Task Force to Improve Advising

Students using Online Registration to sign up for next year?s classes may be surprised by a message popping up to ask them if they?ve filled out a short survey for academic advising. The online survey is one of the ideas being considered by a new task force created to assess current academic advising at CMU, address unmet needs, and propose new possibilities to improve undergraduate advising on campus.
?The time is right to look at advising again,? said Steve Pajewski, co-chairman of the task force and an associate director for the information systems program. According to Pajewski, the last time a task force was assembled to assess advising on campus was in 1992. Since then, numerous changes have altered academic advising at CMU, including the option to register online and to enroll in interdisciplinary majors. These changes have been dealt with differently by each college ? for example, some colleges require students to meet with their advisor before choosing classes, while others do not.
Last fall, vice provost for education Indira Nair decided to create a new task force with the goals of ?internal benchmarking to share best practices, addressing unmet needs, and proposing initiatives that will support high-quality advising.? The task force is projected to be a two-year process ? this year the task force will focus on gathering information from students and advisors, and next year the task force will begin suggesting changes and new ideas.
?Our first goal is to find out what needs to be addressed,? said James Roberts, a member of the task force and the first-year advisor for SCS. ?Year to year, class to class, issues change,? he said. ?Right now we might not even know what the important issues are, and we have to identify what students think we need to look at.?
The task force is currently finishing the last of several focus groups that were set up for student volunteers to discuss academic advising anonymously. A possible problem with these focus groups is that they are composed of volunteers. They might not offer a realistic profile of the opinions of undergraduates as a whole. For this reason, the task force is considering the implementation of an online survey as part of the registration process, so that more information about student opinion can be gathered.
?The idea is not to say college X is doing a great job, and college Y is doing badly,? said Roberts. ?The idea is to see exactly what it is that we want to evaluate.... We?re looking at the mechanics of how we advise.?
Currently each of the different colleges within CMU has a different advising system ? some rely entirely on staff, others rely on staff and faculty, and others have a mentor system set up between faculty and students. The task force defines advisors very broadly, and estimates that there are roughly 160 people who work as advisors on campus, including people who work at the career center and student affairs. Many of these advisors have very different methods and opinions on how advising should work, and one of the future goals of the task force is to learn what issues the advisors are concerned with and what changes they suggest. One of the ideas that many advisors have raised is the creation of a centralized organization or office for coordinating advising and ongoing assessment of advising between each of the different colleges on campus.
?Students are getting services from a lot of different people,? said Claudia Kirkpatrick, co-chair of the task force and advisor for the Tepper School of Business. ?What kinds of needs do students have, and how are they met?? One of the ideas Kirkpatrick supports is the creation of a mission statement or standard that would explain the goal of the campus for academic advising.