What image do we conjure to our minds when we think of the traditional student-advisor relationship? What should it look like in its ideal? And what does it often turn out to be?
Freshmen might picture a wise and guiding figure. Someone who will take the time to get to know them and check in to see how they’re doing. Someone who makes time for them and cares about their future.
“Yeah,” said West Chester University senior and psychology major, Eric Smith, who asked that his name be changed for fear of retribution. “That’d be nice.”
But he shrugs because that’s not the reality, and he’s come to terms with it. With one foot out the door as graduation approaches in May, he sees his advising appointments as one less hassle he’ll have to deal with.
Smith feels that his advisor and he have clashed from the start. “She was always very in-your-face about her beliefs,” he explains, but did not wish to elaborate.
According to Smith, she often found ways of bringing these beliefs up in conversation. He ultimately felt that she was more interested in promoting her own interests than learning about his.
Beyond the differences between them in their meetings, Smith also had issues with scheduling the appointments themselves.
“She was always hard to get a hold of,” he claimed.
He could only meet with her through a scheduling software that he found difficult to navigate and offered little availability, frequently requiring Smith to make appointments two or more weeks in advance.
Smith’s situation is unfortunately a familiar one for many students. Some majors, such as psychology and computer science, require that students meet with their advisors at least once every semester in order to unlock their accounts for course scheduling.
This means that the availability of an advisor plays a vital role in an advisee’s ability to get the classes they need to graduate on time.
Some students have managed to bypass this issue completely, such as Dean Thomas, a junior in computer science who also asked that his name be changed for the sake of his advisor’s anonymity.
Since transferring to the university two years ago, Thomas has only met with his advisor once. For every semester that’s followed, he simply shoots his an advisor an email asking that his account be opened for scheduling.
“It’s just easier this way,” said Thomas. “I can schedule my own classes.”
Thomas is not alone in this sentiment and, at its heart, is an implication of what the modern advisor looks like in the mind of many students: a scheduler.
Dr. Randall Cream, an English professor at WCU, is troubled by the often synonymous nature of advising and scheduling and is uncertain that advisors should even be responsible for the task.
In the economics program, students meet with staff for their first two years to schedule classes, not meeting with an academic advisor until their junior year.
Whether this is the best model, Cream isn’t sure.
The upside could be that the staff is more readily available to meet with students for scheduling, with the downside being that they lack the guidance academic advising could provide.
Every department does things differently. How duties are delegated can vary.
“The English program tries to share things evenly,” said Cream.
All professors are required to start advising during their third year.
Cream believes that being an advisor is another great way to be a professor.
And yet, advising is a “form of being a professor that is under-maximized at our institution.”
He feels that advising is an opportunity to make a difference in a student’s life, “but very few students report that experience.”
Instead, he finds, they often feel like their advisors don’t know who they are.
So what should the experience be? How well should an advisor know their advisee?
In Cream’s ideal world, on a small campus of maybe 2,000 students, an advisor would be someone a student could call if they had been pulled over by the police and needed someone to speak for their good character.
On a campus the size of West Chester, however, with over 16,000 students, this kind of bond seems far from feasible.
More realistic than idealistic, the basic expectations outlined on West Chester’s webpage for Academic Advising states that advisors should “listen carefully to student concerns,” “strive to be available,” and “foster a collaborative approach to advising.”
However, students are also delegated responsibilities in this relationship.
“Students,” the guidelines specify, “are ultimately responsible for making the decisions that will keep them on track.”
The point being that an advisor can only do so much to engage an advisee that they feel won’t meet them halfway.
After so much effort, Cream believes that professors must learn to dial back in relation to unresponsive students who demonstrate they don’t care to be proactive about their education.
With the understanding that the advising relationship is a two-way street of active participation, it’s possible the relationship could look very different.
Chris Garriga, a West Chester senior and English major who expects to graduate in May, was confident in keeping his name as his experiences at the university have been mostly positive.
Garriga says he typically seeks out his advisor two or three times each semester.
“I like keeping up with her,” he elaborates. “She helps me stay on top of things. That’s what [advisor’s] are there for.”
Garriga believes that students have enough to keep track of with homework and extra-curricular activities.
Advisors are supposed to help them take care of the details that keep their college experience running smoothly. She was available to provide this support when he needed it, and he reached out to her when he did.
Reciprocity is the obvious requirement for a successful student-advisor relationship.
What remains undetermined is how a program can best organize itself around this need.
Etta Griffin is a fourth-year student majoring in English writings with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at EG826453@wcupa.edu.