To help build Lynn University’s strategic plan, employees and students participated in design thinking exercises to explore how Lynn can expand, elevate and enhance student services. The sessions covered a wide range of topics, but one resonated with nearly every design thinking group: revamp academic advising.
“We discussed centralizing advising for several years, but never made the shift,” said Gregg Cox, vice president for Academic Affairs. “We originally identified faculty advisers within each college that could advise students on a one-to-one basis, but over the years, we also recognized that having 100 faculty advisors created unevenness in the advising process.”
The strategy had worked for faculty members who enjoyed helping students pursue their career objectives. But what about professors advising students whose majors were undecided? Or students who were so excited about their future fields that they forgot to complete required courses?
Faculty members raised questions like these in the design thinking sessions. An earlier Academic Council survey also reported that an overwhelming majority of faculty members wished to be relieved of advising duties to have more time to build curricula and help students with assignments. Administrators agreed: it was time to move to a new model.
A new space for a new model
Over summer 2018, an interim academic advising center began to take shape in the alumni room of the library. It opened in fall 2018, with six full-time staff members dedicated to advising the university’s nearly 3,000 students.
The space has room for private, one-on-one conversations as well as group advising.
“Our staff is 100 percent dedicated to helping students get answers to their academic advising questions,” said Diane DiCerbo, director of Academic Advising. “Each staff member received training on traditional services like helping students register for, drop or add classes, as well as more specialized services.”
Under the new model, students still are assigned a primary adviser based on their degree program, graduate or online status. However, if a student’s primary adviser is unavailable, any adviser can help. Students can make appointments or walk in Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Services are also available online and via telephone.
Freshmen are required to use the center to register for classes, while undergraduate students with over 60 credits and graduate and online students can still register online. Academic advisers will continue to approve online registrations.
Cox and DiCerbo believe the new, centralized model will produce more reliable outcomes, ensuring students remain on a direct path to graduation.
“Our advisers concentrate on degree completion, making sure students take the correct courses at the right time,” DiCerbo explained. “We also monitor their grades as they progress toward their degrees.”
Advisers also consider academic and personal needs. For example, students can still take a class based on their interest in a topic if electives allow it, or they can register for evening or online classes if they have other daytime obligations. Advisers approve online registrations daily, enabling them to alert students in a timely manner if students need to make schedule adjustments.
And what are faculty members doing with their newfound free time?
“Faculty members now have a more professional teaching and mentoring role,” said Cox. “Without the need to focus on registration, their office hours are dedicated to students needing academic support, career advising and mentor- or internship-finding.”
Spring 2019 and beyond
In Spring 2019, the Advising Center will move into its permanent home, a space at the library’s entrance currently occupied by the Hannifan Center for Career Connections. The Career Center will relocate to the University Center, where it will continue its mission of connecting students with outside resources, mentors and employers.
“Our goal for the advising center is to gain a more comprehensive look at students’ experiences inside and outside the classroom,” said Cox. “I hope it will become a go-to place for students and advisers to engage, for advisers to understand a student’s situation and help them.”
And with more information sharing between departments like the Career Center, Student Financial Services and Academic Advising, students should be able to reach the right resources, faster.