My efforts to get to the 2019 NACADA Annual Conference reminded me of the journey faced by college students across the country…
- I made sure my bag was packed.
- My alarm was set at 3:15 am to catch a 5 am flight.
- Got into bed early to make sure I had energy to learn as much as I could.
- I was ready and excited and had done everything I could to show up and make the most of this opportunity…
However, I woke up to my alarm only to discover that major storms were sweeping across the south and the airport in Dallas was shut down. I had been rerouted. I would arrive at NACADA a few hours later than planned… but at least I would get there. My airline had done everything to solve the problems for me that were out of my control. I could sleep in another hour and then I’d hit the ground running. Or so I thought.
A constant topic at NACADA focused on the ways in which we engage with our students. Maybe our caseloads are big. We may only see a student once a semester. Maybe our technology needed to be revamped to meet our needs. Or, maybe our collective understanding of the nuances across populations now requires us to understand and serve students in new ways. But behind all of those challenges, the common thread remains.
Everyone is looking for a way to be more efficient and more effective.
The Questions We Ask
Schools looking for advisor efficiency are asking themselves questions about their time and advising structure. Everyone in education has the option to work 60 hours per week. As a former teacher myself, I know there is always more to do. How can I efficiently communicate with students? How can I handle a caseload of 500? How should we blend professional advisors, success coaching, and faculty advisors? During registration periods, how am I supposed to holistically approach a student when they have holds and want to change their major and I only have 30 minutes and I worked through lunch… again?
Looking for efficiency isn’t mutually exclusive with being effective. It’s a parallel set of questions. There were so many amazing sessions about the needs of specific student groups. How do I best advise my students struggling with PTSD? How do I advise students from foster care? How do I advise my black male STEM students? How can I see how my students are doing in their classes relative to their peers in the same section? How can I then leverage this knowledge to create change?
Those are granular questions but the question of effectiveness is actually quite simple. How do I make the biggest impact on my students?
It starts with having the right foundation. Do I have the right data about my students? More importantly, do I have access to the actions that can be taken for those students? Do I know what resources to recommend?
If at any point I have a breakdown in getting information or acting on information, then I’m limited in how effective I can be in my role. If I can be aware of the problems my students face, then I need to find a way to fix it. And, that’s exactly where the advising teams we work with are breaking through barriers and improving the trajectory of the students they serve…
We Can Be Both Efficient and Effective
Upon my arrival to the airport, I was forced to check my carry-on bag. The plane was full and they said my bag would arrive safely in Louisville. I watched my bag get taken away and thought to myself, “With the guardrails of modern technology, do bags really get lost anymore?” When I arrived in Louisville, I received a text that my bag didn’t make it on my plane. There was some previously unseen issue that caused its delay. They prompted me for an address to deliver my bag, and by the time the last NACADA session was over, it was back. Bags still get lost, but because of a modern technology solution, they get returned and the issue is resolved more efficiently and effectively than before.
Now, we know that our students will experience minor and major issues. The challenges they face are probably more substantial than lost luggage, though. That’s because life has challenges and, quite frankly, it can be hard. But we also know that we can help because advising really works. Analysis shows that it improves student persistence more than any other student success program. That doesn’t mean we need to hire more advisors or send more emails or have more meetings. There is another way to help more — and more diverse — students overcome their challenges and navigate their academic journey successfully. Advisors shouldn’t have to sacrifice efficiency or effectiveness in the process.
What would you do differently if you knew exactly how to make the biggest impact on your students? What would your team do if they had more time to focus on the students who need help most urgently?
It’s what we think about every single day, and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.