UNC Eliminates Advising Teams in Effort to Improve System

UNC’s academic advising program has taken the first steps toward improving an advising system that has brought complaints from students and raised concerns from members of the Board of Trustees.

Carolyn Cannon, associate dean for academic advising, said that the advising program underwent a self-evaluation in 2006 after a candidate for student body president campaigned to overhaul the advising system.

“At the time, there was a lot of discussion on campus about academic advising,” Cannon said. “I think advisers thought perhaps we should go under a self-study to look at our strengths and weaknesses to see where we can make improvements.”

Based on an external review committee’s recommendations, the system is being restructured by eliminating the advising team system and creating a model for academic advising that involves academic departments.

The changes, at this point, mostly affect first-year and transfer students. Starting this fall, all new students were assigned to one adviser within the academic advising program based on their major. Instead of assigning students to one of eight advising teams, students are being assigned to a specific adviser in one of three divisions modeled after the three divisions in the College of Arts and Sciences. The new divisions are fine arts and humanities, behavioral and social sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics.

To address the role of academic departments in student advising, the advising program has received funding for five full-time lecturer positions in the five largest academic departments – biology, communication studies, English and comparative literature, exercise and sport science, and political science – to serve as lecturers and full-time advisers in an attempt to address concerns about departmental involvement in the advising process. If this new model for advising works in these departments, it is possible that staff could be added to other departments to better meet the advising needs of other majors, Cannon said.

Changes will not have as much of an effect on current undergraduate juniors and seniors, who often seek answers for questions about advising from sources within their department. Cannon said that current students may work with any adviser within their division of the program or faculty advisers within their departments. Traditionally, more senior students seek advice pertaining to their major from faculty in their department and seek advice on graduation requirements from academic advising.

This is not the first recent change in the system. The program was overhauled in 1999, when the team system was created and the first full-time academic advisers were hired, after UNC came in 16th out of 16 schools in the UNC System for academic advising in a 1996 survey of undergraduate students. The changes implemented in 1999 were based on feedback that students did not receive enough individual attention. At the time, the reported ratio of students to advisers was 400-to-1, and the University relied on faculty members to serve as volunteer advisers eight hours a week.

“After a year, we will step back and provide a self-assessment to see what’s working,” Cannon said. “We will see what’s working for students because if it’s not working for them, it’s not working.”

Cannon said students also must play a role in making the advising system work.

“Advising is a partnership between students and professors. Students are empowered to be involved and engaged in their education. They will have a better education if they are involved and not waiting for professors.”

Among other recommendations from the external review committee were plans to introduce an online degree audit system by fall 2010, create a full-time technology position to improve the advising Web site, develop a comprehensive mission statement on academic advising, reinforce the ways academic advising is tied to learning outcomes, establish an Academic Advising Program Council, and promote professional development opportunities for advising staff.

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