September 25, 2012, volume 3, number 3
To the William Paterson University Community
For many years, the University has discussed the best way to advise students in order for them to develop academically, select courses of study and make progress toward their degrees. Our institution has utilized different models at different times in its history, incorporating continuous change and improvements as a result of student requests, faculty suggestions, accrediting body recommendations as well as various task forces and special councils created on the subject. But requests for additional improvement from both internal stakeholders and external evaluators continue. Today, we have a model of student advising that is not in step with models at other institutions in New Jersey, and with much of higher education in the country.
William Paterson University has one of the lowest four year graduation rates of any public institution in the state and certainly much lower than we desire. Our six year graduation rate, perhaps a better measure, is comparable to other institutions like ours in the country, but again, is one of the lowest among public institutions in the state. Our students change majors often and on average, graduate with between ten and twenty credits more than they need even when we required 128 credits to complete an undergraduate degree. As a result, our students, on average, spend several thousand dollars more on tuition than they would need to do if they proceeded more quickly toward their degree. Although these circumstances may be the result of multiple factors, we want to be assured that student advisement contributes to their improvement.
While there is some excellent advising of students taking place on this campus, we have not developed a comprehensive assessment of advising and therefore really do not understand the results of our efforts. Last year, we asked the Career Development and Gloria S. Williams Advisement Center to advise most incoming freshmen, a step that not all agreed was necessary. However, the preliminary student survey results indicate high student satisfaction with the availability of advisors in an office open 53 hours per week and staffed by individuals with graduate degrees in student development. This year, as a result of a need to improve administrative oversight, more specific instructions were provided regarding faculty advising, a process that is causing additional changes. Last spring, nearly 600 students were asked by their faculty advisors to seek new advisors, a painful communication to students that reverberated to their parents and to alumni. Because of this action and the uncertainty regarding the willingness of enough faculty to advise students this fall, we asked many sophomores to remain with their advisors in the Advisement Center this semester although we hope this is a temporary situation.
Our student advising model is in transition but we have not developed a coherent vision of what we want to achieve and how we are going to achieve it. There are many different points of view on this subject which is causing great debate on our campus. Earlier this month the Board of Trustees’ Committee on Educational Policy and Student Development heard a presentation on student advising at William Paterson University and asked that we study the issue and look at best practices to guide us in the future.
To that end, I am constituting a Blue Ribbon Task Force to study student advising at the University, with the goal of making recommendations to the campus community in early Spring 2013. We will engage the services of two consultants who are recognized leaders in the field of student advising to help the Task Force evaluate the different advising models that might best serve the students of William Paterson University. We will ask the Task Force to be open in its communications with the University community and to provide periodic progress reports throughout the process. The Task Force is expected to produce a written document with its findings and recommendations and conduct an open forum for discussion and dissemination of its results.
I expect the 10-12 member Task Force to begin work in the next two weeks. Membership on the Task Force will be comprised of faculty, staff and students representing all five colleges and the other student-serving departments and councils. I am asking each College Dean to nominate a faculty representative from her/his college to sit on the Task Force. I am asking that one of the co-chairs of the Faculty Senate’s Advisement and Registration Council serve, or a designee selected by the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate. I am also soliciting names of two nationally-recognized advisement specialists to be part of the Task Force. If you know of national experts in student advising, please send their name and contact information to Bob Seal, Chief of Staff, at firstname.lastname@example.org, by Friday, September 28, 2012.
This is a critically important issue for William Paterson University. We owe our students the highest quality student advisement that we can provide. I eagerly look forward to the work and recommendations of the Task Force.