Academic Advising

Advising is perhaps the oldest means of support for undergraduates, described by King and Kerr as “the hub of the wheel that establishes links to all other support services on campus.

Recognizing the important role that advising plays into student success and retention, the goal of advising under SMU in Four is to understand the current advisor and student experience, enhance advising and provide resources for improved training and technology to fill gaps in current practices.

Enhancement strategies

For each of the three SMU in Four pillars, we discussed our current practices in the plan and our expected enhanced practices. These enhancement strategies are outlined for the Academic Advising Pillar below.

While opportunities exist to shed light on our understanding of the student experience with advising (NSSE, graduation survey, anecdotal experiences, etc.), little effort to date has been made to understand our advisors’ perceptions of their work. Working with the student success consultant for the QEP, several business processes were identified that make the work of advising more difficult because many students complete degrees in more than one school. These conversations highlighted a need to better understand the major advisor experience at SMU. More than 100 faculty and staff are identified as major advisors.

During summer 2021, we continued small-group conversations with advisors in order to create a survey instrument that will capture important information about how each major advisor approaches their work and where they need additional support and training. Through this survey we will be able to evaluate pain points, opportunities for improvement and evaluate the overall sense of satisfaction among our faculty advisors. In our first year of SMU in Four, we will need to dedicate time and resources to understanding what major advisors need and to evaluate their capacity to engage more deeply in our early-alert system, for example. We can then use this same survey in Year Three and Year Five to determine if our efforts at providing additional support to advisors are effective.

The enhanced practice for advising for SMU’s QEP will focus in the first year on expanding advisor training in the use of new features within HighPoint and Advising Notes. In the second year, we will focus on increasing communication across advisors and between major advisors and their assigned students. By Year Three, we will provide advisors with additional resources to respond in real time to early alerts as that system evolves. Advisor training will be the responsibility of the UAC and provided to first-year and major advisors through a previously established but largely defunct group called Mustang Advising Network Group. The director of the UAC is a member of the advising pillar strategy group and looks forward to reestablishing this network and working with records offices and the registrar to increase adoption of technological solutions. We expect to resume the Mustang Advising Network Group activities in fall 2021.

Certainly, more resources will be needed for advisor support in order to improve our advising outcomes. We believe the implementation of Advising Notes will dramatically improve communication across advisors working with the same student and the information that a student receives over time. The student and the advisor will always be able to go in and access these notes. In addition, we are building in features that will allow us to query the advising notes for particular concerns expressed by students. For example, there is a tag to identify a student as considering leaving the institution. We will also present major advisors with opportunities to receive additional training in mentoring students as they begin to think about the transition from college to graduate. For example, major advisors may choose to work with the Mustang Mentors program in the Office of Engaged Learning to create and track connections between majors and departmental faculty.

In addition, the implementation of HighPoint will provide new features such as a schedule builder and a degree planner, which will improve the advising experience for students and advisors. These two features will save valuable time on advising appointments on transactional questions and, give the advisor more time to focus instead on relational topics or holistic well-being.

As we increase trainings and provide additional technology, a more carefully designed set of advising practices will need to be institutionalized, such as appointment-tracking, documenting outreach as a result of early alerts, and using the searchable fields to proactively identify which students may be at higher risk. An exploratory analysis of the impact of advising appointments on first-year outcomes indicates that first-year students benefit the most from three appointments per year. Within the UAC where there is one supervisor, it is then realistic to set an expectation that each advisor will meet three times with each advisee. This is an unrealistic expectation for many major advisors, and we don’t currently know if it is necessary within each major. Consistently tracking appointments and looking at outcomes will allow each school to determine the ideal number of appointments for its majors.

In addition, premajor and major advisors will be expected and motivated to use the index fields within Advising Notes in a consistent way in order to quickly identify those advisees
who have previously expressed an interest in transferring or to identify students who are not making progress toward a four-year degree. Enrollment delays among these students should “trigger” outreach from the advisor to the student.

We believe the implementation of consistent advisor practices will improve the overall student experience with advising. While we do have students who report a less-than satisfactory experience with advising, we also have students who remark upon how wonderful and supportive their academic advisors were throughout their time at SMU. We believe identifying those practices that meet student needs and ensuring that students have greater access to advisors who are well trained and supportive will also improve our student experience with advising.

Academic policies are determined by the Faculty Senate and the Educational Programs Committee (EPC) at SMU. Records offices, however, are tasked with upholding, explaining and implementing these policies. The records offices within each school should play a vital role in identifying improvements in current academic policies and identifying inconsistencies in the application of policies across the schools that contribute to delays in graduation. Each year of the QEP, the associate provost for Student Academic Engagement and Success will invite members of the Academic Policies Committee, the EPC and the records offices to come together to review in depth those key academic policies that we believe may unintentionally contribute to delayed graduation at SMU. We will consider policies such as credit-hour accumulation; wider access to the pass/fail option for courses; and the six-course repeat policy.

Committee membership

Name  Role Email SMU in Four Committee Affiliation
Josh Beaty  Chair Advising Pillar Office of the Provost
Barbara Mohrle  Member Advising Pillar Cox School of Business
Ellen Richmond  Member Advising Pillar Office of the Provost
Nancy Skochdopole  Member Advising Pillar Office of the Provost

Interested in joining this pillar committee? Reach out to the identified chair after receiving supervisor approval.