With all of the focus on reaccreditation, budget concerns, employee engagement, and the consideration of a different academic calendar, it seems like we’ve spent a lot of time dwelling on things that aren’t going well or aren’t quite good enough. However, in the midst of these conversations I think we might do ourselves some good to remember that we are in the midst of doing some things very well. So before we plunge ourselves into another brooding conversation about calendar, workload disparity, or budget issues, I thought we could all use a step back from the precipice and a solid pat on the back.
You’d have to have been trapped under something thick and heavy to have missed all of the talk in recent years about the need to improve advising. We’ve added positions, increased the depth and breadth of training, and aspired to adopt an almost idyllic conception of deeply holistic advising. This has stretched many of us outside of our comfort zones and required that we apply a much more intentional framework to something that “in the old days” was supposed to be a relaxing and more open-ended conversation between scholar and student.
With this in mind, I thought it might be fun to start the spring term by sharing a comparison of 2014 and 2015 senior survey advising data.
Our senior survey asks seven questions about major advising. These questions are embedded into a section focused on our seniors’ experience in their major so that we can be sure that the student’s responses refer to their advising experience in each of their majors (especially since so many students have more than one major and therefore more than one major adviser). The first six questions focus on aspects of an intentional and developmental advising experience. The last question provides us with a way to put those efforts into the nitty gritty context of efficiency. In an ideal world, our student responses would show a trend toward higher scores on the first six questions, while average scores for the seventh question would remain relatively flat or even declining somewhat.
Here is a list of the senior survey advising questions and the corresponding response options.
- My major adviser genuinely seemed to care about my development as a whole person. (strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree)
- My major adviser helped me select courses that best met my educational and person goals. (strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree)
- How often did your major adviser ask you about your career goals? (never, rarely, sometimes, often, very often)
- My major adviser connected me with other campus resources and opportunities (OSL, CORE, the Counseling Center, etc.) that helped me succeed in college. (strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree)
- How often did your major adviser ask you to think about the connections between your academic plans, co-curricular activities, and your career or post-graduate plans? (never, rarely, sometimes, often, very often)
- My major adviser helped me plan to make the most of my college career. (strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree)
- About how often did you talk with your primary major adviser? (never, less than once per term, 1-2 times per term, 2-3 times per term, we communicated regularly through each term)
A comparison of overall numbers from seniors graduating in 2014 and 2015 seems to suggest a reason for optimism.
|Senior Survey Question||2014||2015|
|Genuinely cared about my development||4.11||4.22|
|Helped me select the right courses||3.93||4.05|
|How often asked about career goals||3.62||3.73|
|Connected me with campus resources||3.35||3.47|
|How often asked to think about links between curricular, co-curricular, and post-grad plans||3.41||3.57|
|Helped me make the most of my college career||3.85||3.97|
|How often did you and your adviser talk||3.62||3.51|
As you can tell, the change between 2014 and 2015 on each of these items aligns with what we would hope to see. We appear to be improving the quality of the student advising experience without taking more time to do so. Certainly this doesn’t mean that every single case reflects this overall picture, but taken together this data seems to suggest that our efforts to improve are working.
I suspect that more than a few of you are wondering whether or not these changes are statistically significant. Without throwing another table of data at you, here is what I found. The change in “how often advisers asked students to think about the links between curricular, co-curricular, and post-grad plans” (.16) solidly crossed the threshold of statistical significance. The change in “genuinely cared about my development” (.11) was not statistically significant. The change in each of the other five items (from .12 to .15) turned out to be “marginally significant,” meaning, in essence, that the difference between the two average scores is worth noting even if it doesn’t meet the gold standard for statistical significant.
The reason I would argue that these changes, when taken together, are worth noting is a function of looking at all of these changes together. The probability that all seven of these items would move in our intended direction randomly is less than 1% (.0078 to be exact). In other words, it’s likely that something is going on that would push all of these items in the directions we had hoped. Given the scope of our advising emphasis recently, these findings seem to me to suggest that we are indeed on the right track.
I know that there are plenty of reasons to pull the “correlation doesn’t equal causation” handbrake. But I’m not arguing that this data is inescapable proof. Rather, I’m arguing that these findings make a pretty strong case for the possibility that our efforts are producing results.
So before we get ourselves tied into knots about hard questions and tough choices over the next 10 weeks, maybe take a moment to remember that we can tackle issues that might at first seem overwhelming. It might not be easy, but where is the fun in “easy”?
Make it a good day,