Staff Editorial: Current advising system demands overhaul

GW students are often characterized as highly independent, but when it comes to academics, there is no denying the need for guidance and mentorship. While some students are content with their academic advising, many in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences feel the advising at the University’s largest school falls short.

For the 5,200 students in CCAS, there are only nine professional advisers available to help shape their academic careers. Professional advising has been beneficial for the Elliott School of International Affairs and the School of Business, and it is time that the Columbian College move in the same direction.

Paul Duff, the associate dean for undergraduate studies in CCAS, told The Hatchet, “We know what our problems are. But we aren’t sure how to address them.” By examining the possibility of a professional advising system, administrators can provide beneficial alternatives to the current advising culture.

The CCAS system relies upon full-time professors who are often forced to wear too many hats. As advisers, they must know the nuts and bolts of their own major, general requirements, double majors and plenty of other details. As professors, they must balance day-to-day instruction and a general push for increased faculty research to raise GW’s profile as a premier academic institution. As mentors, professors are acting as life coaches, connections and general career counselors. They bear the brunt of advising responsibility under this system.

As is evident in ESIA and SoB, advising is a full-time job. Professional advisers have broader, more flexible schedules to meet with students, as well as a comprehensive understanding of major and general requirements. They are also knowledgeable about popular double majors, minors and secondary fields. While ESIA and SoB are smaller in population and offer far fewer majors than CCAS, the schools still have the right idea as far as providing quality, accurate academic advising for their students. The schools do not rely upon professors as intermediate advisers and instead allow professors to fulfill their crucial role as mentors.

Students are, of course, responsible for taking initiative in their own academic goals. The Student Association is providing leadership in this regard, suggesting simple steps such as straightforward, one-page sheets listing requirements and general information for each major.

This should be just the beginning of advising reform in CCAS. The overall plan should define roles for three distinct players in the advising game.

The foundation of the advising system should be the professional adviser, who is responsible for providing information about GCRs, major requirements, support for double majors and other academic details. The current system with nine professional advisers is overtaxed and under-utilized; bringing additional staff onboard will allow the school to create advisers who specialize in a few majors.

For quick questions and information about professors, classes and pre-requisites, students would be matched with the second player in a new advising system – a peer adviser in their field of study. These peer advisers would be available online and via e-mail so that students need not make specific appointments with professional advisers for these quick questions.

The third element of advising is professors as mentors. This crucial role has often been overtaken by professors’ responsibilities as major advisers; with professional and peer advisers taking on those questions, time is freed for professors to provide career advice, answer life questions and help students look to the road after graduation.

No solution can be implemented immediately, but these are ideas that have been successful in other GW schools and can provide viable solutions to the CCAS advising problem. If academics are to be the focus of the new GW, new advising must be the first step toward this future.

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