Adviser, advisee ratio ‘too high,’ early alerts not taken seriously

Bobby Shipman

Freshman nursing major Megan Peninger discusses her upcoming fall schedule with Academic Adviser Connie Walker in the College og Nursing and Health Professions Advising center Monday. Photo by Hannah Spurgeon/The Shield
Freshman nursing major Megan Peninger discusses her upcoming fall schedule with Academic Adviser Connie Walker in the College og Nursing and Health Professions Advising center Monday.
Photo by Hannah Spurgeon/The Shield

The university implemented an early alert program in Fall 2014 that asked instructors of 100 and 200-level courses to submit progress reports three weeks into the semester in order to address the university’s issues with student retention.

The majority of students disregarded these grades, according to data from an early alert survey.

Seventy-five percent of seniors surveyed said they took no action based on their early alert grades.

Fifty-seven percent of juniors, 66 percent of sophomores and 43 percent of freshmen responded the same way.

Keith Powers, director of the Advising and Resource Center at the Pott College of Science, Engineering and Education, said the Early Alert System provides a bench mark for advisers to reach out to students, but doesn’t think students understand its purpose.

According to the survey, 52 percent of seniors and 58 percent of juniors felt the early alert grades were an accurate reflection of their academic performance.

Powers said many students say to him, “Well, we really haven’t done anything,” or “The professor told me not to worry because they can put in a (fake) grade.”

“Many (students) aren’t taking it too seriously,” Powers said. “I think they realize it’s early in the semester and they have plenty of time to make up any deficiency they might have.”

However, 82 percent of freshmen felt the grades were accurate.

The EAS was just one of a handful of initiatives set forth by the state to aid student success, such as the 15 to Finish, which encourages students to pursue 15 credit hours each semester, the four year plan and take UNIV 101.

The university also created advising centers within each of its colleges to enhance the advising experience.

Assistant Vice President for Academic Success Michael “Brody” Broshears said prior to the advising centers, the university was primarily faculty advising based with the only full time advisers at University Division.

Now that the conditionally admitted student population has dwindled significantly, University Division works mostly with undecided majors, whereas first year students attend the advising centers in their college.

Undecided is the largest major at USI, making up 15 to 20 percent of incoming students. University Division went from having seven to five full time advisers who see anywhere between 100 and 150 students, which was a result of reallocation to the advising centers.

Pott College has three full time advisers, The College of Nursing and Health Professions has three and is currently searching for a fourth, and the recently established College of Liberal Arts and Romain College of Business centers each have two.

Advisers may see anywhere between 100 to 300 students on a regular basis.

“The centers were created primarily as a way to provide a centralized area for all students to receive advising assistance within their college as first year students,” Broshears said.

The new system is a college-based intake model, he said.

“We’ve tried to work with the colleges because they have their own unique needs and challenges,” he said. “In some of the colleges, not every student is seen through the center. And, in some of the colleges, students beyond the first year are seen through the center.”

In the Pott College, Powers said each adviser has around 210 advisees.

“Some students look at us like we are high school counselors and we are going to do everything for them,” he said. “Any questions or issues they may have, the adviser’s someone that may not have all the answers, but can help the students find them.”

Powers said too many times he’s seen students fail to take initiative.

UNIV 101 is supposed to help the students better understand advising, he said, but the advisers don’t have much of a role in the classroom.

“None of the advisers in our center taught (UNIV 101),” he said. “There are a lot of things we could talk to (students) about. I think some of it goes on in UNIV 101.”

Powers said he would like to see the advisers play a larger part in the course.

Stamina is another issue advisers face, especially during priority registration, Powers said, saying they strive to keep up with demand while “staying sane.”

The College of Nursing and Health professions faces a different retention issue than some of the other colleges.

“We have many more students interested in our clinical majors than can fit into the program,” said Sarah Stevens, director of the Advising Center at the CNHP, pointing out that most of the majors in that college are limited enrollment clinical programs.

Stevens said it is because there are requirements for student-to-faculty ratios and other outside limiting factors.

There are students with grades that are well below the requirement for clinical programs.

“Those are students we really need to help,” she said, pointing out that they often weigh other options with the students. “Usually there’s a multitude of majors someone can have and still enjoy their career.”

Stevens said students don’t often realize this because they are “mono-focused.”

The other group they struggle with is students who have good grades that are just below the cutoff.

“Sometimes students leave CNHP because they go to other majors at USI, and sometimes students leave CNHP because they can get into a nursing program at Henderson, and they can’t get into (USI’s).”

The amount of students who come in per week varies greatly, she said, adding that during registration they can see as many 370.

“There are times of the year where we are not as busy with student traffic, but we are busy with behind the scenes things,” Stevens said, such as looking a schedules, students on probation, record keeping, preparing orientations, seeing perspective students and updating program materials.

“We are doing OK. I would always like another adviser, because I would always like to have lower adviser/advisee ratios,” she said. “But we have a fantastic advising team. We make it work.”

Stevens said she knows budgets are stretched thin across campus and if she had to choose one center to receive more advisers, it wouldn’t be CNHP.

“We are set up in a way that’s allowing us to do our work pretty well,” she said, adding that she would prefer her advisers see about 200 students per person rather than 300.

Stevens said those numbers are only the official advisees, but they also meet with a large amount of perspective students.

“We are the first point of contact for a lot of transfer students who are just thinking about coming here,” she said.

She said they also see students who have a faculty adviser, but just want to come in for various reasons.

The CNHP advising center also utilized the UNIV 101 course to make contact with students who, Stevens said, got to know their advisers well through the course.

“We feel advising is crucial to retention and progression,” she said.

Broshears said the academic departments who advise upperclassmen also face challenges in regard to adviser load and adviser/advisee ratios.

“You have faculty members, in certain areas, that may be carrying a much higher advising load than in other areas,” he said. “It makes it challenging for faculty to do that role well.”

Broshears said another goal is to enhance advising in all four years of college through adviser development that helps faculty understand its importance.

“The issue is time. Many of our faculties are on overload,” he said.

But, Broshears said, the centers are going to fix this.

“The university has made great strides from an advising perspective,” Broshears said. “I think we have more and more people thinking about the importance of academic advising in general.”