Columbian College to double advisers

Correction appended

In an effort to improve its widely criticized academic advising system, the University announced plans Friday to double the number of undergraduate advising staff in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences; create an advising committee with representation from all undergraduate schools; and speed up the implementation of a degree auditing system.

The changes will cost a total of $700,000, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman said Friday. Compensation for nine new professional advisers will cost GW around $500,000 and up to $200,000 will be spent speeding up the implementation of a degree auditing system, he said. The money to hire new advisers over the next eight months will come from funds saved through the Innovation Task Force, a University initiative launched in October designed to ensure efficient spending.

These efforts, Lehman said, could result in major improvements to academic advising.

“I think the sheer numbers are going to help and the advising committee will give us an opportunity to educate people as to what advising is all about,” Lehman said. “Hopefully, the combination of our efforts in this direction will make students realize that advising is a combined effort.”

Currently, the Columbian College has nine professional advisers, in addition to faculty advisers in each department. Two of the professional advisers focus on pre-law and pre-med students.

Even with the increase in advisers, the school will still have a ratio of 280 students per professional adviser – well above the national average of 153 students to full-time advisers at many four-year private universities, according to the most recent survey by the National Academic Advising Association.

GW’s two largest undergraduate schools besides the Columbian College have similar adviser-to-student ratios – the School of Business has 266 students for each of its six advisers and the Elliott School of International Affairs has 302 students for each of its seven undergraduate advisers, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research. Students have praised the School of Business advising program in interviews with The Hatchet and in Student Association surveys.

But Assistant Director of the NAAA Marsha Miller said advising in a school of arts and sciences is generally more difficult because of the complex course combinations required to reach a degree and the extra work it takes to help undeclared students.

Columbian College Dean Peg Barratt said the additional staff would allow her office to hold evening advising hours. Currently, walk-in advising is only available four days a week from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., and Friday from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.

“Our advising office is always listening to students,” Barratt said. “We’ve always been constrained by staffing issues, but now those constraints will be lifted.”

Barratt said she wants to make students more aware of the work administrators are doing to increase communication. She also plans to hold office hours for students.

A new advisory committee made up of one student and one professor from each of the University’s five undergraduate schools will begin meeting next week to gather recommendations for additional changes, Lehman said. The committee is headed by professor of psychology Carol Sigelman and will meet once a month, Lehman said.

The University will also speed up the implementation of its planned degree audit system, and hopes that the system will go live in fall 2011, Lehman said. The shorter timeline would cost about $200,000 more than initial estimates and will require major changes to course numbering.

“Speeding up the degree audit system is going to cost more money,” Lehman said. “We need more people, which means an additional cost to the University.”

Lehman said students and deans have lobbied for advising changes in the past, but his office was unable to allocate the funds necessary until now.

“Now that we have the Innovation Task Force, this is a good example of the kinds of things we’re going to be able to do in the future that we weren’t able to do in the past,” Lehman said.

In an announcement Friday, the Student Association credited the changes to its efforts lobbying the administration for improvements to the advising system. Lehman said it was a combined effort on his part with input from students and the deans.

“I think it was a combination of discussions with Julie Bindelglass and discussions with other students,” Lehman said. “It’s not something that the deans have ignored, as they have several times requested additional funding for this purpose and, when possible, I have allocated those funds.”

In a news release Friday, University President Steven Knapp said advising will be the first area of the University to benefit from the Innovation Task Force savings. Knapp thanked Lehman, Bindelglass and SA Executive Vice President Jason Lifton “for making advising such an important focus of our discussions.”

Director of Advising Landon Wade said he personally advises students and that the additional staff will help his office improve tremendously.

“Doubling the advising staff opens up a lot of different possibilities for us, and we always want to make sure that we are providing the best advising and creating the best environment for students, faculty and staff,” Wade said. “The announcement is great and now we get the enviable task of figuring out how we can improve things.”

The article has been revised to reflect the following changes (April 19, 2010).

The article originally reported that the University would pay $200,000 to speed-up the degree audit system. That number is actually a preliminary estimate.

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