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October 11, 2001

ADVISING: Integration of all student services is needed, national expert insists

Academic advising needs to be a lot more than checking for the necessary prerequisites and signing a student's course selection form, according to national advising expert.

The underlying assumption of the traditional model for academic advising is incorrect, those attending a Pittsburgh campus symposium last week were told. Instead, advisers need to focus on an integration of services, according to Wesley R. Habley, director of the ACT Office for the Enhancement of Educational Practices.

Habley said the traditional advising model for program and course selection is based on the assumption that a student has made a reasoned decision and is committed to a specific academic program. That assumption suggests that the primary role of the adviser is to ensure that a student progresses efficiently through a predetermined sequence of courses to earn a particular academic credential in a specified period of time.

"The underlying assumption is false!" Habley insisted. "It confuses advising with registration and effectiveness with efficiency."

ACT data indicate that 20 percent of underclass students say they are undecided or unsure about what to major in, and 10 percent change their mind between the time they apply and freshman orientation, he said.

"And while there is not national data on this category that I'm aware of, experience tells us that 65 – 85 percent of declared majors will change them at least once.

"Today's students do want a pay-out in higher education given their investment in tuition, fees and time. They want to know: How does my education fit into my life plan and my career?" he said.

On the other hand, most students exhibit career naivete, he said, relying on hearsay, misinformation, projected starting salaries and other factors not in tune with their values and life objectives.

Habley's presentation, titled "The Integration of Academic Advising and Career Life Planning," was the centerpiece of a day-long symposium that included more than 20 roundtables and presentations focusing on undergraduate advising and related student services.

Habley is a consultant and leads workshops in academic advising strategies. He is co-editor of "Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook," editor of "The Status and Future of Academic Advising" and author of "Fulfilling the Promise, Current Practices in Academic Advising."

About 165 Pitt staffers who advise undergraduates attended the Oct. 5 symposium, which was presented by the College of Arts and Sciences and the CAS Advising Center, with support from the Provost's office.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean N. John Cooper said the purpose of the symposium was "to bring together the people who translate the values and concepts that students need to structure their degree programs and to be successful academically, personally and professionally. To do that, advisers need to know our programs, to know our students and to know ourselves and what we have to offer." Pitt has more than 20 units University-wide that support undergraduate academic advising, including career planning, personal counseling, international students advising and counseling tailored to athletes, Cooper said.

According to Habley, "Academic advising is the only structured service on a campus in which all students have the opportunity for ongoing one-to-one interaction with someone at the institution who cares. In addition, academic advisers serve as the port to all other services on the campus. Advising centers are the hub of student support services. These services need to be integrated, and academic advising is at the core."

Habley pointed out that the Pitt Pathway, a conceptual model outlining an advisory framework for career-service providers that Pitt has used since 1998, shares common elements with the advising system he recommends, including self-discovery, career exploration, job experience and career-plan implementation. "The question is: How are these components integrated? A self-discovery system, for example, needs interactive guidance from advisers and must take into account value clarification issues, such as personality measures, workplace values, individual goals," he said. "You hear a student say, 'I want to be a doctor, but I need my leisure time.' 'I want to be an engineer, but I hate math.'"

Habley's advising system, a derivative of "O'Banion Paradigm" (a 1982 treatise on academic advising by Terry O'Banion), maintains that the exploration of life goals, values, interests and abilities must be done before a student can explore career goals, and both must precede selection of an educational program and particular courses and scheduling classes.

"The O'Banion model is solid, but implementing it requires sustained integration of the components," he said.

Habley's system presumes no specific organizational structure, but does presume continuous assessment and feedback in the student-adviser relationship and, especially, a strong referral component for each life, career development and academic decision.

His model includes five general categories, divided into a total of 11 "tasks." The traditional advising model "only kicks in at 'task 8: action planning,'" that is, exploring elective courses, planning course sequences, selecting courses, scheduling and evaluation after the fact.

Before that stage, Habley said, students should undergo a period of self-evaluation (defining values, interests, abilities, goals, and the relationship between life and career goals); explore the world of work (doing internships, holding student jobs, pursuing cooperative education), and define career goals (select an educational program that fits into a career and jives with life goals).

"The effectiveness of the model," Habley said, "relies on: the ability of advisers to assist with each task (the adviser needs skills, time, willingness to help); the delineation of the primary responsibility for each task (advisers or support services?), and academic/student affairs collaboration, strong programs of related support services and a responsive referral network.

"It's more important to have integration for successful advising than who's delivering the advice," Habley said.

Pitt Provost James V. Maher, who opened the symposium, also stressed the critical role of the academic adviser.

"In looking at our aspirations for our students, one thing is very clear: Students must participate in their own education," Maher said.

"But if students are asked for reflections of why they're here, they would not betray a lot of thought in their answers. They have unrealistic expectations and unclear goals. They need to think about those goals: career, professional, personal, educational. And those goals can and will change and we must accommodate that."

Maher said some information exchange among students goes on peer to peer, "but what we do to impact students when they first see an adviser is crucial. Why do they want to take such and such a class? If they think deeply about that they will be better positioned to seek opportunities and explore possibilities. Academic advisers have an immediate impact."

Maher added that surveys of employers show that a candidate's major is much less important than a capacity for critical thinking, good writing and speaking skills, computer literacy, mathematics skills and awareness of culture and diversity in the society.

"Where at Pitt does the undergraduate get these skills?" Maher asked. "Well, it's not in the major; it's in the general education requirements. Typically, GE courses are regarded as a hassle for students to get through before they can start taking courses in their major. You, as advisers, must help students see the benefit of learning these valuable skills."

–Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 34 Issue 4

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