In 2011, the Office of the Dean of the College began working with the Vice Provost for Institutional Research to survey students about their experiences with freshman and sophomore advising.
In response to student feedback, the Office of the Dean of the College has made several changes designed to improve the quality of the advising experience in the residential colleges. We have shifted the focus from a singular adviser to an advising community, made up of faculty, staff, and peer advisers. Although each student meets with an assigned faculty adviser to select courses, we recognize that students seek advice from multiple sources and value the opinion of other students; accordingly, we have linked peer advisers to the existing residential college advising groups and cross-trained the peer advisers and the residential college advisers to support both A.B. and B.S.E. freshmen. These advising communities also include affiliated resident graduate students.
In general, we try to match the adviser with the student’s potential academic discipline; however, we wanted to see if increasing opportunities for community-building might be more important to the freshman advising experience than disciplinary expertise. Wilson College undertook a two-year pilot program in which all of the A.B. freshmen in a residential college advising group shared the same academic adviser, irrespective of area of interest. We hypothesized that the advising conversations would focus more on the general concerns of freshman year — adjustment to college, general education requirements, time management — and would be supplemented by conversations within the student group and with peer advisers. Our survey data show that the Wilson pilot made little difference to the advising experience of freshmen who participated; because of the complexity of administering the pilot, it will likely be discontinued in 2014-15.
Another new program privileges relationship-building and frequent contact as central to advising. Beginning in 2012, a small number of freshman seminar instructors — all experienced freshman advisers — have served as the academic adviser for all the A.B. students in their seminar. We have found that strong relationships built in the classroom strengthen the advising conversations; the Freshman Seminar advising program has become our most popular option.
Our initial data suggest that more than 75% of students are satisfied with the advising and support that they receive from their faculty adviser, and that the factors most important for a successful advising relationship are accessibility and engagement with students’ particular interests. As we wrap up our three-year evaluation cycle, we will publish more detailed results from the advising surveys.