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NSSE Survey Addresses Crucial Elements of Undergraduate Advising

Advisors who actively listen, respect identity and culture, and care about students’ well-being are essential for first-year and fourth-year undergraduates.

That’s the key findings from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which conducts annual surveys around the undergraduate experience and produce data that helps colleges and universities improve student learning and success. This year, NSSE addressed key elements of undergraduate advising: listening, respecting and caring (the LRCs).

Dr. Jillian KinzieDr. Jillian Kinzie

The survey focused on first-year students transitioning into college and fourth-year students preparing to leave college and enter the next phase of their lives. NSSE sent the survey to 201 institutions. 42,287 first year-students and 50,957 seniors answered questions about their interactions with academic advisors and how those interactions or lack of interactions impacted their overall college experience.

“Advising is one of those key practices related to student success,” said Dr. Jillian Kinzie, a senior scholar at Indiana University School of Education which houses NSSE. “It requires a lot of interpersonal sensitivity.”

The questions asked included how many times a student met with an academic advisor, a success or academic coach, a peer advisor or mentor or a faculty member not specifically assigned to the student. They were also asked if academic advisors were available when needed, and if they provided prompt and accurate information. Another question asked how often academic advisors addressed a student’s academic goals and future plans.

The data, which included questions on race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, was collected in the spring, with some responding before and after the COVID-19 pandemic hit college campuses. Kinzie noted that regardless of whether these advising services are provided in person or remotely, they remain of the utmost importance.

“We intended to study advising, but it seems even more important given a lot of questions being raised about the delivery of services and broader student success concerns about what the pandemic has created for students in terms of uncertainty about the value of college and how they’re going to get the resources they need to be successful,” said Kinzie.

Due to COVID-19, advising is currently being delivered in different ways, Kinzie said. Some institutions have adapted quite effectively with advisors online and increased outreach, but other institutions are struggling because they did not have technology in place that enabled advisors to access student records.

The report noted that the LRCs are essential qualities. Four out of five students had advisors who respected their identity and culture very much or quite a bit, which was on the upper end of the rating scale. Kinzie said it still leaves way too many students whose needs are not being met.

“If 82% of first-year students and 78% of seniors indicate very much or quite a bit, that’s not bad, but I don’t know if I’m willing to accept that even 20% of students don’t have that,” said Kinzie. “Students should expect an advisor to be at the high end of listening, caring and respecting.”

Terri CarrollTerri Carroll

Using the 60-point Advising LRC scale, the differences among students by racial/ethnic identity were generally small. Among first-year students, White students had the highest Advising LRC score and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander had the lowest. Among fourth-year students, overall scores were slightly lower. Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander were the highest and Middle Eastern or North Africans were lowest.

The report suggests these differences may be evidence that some students feel their culture and identity are not respected. Further investigation is suggested so that institutions can meet the needs of a diverse student body.

“Advising takes on even greater importance when we’re talking about making sure that students don’t spend additional time in college, that they move expeditiously through their program and that they are prepared once they are finished with their degrees to move onto the next phase,” said Kinzie.

As noted in the NSSE report, good advising is an important part of retention. The NSSE data shows first-year students who intend to return noted greater amounts of LRC than those who responded “not sure” or “no” (do not intend to return). Kinzie said students and advisors need to have a relationship, and good, prompt information is being delivered to the students. The data also shows advisors help students feel a sense of belonging at an institution.

“If students can’t identify who they would go to and that this person provides timely and accurate information, that’s a problem and it’s going to get in the way of their success and getting the most out of their college experience,” said Kinzie.

University of North Georgia (UNG) has tried to elevate the quality of advising with its Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), for which data from NSSE’s Academic Advising Topical Module played a role. It helped guide the development and monitor overall progress.

“It was looking like the students didn’t feel the advisors were reliable or weren’t giving a lot of support,” said Terri Carroll, executive director, academic advising, UNG. “That was one of the data points we used when we were researching how to change to change our organizational model under our QEP.”

UNG used internal data to examine how many times students changed majors and how many credits they amassed by graduation. Students are now informed about special opportunities, like internships and study abroad.

Kinzie hopes institutions will use some of the touch points of this survey to examine advising and student specifics. Institutions that have questions can look to NSSE results for things to be aware of on their campuses and then access their own data to test some of these ideas.

“We had a lot of internal data as well, and we used all those data points to inform and make an overall change to our advising organizational model,” said Carroll, who noted that they have seen the positive impact of those changes.

NSSE will be holding a free interactive webinar titled, “The LRCs of Academic Advising” at 2 pm Eastern time on Tuesday, January 12, 2021. Individuals can register here.

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