KU set to introduce new advising system for undergraduate students; professors no longer would serve as advisers
photo by: Journal-World File Photos
When University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod speaks with students, he often gets some advice on advising: Make it better.
KU now may spend up to $6 million trying to do so.
“When I meet with students, their No. 1 concern often is advising,” Girod said in a brief interview with the Journal-World.
KU has an undergraduate advising system — the process where students are given guidance on what classes to take and other steps to complete to stay on track for a degree — that varies from school to school.
KU leaders are looking to change that, although they are making a point not to call the changes a move toward “centralization.” Regardless of the terminology, though, KU’s undergraduate advising program will be run out of one university department, rather than out of individual schools.
In a recent memo sent to faculty and staff, KU Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer said advisers will report through the university’s department of Academic Success, which already handles tasks such as student orientation and operating a variety of academic support centers. In the memo, Bichelmeyer said that will mean a change in supervisors for some advisers. Current advisers, however, will keep their current offices and continue to focus on their current areas of expertise. For example, a business school adviser won’t be asked to begin advising education students.
But the new system will produce a different type of change in some schools: Professors no longer will be a student’s official adviser. Some schools at KU assign professors to serve as advisers for undergraduate students, while other schools have advisers who are not faculty members. Others use a hybrid of the two approaches.
Professors will be allowed to be “mentors” to individual students, but a professional adviser will be the undergraduate’s official adviser, according to Bichelmeyer’s memo.
Girod said a goal of the change is to ensure advisers are receiving common training and given the same set of tools that hopefully will produce greater consistency in the advising process. Girod said students most often express concern about the “inconsistent nature” of KU advising.
“We need to treat it a little differently than we have,” Girod said. “We largely have left it up to the schools to figure out, and that is not fair. Some of them have done a better job of that than others.
“What we find is some of our students get a great advising experience, but not all. Unfortunately, the ones who need it the most oftentimes aren’t the ones who know how to find it.”
But change won’t come cheap, and it also might come with controversy.
Girod told the Kansas Board of Regents last week that the changes to the advising system likely would require an investment of about $6 million, although he did not specify whether all those costs would be incurred next school year or over a longer period. In the long run, Girod said he’s confident the changes will pay for themselves by creating higher student retention rates overall for the university.
“But it is going to take an investment — a sizable investment — to do it,” Girod said.
Not everyone on campus is convinced KU has thought out the process well enough to be making such an investment.
“You would think with a $6 million price tag they would roll it out and test it,” a chair of a KU department said. The chair asked to remain unidentified out of concern negative public comments about the changes could affect their appointment as a department chair.
The chair said some schools are doing well under their own advising systems, and have strong student retention rates to prove it.
“There is concern that if an adviser does a bad job and it ends up hurting my department’s numbers, who is going to be responsible for that,” the chair said.
In reaching out to other faculty members, though, they said they either had not learned much about the proposed changes, or had heard enough to believe some changes were warranted. They, too, however did not want to speak publicly about the changes.
In her memo to faculty and staff, Bichelmeyer said there were multiple signs pointing to the need for KU to change its advising system. She said student engagement surveys KU has participated in have produced “frank feedback” on students’ “frustrations with advising.” She also said the Kansas Board of Regents has asked universities to look at such changes to improve student experiences, and she said her own analysis of KU’s system had shown a lack of coordination that often is needed in advising students.
“In other words, territoriality, allegiance to unit over university, traditional gatekeeping, and unwillingness to adapt to change as new and proven technologies become available, have all hindered our ability to coordinate across our advising structure,” Bichelmeyer said in the memo.
One fear that KU leaders are trying to quell about the system relates to job security and wages for advisers. Bichelmeyer said in the memo that no adviser jobs are being eliminated and no adviser salaries are being reduced as part of the change.
University leaders intend to move in the other direction, which is part of the need for the $6 million investment, Girod said.
“We want advising to be a profession where you can make a solid career out of being an adviser at KU,” Girod said.