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Advising Reform: NSM Advising Takes Advice

The University of Houston’s unrelenting expansion has placed a strain on its academic advising resources. To meet the new demands being placed on it, the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics’ (NSM) Undergraduate Academic Advising Center has been re-evaluating its work from the ground up.

In an interview with NSM’s Associate Dean of Student Success, Andrew Hamilton, The Cougar Paw obtained details of current and planned changes to NSM’s undergraduate academic advising and how they will be implemented.

Using a checklist created by the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS), the Advising Center identified current issues with advising. The Dean’s office then invited directors of student advising from schools across the nation including Arizona State, a school that is similar to our University in its rapid rise in stature.

Associate Dean Hamilton explains: “the vision of academic advising is based on two considerations. The first is that we can’t do it the way we have been doing it. The second is that our students need a lot more engagement and success orientated advising.”

The self-audit and external evaluations showed that department was inefficient and could only supply a fraction of the students requesting advising, such as a day last spring when more than 360 people requested advising, but only 40 received it. This inefficacy is attributed to a convoluted bureaucracy and mismanagement of available time.

The recommendations of the external audit and the CAS checklist included streamlining processes by going paperless and replacing the part-time faculty director. Someone whose sole responsibility is ensuring the efficient running of the Advising Center.

Heeding this advice, the College has removed the previous, part-time, director and is currently seeking a new full-time director for the Center.

In addition, four new advisors are being hired this month so that by peak advising, most students will have had an opportunity to meet with their advisor.

To increase efficiency and to provide more students access to advising, the Center will be augmenting traditional, 30-minute, individual appointments with online, group, peer and other forms of advising. They will also begin offering advising hours during the evening and on weekends.

Some of these policies are already being implemented, such as group advising. In a typical group advising session, a group of 16-20 students meets together with an advisor to cover a subject such as change of major requirements. What would have taken 36 to 48 advising hours before now takes less than one.

Paperwork is also being reduced. Under the old system, requesting a major change in NSM required a physical transfer of documentation from the Advising Center to the major’s department offices for two signatures, then and back to advising to be entered into a system before being hand carried to Dean’s Office to be signed again.

Under the new system, however, after students attend a group advising session, only a single document will need to be completed. This document will be signed that day in the advising office and finalized at the Deans’ offices within a week. Similar improvements are being implemented in other areas, such as permissions for overrides on the enrollment limit for classes.

NSM Undergraduate Academic Center eventually plans to update all their processes by automating most of the department’s current tasks. The advisors could then be “at the frontline of organizing undergraduate student access to research labs” and suggesting study abroad programs and so they would be doing “advising rather than scheduling,” Dr. Hamilton explains.

In describing the vision for the department, he says: “what we know to be advising today would make up a small portion, if at all of the roles of the advisors [of tomorrow].”