group of faculty have been working in a committee to explore what changes would have to made in order for the new advising system to work well, noting that having advisors with expertise is a point that has been discussed.

“I hope every one in the faculty and administration can agree that, in terms of addressing our retention issue, everyone needs to be building toward attracting the strongest students we can toward the university,” said Wayne Cowart, a professor of linguistics. “Giving bad, misleading advice is not in anyone’s best interest.”

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