In a previous editorial, we suggested that students be paired with advisers based on academic interests and have greater access to a robust peer advising network. In light of the recent and beneficial changes made by the Academic Advising Center to improve the adviser-advisee pairing system, we have developed some new questions regarding the purpose and role of academic advising.
The new system for pairing advisers with students relies on a computer algorithm developed and tested by the Academic Advising Center. Previously, potential advisers and students were paired by hand from a spreadsheet. Additionally, increasing the number of advisers to 250, with new ones drawn from the Trinity School of Arts and Sciences, Fuqua School of Business and School of Law, has reduced the number of students assigned to each adviser.
Central to improving the academic advising system is concretely defining the role of an academic adviser. We recognize that it is impossible for a general adviser to keep up with all academic and course information, which changes from semester to semester. Many students arrive at Duke, however, with the expectation that their adviser will be able to speak extensively on particular classes or major requirements. This can lead to a mismatch between what the adviser can provide and what the students expect, creating disappointment on both sides.
Instead, academic advisers should serve as general references for students. They should be able and willing to provide critical feedback and encouragement for exploring broad-ranging intellectual interests, academic paths or new opportunities. Rather than coming to one’s academic advisor with questions about a specific class, students should see their academic advisors as resources who can address larger concerns. If students have more specific inquiries regarding academics, advisors can—and in many cases already do—point students to existing online resources or to knowledgeable undergraduate advisors in each department.
Overall, we think that increasing the amount of advisors to 250 is a good thing. It allows students to receive more individualized attention and increases the capacity of advisors to respond to unique needs. In order to maintain quality, however, advisors should arrive on the job with the expectation that they will make an effort to genuinely come to know their students. To this end, advisors should consider reaching out to their advisees as early as possible, ideally before students even arrive on campus. In some ways, an advisor acts as a safety net by making sure that students fulfill their minimum academic requirements. However, advisors can also add enormous value to a student’s decision-making process because they wield extensive institutional knowledge.
Students should also take the initiative to develop a relationship with their advisors. This relationship can include anything from occasionally reaching out through email or scheduling lunch. Moreover, students can seek advice from people other than advisors. Some of the most valuable guidance can come from older friends and faculty mentors that students seek out individually. All in all, academic advising remains a work in progress and one of that we should continue to improve, as effective advising is essential for helping students squeeze the most out of their undergraduate experience.