Opinion | Advising can (and should) be improved

Alex Jobin, Staff Columnist

It is once again that time when a dark scary cloud descends upon campus: advising season. Students scramble to compile their course schedule for the upcoming semester while some faculty and staff try to balance the additional role of “advisor” with the rest of their workload and responsibilities. 

I think you would be hard-pressed to find a student at the Capstone who has never had an unhelpful, confusing or outright misleading advising experience. It seems to be a universal plight that we have all simply accepted as a fact of life — and it doesn’t seem to matter which department you belong to.

The chaos associated with planning a schedule and meeting with advisors causes students to turn into skittish creatures over the semesters, taking every piece of “advice” with more than a few grains of salt (lest they misappropriate their credit hours, costing themselves the precious time and money associated with additional semesters of tuition).

The stress of advising season does not only weigh heavily on students; faculty and staff members must also navigate the discombobulating and time-consuming maze. Whether they are staff, instructors, or full-time professors, departmental advisors must set aside significant time from their busy schedules to address questions that they are not always the best-equipped to deal with. 

I cannot tell you how many times I have been told by an advisor that they don’t have the answer to a specific scheduling concern I have and that is not a knock on them. 

DegreeWorks is often confusing — if not outright misleading — for both students and advisors. Additionally, how can we expect advisors to provide the necessary aid when they are swamped by 38,645 students — all of whom have unique scheduling issues?

Many students must outsource their advising issues to other faculty or staff who are better informed on specific requirements and nuances that their regular advisor is either unsure of or simply wrong about. This ends up wasting everyone’s precious time right in the busiest part of the semester. 

The alternative to this time-suck is blind faith in the advising system of your department, and I know far too many students who have taken unnecessary classes, or failed to take classes that were essential, as a result of such a choice.

Jacqueline Jessop, a senior majoring in biology and marine science, told me of an all-too-common advising issue she experienced.

“My first semester senior year, I had thought my schedule was fine but discovered a problem within DegreeWorks,” Jessop said. “Throughout multiple advising appointments I was told that everything was fine, and only when I met with a faculty member who wasn’t my advisor was I able to get the problem resolved so I could graduate on time.”

Unfortunately, cursory reviews are about all the current advising structures can afford.

“Advisors are so overwhelmed that they only have the time to give students’ schedules a passing glance and cannot devote the time to addressing students’ specific issues,” Jessop said. 

Again, it must be emphasized that this is a systemic problem, not an individual one. Students and advisors who make scheduling mistakes are victims of an uncoordinated and overly-bureaucratized system. Students should not have to be put through the ringer of rotating advisors and inconsistent information. Advisors should not be expected to facilitate the academic paths of hordes of students who they may barely know, and whose scheduling needs often fall outside their realm of expertise. 

There seems to be a plethora of simple solutions that the University could quickly implement to remove these headaches from the advising process. 

Perhaps hire more subject-specific advisors who can work with smaller groups of students more intimately over the entirety of their time at the University. Such advisors could better address the specific individual needs of the students they work with without needing to balance their responsibilities with teaching. 

This would take a significant load off of professors and provide a more accurate and thorough advising experience for students, and lets not pretend like the cost would be an issue for this university.

Another solution could come in the form of uniform advising protocol for all university departments. Faculty departments could make explicit which areas, interests and paths their professors are best equipped to advise students on.

Subsequently, students could find the right advisor to suit their specific needs and sign up for some form of predetermined appointment slot. This could be a great way to remove the dissonance from advising and make it easier on both students and advisors.

No matter what the solution ends up being, we should all agree that the current state of advising at the University is unfair. Let us not allow scheduling errors to stand in the way of our success in attaining higher education — that’s what we’re all here for isn’t it?