CCAS advising changes stalled

After spending more than a year identifying a range of problems in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences advising system, administrators said they remain unprepared to make any significant changes this fall.

The school created a committee last year to investigate advising in response to student and parent complaints and presented the findings to CCAS Dean Peg Barratt this May. The group found that students were most concerned about impersonal advising from faculty advisers and receiving inconsistent information, said Paul Duff, associate dean for undergraduate studies in CCAS.

He noted several small improvements this semester, including additional content on the CCAS Web site and an initiative designed to keep freshmen with the same advisers throughout their first year. However, Duff said many of the most significant problems identified in the report were unfixable.

“We can never solve that problem,” Duff said, referring to the discrepancies between faculty advisors. “Some faculty aren’t going to be good advisers.”

Duff highlighted several other serious problems brought to light by the committee’s report – including not enough advisers in large departments and the lack of a comprehensive way to advise undeclared sophomores – but said the University had not yet begun to test other options.

“That’s not going to change,” Duff said of the lack of faculty advisers in large departments like political science and psychology. “There’s no easy way to solve that.”

Other GW schools such as the School of Business have hired full-time professional advisers, but Duff said this is not a viable option for the Columbian College.

“Where would we put them? What would they do when it’s not the week before registration?” Duff said.

With more than 600 majors, political science is the largest CCAS department and was singled out as a problem spot by an advising study conducted by the Student Association last year.

The department’s undergraduate coordinator, Susan Wiley, said she has to focus solely on administrative duties like helping students declare their major or minor and removing registration holds because of the sheer number of students.

“I’m the gatekeeper,” Wiley said. “I make sure everyone has the same information in the same format.”

Wiley, who said she receivs 50 to 60 advising e-mails per day, recommends students seeking more personalized help or course recommendations look elsewhere.

“I think students need to take the initiative for that,” Wiley said, adding that “every member of the department is willing to meet with students to discuss graduate school, research projects and other topics.”

While she acknowledged that students received vastly different advising experiences within the department, Wiley maintained CCAS advising was “excellent.”

“I haven’t had anyone come to me to complain,” she said.

Wiley added, “The disgruntled students are the ones not on top of things.”

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