We value relationships but many of our advising interactions with students are transactional
While everyone – staff, faculty and students – emphasized the importance of relationships, they also noted that the practices currently in place do not always facilitate a relational style of advising. Many of the interactions in the current advising system are transactional (i.e., releasing course holds, checking requirements, signing forms). This is not to say that there are no interactions reflecting a relational advising style but only that the most common mode of engagement is transactional.
For example, the two largest undergraduate schools rely on faculty advising which is often narrowly defined to focus on course and major selection. Faculty typically meet with students for advising in 15-minute sessions once a semester. We consistently heard from faculty and students that this practice is not conducive to meaningful engagement. Students spoke clearly about this in both the listening sessions and the Spring 2021 Advising Survey, where some of the most frequently noted negative comments referred to the relational aspect of advising. One of the top concerns raised by College students noted an absence of a relationship, such as “My advisor is nice enough, but I don’t think she actually remembers who I am.” Similarly in Engineering, students lamented having no relationship with their advisors since they just “meet for 10 minutes to just talk about basic requirements.”
In student listening sessions, the Task Force probed more deeply the meaning of a relational style of advising from their perspective. What became clear is that students are not talking about a deep personal or even professional relationship that may resemble mentoring, but about a professional relationship in which one is known and engaged with. Students noted fairly simple ways in which advisors can demonstrate their personal engagement: sending a welcome email, knowing and caring about students’ interests beyond coursework, and remembering the previous conversation or email exchange. This does not mean that deeper relationships cannot form between students and advisors, and indeed students often form mentoring relationships with faculty and/or staff, which tend to be longer-term and grounded in shared experiences (whether based on courses, research, or other interests). It is only to point out that at a very basic level, successful advising relationships are those in which students feel like they matter, which begins with a simple recognition of them as persons.
Engagement with undergraduate offices is also often transactional in nature. Based on the Spring 2021 Advising Survey, “I needed to get a form signed or paperwork filled out” was the most common option selected for the primary reason students went to the Office of Undergraduate Programs in Engineering and the second most common reason students went to see an Association Dean in the College.
Faculty advisors do not always have the requisite knowledge to assist students
In addition to getting forms signed, the other primary reason students go to undergraduate offices is to get answers to questions their faculty advisors are not able to answer. Almost half of the students in the College and Engineering went to undergraduate offices for this type of assistance. “I had questions about courses and majors that my faculty advisor was unable to answer” was selected by 40% of students in the College and 45% of students in Engineering as the primary reason they went to see Association Deans (College) or Office of Undergraduate Programs (Engineering).
In the listening sessions, staff and students often raised concerns about the knowledge of faculty advisors. This concern was noted across all schools with faculty advisors. Faculty advisors themselves noted that they often lacked the necessary knowledge to provide adequate guidance, especially about University resources and requirements beyond their own programs.
A Spring 2021 Advising Survey in the two largest schools corroborates those sentiments. For example, only about 50% of students agree or strongly agree that their major advisor suggests suitable opportunities.4