Comparing the Advising Process

We know how Cedarville University does advising, but what about some of its competitors? How do other schools define an advisor? Does being a Christian college affect the model used? Or is the advising process determined by the size of the school?

Cedars sought answers to these questions and others by talking with representatives from six competing universities.

Taylor University

Taylor University, a Christian university in Indiana, follows a faculty advising model, meaning that faculty members serve as both advisors and professors. The registrar’s office assigns students a faculty member in their major and students must meet with them at least once a semester.

Trina Stout, director of academic advising at Taylor University, said she is the only non-faculty member advisor, but she advises students by classifications other than their chosen major. Stout oversees undecided and some international students.

Advisors give class registration access codes to students, but Stout said the advisor-advisee relationship is more than that.

“I think we’re going to stay with faculty advising, because we kind of see advising more as a mentoring and not just class selection,” Stout said. “So they can talk about grad schools, they can talk about research, they can talk about the major. That’s probably why I don’t see us in the near future going away from faculty ran advising.”

Taylor University’s first phase of “Degree Works,” implemented in the fall of 2013 to allow students to track their degree progress and calculate their GPA online, has helped advising a lot, Stout said.

“The students and the advisors like it,” she said, “and we haven’t had any negative feedback about that program.”

The program’s second phase is expected to be implemented this fall, which will allow students to create four-year plans and make sure they have completed the correct classes each year to keep them on track.

As far as the students’ take on the advising process, Stout said the response has gradually gotten more positive since the creation of her position about six years ago. In addition to advising some students, Stout is responsible for faculty advisor training, in which faculty are trained in core class requirements, given advising tools and encouraged to sign an agreement with the students they advise. Before her position existed, Stout said there were many complaints regarding the advising process because the advisors had little understanding of the curriculum or of their responsibility as an advisor.

The Ohio State University

Ohio State University, a public university based in Columbus, primarily uses a professional advising model. With nearly 45,000 undergraduate students, OSU is about 14 times the size of Cedarville.

While employing 230 full-time professional advisors on its campuses, OSU’s advising model is decentralized, meaning that the advisors are a part of the colleges and departments; there is not a separate advising office.

This advising model has been in effect for 20 years or so, said Jennifer Belisle, assistant director of academic advising, who is most familiar with the Columbus campus’ process.

When students are directly admitted into their program of choice, they are assigned an advisor within that program. Students who want to explore major options or are not directly admitted into a program are assigned an advisor within the “university exploration” program, Belisle said, to get help choosing courses and a major.

Registering for classes is done entirely online, and a class planning tool that generates possible schedules is also available online for students.

How advisors are assigned differs according to the department a student is a part of. Some departments assign advisors based on the students’ last names, while others assign advisors according to the students in an advisor’s first-year survey course. Regardless, students are all assigned an academic advisor for their first semester upon enrollment at OSU.

“All incoming students – their first term at Ohio State – do get an assigned academic advisor, so it’s that one person that they have that they can connect with,” Belisle said.

For some students, it’s mandatory to meet with their advisors. For other students, meeting with an advisor is left up to the student.

“Most of the students, we prepare them to take the initiative to make contact with an advisor,” Belisle said. “We do encourage students, and we do give students the responsibility to reach out and be proactive. But at the same time, advisors are also doing proactive outreach, too, so I think it’s a balanced approach.”

Belisle said while it depends on the individuals, advisors can take on a mentoring role.

“I think the mentoring relationship is individual. I think advisors are open to that,” Belisle said. “Advisors, they see themselves as mentors as well. I think, you know, doing more than helping a student put a schedule together. I think there’s sometimes this feeling across an unknown of what advisors do and since their job feels so tightly connected to courses, but we also make sure that our campus community and students understand that advisors are people who are mentors as well.”

OSU hosted its “Thank an Advisor Week” earlier in April, during which an advisor from the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences wrote to OSU’s student newspaper, “The Lantern,” about advisors helping with more than just course scheduling – and taking on more of that mentoring role.

Belisle said that the success of OSU’s advising system lies in students having a specific person that they can go to.

“Students really like the assigned advisors. They like having that name,” Belisle said. “Having that name is really important and meaningful, especially when you are part of a big place like Ohio State. And they (students) really like the fact that their advisors are really knowledgeable, not only about the general curriculum, but in their departments and in their major.”

Ohio University

Ohio University, a public university in Athens, follows a faculty advising model, though it also has an advising center, the Allen Student Advising Center.

Students are paired with an advisor specific to their major whom they must meet with at least once each semester. Once students meet with their advisor, a hold is lifted from their account, and they can register for classes, said senior student and advising center employee Josh Barclay.

The Allen Student Advising Center assists students regardless of whether they have an assigned advisor, but it specializes in helping students who want to create their own major or are undecided and therefore a part of the University College – the major track for undecided students.

Barclay said OU’s academic advisors help students track their degree progress and schedule classes but are also essential to the university experience.

“Having an advisor is 100 percent crucial to the overall picture of the university, just because college is a place in which you’re not quite sure who you are when you come into the university,” Barclay said, “and if you have a strong advisor, they can help you find out who you are as a person and what your passions are. And if an advisor is qualified enough and passionate enough about their job, they can help that student find their passions and what they enjoy and find their dream job so that way they’re not really working ever, they’re just doing what they love. So I believe that an advisor is one of the most important positions at a university, because these students that are coming in are the future for tomorrow.”

Graphic by Grace Countryman

Graphic by Grace Countryman

Wheaton College

Wheaton College, a Christian college just outside Chicago, Ill., also follows a faculty advising model that’s been in place for several years.

“Our goal is to have faculty members connecting with students in their major department, and I think it’s fairly successful,” said Janet Miller, Wheaton’s associate registrar and transfer analyst.

Upon enrolling at Wheaton, freshmen are assigned a freshman advisor based on their study area of interest. However, every student begins at Wheaton as an undeclared major, Miller said. So once students have officially declared a major later in the year, they are assigned a major-related advisor who assists with major and general education advising for the rest of their time at Wheaton.

“I do see (advising) as a place where students get vocational information, ‘What can I do with this major?’” Miller said. “And I think it gives faculty a connectedness to a segment of their majors that they may or may not have had in class yet.”

Miller said although the number of students to each advisor varies by department, it’s an average of 20 students per faculty member. Students must meet with their advisor at least once a semester to obtain a PIN before registering online for classes.

There aren’t many changes on the horizon for Wheaton’s advising process, though there are plans to help students better evaluate their degree process.

“We will be bringing out a new degree evaluation system in the next year, but that should only change, and that will be something that will be new for students and faculty,” Miller said. “(The evaluation will be) more real time than the way that we currently do it.”

Liberty University

Liberty University, a Christian university in Lynchburg, Va., follows a faculty advising model similar to Cedarville’s.

Students receive an advisor to help them work through their first two years of school, prioritizing general education classes. The difference is that at the start of their junior year, students are assigned a professor in the area they are pursuing to act as an advisor for classes during the remainder of their college experience.

Registering classes is very similar as well. Students must first meet with advisors and then wait until the proper time to register. Like Cedarville, the system is hierarchical, allowing students with more credit hours to register first. After that, it is simply a matter of finding the right classes.

Sean Beam, a senior at Liberty University, said the registration process involves finding your way through a system of links.

“The way it is set up is through a bunch of links that take you from sign in to what semester are you wanting to look at, to what about the semester you want to see, then you can (click) the register for classes tab,” Beam said. “Once you click the tab, you have to specify which semester you are looking for again, and then you are ready to begin.”

Students must find the courses manually and enter them into their schedule for next semester. Beam said there are plenty of classes, but every once in a while a class will not be available for the semester.

“The only way you find this out is by looking up the class and realizing it is not there. At this point, you improvise, you can find either a needed elective to plug in or simply another class in the program,” Beam said.

Messiah College

At Messiah College, a Christian college in Mechanicsburg, Pa., students begin the registration process when they receive a piece of paper in their campus mailboxes.

Students then search for the classes they are hoping to take the next semester, write down the registration numbers and schedule a meeting with their advisor.

Joel Zeigler, a senior at Messiah, said the amount of input the advisors give depends on the advisor.

“In the meeting, some advisors talk about every little detail and plans and stuff, and others just do a quick check to make sure we know what we’re doing and sign off on our sheets,” said Zeigler. “Then they remove the advisor hold and we are ready to sign up for classes.”

After the advisors sign off on the sheet, the advisory hold is removed from the student account, and students may begin registering for classes at the appointed time slot. Like Cedarville, the openings are based upon class year.

However, Zeigler said, sometimes students with the same amount of credit hours have openings almost a day apart.

“We’re given a time and date based first on class and then a seemingly arbitrary system not based on credits within our class, because sometimes people with the same amount of credits have signup times as different as a day apart,” Zeigler said.

Zeigler said the process can be intimidating for newer students but is picked up easily after completing a few times.

“It’s pretty easy for someone to learn, although the first time or two for the freshmen is pretty stressful and slightly confusing because it’s new to them,” Zeigler said.

Anna Dembowski is a junior journalism major and managing editor/arts & entertainment editor for Cedars. She likes nearly anything that is the color purple and enjoys spelling the word “agathokakological.”

Erik Johnson is a senior journalism major and sports editor for Cedars. He competes on the track team. Follow him at @edgejohnson49.

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