After a two-and-a-half year review process, the Center for Student Advising has found that most students are satisfied with its services.
Dean of Advising Monique Rinere presented the results of the review at a Columbia College Student Council meeting Sunday night. Thirty-one percent of undergraduates at Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science took part in a survey on CSA, 73 percent of whom said that CSA is meeting their advising needs.
Still, the review found that CSA has some room for improvement. The advising office is planning to make a few changes based on the review, including improving its communication with prefrosh and first-year students, implementing a new peer advising system, and looking into a group advising system.
“We're now in the place that we're planning and implementing changes based on this feedback,” Rinere said on Sunday night.
CSA began readying for the review in the fall of 2009, preparing a mission statement, coming up with an expectations list, and putting together an assessment plan. In May 2011, CSA formed eight focus groups—six made up of students who use CSA regularly, and two made up of students who don't.
Last semester—two years after the process began—the advising office sent out the survey, receiving responses from 30 percent of CC students and 35 percent of SEAS undergraduates. The research firm Slover Linett Strategies analyzed the data from the survey and the focus groups and put together a report.
The statistics in the report indicate a high level of satisfaction with CSA. Seventy-eight percent of survey respondents said they would recommend their adviser to others, 89 percent called their adviser “responsive,” and 92 percent described their adviser as “approachable.” Students also described CSA as a good resource for help navigating the Columbia bureaucracy.
The review found some areas of concern for CSA, though. Only 59 percent of students said they go to the office for major advising, although adviser Michael Dunn said that this is “not actually a core part of CSA's mission.”
“We want to focus on more broad undergraduate advising,” he said.
While 85 percent of students said they found their adviser to be knowledgeable about academics, only 51 percent said they would turn to their adviser for help with personal issues. The report also found that students have very different experiences depending on their advising dean.
“All of us individually did our own thing, but we didn't necessarily communicate with each other,” Dunn said.
Dunn added that with the review complete, CSA is looking to expand its services in new directions.
“There is room for enhancement in newer, broader CSA goal areas, such as encouraging students to pursue their passions,” he said. “Advisers should be more proactive in their adviser-student relationships.”
The review found that first-years are more likely than upperclassmen to be engaged with their advisers and to find their advisers helpful. According to a summary of the report, students' relationships with CSA “tend to start early, but currently seem to wane over time.”
“Students get discouraged,” CSA Associate Director Monica Avitsur said. “They are more likely to disengage if they don't think their adviser is supporting them in a proactive way.”
Some students reported being frustrated that their advisers have given them incomplete or incorrect information, or have directed them to websites that they've already examined. The report also showed that engineering students are more likely to be satisfied with CSA's services than CC students are.
CSA has come up with a few strategies to address concerns brought to light by the review. Rinere said at the CCSC meeting that CSA has given advisers individualized feedback based on student comments.
“They're using that information to craft their own professional development plans,” Rinere said. “Some people need to be more approachable. Some people need to increase their knowledge base. Some need to learn more about study abroad.”
CSA also hopes to improve its communication with incoming first-years—at summer advising sessions and via email—to clarify what they can expect from their advisers when they get to campus.
In a related initiative, CSA will try to increase the time students can spend with their advisers during the New Student Orientation Program from 10 minutes to 15-20 minutes. Rinere said that during NSOP, CSA advisers meet with 1,600 students in four days.
Another goal for CSA is to better “manage the transition” for the 27 percent of students who change advisers, Dunn said. Rinere believes that CSA needs to do more to communicate to students that they can switch advisers.
“We've taken steps so students don't feel shuffled,” Dunn said.
CSA recently started a peer advising program based on preliminary results of the review, and the office is also looking into the possibility of a group advising system. Peer advisers will be trained in academic areas like the Core Curriculum and departmental resources.
CSA plans to hire four CC and four SEAS peer advisers.
“Talking to students can make a nice bridge to their adviser,” Dunn said.
Despite these changes, Alex España, CSA's assistant dean and director community outreach, is happy with CSA's current services.
“We are a trusted and indispensable source of knowledge and support for all students, but there is always room for improvement,” he said.
Sarah Darville contributed reporting.