Ad hoc committee works to improve pre-major academic advising

The ad hoc committee on academic advising, which began meeting last semester with a focus on pre-major advising, is working on recommendations for short-term improvements to advising that can be implemented in 2010-11. While the group cannot implement administrative decisions on its own, it will make recommendations to Merrill and discuss academic advising with the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP), according to Associate Dean for Institutional Diversity Wendy Raymond, who chairs the committee. “In the past decade, the CEP has not had the bandwith to actually make significant changes to advising,” Raymond said.

The committee was founded by Dean Merrill to address flaws in the academic advising system brought forth in part by student dissatisfaction. Consisting of students, faculty and staff, the CAA held biweekly meetings during the fall and plans to bring a list of recommendations to the administration later this spring.

The suggestions, which the committee is not yet prepared to release in detail, pertain almost exclusively to pre-major advising and are influenced not only by thoughts brought forth by members of the campus community, but also on pre-major advising programs at peer institutions. “When compared to the 20 other top colleges the committee looked at, Williams had an abysmal satisfaction rating,” said Declan Guilfoyle ’12, a member of the committee. “When billing yourself as a school that prides itself on a familial interaction between students and faculty, Williams has an obligation to make advising more successful.”

According to Merrill, the committee is continuing work begun in recent years, including a trial advising system for first-generation first-years that focused on matching students with mentoring advisors, (“Advising adjusted for Class of 2013,” March 10, 2009). Following that trial, the administration added a new system for matching faculty and first-years over the summer. This system took effect for the Class of 2013. Merrill said the new system provided information to faculty advisors about their advisees in a “more user-friendly way,” and encouraged faculty to reach out to their advisees by e-mail in August.

Raymond cited other small changes, including an optional training day and written resources to help inform advisors about what is required of them.

In addition, Merrill noted that the administration offered a workshop on advising with an outside speaker for faculty, as well as changed the format of the “Welcome to Academic Life” talk for first-year students during First Days. “As we’ve done in the past, we communicated with faculty in the fall about our academic warning system for first-years,” Merrill said. “We have also just completed a survey of first-year students and advisors on their experiences with advising so far this semester.”

Merrill said the administration needs to “continue analyzing what’s working, what’s not, what other institutions are doing that seem to work and what we can do better.” She said the ad hoc advising committee is helpful in framing the administration’s vision for advising in terms of both short-term and long-term goals.
The committee hopes to make more decisive changes in the future. Jamal Jefferson ’12, another member of the committee, suggested that CC get involved and implement a peer advisor system for each department. “I think it would be better if academic advisors had specific students they could refer freshmen to for advice,” Jefferson said.
The committee also wants to implement a mandatory training day and to remove the unpopular hold that advisors have on course selection. According to the committee’s desired plans, advisors would meet with their students at several points during the year, take a more holistic approach to their advisees and try to help them shape their careers at the College rather than just their class schedules.

Student opinion

Though a hotly contested issue at the time, academic advising has mostly dropped out of student discussion since the College Council (CC) presidential campaign last year. While neither co-president candidate pair made advising an issue during campaigning, CC has discussed way of altering the system.

Some of the frustration from students comes as a result of ineffective advisors. “My advisor was an impediment to enrolling classes,” Jack Rudolph ’11 said. “He was hard to get in touch with and only comes to school on certain days.”

Some students claim that when they do manage to meet with their advisors, they do not receive the guidance they seek. “I get the impression that a lot of professors are put into that position where they don’t have a lot of guidance for how they should be helping students.”

Other students have had more success with the advising system. Brad Polsky ’12 said his experience with academic advisors has been helpful and informative. “I had two really good academic advisors,” Polsky said. “I know that sometimes they just give the okay to take what classes you want, but my advisors were able to give me good advice.” Polsky believes that academic advisors can have “a very positive effect” on first-years, in helping them to navigate the course catalog and easing their transition to the College.

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