CCAS cycled through 23 advisers since 2018, damaging student experience, experts say

Media Credit: Auden Yurman | Senior Photo Editor

Since 2018, at least five former advisers have moved on to American University, and at least one now works at Brown University, according to their LinkedIn pages.

Twenty-three advisers have left the Columbian College and Arts and Sciences’ undergraduate advising office during the past four years, which experts said will impede students’ ability to create relationships with their advisers.

Of the 11 advisers working in CCAS’ pod system in May 2018, only two still work at GW, according to a Hatchet analysis of earlier and current pages of the office’s website. Experts in academic advising in higher education said a high turnover of advisers prevents students from building a relationship with an adviser throughout their college career and ultimately lose trust in the effectiveness of the advising process, undermining their GW experience.

University spokesperson Josh Grossman said academic advisers are an “asset” to GW’s community. He declined to say how many advisers left and joined the University in the past five years and why there has been a high turnover rate among advisers.

“The University continues to value our advisers’ critical commitment to their roles and the important contributions they make to enhancing the student experience,” he said.

Since 2018, at least five former advisers have moved on to American University, and at least one now works at Brown University, according to their LinkedIn pages. At least two former advisors work at Eagle Hill Consulting – a consulting firm based in the D.C. area, according to LinkedIn.

The number of advisers in CCAS’ advising office fluctuated between about 10 to 14 per academic year, according to earlier versions of the office’s website.

Jeff Elliott, the executive director of University Undergraduate Academic Advising at Purdue University, said a high turnover of advisers actively undermines their relationships with students, preventing them from developing trust with advising staff.

“The perfect experience, honestly, is a student who comes in their first year and meets an individual who demonstrates that they care about that student’s identity and care about the student’s welfare and well-being,” Elliott said.

report from the Association for Undergraduate Education at Research Universities – a consortium of more than 80 public and private research universities working to strengthen undergraduate education in the United States – this year stressed the value of academic advising to the student experience and advisers’ role in developing relationships with students.

The report states students who receive consistent, high-quality advising are more likely to remain enrolled at their university than if they received poor-quality advising. Morgan State University, a subject in the report, cited an increase in its first-year retention rates and six-year graduation rates by around 10 percent from 2006 to 2017 after investing in its advising programs, redesigning its curriculum and increasing financial aid, according to the report.

“Students can start to develop a sense of rapport and trust that helps with things like getting students to disclose needs or when they have personal or external issues that are affecting their ability to perform,” Elliott said.

Elliott said advising offices can improve employee retention rates if they offer competitive salaries and benefits, demonstrate their appreciation for advisers’ work and provide advisers with opportunities for promotion.

“If you have a generous leave plan, if you have really great comprehensive health care, all of those extrinsic things matter,” Elliott said. “But then the second step, and the one that gets missed a lot, is intrinsic value, and those are the things the office can really focus on because it has to do with a sense that ‘I’m an important part of something that matters.’”

Ann Minnick, the director of academic programs and advising at Macalester College, said “The Great Resignation” – an ongoing trend in which employees are voluntarily resigning en masse in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – is impacting staff retention rates at workplaces across the country as many employees reconsider their career options.

More than 600,000 campus workers left universities in 2020 due to resignations and layoffs, according to the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

“For the past several years, post-pandemic or during the pandemic, people are wondering, ‘Is this the right thing for me?’” Minnick said. “So I do think if you have a good manager, if they’re advocating for the staff, that makes a difference, but there are lots of factors that affect employee retention that go beyond just the office itself.”

CCAS undergraduate students said they often struggle to schedule an advising appointment because student demand for appointments overwhelms available appointments. They said advisers often appear to lack knowledge of less common degrees within CCAS, like arts programs.

Jaclyn Nathanson, a freshman majoring in fine arts, said an adviser told her that taking 17 credits during the first semester of her freshman year would be “manageable,” but Nathanson later discovered the workload to be overburdensome. She said CCAS advisers do not give helpful advice to students who are not studying a popular major at GW, like political science, and are not well-informed on the college’s arts majors.

“If they could do anything it would just be for each adviser to have a more broad understanding of every major we have,” she said. “Because I think every single adviser I’ve met with, when I tell them I’m an art major, their first words are, ‘Oh I don’t really know much about that.’”

Nathanson said she makes her appointments with the CCAS undergraduate advising office a week or two in advance because slots often fill up quickly, making it difficult to make appointments.

“The slots fill up pretty quickly, like in the pods, so you have to do it in advance, but it’s not difficult once you set it up,” she said.

Bryan Connolly, a senior majoring in political science, said while the advice he receives from CCAS advisers is helpful, scheduling an appointment can sometimes be difficult when students forget to cancel their appointments when they are no longer able to attend them.

“I was trying to make an appointment yesterday and I was having trouble in the morning, and then I tried again in the afternoon and it was like ‘Oh, a spot opened up for tomorrow,’” he said. “Usually it’s not a huge deal but sometimes you do have to plan for a week or so.”

Aidan Cullers, a freshman majoring in political science, said he wishes the CCAS undergraduate advising office’s student outreach was more personalized. He said most of the emails he receives from the office seem like they are directed at the general student body.

“If I had an adviser assigned to me, and every month or maybe every other month they send an email just like ‘Hey how are you doing? How are classes going? Do you have any concerns?’ stuff like that, and there was just an open dialogue with somebody I knew I could meet with, that would be great,” he said.

Caitlin Kitson contributed reporting.

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