New CCAS academic advising system doesn’t solve all the office’s problems

Updated: Jan. 30, 2019 at 3:56 p.m.

Students in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences have inefficient academic advising – but a new system won’t fix the problems.

CCAS employs a POD system that divides students into three groups by last name and assigns them to a group of four advisers with whom they can meet to settle academic issues. Officials announced that this semester, first- and second-year CCAS students in POD 3 will be assigned an individual adviser rather than a group of advisers.

The University also said the new system could be expanded to include all CCAS students as early as next year. It is clear that the goal of this change is to foster a closer connection between students and advisers with the hope that a personal connection will improve the quality of advising itself. However, personalized advising systems are not the solution. Students don’t need an individual academic adviser, they just need to be able to schedule appointments with the advising office and get their questions answered with ease.

Cartoon by Jekko Syquia

While it is still too early to judge the effectiveness of a personalized advising system, this new policy ignores the root of the issue: There are far too few advisers to serve the students in the University’s largest school.

An understaffed advising department would not be such an egregious issue if it was universal, but all other schools at GW have a far lower adviser-to-student ratio. CCAS has more than 5,300 undergraduate students that share three PODs, which equates to one POD for roughly 1,780 students. With four advisers assigned to each POD, the ratio works out to about 445 students assigned to each adviser. In comparison, the Elliott School of International Affairs enrolls about 2,200 students and has nine advisers, a ratio of about 244 students to one adviser. The School of Business has about 1,700 students sharing six advisers, which results in about 280 students for each adviser to oversee.

The recent change comes after a Student Association survey ilustrated that students are dissatisfied with advising on campus. The POD system was implemented in 2015 after staff turnover plagued the office and students reported having difficulty making appointments with their assigned advisers – a problem that continues today.

But complaints in 2015 were certainly not new. Concerns over personalized advising can be traced back to an SA survey in 2006, which found that students felt misinformed by their assigned advisers. Parents and students said years later in 2010 that advising was failing first-year students by not being hands-on enough.

Since the POD system was implemented in 2015, the number of advisers per POD has decreased from five to four, while the number of students at GW has increased. This year’s freshman class is the largest in recent history and the office is understandably swamped.

The CCAS advising office just began taking reservations for the spring semester, yet appointments are nearly booked for the upcoming week. The office offers walk-in advising as well, but students who choose this route often face long wait times.

The shortage of advisers may in part be caused by the high rate of turnover within the department. Turnover in the upper levels of CCAS advising – as well as among advisers themselves – is high. By retaining, and ultimately hiring more advisers, GW can ensure that CCAS doesn’t suffer from advising shortages that lead to long wait times and underserved students.

Additionally, having professors who double as advisers – an issue that was raised as early as 2010 – has yet to be addressed. At least one of the 12 CCAS advisers also works as a professor. In an understaffed environment, advisers who are forced to split their time between advising and teaching only exacerbate the problem. While all of the advisers I have interacted with have been very helpful, knowledgeable and committed to helping students – there simply are not enough advisers to serve the largest school at GW.

The result is that CCAS students have less access to academic advising than other students, making it more difficult to declare a major or plan a course of study. Especially considering that CCAS is the largest school at GW and has a wide variety of subject areas, students need access to advisers that can help them navigate the various offerings.

For CCAS students, ensuring that they follow requirements for their major and for the school’s general education requirements is confusing enough. Students do not need an ever-changing advising format to complicate things. Rather than ignore the issues and revert to a previously ineffective form of advising, CCAS students deserve more academic advisers to have an advising system that is on par with the other schools.

Jack Murphy, a freshman majoring in philosophy, is a Hatchet columnist.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
A previous version of this editorial incorrectly reported the number of undergraduate students assigned to each POD in CCAS. The number has been corrected. We regret this error.

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