September 25, 2016

Student advises WU to improve academic advising

A letter to the editor by Contributing Writer Daniel Carcione

A lot is expected of the students at Webster University. Heavy class schedules, high tuition and now jumping through hoops to talk to our assigned mentors. We need to expect more from our advisers, and we need to let the administration know we won’t rest until our expectations are met.

I arrived for my first meeting with my academic adviser 15 minutes early. I wanted to make a good impression. It was only my second week into my first term at Webster, and I had a long list of questions ready. I sat patiently waiting for my adviser with my notebook of issues and a pen to write down every useful thing he told me.

But he never showed. I waited for over an hour before I gave up in order to get to my next class in time. I checked my phone and school e-mail constantly to check if he had let me know he would be late or if we could reschedule.

Nothing. I did get a courtesy e-mail back a full day later telling me that he had gotten caught up in a meeting, and said that we should reschedule. I sent him an e-mail back with my list of available times and never received an answer.

At the Delegates’ Agenda held in February, one of the primary topics was academic advising. Hannah Graf and Jenna Hopkins made a compelling argument about where Webster is falling short in advising students. The pair stressed the need for a higher standard for the academic advisers Webster employs on campus. In order to do this, Hopkins and Graf suggested campus-wide adviser training, a four-step process that all advisers would follow for each student, a Best Practices Committee and the ability to give feedback on individual advisers.

Academic advising is arguably one of the most important relationships students will rely on during their college years.  Advisers are a student’s first line of defense when dealing with the complications of academic registration. Students approach their advisors with the numerous issues that arise in their academic lives. Whether it is a problem adding or dropping a course, deciding what courses to take for next semester or the best path to take for graduation, the academic adviser will always be the first person they approach.

The problem arises when an academic adviser does not meet the needs of the students. Whether they don’t know certain information that should fall under their realm of expertise, or they just don’t even bother responding to e-mails, our advisers are coming up short. This is of course not a problem all academic advisers have, but even one adviser failing one student is too many at a professional institution like Webster University.

Webster has their academic advisers operating on a 3-3 system, meaning that all advisers will only teach three classes in order to give their advisees the appropriate time needed to resolve any issues. This issue can cause problems because advisers will only be able to have office hours at specific times during the day. The only way to schedule an appointment with these advisors is to e-mail them and hope that they read and reply to the e-mail as soon as they get it.

Graf and Hopkins brought up many excellent points in their Delegates’ Agenda presentation. Webster needs to hold an absolute standard for all advisers to live up to, with repercussions for failure to abide by the level expected. It isn’t uncommon for professors at the college level to hold jobs outside of the university. These external responsibilities will understandably take up a lot of their time, but the students will always be the ones to suffer for that. My first time seeing my first adviser in person was just four days ago, a full half-year after coming to this school. I have recently heard this same complaint about this particular adviser from several students.

Before I attended Webster, I was a student at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Drexel did not have professors also acting as academic advisers. Instead, every major department at the school (e.g. digital media, business, law, medicine, etc.) had a small office for academic advisers. These advisors were never expected to teach a single class—instead their job solely focused on being experts in their respective majors. They had, on-hand, any form a student might need to fill out and had access to every single piece of information pertaining to the student. They had walk-in hours through the entire afternoon, every single day of the week.

There is of course a huge difference between Webster and Drexel. Drexel is a school of 25,000 students at their main campus alone, while Webster is right around 2,900 undergraduate students. Though the size difference is large, it doesn’t mean the same practices can’t be applied at Webster. An employee whose entire job pertains to being an expert on advising students would be an invaluable resource, and would take the pressure of being available constantly off our full-time professors.

Graf and Hopkins also brought up adding faculty advising to the tenure program and creating mandatory training for advisers to prepare them for any issues their advisees might go through. The training is a common-sense approach. When can we expect these advisers to learn about certain circumstances unless trained by the school? The tenure approach is sure to upset some professors, but it puts pressure on them to perform at the same level at which students are expected to perform in their studies.

The issue of academic advising can only be solved if students become more vocal about our needs. I will admit, I am guilty of standing idly on this issue until now. When I couldn’t get ahold of my original adviser, I simply attempted to find out the information on my own by approaching various other professors. This eventually worked, as I was able to talk to a professor who offered to become my adviser, but not all students are in that same boat.

Students need to tell professors, tell the staff in administration—hell, tell the custodians and the woman running the To-Go kiosk in Sverdrup. The more vocal students are about this issue, the more attention the administration will pay to it.

It may be uncomfortable to talk about because it almost feels like betraying a professor, but it needs to be done. Students can e-mail me directly and anonymously at daniel.carcione@gmail.com to share stories about times their adviser fell short. Any story will help strengthen our case. After three weeks, I will personally print out and present all the stories to the Office of Academic Advising at Webster University. My own personal hardships referenced in this opinion piece will be at the top of that page. If we raise our voices loud enough, someone will listen.

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