Discontent prompts adviser training

By double majoring in international affairs and environmental studies, senior Jeremy Iloulian fits the classic GW student profile.

But when he needed academic advisers’ help as a freshman and sophomore, he got mixed signals from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and Elliott School of International Affairs.

“It made it difficult when I had to go back and forth between the two advisers when they weren’t as confident about each other, about the other programs and about how they overlap,” he said.

Iloulian’s case is representative of students’ irritation with advising University-wide for multiple years, according to data provided by the Office of Academic Planning and Assessment. Provost Steven Lerman said Wednesday that GW plans to cross-train advisers, who are cordoned off in separate offices in each college, to handle questions about a wider variety of majors and subjects.

More than half of last year’s graduating seniors said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their first-year faculty advisers in the Columbian College, School of Engineering and Applied Science, School of Public Health and Health Services and School of Medicine and Health Sciences. About 40 percent of graduating seniors last year were dissatisfied with professional advisers in the Elliott School and GW School of Business last year.

Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Planning Forrest Maltzman, who cautioned that academic advising often draws scorn across higher education, said some students might be irked by advisers who cannot answer academic questions about a different school.

“This cross-training could help that. What students get frustrated on is that they go to their adviser and ask questions about somewhere else and the adviser says ‘I don’t know,’ ” Maltzman said. “Right now, the way we set up our system, there is very little linkage across school advisers.”

Lerman and Maltzman did not know yet when training would start or how much it would cost because the process has not been fully planned.

A Faculty Senate committee of professors and students, on which Iloulian sits, singled out academic advising as a top priority as GW finalizes its 10-year strategic plan within the coming weeks. A task force will convene this spring to reshape undergraduate education and advising as part of the plan.

Applicants could within two years be admitted to the University as a whole, rather than specific schools, to encourage more interdisciplinary work. The new admissions model would also allow students to declare “pre-majors” as a path into the college of their choice, like the School of Media and Public Affairs.

No specific change has been finalized or approved, but the University has pledged to funnel $9 million to $17 million over the next decade into remodeling undergraduate learning, including advising.

Michael Castleberry, chair of the Faculty Senate executive committee, said advising was a hot-button issues during strategic plan discussions.

“We have to come up with a better way to do advising. Students want more from advisers. They want more access to advisers. We need to ramp that up. We need to put money in,” he said.

Castleberry called previous attempts to revamp advising “not adequate.”

In 2010, the University announced a $500,000 effort to double the number of professional advisers in Columbian College from nine to 18. The college reached that number last fall.

The business school also made advising changes two years ago, turning over almost its entire staff and putting advisers in classrooms to lead first-year development courses.

Advisers across schools have also touted the 2011 adaptation of DegreeMAP, an online auditing system that helps students track their degree requirements. The service allows advisers to focus on more substantive discussions with students instead of just helping to track requirements.

Maltzman said he is working on improvements such as allowing students to view “what-if scenarios” in the next year. For example, a student who has not switched majors yet would still be able to project degree requirements.

The academic advising changes would come after the University remolded its career center last year, adding about a dozen new staff members over the next three years to specialize in specific fields.

Lerman said he did not think the University would create a central office for academic advising, opting to keep advising in each college for now so as not to “disrupt the organizational model we have.”

Anna Regan, director of undergraduate Columbian College advising, said the office has made strides to fix the existing model recently work by adding walk-in hours and more workshops with the career center.

She said the office was also trying to host more student workshops with the Career Center.

“As the plan for admitting all undergraduate students to GW is fleshed out, it will become clearer what changes in advising need to be made to help students choose classes and majors, and make the most out of all the resources GW offers,” Regan said in an email.

Amelia Williams and Cory Weinberg contributed to this report.

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