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Student Advising – Key Tool for Student Retention
By Dr. Phil Baird, Vice President, Academic-Career-Tech Education

26 March 2010

BISMARCK (UTN) - As part of the college’s self-study activities, United Tribes faculty members recently asked themselves how much time they contribute toward advising students.

      The advising role is considered critical to student retention and success at tribal colleges and universities (TCUs). But we have a challenge in this area. While mainstream institutions have separate student advising departments, many TCUs lack adequate resources to provide this service in the holistic fashion needed by Native students.

      UTTC promotes student advising among its employees with the motto: “Student Success is Everyone’s Responsibility.”

      On the student services side, the Center for Student Success employs four, nine-month counselors to serve nearly 1,000 students.

      For instruction, about 50 full-time college teachers are engaged by the college annually. The “primary student advising” role falls to academic department chairs, which they combine with their full-time instructional duties. Most other faculty members acknowledge they are involved with student advising in some fashion.

      During the faculty’s All Hands Conversations session held in early March, campus-based instructors responded to a survey about student advising. They were asked about how much time they spend advising students, where the advising takes place (during and/or outside of class), and to list the top four issues students come to them with.

      According to department chairs, they devoted at least one-fourth of their professional time advising students. Six departments with larger enrollments indicated advising time ranged from 36-50%. Among all respondents, the average time expended toward advising was 26.64%.

      Forty-four percent of all responding faculty indicated advising activities were done outside of class time; 56% said they did advising during and after classes.

      General education instructors, who traditionally do not have a primary advising role, said 35% of their time was spent with some type of student advising, mostly outside of classes. The survey also revealed that advising takes place in the library, where an average of 25% of staff time is used on advising activities.

      What did faculty advise students about? The survey asked respondents to identify the top four areas of concentration:

      96% - Student academic performance
      76% - Absenteeism/Early Alert
      68% - Mitigation of Personal/Social/Economic issues
      68% - Degree planning

      The information offers a sense of how much time and what kinds of student needs are being served by faculty in advising roles. Not addressed by this survey, but certainly important, is the quality and effectiveness of the advising.

      At present, the primary measure of institutional effectiveness is student retention. Semester by semester, the college achieves about an 80-85% retention rate. When retention is defined as the Fall-to-Fall semester student cohort, the rate decreases almost by half. The lack of college preparedness and personal economic issues are two variables that have a major impact on the cohort measure.

      The new data we have about advising is important information to consider as we continue to address student advising and the role it plays in student retention.