Examining effective advising and assessment : the academic advising environment, current practices and experiences at UT Austin



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Effective academic advising may be perceived or experienced differently depending on a person’s involvement (student, advisor, or administrator). In addition, a person’s understanding and description of effective advising depends on how it is identified (process, outcome, or approach) or the context in which it is encountered. Results from multiple studies of the relevant literature have demonstrated how the quality of advising influences students in regard to retention, academic and social integration, decision-making processes in selecting academic programs and careers, overall student satisfaction, and success (Banta et al., 2002; Cuseo, 2004, Hunter & White, 2004). However, research on effective advising and the assessment of advising has received very little attention in the literature. Although awareness of the importance of institutional assessment has increased, assessment of academic advising today is – if conducted at all – is piecemeal and consists of simple student satisfaction surveys that may be neither adequate of useful. Even when assessment measures are conducted, advising units are often inept at utilizing the results to create positive change within their programs. Understanding effective advising requires a closer look at the participants, the advising programs, and the assessment practices of programs along with exploring student learning outcomes.

The overarching area of inquiry in the research study is: What is effective advising (how is it manifested and in what ways is it measured at the University)? Within this context, the goals for this study were to uncover the following: how academic advising is administered and supported across a specific institution; how perceptions about advising differ among system participants; what valued characteristics are found among effective advisors and advising programs; what assessment of academic advising looks like at the institution; what advisors and advising programs do to contribute to quality and improvement.

To achieve these objectives, the study utilized a multi-faceted case study of undergraduate academic advising and the participants within a large public research institution which contained several academic advising centers. Understanding effective advising and the advising system required a comprehensive and multi-dimensional approach that involved the collection and analysis of many different forms of data from a variety of sources and over an extended period of time. A mixed methods, action-research design utilized the collection and review of numerous assessment and advising documents, descriptive and quantitative SPSS analysis of several longitudinal data sets yielded from electronic survey systems of seven colleges, numerous original interviews and focus groups with students, staff, and administrators, and a year’s worth of detailed field observations (journals and critical reflection) of the advising process and the advising system.