Gripes with student advising are not only one-sided. The Temple News examines the university-wide advising system in a two-part series.
When junior Laura Barnett attempted to switch from the School of Communications and Theater to the College of Education, she quite literally found herself lost.
“It’s taken me two semesters to do,” Barnett said of the intra-university transfer.
Barnett was told her paperwork was lost through the process – an odd happenstance when a university-wide policy requiring all schools and colleges to use one electronic advising database was instated January 2006. The advising database allows any Temple advising office, from a Main Campus school or college to a global campus like Temple Rome, to see what was said or done at the last advising session.
To make matters worse, when Barnett finally was ready to see an education adviser to make the switch official, she sat through a “seven-and-a-half-[hour] meeting when they pretty much discouraged everyone from switching [majors].” The College of Education requires all intra-university transfers to attend one 30- to 40-minute group advising session to distribute a handbook and answer questions, which is offered about twice a month and during winter and spring breaks.
“I was in a room with people from all different majors,” Barnett recalled. “All of your needs are different, but I guess you go into a big university like Temple knowing there won’t be a real connection.”
At a university as large as Temple – where 23,958 full-time and 2,511 part-time undergraduates are currently enrolled – it’s easy for students to feel lost in a sea of their peers, especially when it comes to advising. Stories of lost paperwork and misdirection in advising offices float between students’ complaints that “no one told me,” as listserv e-mails and electronic newsletters serve as advising departments’ main lines of communication to their student bodies.
While the National Academic Advising Association continually recognizes Temple’s advising units – several academic advisers received awards for their work – and the innovation of the university’s advising unit as a whole, problems still exist within advising departments on Main Campus.
At certain times of the year, the waiting period for an advising appointment can be anywhere from a day to a month. Sometimes, after weeks of waiting, a student leaves the office unsatisfied, partly because a student may be confused as to how much power an adviser has – advisers cannot “green card” a student into a class or create a new section if all others are filled.
What some students don’t know is that the adviser on the other side of the desk may feel the same amount of discontent, if not more.
It was because of the wait time and scheduling conflicts – there are only two full-time advisers at the College of Education, though Associate Director and Senior Adviser Nita Guzman helps out and the college is in the process of hiring a third full-time adviser – that Barnett decided to take a sequence sheet from the advising office to try to schedule her education classes on her own. A semester later, when Barnett finally met with an adviser, she found out the requirements had changed and two of her classes could not count toward her major.
“I ended up meeting with a really good adviser,” Barnett said. “She told me I should have come back a lot sooner, and I learned it’s OK to ask for help sometimes. I mean, I’ve been at Temple for almost four years, and I’d only met with an adviser one-on-one once.”
“There’s a lot of room to demystify advising,” said Christopher Wolfgang, the director of advising at the College of Liberal Arts, “but there are some expectations and assumptions that probably get in the way of that.”
SIZE OF THE INSTITUTION
While advisers are meant to guide students both academically and developmentally, the quantity of advisers at individual schools and colleges at Temple is hindering the number of students advisers can see in a given time period and the amount of time an adviser can spend with a student during an advising session.
In 2004, NACADA recommended the student to full-time adviser ratio for universities and colleges be 300:1 – 20:1 for faculty advisers – Peter Jones, the senior vice provost of undergraduate studies, said NACADA has since loosened its standards, depending on the dynamics of the advising office and the student population.
“Three-hundred-to-one is a good rule of thumb,” Jones said, “but it’s a little more complicated than that. NACADA will tell you themselves that if you’re dealing with an undeclared population, it’s probably more intensive. If you’re dealing with freshmen and transfers, [it’s] more intensive. If you’re dealing with seniors, it might not be as intensive.”
And while Jones recognized some less-structuralized advising offices may require fewer advisers – and vice versa – as well as President Ann Weaver Hart and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Lisa Staiano-Coico’s commitment to advising, the numbers at Temple are still askew. During the three years Hart has served as president, 16 to 18 advising lines have been added in an attempt to meet the needs of students and advisers. In the current budget being reviewed by President Hart, there are funds allocated to add 10 new advising lines, all of which may be added by next year or phased in over two years.
At the College of Liberal Arts, there are 4,600 undergraduate students split between 24 majors and only “seven full-time advisers when we’re on full-time staff,” three of whom have been at CLA for less than year, Wolfgang said. Similar disproportions appear at other schools and colleges, such as College of Education, College of Science and Technology, Tyler School of Art and the Fox School of Business.
“We’ve needed an extra set of hands for a little bit,” Guzman said of the third advising position posted for the College of Education, which has 1,800 undergraduates. “It will make us feel more comfortable and get us in a much better place.”
“We feel strained all year,” Wolfgang said, indicating that though priority registration week is particularly hectic, the CLA advising office is in constant motion, which impedes upon the number of students they can see and to what degree they can offer developmental advising.
But regardless of the quantity of Temple advising units, there are things students can do to make their experiences more positive if they’ve faced problems before.
For responsible, focused students, advising is a walk in the park. But for lax students and high school seniors still scrambling to pick a major, advising is more like an exasperating run for both adults involved.
“There are a lot of students who do a great job of managing and taking control of their academic career and have great interests and do whatever they can to further those interests,” Wolfgang said. “But then again, there can be a person who sits down with an adviser and says, ‘What should I take?’”
Wolfgang said when an advising session is uniform and basic, neither party leaves the appointment very satisfied. If the student isn’t sure of their interests, the adviser can only offer a Google search on Temple’s Web site’s worth of advice: This list of classes are required, so take them.
“Advisers like that discussion when it’s involved and a student has done their homework and knows what their interests are,” Wolfgang said. “But if a student hasn’t done that, then that can lead to an unproductive advising sessions.”
“It’s always good to go in with questions,” said Nerissa Leon, a junior sport and exercise science major who recently transferred to the College of Health Professions from the university studies track with minimal problems.
“They tried to put me in the right direction and took my interests into consideration to guide me,” Leon said of the Academic Resource Center advising office, located on 1810 Liacouras Walk. ARC is where university studies students go for advising.
But when freshman history major Heather Polchin, who is considering transferring to Hunter College in New York City, went into an advising appointment with a black-and-white objective, it “turned into a therapy session. She kept encouraging me to transfer, and I left there still not knowing whether I should be taking upper- or lower-level courses.”
Though Polchin said she favors advising with a personal touch, she wasn’t looking for someone to help her plan out her life when she needed one simple question answered.
But, if a student does want a developmental advising session or has a more elaborate list of questions, he or she should not expect it during priority registration week.
WHEN TO COME TO ADVISING
“One of the biggest challenges is that the times students think about coming to see an adviser is at the beginning of the semester or at priority registration,” said Helen Robinson, the director of advising at the Fox School of Business.
Likewise, Matt Campbell, the director of advising at the CST, said, “everyone sort of descends at the same time” during priority registration week.
While most advising offices said there is always traffic – between Jan. 5 and Oct. 21, 2009, the CLA office had 17,000 appointments – there are shorter waits about a month into the semester.
“Our mantra is ‘early and often,’” Campbell said. “Come in early because if you wait until it’s your day to register, you’re going to be competing with everyone else who’s doing exactly the same thing.”
“If you come in early and you have questions,” Campbell added, “we can do all of that planning weeks in advance so if you’re one of those 12 a.m. people, you’re ahead of the game.”
For a student who needs to know more than which classes to prioritize adding before OwlNet logs him or her out, coming in during priority registration week is even less ideal because sessions are capped earlier than typical advising sessions.
At most schools and colleges at Temple, only walk-in advising is offered during the offices’ busiest time period. The consensus among advisers is if a student is truly struggling to navigate through their course load or needs more concentrated guidance, the student should not try to meet with an adviser when the advising office is maximizing the number of appointments it can squeeze in during a limited amount of time.
“We started doing walk-in advising [at Fox] for quick questions,” Robinson said, noting that waiting two weeks for an appointment for students who have minimal needs is more seldom. “One of the concerns that I’ve heard more recently is, ‘My adviser doesn’t care about me,’ partly because the student might feel rushed at walk-in appointments. We’re trying to better educate students with how to use advising and what to expect with what type of advising.”
For students who prefer advising be a painless pinch of time to answer a specific question, multiple schools, such as SCT and CLA, have instituted peer advising.
“A lot of students [at CLA] could meet with a peer adviser and get their questions answered,” Wolfgang said, adding that before peer advisers were instituted last May, students would set up half-hour appointments with an adviser and leave five minutes into the session because their questions were simplistic.
“We were afraid there were students being turned away that really did need to meet with an adviser,” Wolfgang said. “For example, a green card comes from a faculty member, not an adviser. [Peer advisers are] equipped to make sure the students who need most to meet with advisers get the appointments, but if there are questions that they can answer, they do.”
Instant access to an adviser during priority registration week may not be possible, but some answers rest at modern-day students’ technology-obsessed fingertips: the Web.
The academic programs portion of the Undergraduate Bulletin – which can be accessed at www.temple.edu/bulletin – outlines the basic class summary for all majors. Though the site is text-heavy, it serves as an electronic handbook for students seeking immediate answers regarding their intended academic sequence.
Jones is also working on an all-encompassing advising Web site that will provide step-by-step instructions to common problems such as changing a major or graduation checks, as well as links to individual schools’ and colleges’ advising homepages.
But the Web should not replace the adviser, said Maguerite Jackson, associate director for the Boyer College of Music and Dance.
“It’s important to use the Web site for information,” Jackson said, “but it takes the personal contact out of it. When you need directions but don’t ask for them – that’s a problem. I wish students took advantage of the services more. There are people here to help them.”
Ashley Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.