AAC&U News, March 2018
Facts & Figures

The Impact of Advising at Community Colleges

The more in-depth students’ experiences with advising are, the more engaged they are with their college educations. However, not all students receive advising services, and those who do say that their advising experiences were relatively short and infrequent. These findings are included in Show Me the Way: The Power of Advising in Community Colleges, a new report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin. While recognizing that advisors are now asked to do more than ever—from student orientation to assessment—the report examines data about student advising experiences and calls on colleges to intentionally structure more mandatory, intensive advising experiences throughout a student’s academic pathway.

The report includes results from three surveys—the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), which looks at “returning students” who attended their institutions longer than one term; the Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE), which examines the experiences of students just entering the college; and the Community College Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (CCFSSE), which details information about faculty advising practices.

The Prevalence of Advising at Community Colleges

  • Returning students (78 percent) were more likely than entering students (62 percent) to report seeing an advisor at least once. However, of students who did meet with an advisor, entering students (73 percent) were more likely than returning students (51 percent) to be required to meet with an advisor before registering for classes for the most recent term.
  • While 68 percent of returning students reported that their college’s advisors or instructors were their primary source of academic advising, some returning students said that their main sources were college materials like websites (11 percent) or their friends, family members, or classmates (21 percent).
  • Entering students were less likely than returning students to say advisors or instructors were their main source of advising (47 percent) and were more likely to say they got their advising from friends, family, or classmates (41 percent).
  • Just 23 percent of returning students said they had been in a class that an advisor attended to help students think about their future academic plans.
  • Returning students who met with an advisor, or even had an advisor attend their class, were more likely than students without advising to report engagement with their college in all five areas measured by CCSSE: active and collaborative learning, student effort, academic challenge, student-faculty interaction, and support for learners (see fig. 1).

Figure 1


Why Advising Content and Intensity Are Important

  • The content of advising sessions could also help students feel more engaged. Students were more likely to report engagement across all five CCSSE areas if advisors helped them create an academic plan (defined by the report as “a personalized plan with a defined sequence of courses for completing a credential or transferring to a four-year institution”) before they finished their first term; informed them about support services such as tutoring centers; explored career interests and opportunities; talked about responsibilities outside of school; and discussed a subsequent advising session.
  • Unfortunately, fewer returning students reported experiencing these more specific advising practices (see fig. 2).

Figure 2


  • Returning students report that their initial advising sessions were relatively short. Only 16 percent of students had an initial session last longer than thirty minutes, while 47 percent lasted from sixteen to thirty minutes and 31 percent lasted less than fifteen minutes.
  • Similarly, 36 percent of students met with an advisor only once, 30 percent met twice, and 34 percent met more than twice.
  • The more often a student met with an advisor, or the longer these sessions lasted, the more engaged students were (see fig. 3).

Figure 3


Did You Know?

Other kinds of advising, such as specific advising for students seeking transfer, are especially important for students at community colleges. According to CCSSE data, 50 percent “of returning students who report transfer as a goal have never used their college’s transfer advising services. Yet students who intend to transfer and use advising services are more engaged—and the more they use transfer advising services, the more engaged they are.”


Unless otherwise cited, all information and figures from this article are included with permission from the Center for Community College Student Engagement, Show Me the Way: The Power of Advising in Community Colleges (Austin, TX: The University of Texas at Austin, College of Education, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, Program in Higher Education Leadership, 2018).

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