Building Relationships: Approaches to Enhancing Retention and Advising

Used with permission of Dr. Viucenti H. Rivas,

Associate Dean, Academic Affairs, Educational Support

Office Of the Chancellor, CSU. An Addendum to the Report of the Retention and Advising Task Force1 by: Dr. G. Robert Standing and Dr. Lisa Gray-Shellberg

We address in this appendix some specifics of how the character and quality of relationships between students and their academic departments in general, and their faculty advisors in particular, might be strengthened. We view these relationships as essential dimensions in the retention equation. We believe that these can be enhanced and have a direct and important bearing on the quality of students' educational experiences and, consequently, on students' persistence through graduation and achievement thereafter.

Though these relationships do not readily lend themselves to policy mandate, we do address a few concerns which suggest policies which campuses may wish to adopt in order to strengthen their retention and advising programs. But these may not be nearly as significant in fostering meaningful change as would be a pervasive campuswide reconsideration of the complex relationships between students, their academic units and faculty advisors. Someday, we may be able to radically alter the contractual expectation of faculty, their workload and rewards. Until then, many of the changes which can produce an increase in retention are matters of commitment to the advising process and to enhancing the quality of relationships with students.

We will focus on two related aspects of faculty-student relationships and how these may be enhanced:

I. Interactions between students and their academic departments, schools, and colleges, and

II. The process of academic advising.

A third and essential component, that of students' responsibilities, expectations, and understanding with regard to these relationships, is discussed in the full Task Force Report, to which this document is appended.

I. Interactions Between Students and their Academic Departments, School & Colleges

  • Encouraging Student Identification With and Commitment to the Campus Community in Order to Increase Retention
    • Retention of students who can benefit from the university is influenced by the degree to which they form positive bonds and identify with their campuses and, more specifically, with faculty and staff, other students, the extended community, their academic units, and other specific elements of the university experience. Academic units and individual faculty can promote bonding in several ways, such as the following:
  • Department approaches which promote student identification and bonding:
    • Informative letters of welcome to applicants from department chairs and advisors.
    • Department meetings for majors new to the campus as part of new student orientation.
    • Conveniently located bulletin boards with photos of faculty and brief personal background and interest sketches.
    • Department/school newsletters distributed to majors and minors, including items such as
      • Recognition of student and faculty achievements;
      • Career information, including vignettes about successful alumni;
      • Academic program and policy information.
    • Promotion of and support for major-related student organizations, including interest, service, honorary, and professional.
    • Student participation and representation in department/school planning and administration.
      • Formal representation might include elected or appointed representatives on appropriate departmental and school committees.
      • Informal contacts with representatives of student organizations can be a source of valuable feedback concerning: 
        • Students' responses to the academic programs and department services;
        • Students' attitudes, values, goals and aspirations.
    • Annual career and academic information programs which could include
      • Presentations by successful alumni drawn from a diversity of fields of endeavor;
      • Representatives from business, government, and education as appropriate;
      • Representatives from the campus placement, office, Cooperative Education, Graduate School, Advising, and other programs of interest.
    • Organization and support of tutorial and other adjunct learning assistance programs directly associated with department courses and programs, particularly lower-division courses commonly known to be difficult for those with less than adequate backgrounds.
    • A clear statement of program goals and expectations defining what students can expect to achieve from the program which is distributed to and discussed with students through the advising and orientation process.
    • In complex, high-unit programs characterized by many prerequisites, provide students with advising documents which clearly outline the suggested sequence of course work.
    • An effective advising record keeping system.
  • Faculty interaction with students which promotes identification and commitment, particularly with those who are undeclared and are from underrepresented and high-risk groups.
    • Many high-risk and underrepresented groups in the campus community may not enter the university with an already well-established commitment to it, or even to higher education. They become particularly vulnerable to feelings that they don't belong, to rejection, and to the normal academic challenges
      associated with adjustment to a college way of life.
    • Office hours should be faithfully honored and scheduled to provide reasonable student access.
    • Alternative appointment times and settings should be available to students with work, commuting, or other schedule conflicts.
    • Faculty may help organize, support, promote and advise student organizations related to the major. These could include organizations specifically targeted at minority groups.
    • Faculty are strongly encouraged to invest at least a modest amount of time interacting with students outside of class in informal settings. Departments and schools may be able to identify or arrange physical facilities which encourage informal interaction.
    • Faculty should recognize that many students are intimidated by the prospect of contact with their instructors and advisors during office hours. Faculty can do much both in terms of encouraging contact and in reducing student anxiety about such contacts through faculty expression of genuine concern and accessibility.
    • An advisor might be designated to work with undeclared students who are interested in the programs of the department, school, or college.

II. The Process of Academic Advising

The development and maintenance of a highly visible, effective and well-supported academic advising program at several levels will do much to increase retention and the successful completion of students' academic programs. Though there are many models for the delivery of advising, the dedication, knowledge and support of those who provide advising is probably more important than the structure.

  • Each campus should develop a clear academic advising policy and mission statement which should include but need not be limited to
    • A delineation of the functions which may be provided through academic advising such as
      • the provision to advisees of information on policies and procedures;
        • assistance in developing and planning their educational and career objectives commensurate with their interests, preparation, and abilities and the resources and programs of the university;
        • exploration of the short- and long-range consequences of advisees' choices and alternatives
        • provision of information about services, programs, and career possibilities pertinent to students' goals and objectives.
      • A statement of desired goals of an effective advising program
      • A clear delineation of responsibility for each component of the advising program.
      • A delineation of the general responsibilities of advisors.
      • Provision for the training, development and retention of effective advisors.
      • Recognition of quality advising in retention, tenure, and promotion deliberations.
      • Specific definition of responsibility and support for the advising of undeclared students.
      • Provision for the periodic evaluation of advising.
  • Who should advise students?
    • "Academic advising is a primary responsibility of faculty and should be integrally related to the education process." 2All faculty are encouraged to stay current with basic degree requirements, academic policy, and procedures which pertain to advising. Whether or not a faculty member has a formal advising load, he or she is expected to maintain office hours and can expect to have a reasonable amount of student contact in and outside of the classroom.
    • Whether assigned as students' advisors or not, these contacts frequently provide developmental opportunities for faculty to interact with students and influence the character of students' experiences with the institution, as well as students' approaches to the learning experience, discipline and related careers. The more knowledgeable the faculty member is about advising matters, the more productive will be these opportunities. All faculty are therefore encouraged to participate in opportunities to become better informed as advisors and to assume responsibility for basic knowledge of requirements, referral sources, and other related matters.
    • Departments and divisions may choose to designate as assigned advisors those faculty who are well informed and motivated to serve in that capacity and, in particular, where highly specialized knowledge is essential to effective advising.
    • Large academic units may need to make special provision for the internal coordination and development of advising. Assigned time, commensurate with duties, shall be determined by the academic unit with the approval of the appropriate administrative officers.
  • Administration of Advising
    • Support for the coordination of advising on each campus should be provided for in the budgetary process, which at a minimum should include provision for the administrative position of campus Director of Advising.
    • Although advising and retention as functions are the responsibility of all and have a far-reaching impact on the quality of campus life, in contrast to the coordination of other student services, systemwide budgetary support is generally limited to educational equity groups only. Effective advising and retention program coordination, program development, support for department and school advising programs, and supervision require careful monitoring and leadership. Most, if not all, campuses in the system have necessarily had to reassign positions allocated for other purposes in order to provide this support. We strongly recommend that budgetary provision be made in allocations to the campuses in support of the coordination of advising and retention activities. This should include at a minimum an administrative position, clerical and student assistant support, and operating expenses.
    • Whether advising and retention are defined as the administrative responsibility of academic or student affairs, a high level of coordination and cooperation should exist between these two divisions.
    • An Advising Coordinator for each academic program and in each school or college should be designated and responsibilities defined. 
    • Coordinators may be responsible for developing and maintaining an effective and highly visible advising program.
    • They may assist in assuring that all who advise in their programs are informed and effective through annual training programs and periodic meetings.
      • Training needs can be assessed through surveys and evaluations.
      • The campus director of advising should provide leadership in defining the content of and providing training.
    • Coordinators provide for continuity in advising from year to year.
    • Committee and other assignments may be adjusted to accommodate advising where appropriate.
    • Coordinators may designate specialists where appropriate for areas such as
      • Teaching credentials;
      • Minors;
      • Pre-professional areas such as pre-medicine and pre-law;
      • Freshmen advising;
      • High-risk groups
    • Each campus should consider establishing an advising and retention council, task force or other similar entity. An activity as complex as advising and the desired outcome of a high level of retention require careful coordination and monitoring of significant components. These include, in addition to faculty advising, educational equity services, records evaluations, school relations, student learning center, articulation, placement and career planning, and any centralized advising program such as that which may be established for the advising of undeclared and probationary students.
  • Effective advising is characterized by elements such concern for both advisees' academic and personal development.
    • Ender, Winston, and Miller, 3 in their article, "Academic Advising Reconsidered," suggest seven conditions or principles essential to the process of advising as follows:
      • Academic advising is a continuous process with an accumulation of personal contacts between advisor and student--these contacts have both direction and purpose.
      • Advising must concern itself with quality-of-life issues, and the advisor has a responsibility to attend to the quality of the student's experience in college.
      • Advising is goal related. The goals should be established and owned by the student and should encompass academic, career, and personal development areas.
      • Advising requires the establishment of a caring human relationship--one in which the advisor must take primary responsibility for its initial development. (We wish to note in this regard the special need for sensitivity to cultural and ethnic diversity among students.)
      • Advisors should be models for students to emulate, specifically demonstrating behaviors that lead to self-responsibility and self-directedness.
      • Advising should seek to integrate the services and expertise of both academic and student affairs professionals.
      • Advisors should seek to utilize as many campus and community resources as possible.
  • Effective advising includes active monitoring of advisees' academic progress and status and educational goals.
    • This may include using early warning systems designed to alert advisors of potential problems and identification of high-risk students:
      • Mid-semester grades for targeted high-risk students
      • Research results which may identify significant indicators of potential attrition
      • Grade summary reports of majors
      • Self-reports on ACT or other surveys of need for assistance in areas such as study skills and career planning
      • Freshmen programs to include early, helpful, and frequent contact with advisees. "Freshmen" advisors may be designated within an academic unit.
      • Group meetings with freshmen may be effective in expanding their awareness of the university and in establishing friendships.
      • The advisor may have to actively initiate initial contact, hopefully, very early in the semester, a critical time for many students in determining whether or not they will persist more than one semester.
      • Extended orientation programs for credit provide a comprehensive introduction to the university, an approach which has been identified as an effective retention tool and should be seriously considered.
    • "Intrusive" advising where concerned faculty initiate contact with advisees for purposes such as
      • Follow up from earlier contacts in order to provide additional information, fulfill commitments, answer questions, or offer additional encouragement and support;
      • Recognition of significant achievement;
      • Support and monitoring of students who are encountering academic or, in some cases, personal problems (e.g., failure to progress in meeting requirements, precipitous GPA drops, unmet financial or employment needs).
      • It is not our intent that advisors should assume the role of a financial aid or personal counselor. But sometimes potentially successful students encounter serious problems which may severely influence their ability to succeed or continue in school. Often the difference between success and failure has been the timely intervention and concern of an advisor who may have done nothing more than refer the student to appropriate sources of assistance or who may have simply provided a listening ear or a follow-up phone call as a further expression of concern.
      • Initiating contact with students who have not been in for advising;
      • Reducing barriers which might otherwise exist and establishing rapport with high-risk students, with special concern for ethnic and cultural differences;
      • Informing advisees of special opportunities of interest such as internships, employment, educational enrichment.
    • Effective Transfer student advising includes:
      • Timely provision of accurate evaluation of transfer credit for both university and major requirements, including written confirmation of equivalency and completion of major requirements;
      • Personal advising contacts and early introduction to and assimilation into the activities of the major department.
    • "Holistic" advising designed to assist students to put their total programs and the resources of the university into perspective.
      • There is a significant dimension of advising which focuses on the advisees' understanding of and progress in meeting specific major and other graduation requirements. However, to address only these concerns without an understanding of advisees' educational and career goals and aspirations, levels of maturity, degrees of commitment to the advisor's program, and awareness of educational opportunities and services is to diminish the rich developmental potential of advising. Program planning and progress checks with advisees should be the outcome of the exploration of these developmental concerns.
      • Primary focus is on
        • Assessment of advisees' educational preparation and commitment, and potential obstacles which may hinder learning (e.g., academic deficiencies, financial problems, cultural and ethnic influences);
        • Exploration and development of advisees' educational and career awareness and goals;
        • Clarification of department and university goals and expectations; followed by program development designed to achieve both institutional and students' goals.
      • Secondary focus is on the specifics of course selection and completion of requirements. Careful attention is given to consideration of potential application of any available elective credit for
        • double majors,
        • major/minor combinations,
        • the development of transferable skills, such as computer awareness, composition, and foreign language acquisition.
      • Assessment is made of advisees' commitment to their declared majors and level of maturity and takes into consideration the likelihood that many advisees, especially first-year students, will change majors.
      • The basis for many students' selections of majors is often faulty and based on inadequate experience and awareness of self and society. Students whose advisors help them remain open to the prospect of growth and change and to academic exploration both within and beyond the major are likely to make better decisions and use the university resources more effectively.
  • Effective Advising also includes- Careful attention to consistency and accuracy in publications.
    • Publications such as the University Catalog and Class Schedule are primary resources to both advisor and advisee. Many departments provide supplemental information and planning documents. Each of these documents should be carefully monitored for clarity, consistency, and accuracy.
    • With very few exceptions, program changes between catalogs should be disallowed.
    • If changes are mandated, every effort should be made to inform those who may be affected.
    • Care should be taken to avoid introducing changes prematurely in departmental publications.
    • Students should be clearly informed of their rights in each advising publication regarding their entitlements in the election of requirements.
    • Students are provided with a basis for clearly tracking their progress in their majors.
  • Training and renewal programs for advisors.
    • Provision should be made for annual review and renewal training programs for advisors.
    • Provision for training should be made for newly assigned advisors.
    • New faculty orientations to the university could include an overview of advising concerns and general academic policies about which students most frequently inquire.
    • This should not be construed as a recommendation that new faculty be given an advising load. However, all faculty should have a general awareness of basic degree requirements and awareness of referral resources, recognizing that after class and during their office hours students may inquire about these topics.
    • A periodic advising newsletter can be a significant means of informing advisors of successful practices, problem areas, and changes.
    • Advisors can be provided with a reference manual or handbook which, if available, should be frequently updated.
  • Advising should be structured in such a way as to be an ongoing process, not relegated to a limited period of time each semester.
    • Advising appointments may be spread over an entire semester rather than held during a single day or two. By extending the advising period, faculty are more likely to have the time to explore students' goals and needs in depth.
  • Mentoring Programs.
    • Many students, particularly high-risk students, may benefit by developing associations with faculty who are willing to invest more time than would normally be the case in the advising relationship. Mentoring implies role modeling and an active commitment to someone who is receptive to the relationship and who can profit by the experience and skills of the mentor.
  • Recognition of the role of clerical staff in setting a positive tone for students, majors, or otherwise.
  • Responsibility and procedures for the maintenance of advising records is clearly specified.
    • Records may be retained by either the student, advisor or department.
    • Application of transfer credit, waivers, and substitutions are clearly documented.
    • Records are forwarded to appropriate departments when students change programs.
  • Advising is viewed as an integral dimension of the instructional program. 
    • Essential and desirable skills for growth and success in the major are defined and communicated to students.
    • Means of acquiring these skills are provided through
      • Extended orientation, workshops, written materials;
      • Mentoring;
      • Special skill development labs.
  • Contact is maintained with alumni and they are provided opportunities to serve current students through 
    • Career workshops and programs;
    • Mentoring programs;
    • Statistical and anecdotal information which may help students understand links between their programs and careers.
  • Development of computer-assisted support for advising
    • We strongly urge support for the acquisition of necessary hardware and software for the development and implementation of comprehensive degree audit programs for each campus. Highly sophisticated computer assisted advising programs have been successfully used on many campuses across the nation for several years. Such programs largely free advisors from the complexities of the more technical and clerical dimensions of advising so they may concentrate on program planning and the developmental functions of advising rather than record keeping. The CSU SIMS records management program is not designed nor intended for this purpose, as currently constituted. Few of the recommendations contained in this report would enhance the quality of advising in the CSU as much as would the development of a quality computer-assisted advising program.
  • Advising support services
    • Advisors should be well informed about and campuses should insure that students have good access to support services such as
      • Career planning services which may include computerized career planning and information programs such as "Discover" and "SIGI;"
      • Student learning centers and tutoring;
      • Counseling center;
      • Educational equity services;
      • Placement services.
    • Careful coordination of these auxiliary services with the advising program should be fostered and encouraged.
    • Representatives of key advising support services might serve on an advising and retention council or otherwise meet together periodically.
    • The effectiveness of support services can be extended by their carefully providing helpful information, insights, and feedback to academic units, and specifically to advising coordinators
  • Articulation responsibilities
    • Each campus should insure that the responsibilities for course articulation with community colleges are defined and supported through the assignment of sufficient staff to accomplish the work and keep agreements current.
    • Systemwide support for the CAN system of course articulation is strongly encouraged.
  • Retention database and evaluation
    • In order to adequately assess progress in increasing retention rates, an effective process for gathering and analyzing data pertaining to retention should be developed. Analytic data should be provided to key individuals and academic units each semester. The database and reporting system might include the following:
      • General demographic information to include address, course enrollment, GPA data, and academic standing.
      • Numbers and percentage of students returning each semester by department in both the same and in other majors, taking into account those who were scheduled to graduate.
      • Names, addresses and other demographic information of students by major who do not return the following semester, including the provision of mailing labels to facilitate follow-up.
      • Comparative retention rates and information about students in high-risk groups
  • Some Thoughts on the Process of Advising
    • "Developmental academic advising is defined as a systematic process based on a close student-advisor relationship intended to aid students in achieving educational, career, and personal goals through the utilization of the full range of institutional and community resources. It both stimulates and supports students in their quest for an enriched quality of life. Developmental advising relationships focus on identifying and accomplishing life goals, acquiring skills and attitudes that promote intellectual and personal growth, and sharing concerns for each other and for the academic community. Developmental academic advising reflects the institution's mission of total student development and is most likely to be realized when the academic affairs and student affairs divisions collaborate in its implementation."
            Roger B. Winston, Jr. et al., in Developmental Academic Advising
    • "Academic advising assists students to realize the maximum educational benefits available to them by helping them to better understand themselves and to learn to use the resources of an educational institution to meet their special educational needs and aspirations."
            David S. Crockett, Vice President, ACT
    • "The advising process should result in an understanding of the needs of the student; clear communication between the advisor and the advisee about the goals and requirements of the institution; and the best juxtaposition of student needs and institutional aims and resources."
            Lowell Walter, formerly Advising Director, SJSU
    • "If faculty see themselves, not as control agents, but as facilitators in a developmental relationship with students, then the personal dialogue which occurs during advising becomes a unique opportunity to awaken in the learner the restless drive for answers and insights."
            Lowell Walter, formerly Advising Director, SJSU

1 Faculty Involvement in Student Retention: A Report of the Task Force on Retention and Advising, Office of the Chancellor, The California State University, July 1990.

2 Advising Policy Document: Executive Memorandum 83-14, from R. S. Wilson, Pres., California State University, Chico, Nov. 14, 1983.

3Winston, R. B. Jr., Miller, T. K., Ender, S. C., and Grites, T. J. Developmental Academic Advising. Jossey-Bass, Inc., San Francisco, CA, 1984, pp. 18-21.