The Tools of Academic Advisors and Superheroes

Author: Matthew Hibdon

Holy registration issues, Batman!  No matter how proactive advisors are, difficult situations will arise when registration is blocked completely or otherwise hindered.  Students may find themselves stuck like cats that are unable to climb down from a tree alone.  Who can help them?  Is there a superhero armed with a utility belt who can free them from the snare?  It is not likely that a masked crusader will sprint to the rescue, but at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), advisors like me are equipped with our own utility belts.  Here are four everyday situations in which advisors must have the right balance of relationships and technology in their utility belts to save the day:

“Help, my class got cancelled!”

By using historical data to analyze enrollment patterns and set academic success markers, advisors and departments can help students plan to take the right classes each term. When a class does not meet the minimum registration numbers, it is in danger of being cancelled due to low enrollment.  If departments have accurate enrollment projections, they can better plan when to offer classes and see when more faculty and/or class sections are needed.  In the MTSU College of Liberal Arts, where I advise, our departments stay in regular communication with the advising staff to ensure there are enough seats in classes for students.  When we make sure that students are properly advised on when to take each class within their chosen curriculum, we can help departments create enrollment projections so students can graduate on time.

“Help, I cannot remember what classes I was told to take!”

Sharing information between departments makes it easier to get students the answers they need.  With more than 140 academic programs at MTSU, students have many options for their minor(s) or even a double major.  Our students have both professional and faculty advisors to help them navigate the extensive course catalog.  With so many different people to help, the ability to share appointment notes and advising files allows us to be more efficient when assisting students.  If one of my English majors has a Mass Communication minor, I can refer him/her to one of my counterparts in the College of Media and Entertainment and easily see the advising report afterward in EAB’s SSC Campus platform.  Thanks to common note-taking procedures and this software, I can assist students without having to send them across campus or make multiple phone calls trying to track down a solution for an issue that no longer exists.

“Help, I received a registration error!”

While most registration errors are self-explanatory (i.e.- “Prerequisite Required,” “Must Be a Junior or Senior,” “Permission of Department Required”), students often need assistance getting these issues resolved.  This is one of the biggest crossover areas between people and technology on our campus.  Some registration situations are time sensitive, and advisors can truly look like superheroes to students if we can save the day.  Knowing which person in which campus department to call can save students time and money.  In the College of Liberal Arts, each professional advisor is specialized in certain academic majors with the college.  Therefore, we are afforded the opportunity to work more closely with our assigned departments and be more familiar with their procedures and academic requirements.  This expert knowledge allows us to teach students and other advisors the correct questions to ask when seeking solutions.

“Help, I need to drop my class(es)!”

Thanks to the academic alert system we have in place, faculty, students, and advisors can have conversations about class performance early in a semester.  If the issue is academic, we can connect students with campus resources like tutoring or the University Writing Center, in enough time to salvage the rest of the semester.  But sometimes students need to drop a class due to major life events, health issues, or because they need to balance their academic load with outside commitments like work or family.  When advisees need to change their schedules after a term begins, it is my duty to inform them of any foreseeable consequences of this action.   I need to help them plan for repeating the course, explain how dropping will affect their overall academic progress, and refer them to the MT One Stop for financial aid assistance.  If a student must completely withdraw from the University, I need to connect him/her with our Withdrawal Coordinator to discuss their withdrawal options and his/her admissions counselor to discuss a plan for re-enrolling when the time is right.


Matthew Hibdon is an academic advisor in the College of Liberal Arts at Middle Tennessee State University. Follow him on LinkedIn.   

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