How Do CSU Advising Efforts Compare to National Approaches?


September 2019

Destination Integration 2 CoverEarlier this year, the CSU Student Success Network released the second report from Destination Integration, its series on academic advising. The studies by Colleen Moore, Cynthia Schrager, and Laura Jaeger explore the perspectives of students, advisors, and administrators on advising and advising reform on CSU campuses. In reviewing the authors’ findings, I am intrigued by how closely they mirror the conclusions of national studies of advising and student services, which means that the CSU is not alone in the challenges it faces in seeking to make advising a more integrated experience for students. And if the challenges are not unique to the CSU, then neither are the solutions. This blog explores this issue – the main findings from the Network’s research, how they resonate with national findings, and the kinds of actions institutions are taking.

CSU is not alone in the challenges it faces in seeking to make advising a more integrated experience for students.

Destination Integration describes an advising ecosystem in the CSU that is integral to student success but can be difficult for students to access; is fragmented at some campuses; and lacks the personalized, holistic approach that students and advisors value and believe would be most beneficial. Likewise, in a series of national surveys of advisors and administrators called Driving towards a Degree, Tyton Partners found advising to be siloed and fragmented. In its most recent report, which included 3,000 respondents across 1,100 two- and four-year institutions, it found that campuses are working to create clear lines of responsibility for student support and strengthen communication across stakeholders, just as campuses within the CSU are doing.

Destination Integration’s findings that students and advisors value in-depth, personalized, and holistic supports reflects national studies as well as professional best practices. For example, the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA)’s core pillars conceive of advising as a teaching enterprise, guided by individualized engagement that takes a developmental approach. The Center for Community College Student Engagement finds that students who have longer and more sustained interactions with advisors have higher levels of academic engagement. National studies of advising and student supports find that the best advising approaches are those that are sustained, strategic, integrated, proactive, and personalized—rather than focused on one-time engagements or registration-focused activities.

Destination Integration also finds that CSU reforms of advising tend to emphasize structural changes intended to streamline services and improve communication. Importantly, students and advisors perceive these structural reforms to be lacking unless they are bolstered by the personalized and holistic supports described above—again, reflecting national findings. Studies of leading advising reform efforts find that many institutions focus on structural change, but that in the absence of changed behaviors and norms, student experiences and outcomes are unlikely to improve.

Finally, Destination Integration finds that technology holds some promise for streamlining and personalizing advising, but that it is currently underutilized within the CSU. Here, too, the CSU experience mirrors national efforts to leverage technology. The iPASS initiative at 26 two- and four-year colleges, found that integrating technology into advisors’ daily practice is challenging and takes careful, persistent, and patient focus and strategies to succeed. Destination Integration’s finding that advisors value technology for process-focused tasks but not for more complex activities, such as major exploration, echoes studies in other states which also found that students prefer personalized advisor engagement for complex advising tasks.

The good news is that there is much happening across the country that can be instructive for the CSU system as campuses seek to improve their advising and student support structures.

The findings in Destination Integration reveal a system moving toward more integrated advising, but facing obstacles to overcome before students are able receive the holistic, personalized support that they and their advisors desire. The national studies suggest that these challenges are endemic to higher education writ large. The good news is that there is much happening across the country that can be instructive for the CSU system as campuses seek to improve their advising and student support structures. Because comparable institutions in other states are reforming advising, CSU campuses have the benefit of examining their experiences and, where appropriate, adapting their strategies to meet the needs of their own students and institutions. In fact, many of the suggestions made by CSU students in Destination Integration are already being tried by other institutions.

Take students’ concerns that advising is too registration-focused and impersonal. Such concerns are particularly difficult to address given the human- and fiscal resource-constrained environments under which most public universities function—particularly with regard to advising. It is not possible to hire the number of advisors required to have small caseloads. But personalization can come through other mechanisms. Georgia State University (GSU), for example, uses a robust data system to deploy advisors strategically. By pinpointing the types and timing of support that students need most, GSU advisors aim to reach out in a personalized manner, based on the individual needs of students, and to do so efficiently by only engaging when necessary.

Closer to home, Fresno State University is using graduate student peer mentors to provide personalized outreach to students for common process- and academically-oriented concerns, freeing advisors to address more complicated issues.

Similarly, universities in other states are reorganizing their advising structures to streamline them—and not so much to gain efficiencies but rather to create the time, space, and relationships necessary to provide teaching-focused advising. For example, Portland State University has moved to a centralized advising model. Students are assigned an advisor based on their major or career interest, and students and advisors work together from matriculation to completion. Portland State has also created new advising requirements, technology supports, and degree maps to ensure advisors are able to employ a developmental approach in working with students.

To address concerns that technology tools are not integrated into face-to-face meetings, some campuses are creating tools to help advisors use technology more effectively. The University of North Carolina Charlotte created advising “toolboxes,” or protocols that guide advisors to integrate technology into their student meetings. These protocols are outlines, not scripts. They provide a structure to help advisors leverage the data and tools at their disposal to take a teaching-oriented approach to their student engagements. They also provide guidance on how to interpret the data available to advisors via new advising technology tools.

Destination Integration lifts up concerns held by students, advisors, and administrators about advising in the CSU. In doing so, it also points to potential solutions—both inside the system and outside of it. Certainly, every campus is different, and the journey to provide students with a more integrated advising experience will vary from campus to campus. But across the country, similar stories of both challenge and improvement are being written. Learning from these stories and adapting the useful elements could be an important next step for CSU campuses.