Revised UTSA advising program will nurture student-advisor relationships

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After several months of planning, the UTSA Academic Advising Program has completed the changes announced early last fall.

The program has changed its structure to a centralized administrative unit that will provide a more relational and less informational advising experience for UTSA students.

Changes were implemented May 2014; all current students will be assigned an academic advisor who will work with them until they graduate.

“This will allow for students to see the same advisor and enable the advisor to provide more support and mentoring, enabling the student to develop a rapport with their academic advisor,” said Barbara Smith, executive director of advising.

Students will be assigned an advisor based on academic clusters created by the advising program. The clusters were finalized using an analysis of UTSA student data, as well as the Academic Advising Restructuring Proposal.

Ms. Smith stated that each cluster was “developed based on the historical migration pattern of students among degree programs.”

According to Smith, pairing a student with the same personal academic advisor is intended to help students throughout their UTSA career. For exampe, all students who will be majoring in architecture, interior design, construction science management, criminal justice, public administration and Mexican-American studies will be
meeting their advisor at a downtown location, while students pursuing a major in the sciences will be advised by a sep-

arate academic advisor at the Main Campus location.

“Setting up the advising centers this way enables a student who changes his or her major an average 80 percent chance of staying with the same assigned academic advisor from orientation to graduation,” explained Smith.

Prior to the changes, any advisor in the Colleges’ Freshman Advising Center (CFAC) was responsible for all declared students with less than 30 credit hours, while advisors in the Thomas Rivera Center (TRC) were responsible for all undeclared

students. After completing 30 credit hours, the students would then be seen by advisors from the College Advising Center.

“If a student was one major and wanted to change to another major that wasn’t in that same college, they would have to go to another advising center and meet with a different advisor,” said Smith.

Along with changing the structure of personal advising, the Academic Advising Program is also implementing additional technological resources. By using the computer software Degree Works, the university will enable students to electronically map out their degree plans with the help of their advisor. Additionally, after creating a plan, students will be able to electronically submit plan revision requests for their advisor to review, approve and “lock” at any time.

Degree Works will allow the student “the ability to access (his or her) plan at any point and time,” said Smith. Along with increasing the efficiency of the communication process between the advisor and the student, each student will be able to audit his or her progress toward completing their degree.

The changes also involve the standardization of all forms for exemption and registration. The new Early Alert Retention Network (EARN) is a system that allows an instructor to alert advisors to student behavior such as repeatedly missing class or failing a midterm. Following the changes, the student’s advisor will be able to see these alerts and will “be able to reach out to the student and

provide resources and options” that the student can use “to make an appropriate informed decision,” explained Smith.

The University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. John Frederick, deemed the advising program changes a necessity. One of the major goals of changing the advising program’s structure is to improve graduation rates. Implementation task forces, the executive director of advising, advising directors, associate directors and others are responsible for implementing the changes and for “providing tools and resources for students to be self-sufficient and stay on-track for graduating in four years,” Smith affirmed.

Though the advisors will have to adapt to the changes in little time, “they look forward to having caseloads of assigned students,” said Smith.

“Students will be able to track their degree progress, connect with someone at the university who will know their academic strengths, weaknesses and other factors such as family and work commitments, enabling them to develop a plan to aid in student success and timely graduation,” Smith concluded.