Peer Review, Winter 2008

Current Issue


Academic Advising

This issue addresses the role of academic advising in undergraduate education with a special focus on general education goals and the documentation of the achievement of student learning outcomes.

Table of Contents

In the spring 2006 Liberal Education article “Teachable Moments: Advising as Liberal Education,” Ned Scott Laff wrote that “advising can help students realize how their contextual and critical thinking continually helps them examine and be sensitive to new contexts that challenge their ways of understanding.” Further, he states, “in order to help students better understand the nature of liberal learning and how it informs their overall undergraduate experiences, advising must be reconceived as a liberal learning experience in itself.”


In her article “Losing Sleep over Student SUCCESS?” in the spring 2006 issue of The Presidency, France A. Cordova, then chancellor of the University of California–Riverside and now president of Purdue University, stresses the importance of student success and achievement to all higher education stakeholders—parents, students, educators, as well as the public at large. She also acknowledges the challenges inherent in supporting a concept that is sometimes difficult to articulate.

Academic advisers can play a special role in students’ lives, as they are in positions to brainstorm possible futures with their advisees and map out paths to get there. In partnership with other faculty and staff, they can use this opportunity to promote students’ self-authorship, the capacity to internally generate beliefs, values, identity, and social relations (Baxter Magolda 2001; Kegan 1994).


Visit any campus in the United States and ask undergraduates what they are unhappy about, and you are likely to get the same three answers: parking, dining hall food, and advising. Academic advisers across the country have to wonder how their dedication to learning and hard work on behalf of students results in being on this auspicious list. In 2002, this was the case at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh, and the chancellor and provost decided it was time to do something about the state of advising—both structurally and culturally.

Western Oregon University is a public, four year, comprehensive, liberal arts university that is grounded in student access and success. Our incoming students are 51 percent first generation and 8 percent Latino/a. Located in the Willamette Valley, the university strives to help students attain a college education and change their lives.

In Making the Most of College (2001), Richard Light concludes that good advising may be the single most underestimated characteristic of a successful college experience. For many students, academic advising provides the only out-of-class contact they have with a faculty or member of the professional staff. Unfortunately, many college students express disappointment in the quality of advising that they receive. It is not surprising, therefore, that academic advising, along with parking, commonly receives among the lowest ratings on student satisfaction surveys.

At the College of the Holy Cross, as at many other schools, all students are advised by full-time members of the faculty. This is as it should be. Good advising is about what good faculty do best—engaging students in the life of the mind, supporting their intellectual development and raising questions that help them think critically and reflectively. It is about ensuring that they meet requirements, but also about enlightening them to the ways that a liberal education can be liberating. But advising at Holy Cross is not the purview of the faculty alone. This too is how it should be.

Under the leadership of provost Johnnella Butler in fall 2005, the faculty began to examine and reenvision the liberal arts mission of Spelman College. With the support from a 2006 Mellon Foundation Grant “Rethinking and Refocusing the General Education Curriculum,” the faculty began transforming our general education curriculum to an interdisciplinary, connected experience in liberal education. Included in this reenvisioning was an examination of our current advising program.

Reality Check

Last summer I took five days to travel to Dolly Sods, a wilderness area in the Allegheny National Forest, with one of my institution’s sixteen summer excursions designed to introduce first-year students to institutional expectations, campus culture, study skills, other students, and themselves. Doing without cell phones—let alone restroom facilities—was a real challenge for these twenty soon-to-be freshmen on my Adventure West Virginia backpacking trip. But they not only managed, they came out of the woods stronger people and more serious about their education.

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