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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Taking Stock: Progress and Prospects for College Advising

April 10, 2017

Over the past several years, significant progress has been made in college advising, thanks to the creative and tireless efforts of many of our partners. Perhaps the most significant advance has been the broader acceptance of various advising technologies as productivity tools for advisors and as direct, self-service support for students. That is a big step.

At the same time, as we pause to catch our breath and celebrate progress, we shouldn’t pause long, since so much work lies ahead of us. Moving forward, it is critical as a field to define both what we mean by advising and what will be needed to make sure it is effective, scalable, and sustainable.

Let’s start with being crystal clear about what we mean by “advising.” It breaks down into three overlapping categories of efforts and tools:

  • Those that help students gain a sense of purpose and direction that translates into a clear academic and career trajectory. These include degree-planning tools, and what we traditionally think of as classic “advising” in terms of help with course and major choice. Increasingly, assessment tools that help students better understand their temperament, proclivities, and career interests are part of this process (which should be iterative – plans change as students gain exposure).
  • Those that help students make progress and stay on track. These include early alerts, predictive analytics, and all the interventions (nudges, accountability tools, etc.) that support students as they advance toward their goals.
  • Those that support student development in general (developmental advising), with the recognition that so much of a student’s intellectual and social development occurs outside of the classroom. It has become clear that many of the non-academic skills, sometimes referred to as “non-cognitive” skills, are critical to student success—particularly for students from underserved populations. In short, proactive, developmental advising can play a role in leveling the playing field.

We emphasize efforts and tools in each area to highlight the importance of human work, as well as the valuable role technology tools can play. This is a significant move for a field that has traditionally believed that advising can only happen in direct, face-to-face meetings. We still have a long way to go, and possibly the most important internal learning for us as a foundation has been the pace of change and adaptation in higher education in relation to other enterprises.

Technology has the power to transform advising, both by driving greater consistency of student support at scale and by allowing advising staff to reach all students in a way that is cost effective and sustainable. As we shift toward a more integrated approach on all fronts, this will include the product and innovation process, with an eye toward helping colleges participate in and embrace innovation to improve student outcomes. The work ahead will be challenging, but recent efforts suggest that we are off to a strong start.

 
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