Advising Complaint Vindicated

Kennesaw State apologizes to student whose video of his interaction with adviser went viral, and pledges to cut student-to-adviser ratio. But there are no easy formulas for such ratios.

June 8, 2015

Kennesaw State University on Friday apologized to a student whose video went viral last month, setting off debates over academic advising services.

In the video, a student films an academic adviser threatening to call security because he is waiting in the advising office lobby for help. The adviser accuses the student of harassing her by waiting. The video led many others to take to social media to raise complaints about the difficulty of getting time with advisers at Kennesaw State and elsewhere. The student is black, and some questioned whether black students face particular difficulties seeing advisers. As soon as the video went viral, Kennesaw State pledged to investigate, and Friday's announcement vindicated the student's complaint.

The announcement said that Abby Dawson, the adviser, "has been given a formal written warning, will be temporarily reassigned and will not be permitted to advise students unless she successfully completes training and demonstrates the ability to be sensitive to students and their needs."

The university said that its actions were based on interviews with 13 students, faculty members and staff members.

Dawson did not respond to an email from Inside Higher Ed seeking comment.

Kennesaw State also pledged to make changes in how it provides academic advising. The university said that it would add more training for advisers and hire more as well "to ensure proper adviser-to-student ratios."

“We have made it very clear to Ms. Dawson and her supervisors that the behavior she demonstrated on the video will not be tolerated; and while we have apologized to the student directly, we also want to publicly apologize for her behavior, which is not representative of KSU’s student-centered culture,” said a statement from Provost Ken Harmon.

“While we in no way condone Ms. Dawson’s actions, we also acknowledge that we need to make some changes in our advising structure to provide more training and support for our staff so that they are better equipped to help our students navigate their college experience.”

How Many Advisers Should Colleges Have?

Kennesaw State officials did not respond to questions about the current student-to-adviser ratio and what ratio they were seeking.

Charlie Nutt, executive director of the National Academic Advising Association, said it was impossible to suggest a desirable ratio generally because campuses differ so widely in how they use academic advisers. On some campuses, this is a part-time duty of faculty members, while at others there is a professional advising staff. Even among the latter group, almost all academic advisers have duties beyond direct student advising, and the appropriate level of staffing depends on those duties.

"There are very few advisers who do nothing but advise students all day," he said.

A 2011 survey by NACADA found that the median number of students per full-time adviser was 296.

In terms of what he hears from members, Nutt said, many report that they have more student advisees than they can handle, leading to longer wait times than advisers would like, especially in busy times of year.

Nutt said that the training issue referenced by Kennesaw State is also important. He said that most colleges are good about providing training on the "informational" duties of advisers, so that they know degree requirements, deadlines and so forth.

"But on many campuses that's where it ends," Nutt said. Colleges need to train advisers with "a conceptual base" so that they understand students, how they learn, how to build relationships with them and so forth. "And this professional development needs to be more than once a year."


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