Advisors, step up your game

The Observer

A few weeks ago, an editorial examined the results of the latest CWRU senior survey. This week, the focus is on first-year students, who were also surveyed in a similar fashion last spring. It turns out, perhaps unexpectedly, that last year’s freshmen struggle with problems different from those of last year’s seniors.

Where CWRU’s seniors expressed dissatisfaction with participation in university decision-making, the current sophomores struggled with academic self-concept, student-faculty interaction and satisfaction with coursework. The student-faculty interaction metrics were at a disappointing 50 percent in 2011, which was the last time the YFCY survey was conducted. It was even lower this year with only 48 percent. Academic self-concept also went down from 53 percent in 2011 to 50 this year. Finally, satisfaction with coursework involved a dip from 47 to 46 percent.

These are alarming results and they are not entirely unrelated to each other – and they are even more relevant now that class registration time will soon be upon us. Looking at the results of the survey, it is evident that new students at CWRU need help with their course loads and academic lives in general. Only 41 percent of the surveyed students reported that it is easy or very easy to manage their time. 51 percent felt that their coursework is relevant to their everyday life. 49 percent communicated regularly with professors.

It looks like there is a lack of confidence when it comes to academics. The problem is not the fact that CWRU students do not get involved: according to the survey, plenty of students have had a leadership role or voted in a student election. And the responders were not apathetic about CWRU, either, as almost 90 percent indicated that they feel a sense of belonging at CWRU. These are both pleasing statistics, but they do not entirely compensate for the lack of seeking help with academics when needed. Somehow, though, new students at CWRU just have not found an effective way to be successful in academics. And the problem has its roots in advising.

What first-year students need at this point, based on the survey, is effective guidance. 55 percent of the surveyed students felt that a professor showed concern over the students’ progress. It is certainly understandable that a professor or another advisor has many advisees and limited resources to give undivided attention to every individual student. But advising students and being a role model and a supporter is still a part of their job.

According to the survey, last year’s freshmen also expressed confusion over the relevance of their coursework to their everyday lives. Isn’t one of the jobs of first-year advisors to provide first-years with the knowledge of how to make the most of their majors? And who can provide the students with tips and advice to improve their academic skills if not advisors? 42 percent rated their intellectual ability to be average or below average. Even though this metric was not directly related to advising, it is something a good advisor could help a student with. Advisors would also offer tips for time management, which, as noted above, was one of the problems last year’s freshmen encountered.

Interestingly enough, CWRU freshmen reported an increase in social self-confidence with 73 percent rating theirs average or above average. This is a very positive trend and as such it should be fostered and improved further.

The truth is, however, that if new students continue feeling as if their advisors do not provide the guidance they need or express concern, it can transfer into students’ self-perception. A problem in advising could have more serious consequences than one might think.

The draft of the new strategic plan emphasizes training faculty to be more effective and spontaneous when it comes to teaching. This is very important – but the university should make sure that first-year advisors closely follow the progress of their advisees and guide and help them with whatever concerns they may have. New students need someone to assist them with the huge transition from high school to college. In the future, CWRU should make sure that first-year advisors take that role. Otherwise, the incoming classes are doomed.

EDIT 23 January 2014: There was a correction, originally published December 6, 2013, that mistakenly did not make it into the online editions. The correction was run as below:

Some inaccurate or incomplete information was included in the editorial of Nov. 1 issue of The Observer. The editorial stated that 55 percent of the respondents of the first-year survey agreed with the statement “Faculty show concern over my progress.” It was failed to mention that an additional 11 percent strongly agreed with the statement. The numbers for academic self-concept, student-faculty interaction and satisfaction with coursework taken from the executive summary of the YFCY survey were not percentages but construct scores.