Rethinking Academic Advising in Higher Education


The transition from high school to higher ed is one of the most life-changing experiences a person will undergo. At this stage, students have yet to develop the critical thinking skills to confidently navigate this new environment. Academic advisors are in a unique position to provide information, insight, and guidance as students launch themselves toward their personal and career goals—but unfortunately factors like gigantic caseloads, disparate computer systems, and underdeveloped institutional strategies oftentimes get in the way. 

According to one survey, college students are almost as likely to receive advising from their friends and family (41%) as they are from an advisor (47%). And who could blame them when 375:1 is the average ratio of students to advisors. Community colleges run closer to 1,000:1; half of community college students don’t even know advising is available to them. Beyond that, the satisfaction levels of their interactions leave ample room for improvement, with fewer than half being “very satisfied” with the experience. 

What’s worse, this ratio has only gotten worse in the past two decades as budget cuts have hit, even in years when enrollment numbers ticked up. In 2003, for example, the ratio was 282:1. If student persistence is a high-level priority for institutions—and it should be—then it’s important to note that strong academic advising is shown to have a positive affect on retention and completion rates. Inaccessible or ineffective advising, on the other hand, is one of the most cited reasons students discontinue their studies. 

New systems and technologies have enabled students to register for classes online without too much hassle, in the process freeing up advisors to do more coaching and problem-solving than in years past. From this came a new emphasis on holistic advising, in which counselors can go beyond the course catalog to really dig in and set students up for success. This, however, is a time-consuming process, and to accomplish it as effectively as possible, advisors need access to a robust set of data points to identify potential problems and craft strategies for overcoming them.

At NimblyWise, we’re envisioning a world where campuses consistently assess students on foundational skills (competencies like critical thinking, communication, and information literacy), and then share those results with students. Building these skills is shown to impact persistence, GPA levels, and completion rates. We believe having access to this data, presented intuitively and in real-time, will become a powerful tool for advisors directing students toward the courses and experiences they’ll need to achieve their academic and career goals. 

Stay tuned for exciting news about the research we’re conducting and who we’re partnering with in 2020 to make this a reality!