Postsecondary Trending Now: Advising Transformation in the Spotlight

I’m writing from Atlanta, where I’m among about 2,000 participants in Achieving the Dream’s Annual Institute for Student Success. Among the conferees are representatives from many of the two-year institutions that recently received iPASS grants from EDUCAUSE, along with some representatives from the four-year grantee institutions.

The institutions are using the funding to support innovative new approaches to student advising by developing and integrating online systems that communicate with one another about individual students’ progress. The systems connect students to information and career resources, offer guidance toward course selection and degree planning, and can even proactively alert faculty and advisors to early warning signs that a student is encountering major challenges with specific material.

Achieving the Dream, a college network focused on institutional reform to promote greater student success, is partnering with EDUCAUSE to provide implementation support to the iPASS grantees.

iPASS leaders at this conference have been comparing notes, both in sessions and informally, on their progress so far in transforming advising through their projects.

It’s clearly the right time for EDUCAUSE to be engaging with student services, with “Student Success Technologies” as #3 of the recently released 2016 Top Ten Issues in IT. An important category within student success technologies, as a recent article in EDUCAUSE Review Online indicates, involves “tools that support advising and other student services” – precisely the kinds of tools that the iPASS grantees are implementing as a part of their transformation of advising.

And that transformation promises to have significant impact on the progress of postsecondary students toward the completion of their degrees. A new report just out from the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCSSE)  points up the significant role that effective advising plays for students who come to their college experience unprepared. The report, Expectations Meet Reality: the Underprepared Student and Community Colleges, draws on extensive data from 150 institutions to analyze the state of remedial education and the speed with which colleges and universities are changing the ways they seek to get underprepared students up to the requisite level of skill and knowledge to succeed in college courses.

The report’s general conclusion: despite considerable attention, there has not yet been broad enough change in institutions’ practices to move the needle significantly toward greater success rates for students who begin their college careers not fully prepared to do well. That said, the CCSSE report highlights some practices that definitely help where they are being used, and advising is prominent among them: “When an advisor helps a student develop an academic plan, that student is more likely to succeed. For example, SENSE and CCSSE data show that developmental education students who create academic plans are more likely to complete their developmental coursework. CCSSE data also show that students who develop an academic plan are more likely to complete gatekeeper courses.” 

All of the EDUCAUSE iPASS grantees are adopting or improving three student-facing functions, which include the degree planning indicated here as especially helpful for students who lack good preparation before arriving at college.

In its final section, the report includes a set of issues and questions for institutions to ask as they look at their own institutional data about underprepared students, to begin an attack on the yawning gap between students’ hopes and dreams and the reality of what happens all too often when they come to college underprepared.

First on the list: advising. Is every student receiving advising, during the first weeks of enrollment, that includes conversation about his or her career goals? Does the advising process continue and is it required? Is it perhaps even closely tied to coursework? The iPASS grantees are leading and demonstrating the way toward positive answers to each of those questions.

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