Each year over 1,500 incoming UMBC students are required to attend a mandatory orientation that includes advising and registration. Without guidance counselors and parents, these students rely on faculty and staff to help plan their academic life for the next four years. However, many of these students experience poor general academic advisement during this period that may lead to challenges throughout their collegiate career and affect their progress toward graduation.
Orientation advising is conducted by a combination of university faculty, staff and graduate students who undergo “very robust training” on academic programs and policies. Professional advisors are present but limited, and departmental advisors are generally not involved. This may leave new students, especially transfers, lost when it comes to very specific major requirements and academic progression.
The lack of departmental advising at orientation is mostly out of the control of the advising department, as contracted faculty are generally neither required nor available during the summer when orientation occurs, according to Dr. Kenneth Baron, the Assistant Vice Provost for Academic Advising and Student Success.
For the advising department, orientation advising is designed to give a tentative general first-semester schedule. “We’re training graduate advisors to be master generalists,” said Baron, who speaks to “giving these grad students a chance.”
Online surveys conducted at the end of orientation advisement show that most students have positive experiences. Most negative comments run along the lines of full courses or conflicting schedule of classes, however many of these complaints occur during late registration in August, representing a “much different experience” than earlier orientation dates, according to Baron.
Transitioning from orientation to a permanent advisor is a vastly different process in which students encounter a multitude of problems adjusting to a major or professional path. The most common complaint following orientation advisement is that students are unaware of who their permanent advisor is and ultimately left to find one themselves.
”We know advising is not where it should be,” said Baron. The problem is large enough now that the provost appealed to Baron personally to create the Advising Task Force, which works to improve the advising experience for students. He acknowledges the process as “growing pains” of a newly founded university.
Issues are being addressed through the establishment and operation of multiple organizations including the Advising Task Force and the Student Administration Academic Advisory Committee. SAAAC’s agenda includes measurable and attainable goals and projects and works in conjunction with other UMBC committees. Some of these projects include advisor to advisee enhancements, new software and plugins for PeopleSoft, the current registration platform.
SAAAC and other committees are creating tools to streamline the process for current and future students, introducing applications that allow students and advisors to directly see and track the student’s progress. These include the “degree donut” located in the myUMBC user profile, which allows students to track their way to graduation and a new application called Degree Planner, created for the purpose of streamlining the advisor-advisee process.
With the technological advancements in operation, current students are still left with impersonal emails, faceless advisors and a lack of understanding the comprehensive balance between academic progression, personal life and career outlook.
Baron and the ATF have created a structured plan for improvement. The advising department will hopefully, in the future, take action to those points. This would call for professional advisors in every department, longer advising windows and an incentive career ladder for advisors who have displayed measurable success.
“It’s all about advanced communication, longer yield periods and getting the word out so that students can get in, get advised and graduate in a reasonable amount of time,” said Baron.
“Advising is a partnership at UMBC” is the message of the administration, but the advisor-advisee “partnership” is begging for improvement as students stumble towards graduating in a reasonable amount of time. Communication and cooperation between the student body and administration seem to be the only viable, immediate solutions to improving these relationships and minimizing the uphill battle to graduate.