Advising Task Force Report

Executive Summary

The University of Virginia is entrusted with the care of outstanding undergraduates, whose hopes and dreams rest with our ability to facilitate their academic, personal, and career development. While we are rightly proud of our high graduation rates, we aspire to much more than students crossing the graduation stage. Our vision, as articulated in The 2030 Plan, and as reflected in the many conversations the Advising Task Force had with faculty and staff across Grounds, is to “ensure that students receive the advising and support they need to thrive on Grounds and beyond.” (p.26, emphasis added)

The Advising Task Force was convened to closely examine advising at the University in order to understand where we are, where we aspire to be, and how we may reach our aspirations. To carry out this charge, the Task Force collected survey data; reviewed institutional data; examined practices at other institutions; and held 15 listening sessions, in which almost 200 faculty, staff, and students shared their insights (see Appendices for further information).

Through this exploration, we have learned that faculty and staff at the University care deeply about students and are committed to facilitating their success. While our current advising practices and structures do not always support the level of excellence that we aspire to, the Task Force is confident that we can rise to the occasion and work together to create an exceptional advising experience for all of our students, regardless of where they come from, what school they enter, and what major or career they wish to pursue.

Where Do We Want to Be? Excellent and Equitable Advising

Listening sessions, along with insights from other institutions, revealed four pillars of excellent and equitable advising: 

  1. Foundation: Relationship with a caring and knowledgeable advisor
    Building a relationship with an advisor who is knowledgeable and cares about students’ success and well-being is a crucial component of an effective advising experience.

  2. It takes a village: Importance of a network/team approach
    Advising is a complex process requiring the coordinated efforts of numerous individuals working within and across schools, as well as collaboration between schools and centralized units.

  3. The first year is critical, although advising remains important throughout the college journey  
    The first year serves as a foundation for the rest of the college journey. It is crucial to students’ academic, career, and personal development that they become meaningfully connected with the broad range of advising resources at UVA soon after they arrive on Grounds.

  4. Effective and efficient communication with students.
    In a large and complex system such as the University of Virginia, it is critically important that students receive timely, relevant, and accurate advising information.

Where We Are: Unrealized Potential

The core of the report focuses on key findings across the four pillars noted above. The data presented in that section speak to our strengths and identify our challenges. Overall, while we have some key elements in place, we have substantial work ahead of us to realize our potential. Many of our advising meetings focus narrowly on box checking, advising activities are often siloed and not integrated across units, and communication with students is hit-or-miss. We have vast variation in advising quality and loads and often provide limited training and support for advisors. Crucially, faculty and staff who participated in the listening sessions were aware of the discrepancy between what we aspire to and what we currently offer, and they expressed a strong desire to work toward realizing our potential. We have a wealth of internal knowledge about the challenges and opportunities ahead, which is supplemented with the review of practices at other institutions.

Where Do We Go from Here?

To realize our vision of excellent and equitable advising, the Advising Task Force makes the following recommendations (with more details provided).

Recommendation #1:    
Ensure that all pre-major students (i.e., students who have not yet declared a major) have a primary advisor whose principal responsibility is advising.  

Recommendation #2:    
Require all incoming students to participate in a first-year experience that connects them to resources and helps them to build relationships across Grounds.

Recommendation #3:    
Develop infrastructure in the Provost Office to provide centralized support for advising and to facilitate collaboration across schools and academic and student affairs units.

Recommendation #4:    
Adopt an advising software platform for use across the University.

Recommendation #5:    
Ensure that all major advisors, whether staff or faculty, are appropriately trained and that advising loads are equitably distributed. Establish policies and practices that encourage and recognize excellent advising.

Recommendation #6:    
Develop better ways of sharing information with students through both enhanced technology and engagement with peers.