Undergraduate Academic Advising Alignment

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor
Friday, May 13, 2022, 11:51 a.m.
KU Lawrence Staff, Faculty & Affiliates

Undergraduate Academic Advising Alignment

Applying best practices in undergraduate advising is essential to improving student success.

Dear Colleague,

Quality academic advising is critical to the success of our students, and therefore quality academic advising is critical to success of the university. Recognizing this fact, one of our four objectives to promote student success under the Jayhawks Rising strategic plan is to assure retention and completion through student engagement and satisfaction.

Last August, during the Provost’s Leadership Retreat, the Deans, Vice Provosts and Directors who serve as our objective leaders for Jayhawks Rising spent a day working together to prioritize strategies for the current academic year. The strategies they reviewed had been generated by faculty, staff and students during visioning retreats, design team meetings, and through the Jayhawks Rising suggestion link. Retreat participants determined that employing best practices in undergraduate advising to establish a common advising experience across units would be the most effective means to achieve the strategy to support student retention and completion. This strategy has been posted on the Jayhawks Rising website throughout this academic year, and Vice Provost Susan Klusmeier and Dean of Journalism and Mass Communications Ann Brill were selected as co-leaders responsible for advancing this initiative.

This strategy responds to frank feedback we’ve received from our undergraduate students through their responses to the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and numerous other channels that highlight their frustrations with advising, and the many unnecessary barriers they face during the pursuit of a diploma from KU.

Lessons from our NSSE results have recently been further reinforced by findings from KU’s participation in an evidence-based assessment of our student success programs with the National Institute for Student Success (NISS), which was funded by a Kansas Board of Regents initiative. The NISS assessment highlighted opportunities for KU to improve our student experience and our students’ progress towards degree completion including:

  • Addressing student retention and completion rates across the institution with an additional focus on equity gaps for our Black, Latinx, and Pell students.
  • Coordination across undergraduate academic advising to establish proactive advising and standardize the use of advising tools like Jayhawk GPS and degree maps that create a seamless advising experience for all students.

Simply put, we are facing a new demographic reality, which will require us to approach recruitment, retention, and completion efforts differently than our past practice. Our service model needs to focus on what works for our students and must be able to quickly shift to meet student needs and campus-wide priorities. We have a campus-wide need to establish a consistent student-centered, proactive academic advising experience for all KU undergraduates, regardless of major.

There have been previous attempts at KU to do this work, though under the current decentralized advising model these initiatives have met with limited or no success. Since 2016, KU Lawrence has attempted to develop advisor training plans, use Starfish Early Alert, and to establish common advising metrics. Though campus-wide advising initiatives were unsuccessful for a multiple reasons, the most common has been a lack of collaboration, resource limitations, or the needs of individual units superseding work towards a common goal. In other words, territoriality, allegiance to unit over university, traditional gatekeeping, and unwillingness to adapt to change as new and proven technologies become available, have all hindered our ability to coordinate across our advising structure.

Serving Students and Elevating Staff Profiles

To address our changing realities and needs, KU Lawrence will be moving over the course of the next academic year to a well-established and highly successful model that has been in place for years at many of our peers and competitors, commonly referred to as “embedded advising.” Our goal to establish a common undergraduate advising experience across units will employ advising best practices backed by research.

  • Our new undergraduate academic advising service model will shift advising at KU from a decentralized advising model to the embedded advising model, which uses a proactive approach where professional staff advisors are physically located and engaged within a unit to guide students through degree requirements using coordinated supervision, resources and tools.
  • We will shift to a professional staff advising model to ensure all undergraduate students have a dedicated, assigned academic advisor who is knowledgeable about requirements and resources, and who can proactively reach out to students and seek information on behalf of the student.
  • A faculty mentoring model will replace the faculty advisor model to ensure there is still an opportunity for faculty-student engagement outside the classroom. The goal of the faculty mentoring model is to complement professional staff advising, and create added capacity for faculty to pursue research, teaching, or service opportunities.
  • In order to improve professional staff advisor job satisfaction and retention, we will make a campus-wide investment in undergraduate academic advising to standardize advising ratios at or below 1:300, provide ongoing training and professional development opportunities, address salary inequities, and establish opportunities for promotion through an advising career ladder.

These practices will improve the undergraduate student experience by creating equitable access to academic advising, providing a clearly assigned, professional staff academic advisor for every undergraduate student, and ensuring equitable services, support systems, and standards of care under the leadership of Academic Success. These changes will introduce salary and workload equity, advising career ladders, and competitive pay for academic advisors, most notably those in our lowest paying positions. This plan is designed to have a positive impact on employee retention in this critical area of student success.

In the next few weeks, Susan Klusmeier, Vice Provost of Academic Success, will be reaching out to all undergraduate professional staff academic advisors to meet individually. The goal of these meetings is to better understand any unique components of advisors’ current roles and make determinations for how these fit best within a new academic advising organization. Advisors will receive an email from Academic Success in the coming days to schedule this meeting. Academic Success will also continue to work with the academic units throughout the transition to ensure all affected staff understand the changes taking place and ensure all responsibilities are covered. After these meetings are completed, we plan to provide academic advisors with the details of any changes to their role in early August.

What This Means for Our Advising Professionals

Knowing that a change of this magnitude is likely to create concern, we want to assure you of these important guiding principles:

  1. Academic advisor jobs are not being eliminated and their salaries are not being reduced.
  2. Academic advisors will maintain focused expertise in specific academic programs. Opportunities may arise for advisors to work with a different academic program(s) as we meet our goal of workload equity for employees.
  3. Academic advisors will maintain their current office location to ensure existing service levels and connectivity to academic units.
  4. Academic advisors will report through Academic Success and therefore may be assigned a new supervisor. Opportunities may arise for advisors to apply for positions with increased responsibility, such as supervision duties, as part of our aspirational career ladder.
  5. Remote work agreements that were officially filed with HR as of April 2022 will be honored during the alignment process. All agreements will be reviewed with supervisors for appropriate renewal.
  6. Advising caseloads will be more equitably assigned and within NACADA best practice guidelines.

In addition to the meetings, staff will have access to the Human Resource Management Employee Relations team as well as the Ombuds Office who are available for support, information, and individual meetings.  

I am deeply grateful for the service provided by our academic advisors and faculty mentors to KU students day in and day out. Our institution needs to take these steps toward a redesigned undergraduate advising structure to ensure student equity and access to excellent advising. While getting to this goal will take effort, I’m appreciative of the efforts of all who have positioned us to work together to strengthen academic advising and student success while maintaining the distinctiveness of each academic unit at KU.



Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor