The Senior Leadership Team has proposed moving the university to a central advising system. The shift in academic advising would move advisers out of departments into a central location on campus where all students would go for academic scheduling and student support services. However, the proposal has been met with some resistance by faculty members across campus.
Dr. Susan Lewis, vice provost of the university, said the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) introduced the initiative as an effort to provide a more consistent advising experience across campus and improve student retention rates. Last week, members of the Faculty Senate issued a resolution expressing concerns they saw with the change.
The SLT hopes to see the new system implemented in the fall of the 2016 academic year.
“Many of our students are being served well right now, but the experience they have is inconsistent across campus,” said Lewis. “We have done a lot of things to improve retention, but this is the next thing that we are trying. We’re bringing in good students, but they just aren’t retaining at the rate they should be.”
Lewis said frustrations with inconsistent advising have contributed to a lower retention rate and the SLT hopes a central location for all students would provide a better experience across campus. If implemented, Lewis said about 12 full-time advisers will be located at a central location and all students would go to that space for their advising.
“I think the model we have where advisers report to the department makes it difficult to communicate well with all advisers at a university level because advising is so dispersed across campus,” Lewis said.
Dr. Phil Schubert, president of the university, said everyone involved in the discussion agrees that, overall, any changes made should benefit students and be focused on their success.
“These are big changes being made in the realm of benefitting students and I think that is something we are all clear on and in support of,” Schubert said. “As we consider changes and enhancements that ultimately benefit students and cause them to be successful in all their pursuits, those are the things we want to focus on.”
Working under a center manager, advisers at the center would be in close contact with faculty in the set of majors assigned to them. Departments would create plans for advisers at the center based on patterns that have emerged in departments over time. In an effort to retain the nuances each department-specific adviser provides, tracks students often take through the catalog will be provided to advisers at the center.
“One thing I’ve asked deans to ask their department to do is to create a plan that outlines what is important about mentoring their students,” Lewis said. “At a time when things are changing, people fear loss, and one way to guard against loss is to write down what you value to create a plan.”
As members of the Senior Leadership Team have continued to work on the proposal, the Faculty Senate has voiced a few concerns surrounding the potential new system.
Dr. Phil Vardiman, chair of the Faculty Senate and associate professor of management sciences, said the senate supports what the SLT is trying to do to improve retention, but members want a few things to be clarified.
In the resolution, the senate asked for the central advising system to be studied more and perhaps delayed in its implementation. They also requested advising remain in the academic arena.
“We just want to make sure we understand all the parts of what that means, that the right people are being connected and that we are making a good decision,” Vardiman said.
Vardiman and the rest of the senate were mainly concerned with making sure students get the best advising possible.
“In many areas of our campus, as faculty, we think we have outstanding advising,” Vardiman said. “We recognize that that may not be true, or that there may be some areas that can improve but we want to see who all does it impact and especially how it impacts not only our staff but our students.”
A key factor in the faculty’s resolution was the relationships they see between students and advisers within respective colleges and departments.
“We value relationships we know exist between current advisers and students,” Vardiman said. “We don’t want to see those relationships lessened or hindered in any way. We also understand relationship between faculty and students will continue, but it’s a key piece and we’d like to understand that better.”
Vardiman also recognized that the SLT isn’t just making decisions in the dark, but relying on data from other universities supporting the notion that central advising could improve retention.
“As faculty representatives, we aren’t trying to prevent change,” Vardiman said. “Valid questions are being studied and addressed, but it just seems to be happening pretty quick. Our proposal was about studying it more and maybe delaying the decision.”
Members of departments that believe they are doing advising well have expressed concerns at such a big change to the system, but Lewis said she doesn’t anticipate relationships between faculty and students will change significantly.
“There should be more time for faculty-student interaction about research, career plans, life, spiritual walk, because you don’t have to think about what class you need to register for and in what order,” Lewis said.
The SLT plans for the center to be an intentional connection point for all student support services on campus. Parallel to the Depot, the center would bring together a lot of different areas of campus. Not only would the center provide academic scheduling services, but it would connect students to support services they need such as the Writing Center, the Speaking Center, and even student life services.
“The advising center would be an intentional connection point for departments and advisers implementing those department’s plans, as well as all support services on campus to more easily connect students with those services they need,” Lewis said.
If the new system begins in the fall, all students will be pulled into the system, which could mean a change in advisers for some students. All full-time advisers and degree plan specialists will be offered a spot at the new center, but not enough people on campus work solely in those positions.
The SLT plans to hire additional advisers for remaining open spots at the center.
“If a full-time adviser chooses to go to the center, students will more than likely have their same adviser,” Lewis said. “I can’t say that 100 percent, but it seems logical to me. We’ve asked, ‘Do we pull fourth-year students into the system?’, but I don’t think there is a good way to maintain two systems, I think one would suffer.”
After hearing from the senate, the senior administration and leadership team responsible for the proposal said they were glad to hear the faculty’s concerns.
“All of us on the administrative team are thankful the Faculty Senate took time to express some of their thoughts on the issue,” said Schubert. “I think it’s always constructive to open dialog.”
Since receiving the proposal, Schubert and Dr. Robert Rhodes, provost, have met with several senate representatives and proposal leaders to discuss the questions and concerns laid out in the resolution. Discussions about what the schedule and potential changes could look like for central advising on campus are on-going.
“What’s been helpful since resolution is much more information exchanged and perspective provided which has answered a lot of the questions,” Schubert said.