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Johnston Green2

Review of Academic Advising - September 2002


Academic advising is a crucially important process in a healthy University. A characteristic feature of post-secondary education is that students are confronted with almost limitless—perhaps even universal—possibilities for intellectual and personal development. Academic advising helps students make the many choices they must make to maximize their success; advising ensures that those choices are more informed and more carefully considered than they might otherwise be in the absence of such assistance. The quality of academic advising can affect everything from recruitment and retention rates, to the overall quality of education an institution provides.

This document is the report of the Committee to Review Undergraduate Academic Advising. The Committee consisted of the following members:

  • Linda Allen, B.Sc. Program Counsellor
  • Kendra Holliday, Undergraduate Student
  • Jill Johnson, B.Sc.Env. Program Counsellor
  • Alun Joseph, Dean, CSAHS
  • Maureen Mancuso, Associate Vice-President Academic (Chair)
  • Roberta Mason, Director, Student Life and Career Services
  • Jim Mottin, Faculty Advisor, Department of Psychology
  • Natalie Ross, Undergraduate Student (to March 2002)
  • Steve Scadding, Faculty Advisor, Department of Zoology and Acting Director, TSS
  • Kelli Sisler, B.Sc.Ag. Program Counsellor
  • Susan Turner, B.A. Program Counsellor
  • Aaron White, Undergraduate Student (replaced Natalie Ross, April 2002)
  • Brenda Whiteside, Associate Vice-President Student Affairs

Substantial support and assistance was provided to the Committee by:

  • Julia Beswick, Office of the Associate Vice-President Academic
  • Alex Goody, Associate Registrar, Undergraduate Program Services
  • Brian Pettigrew, Registrar,
  • Kate Revington, Coordinator, Undergraduate Curriculum

The report first reviews the current system and the context in which academic advising takes place, including recent shifts in the academic environment that have challenged our current model. Next is a description of the committee’s investigative and deliberative process. This is followed by a discussion of the salient issues and some high-level recommendations. Finally, the recommendations—especially those involving particular language or structures—are specified in detail.


Current System

Academic advising and program counselling at the University of Guelph is based on a decentralized model managed entirely through the colleges and the academic departments. Program counsellors are assigned to every degree program. Originally, when degree programs were offered entirely within a specific college, the program counsellor was part of the dean’s office. Many program counsellors also functioned as academic assistant to the dean. Some still do.

As colleges have merged and degree programs have expanded or been added, program counsellors now report to deans, associate deans, designated deans, directors of schools, or in some cases department chairs. Some program counsellors report to a designated dean because responsibility for their program rotates or is shared between two colleges (e.g. B.A.S. and B.A.). Not all program counsellors do full time program counselling: some split responsibilities within colleges and departments (e.g. course coordinator, placement coordinator). A program counselor is also available for the diploma program at the university, and for the Office of Open Learning.

An academic advisor is also assigned for every major, minor, or area of emphasis in a degree program. The chair of the department appoints academic advisors. In some cases, more than one advisor is appointed for a department, and some chairs assign a different advisor for each major or minor within the department. Not every advisor is a faculty member.

This decentralized system, then, has become more and more complex as a number of evolutionary changes have occurred: the restructuring and merging of colleges (e.g. FACS and CSS to become CSAHS); the development of broader interdisciplinary majors that cut across departmental and college boundaries (e.g. CJPP); and the launching of new degree programs relying heavily on specializations from more than one college (e.g. B.A.S., which uses one art/social science-based minor and one science-based minor). For undergraduate students, the challenge has been to locate the right “expert” with the authority to offer sound advice for the particular specialization with the particular degree program. Increasingly the needs from the student perspective do not map conformably onto the organizational structure of the advising system.

Calls for Reform

The stresses on this system have been building for some time, and have not gone unnoticed. As far back as 1985, there were calls for a systematic review of academic advising on campus, and the issue was raised again as part of CRESAP in 1991. In the Senate document Making Change: The Strategic Plan for the University of Guelph (June 20, 1995), Recommendation number 30 directed the Associate Vice-President Academic to develop a plan for counselling and advising that would reflect the following features:

  • Program counsellors should report to the Associate Vice-President Academic, as well as relevant deans.
  • Greater equity must be achieved in the workloads of program counsellors.
  • A central site for program counsellors (as opposed to academic advisors located in departments) should be created, with a particular emphasis on the needs of students who have not yet declared a specialization
  • Career counselling should continue centrally, but must also make its way much more effectively into departmental advising and program counselling.
  • First-rate counselling documents must be produced at the department and program levels.
  • More regular and effective communication among program counsellors and between program counsellors and departmental advisors must occur, as well as between these individuals and curriculum and program committees.
  • The importance of the advising function must be reflected in the training and selection of departmental advisors, and their evaluation by Tenure and Promotion Committee.

These recommendations did not, however, lead to a conclusive or coherent response.

More recently, the document Academic Planning for 2000-2010 Report to SCUP and Senate, (May 13, 2001), contained the following mandate:

  • The Associate Vice-President (Academic) will establish an ad hoc committee to review the current approach to program counselling and advising and make recommendations for improvements to accommodate the increased enrolment. (It is important to note that there is no indication that this will lead to a centralization of counselling and advising processes).

Finally, the Report of the Enrolment Coordinating Committee’s Working Groups included the following recommendations from Working Group Three:

  • Recommendation 11: That a working group be struck including technical staff who are conversant with the capabilities of the Web in general and WebAdvisor in particular, and program counsellors to investigate (and implement where appropriate) the delivery of counselling advice to students via the Web.
  • Recommendation 12: That departmental advisors receive the training and recognition necessary.

These repeated calls for change in part reflect a sense that we can do better. Over the last decade, student satisfaction rates with academic advising (as measured on the post-graduate survey) have been stuck at or below the 50% level. We must be careful about interpreting these perceptions, and not assume that they are the only legitimate measure of program quality, and in fact, only around 20% have reported actual “dissatisfaction.” But ultimately, academic advising is a service that must be perceived as useful by students, and achieving only “mixed” success at best with half our students is not an adequately ambitious goal.

New Pressures

The latest two documents discussed above arose as part of the planning process for the enrolment challenge with which we are now fully engaged. It should be emphasized that the double cohort and its related demographic pressures have only further intensified the need to maximize the efficiency and coordination of our advising system. Simply put, we are faced with guiding a significantly larger number of students—each of whom is on average a year younger and potentially less prepared—through an ever-more-complicated program structure. It is thus all the more important that we ensure that our system can scale up efficiently and effectively.

Again, students are aware—at least implicitly—of this challenge we face: the Acumen incoming student survey this year lists access to academic counselling at one of the top three concerns about the effects of the double cohort. And this concern has been increasing.

In fact, as the various recommendations over the years have implied, the status quo is no longer meeting the University’s needs. All involved parties are paying the price for a system that is showing its age. Students complain that the system is too fragmented and too difficult to navigate, and that there are too many obstacles to finding the required assistance. Too often, students must bounce between multiple offices and officials to obtain the requisite service. This places the burden of integrating and coordinating complex information on the student seeking advice, not on those charged with providing expert guidance, where it belongs.

At the same time, advisors and counsellors themselves are faced with unclear responsibilities and increasing cross-unit coordinative duties which are not reflected in official expectations. The nature of their work has evolved, but the structures and job descriptions that control it and support it have not. The importance of well-informed and careful advising has increased with program complexity, but the official profile of advising service remains relatively low, and tied to the view of advising as an ancillary intra-college service. Adequately serving the growing number of interdisciplinary programs requires extra care and effort to make sure students do not fall through the cracks—effort that often overburdens the available resources. Even courses of study within a single discipline are offering increasing numbers of options and variations that complicate advising. Everyone involved in the system agrees that there is room for improvement.

Current Effort


In response to the May 2001 Senate directive, a Committee to Review Undergraduate Academic Advising was struck to review and develop recommendations for academic advising and counselling. The committee’s overall goal was to ensure that the University of Guelph has a coherent and structured academic advising system that is well-positioned to meet the needs of students and to support the university in meeting its enrolment and student retention targets over the next five years. The committee was specifically charged with the following tasks:

  1. Assess the scope, structure, and effectiveness of the University’s undergraduate academic advising activities. In doing so, the committee should:
    • Identify the essential elements of a quality advising program
    • Identify and assess “best practice” organizational models for academic advising
    • Assess the scope, structure, and effectiveness of our current model of advising
    • Define the role of the Academic Advisor
    • Review the coordination of effort among service delivery units
    • Examine the delivery of service
    • Review advising workloads
    The committee is reminded that the most important perspective from which these programs should be assessed is that of the learners they serve.
  2. Identify, explore and evaluate ways to restructure academic advising, paying particular attention to:
    • Appropriate levels of coordination, direction and supervision
    • Reporting structure and accountability
    • Development and training for advisors and program counsellors
    • Performance review, recognition and reward for advisors and program counsellors
    • Using new technological resources to assist in advising
    The committee should also articulate high-level metrics to be used in assessing the performance of future advising and counselling programs, strategies, and structures.
  3. Develop a campus academic advising policy that articulates the fundamental purpose and function by preparing a mission statement, goals and objectives.

    While the committee was to remain cognizant of the interactions and dependencies between undergraduate academic advising and other forms of counselling, such as career, financial, and personal counselling, the scope of its recommendations was to remain restricted to its primary subject.


The Committee worked throughout the 01-02 academic year, and began by reviewing the various recommendations made in previous university reports and reviewing advising models and best practices in the literature. A number of committee members attended the NACADA conference in Ottawa in October and had the opportunity to participate in relevant sessions. A small group visited Pennsylvania State University to learn about their award-winning advising system and to investigate their web-based advising tools.

It was agreed that some fresh insight into our advising system might be beneficial and the committee thus retained a consultant, David Crockett. Mr. Crockett is senior vice president of Noel-Levitz. His publications, consulting experiences, and conference/workshop presentations have led to national recognition as an authority on enrollment management, academic advising, and student retention in colleges and universities. He was the recipient of the first Research Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Academic Advising from the National Academic Advising Association.

Mr. Crockett visited Guelph for two days in December 2001. Prior to the site visit all members of the committee, representatives from each degree program committee, and a number of undergraduate students were asked to complete an assessment of current advising practices in the organization and delivery of advising services (see Appendix ???!@#). The data gathered were used by Mr. Crockett to gain a better understanding of current academic advising practices, processes, strategies, issues and concerns.

The first day of the campus visit was devoted to meetings with members of the senior administrative team, including the President, Provost and Vice-President Academic, Associate Vice-President Academic, Associate Vice-President Student Affairs, VPAC and the Acting Registrar, and focus groups with students, program counsellors and faculty advisors. The interviews and group sessions were intended to be more than mere fact-finding sessions; through questions and interactions, the consultant discussed with important stakeholders the key elements of a successful academic advising program. Issues addressed in the focus groups and interviews were wide ranging and profound (Appendix !@#, pp. 10-12).

Day two of the consultation consisted of a workshop on the organization and delivery of academic advising at the University of Guelph. Participants included the Committee to Review Undergraduate Academic Advising. The session was very interactive and was intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the elements which have proven to be associated with successful advising programs at colleges and universities. From this workshop, Mr. Crockett constructed an overall assessment of Attitudes and Beliefs about Academic Advising at Guelph (p. 14).

Participants also had the opportunity to explore their issues and concerns and to ask questions related to sixteen elements the consultant identified as being necessary for planning and managing an effective academic advising program (pp. 12-13). Preliminary recommendations relative to these sixteen elements were also gathered from the participants (pp. 17-18).

In parallel to this consultancy effort, the Committee invited members of the University community to comment on the relevant issues. In addition to soliciting general opinions, the committee requested specific comment on five key issues (Appendix !@#). A website was also created to track progress of the deliberations and attract further input.

In February 2002, Mr. Crockett delivered his detailed report to the Committee. The crux of the report were 30 basic recommendations (see Appendix !@#, pp. 34-36). Only one of these (#28) was judged not appropriate to Guelph (the cost of creating individual educational plans for each student was deemed to be prohibitive in an institution of our size).

Many of the remaining recommendations were readily agreed to by the committee. For these consensus recommendations, the focus quickly shifted to operational issues of how best to apply the recommendations to the specific context of Guelph. A number of working groups within the committee were drafted to develop these areas.

Other recommendations did not immediately converge toward consensus in the committee: some represented genuine philosophical sticking points, others pointed to issues of longer-term management that the committee could not address up front. Rather, it was felt that resolving these issues would be the appropriate domain of whatever structures would be set up to oversee the advising system on an ongoing basis in the future.

In June, the Committee collated the result of the working groups and generated some high-level recommendations. These were shared with stakeholders in a series of focus groups. Program counsellors, faculty advisors, and undergraduates were each asked to react to the proposals and provide their comments, insights, opinions, and concerns. Response to these recommendations was generally quite positive and supportive, suggesting that the Committee was on the right track (see Appendix !@# for summaries of focus group discussions).


What does "Advising" mean?
From the beginning of its work and throughout its deliberations, it was obvious to the committee that any effort to improve academic advising would face the challenge of a definitional issue: there is to this day no clear institutional statement of the goals that the academic advising function is meant to achieve. Accordingly, the committee took as a primary task the creation of such a definition, to serve as a mission statement for the advising function.

Recommendation Goal #1: Define the goals of academic advising at Guelph, and embed this definition in the Undergraduate Calendar to ensure appropriate visibility and profile.

Recognizing this void was simple: filling it required confronting philosophical and methodological differences—both within the committee and in the literature on advising—about the approach that should characterize advising. The literature on this subject has traditionally opposed “prescriptive” advising (where the advisor makes decisions for the student and specifies course and curriculum options) against “developmental” advising (where the focus is on mutual exploration of the student’s life goals and secondarily on the choices needed to attain them). The consultant’s report characterized our current approach as overly prescriptive and focused on the details of course scheduling and urged the committee to move toward a higher-level, more whole-student developmental approach (p.33).

More recent literature has criticized this opposition as simplistic and misleading, and suggested that while “prescriptive” is a style or mode of providing advice, “developmental” is really a school of thought about the content of advice provided. Lowenstein (1999) and others have suggested the term “academically-centred advising” for a mode that splits the difference by emphasizing a cooperative (and thus non-prescriptive) delivery of advice, but still retaining a focus on the specifics of maximizing the student’s ability to extract benefits from the curriculum. In this mode, the academic advisor remains an expert guide to a student who is unfamiliar with the myriad choices that the university provides, but does not take on the significantly more intensive, quasi-parental responsibility of maximizing a young person’s future human potential. Excellence in developmental advising requires advisors trained in developmental psychology as well as their own fields. Excellence in academically-centred advising requires advisors who understand the content and value of an appropriately concentrated and diversified liberal education, and who are trained to navigate the intricacies of the University’s various curricula.

The Committee does not presume to be able to resolve this sort of large-scale paradigmatic debate. As always with such matters, the best practice will draw upon elements of more than one style. A fully developmental approach would represent a significant cultural shift at the University of Guelph, and would require extensive reallocation and retraining of resources in order to be successful. While better integration of the low-level decisions on which students seek advice is needed, it is not clear that improving this integration requires such a radical change in approach.

How is Advising Delivered, and Who does What?
A more subtle but just as persistent issue examined by the committee is the current advising system’s diffuse allocation of responsibilities. The decentralized model makes it difficult to maintain a clear delineation of the roles and duties of each participant in the system. Actual practice varies among different programs or units, and from the students’ perspective, the system can appear inconsistent and often quite opaque.

Determining where to turn for particular types of advice requires a clear map of how the system is structured, but we provide no such map. This serves as a deterrent to system access: trying to find the right entrance by trial and error quickly becomes frustrating. The problem is only more acute for first-time users: new students, transfer students, and others who are encountering academic advising for the first time.

The same opacity also leads to frustration among the ranks of advisors and counsellors themselves. Without clearly and consistently specified responsibilities, they are subject to shifting expectations which may not correspond to practice. A common concern is that providing advising services is rarely accorded recognition commensurate to the amount of time and effort that must be expended.

Recommendation #2: Clarify the roles and responsibilities of each participant in the advising process. Roles should detail the various functions a participant performs in making the system as a whole work. Responsibilities detail the expectations other participants may have about performance, delivery, and service.

The committee emphasizes that this opacity is not the result of lackluster or negligent performance—each individual piece of the advising system works actively and professionally to maximize its own accessibility to students—but is rather a structural consequence of a distributed system. Without a synoptic vision that shows how all the pieces fit together, each component of the system must work harder to reach every potential student user. Because each component is a potential initial point of entry to the system, each must stand prepared to provide not only its own specialized services and expertise, but also the same generic, non-specific advice that is common to all programs and units.

A central point of access that could resolve “Frequently Asked Questions,” provide generic guidance and information, and refer users to the appropriate advising resources would not only simplify student access, but also relieve the burden of generic guidance and allow advisors to focus on their special concerns. This structure would also help bind together the advising system from the student perspective, and address the concerns about “where to start.”

Recommendation #3: Create an Undergraduate Academic Information Centre to provide basic introductory advising services and refer students to appropriate specialized resources.

Better communication between the components of the distributed system would help address these issues of transparency and navigability. But the current system is coordinated only at the college level and below, and contains no formal provision for sharing of strategies, difficulties, techniques, or issues. Again, problems are solved at the distributed level, and coordination is left as an exercise to be completed in the participants “spare time.” Ultimate responsibility for the system as a whole cannot be traced to any one office or entity—a recipe for confusion and impaired accountability.

Recommendation #4: Create a University Council on Undergraduate Academic Advising to coordinate and develop campus-wide policy, processes, and practice in academic advising, and to serve as a focus for communication and sharing of information.

How will the System Evolve?
The structures created by recommendations 3 and 4, in concert with the aspirational and operational focus provided by recommendations 1 and 2, will immediately enhance both the clarity and the coordination of academic advising in the short term. These changes alone, however, will not address all of the issues raised in this review. As the consultant’s report emphasizes, the process of refining our advising system will require careful implementation and an ongoing commitment to systematic reassessment.

A key purpose of the new Council will be to manage this continuing evolution of academic advising in accordance with institutional goals. That evolution will need to take into account the continuing uncertainty over resources that afflicts the Ontario University system, technological advances in advising delivery, physical plant issues, and other constraints that favour a careful and deliberate approach to change.

Recommendation #5: Adopt a phased approach to refining and improving the academic advising system beyond the initial recommendations specified above. Outline suggested phases to guide the Council in its early years.

Advising Tools and Training
It has already been noted that the current weak definition of program roles and responsibilities is a source of concern and sometimes frustration for advisors and counsellors. An unfortunate consequence of this ambiguity has been institutional neglect of important issues about the professional development of academic advising personnel. Not surprisingly, this too remains an important concern and source of frustration. Efforts to clarify advising duties (Recommendation 2) must equitably be coupled to a firmer institutional commitment to enhanced attention in these important areas.

Training needs and goals must be considered on a number of levels—institutional, individual, and departmental. Individuals must be responsible for their development as advising professionals, and departments need to participate in providing the specific orientation and training they require. The University must not merely facilitate but encourage this development through suitable programs and policies.

Recommendation #6: The CUAA should take as a priority action the development of appropriate procedures for the training and skills development of advising staff.

In some cases, advising expertise is the result of continued practice and individual experience. In other cases, high turnover in advising posts means that individuals are often thrust into an advising role with only rudimentary preparation. One immediate measure to help support the efforts of advisors would be to provide a repository of basic information, practices, and procedures. This would not only help in the training of new advisors by giving them a comprehensive reference, but also capture the knowledge and insight of veterans. Such a handbook would also serve as a map of the overall system, detailing names, phone numbers, locations, responsibilities, and other navigational information useful to both users and providers of advising.

Recommendation #7: Create web-based handbooks on academic advising for faculty advisors and program counsellors, as well as one for students. The handbooks should detail important coordinates, dates, and personnel, reiterate and illustrate the responsibilities outlined in the Calendar, describe best practices, and serve as a reference to assist advising personnel in discharging their obligations in a consistent manner.

Evaluation and Recognition
Another aspect of advising that has received institutional short shrift is the process of assessing and recognizing performance. As is the case with training, the establishment of clearer institutional goals and responsibilities for advising entails more clarity in the method of evaluating progress toward those goals.

Recommendation #8: The CUAA should develop appropriate procedures for evaluation and recognition of advising efforts.

In part because of the operational details involved in specifying these procedures, and also because “appropriate” levels of recognition and methods of evaluation will in turn depend upon the implementation of the new role definitions, the committee feels it would be imprudent to advance specific measures in this area, and instead prefers to refer the matter to the ongoing coordinative management body.

Specific Recommendations

1. Definition and Goals of Advising, and
2. Roles and Responsibilities

The committee recommends that the University adopt a clearly defined mission statement for academic advising, which establishes the goals and objectives of the advising system, and reinforces an institutional commitment to academic advising. This statement should appear in the Undergraduate Calendar, at the beginning of a new, separate section labeled “Academic Advising.”

This mission statement will set forth overall expectations for academic advising. A statement of roles and responsibilities fills out these expectations by indicating how participants fit into the system and interact with one another. The committee therefore recommends that this description also appear in the Calendar, immediately following the mission statement. The proposed text of this combined statement is as follows:

Academic Advising

A University education is a complex and multi-faceted experience, which is best undertaken in a supportive and encouraging environment. As part of its dedication to student success, the University of Guelph is committed to providing high-quality academic advising, in order to assist students in the development and pursuit of academic objectives consistent with their life goals and the available opportunities at the University. The responsibility for developing educational plans and setting goals rests with the student. Academic advising contributes to this process by identifying alternatives, exploring likely outcomes, and referring students to appropriate resources.

Academic advising at Guelph is delivered by a team of cooperating entities. Coordinating all activity is the University Council on Undergraduate Academic Advising, which has responsibility for overall advising systems direction and policy. An Academic Information Centre provides general walk-in assistance to students and serves as an academic advising information centre for students to be directed to the appropriate specialized advising resources. Each student has direct access to both a Faculty Advisor, who focuses on subject-related issues and advice, and a Program Counsellor, who assists with degree program requirements and expectations.

These components of the academic advising system work together to achieve goals and objectives that include:

  • Helping students develop an educational plan and choose an appropriate course of studies to meet their academic and life objectives
  • Ensuring that students are aware of opportunities and resources that can assist students in achieving their educational goals
  • Assisting students in interpreting university policies and procedures, and applying general rules to their specific cases
  • Facilitating resolution of academic problems, conflicts and concerns, as appropriate
  • Referring students as necessary to other resource units
  • Collecting and disseminating information on student needs, wants, perceptions, and trends in order to enhance institutional effectiveness and adaptability

Within the system, specific roles and responsibilities are distributed as follows:

Role of the Faculty Advisor

The Faculty Advisor has particular expertise in the program specialization (major, minor, area of concentration, area of emphasis) and the fit of that specialization within the degree program. The role of the Faculty Advisor is:

  • to provide information about the academic requirements of the specialization, including eligibility to declare the specialization and graduation requirements
  • to refer to other campus services, as necessary
  • to communicate information about the specialization to the department and the curriculum committee, program committee, and program counsellor, and to bring forward any concerns or issues as students progress through the Schedule of Studies for the specialization
  • to liaise with the program counsellor for the degree program, in order to provide information about the specialization as it fits within the degree program

Responsibilities of the Faculty Advisor

Every major, minor, area of concentration or area of emphasis in a degree program is assigned a faculty advisor who advises students on the academic requirements of that particular specialization. The responsibilities of the faculty advisor are:

  • to be familiar with the academic requirements of the specialization, including eligibility to declare the specialization and graduation requirements
  • to assist students wishing to change or add specializations
  • to approve the declaration of the specialization to the student’s degree program and to sign specialization approval
  • to assist the student to make academic decisions
  • to refer students to the program counsellors, as appropriate
  • to offer advice about meeting the requirements of the Schedule of Study for the specialization
  • to be reasonably available to meet with students, as requested
  • to assist with graduation checks, as requested
  • to approve substitutions or exemptions for the specialization
  • to be aware of career and graduate study opportunities related to the field of study
  • to assist with course selection issues related to the specialization
  • to provide information to the department, curriculum committee, program committee, and program counsellor about issues or concerns concerning the Schedule of Studies for the specialization
  • to provide information and advice to the department and college, as requested, around enrollment management issues

Role of the Program Counsellor

The Program Counsellor has particular expertise in the degree program requirements and regulations, as well as the various specializations and their fit with the degree program. The Program Counsellor is also familiar with the policies and procedures that govern university practice. The role of the program counsellor is:

  • to provide information about the academic requirements of the degree program, including admission requirements, Schedule of Studies requirements, Continuation of Study requirements, and graduation requirements.
  • to refer to other campus services, as necessary
  • to communicate information about the degree program to the dean; chairs and directors; faculty advisors; curriculum committees; program committees (and its sub-committees); and to bring forward any concerns or issues as students progress through the Schedule of Studies for the degree program
  • to liaise with the faculty advisor for the specialization, in order to provide information about the degree program and the fit of the specialization within the degree program

Responsibilities of the Program Counsellor

The responsibilities of the program counsellor are:

  • to be familiar with the academic requirements of the degree program and its specializations, including admission requirements, the Schedule of Studies and Continuation of Study requirements, and graduation requirements for the degree program
  • to assist the student to make academic decisions and understand the implications of those decisions
  • to assist with course selection and enrollment management issues as related to the degree program
  • to explain transfer procedures and requirements
  • to explain appeal procedures
  • to assist with graduation checks
  • to sign program approval, as appropriate, for Special or Probation students
  • to change student status, as appropriate (eg. from Special to Regular)
  • to meet with students as requested, or required
  • to refer to the faculty advisor, as appropriate
  • to uphold the academic policies of the university
  • to help interpret the academic policies and procedures to students, staff, and faculty
  • to act as a source of referral to other campus services
  • to be generally aware of career and graduate study opportunities related to the field of study
  • to work closely with the advisor around any changes to the Schedule of Studies
  • to consult, as necessary, with other campus services
  • to provide relevant information to the advisors, departments, dean, curriculum and program committees (and sub-committees) about student issues with the degree program
  • to participate at liaison events, as requested

Two terminological issues are worth noting here:

  • in some departments the role of 'Faculty Advisor' is in reality played by a professional who is not necessarily a full-time faculty member. Alternative generic terms that accurately described this relationship were considered by the committee, but ultimately discarded in favour of 'Faculty Advisor,' primarily because that term is unambiguously meaningful to students, in a way that the alternatives were not.
  • The definition of roles is not intended to be exclusive of other duties an individual may be assigned. For example, some program counsellors serve in addition as academic assistants to their Dean. The definition here refers only to their program counselling function.

3. Undergraduate Academic Information Centre

The committee recommends establish an Undergraduate Academic Information Centre (UAIC) to serve as a point of first contact for students, and provide both general advising information as well as referral to appropriate specialized advising resources. The UAIC would be located close to the Office of Registrarial Services and the Office of First Year Studies, in order to reduce the mileage that students have to cover as they interact with these three units. The UAIC would be managed by a Coordinator, reporting to the Associate Vice-President Academic.

The Calendar section on Advising would contain the following description of the UAIC:

The Undergraduate Academic Information Centre

The role of the Undergraduate Academic Information Centre (UAIC) is to provide general academic advising information and advice to undergraduate students. This includes appropriate referral to the program counsellor, or faculty advisor, as well as other support services on campus.

For some students, the centre may function as a first point of contact for information or advice about academic program issues. Centre staff operate on an assessment and referral system - first helping the student to identify the problem or issue, and then, as necessary, referring her/ him to the appropriate resource (e.g. program counselling office, faculty/ specialization advisor, career services, Financial Services, etc.).

At the centre, students will find general information on transfer requirements and procedures; Continuation of Study requirements; admission and graduation requirements; information about appeal process and procedures; help with interpreting the calendar; or help with different forms. Students who require more detailed information about their particular degree program requirements, or who have more specific questions about changing or adding a specialization, or transfer to a different degree program will be directed to the program counselling office or to the faculty advisor, as appropriate.

The centre will be a resource for all students, with particular sensitivity to issues facing transfer (advanced standing) students; non-degree and general studies students; and "undecided"* students, including first year students or other students contemplating a change in program.

*Although most University of Guelph students declare a major upon entry, "undecided" in this context refers to students who may be declared in a major but are now not sure whether the program is the right fit for their educational, career, or life goals.

The Director of the Undergraduate Academic Information Centre

Reporting to the Associate Vice President Academic, the Director of the Undergraduate Academic Information Centre will be responsible for managing and directing the day- to- day operation of the centre. Initially, the Director will have primary responsibility for implementing the specific recommendations from the Report of the Committee to Review Academic Advising. In addition, the Director will be responsible for facilitating the implementation of on-going academic advising policy recommendations from the Council on Academic Advising.

Specific duties include: providing information, and advice as appropriate, to new and in-course students at all class levels regarding university regulations and procedures; referring students to faculty advisors, program counselling offices or other university resources, as appropriate; preparing a variety of web and print academic advising information materials; distributing academic advising information materials, as appropriate; maintaining a web site for the centre with links to appropriate advising resources and program counselling offices; ensuring the confidentiality of student records within the centre; selecting, training, and supervising office and peer helper staff; maintaining an up-to-date listing of program counsellors and academic advisors; supervising the maintenance of up-to-date academic advising and program counselling list-serves; reviewing and summarizing Board of Undergraduate Studies and Senate minutes for relevant information impacting program counselling and academic advising across the colleges, for distribution through a monthly email communication to program counsellors and academic advisors; liaising with the Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Registrarial Services; accumulating and analysing information (for the Council on Academic Advising); and other associated duties.

The Director will work at the direction of the Council on Academic Advising to develop, implement, and maintain:

  • a web-based academic advising handbook for students
  • a web-based academic advising handbook for academic advisors
  • professional development opportunities for academic advisors and program counsellors
  • an appropriate evaluation and recognition system for academic advising and program counselling at the University of Guelph
  • on-going communication strategies to coordinate and strengthen the role of academic advising within the university community

In addition, the Director will attend meetings of the Council on Academic Advising, the Advisory Committee of Program Counsellors, the Calendar Review Committee, the Board of Undergraduate Studies and other meetings as required.

The Director is expected to be a team builder with a strong commitment to service for undergraduate students. The ideal candidate will have an advanced university degree (masters degree or higher); an understanding of the university's wide range of academic programs; a current knowledge of University policies and procedures as well as the range student support services available across campus; demonstrated experience in a managerial capacity; excellent interpersonal skills; excellent written and oral communication skills; proficiency with computers, especially email, word processing, and web-based publication; ability to work independently and with a team; ability to work in a fast paced environment with constant interruptions; exceptional organizational and problem solving skills and attention to detail. Familiarity with Colleague or similar student information system would be an asset

4. Council on Undergraduate Academic Advising

The committee recommends that a Council on Undergraduate Academic Advising be created to manage and coordinate the practice policy and evolution of the advising system. The CUAA, reporting to and chaired by the AVPA, would have broad representation from:

  • Program Counsellors
  • Faculty Advisors
  • Office of Registrarial Services
  • Undergraduate Curriculum Coordinator
  • Deans
  • Chairs
  • Student Affairs
  • Undergraduate Students
  • Senate International Committee
  • Senate Committee on Open Learning

The CUAA would develop strategic directions, formulate policy on advising issues, and serve as a permanent communication channel to help coordinate the various individuals and entities engaged in advising.
Members of the CUAA would be appointed by the Associate Vice-President Academic, with appropriate consultation, for a normal period of two years, with terms staggered to promote continutity.

Through the CUAA, the Associate Vice-President Academic would have ultimate responsibility for the direction and practice of academic advising at the University.

The following Calendar copy would explain the mandate of the CUAA:

The Council on Undergraduate Academic Advising

The role of the Council on Undergraduate Academic Advising (CUAA) is to develop, review, discuss, and recommend to senior administration on an ongoing basis any and all advising-related strategies, policies, and processes.

The CUAA is responsible for managing and directing academic advising policies at the university. The CUAA reports to, and is chaired by the Associate Vice-President Academic. Membership includes broad representation from stakeholders across the university community including, but not limited to: program counsellors, faculty advisors, Office of Registrarial Services, Coordinator of Undergraduate Curriculum, deans, chairs, Student Affairs, Office of Open Learning/ SCOL, undergraduate students, Centre for International Programs, and the Director of the Undergraduate Academic Information Centre. The Council will meet approximately once per semester.

The CUAA develops strategic directions and formulates policy on advising issues, coordinates planning around academic advising issues, and serves as a permanent communication channel to help coordinate the various individuals and entities engaged in academic advising activities.

5. Phased Evolution Strategy

The committee recommends a phased approach to the longer-term evolution of academic advising. Three phases are foreseen as potentially desirable, subject to ongoing reevaluation of program goals and performance.

The first phase would involve implementation of the concrete recommendations (1-4) described above, and establish the CUAA as the locus for further deliberation and decision about future changes and directions. Phase one should be enacted as soon as possible.

The second phase would begin under the guidance of the CUAA once it and the UAIC are in place and stable, and would have the overall goal of reorganizing advising functions to enhance leverage and exploit discipline/program affinity. While precise details would be subject to ongoing information gathering by the CUAA and UAIC, one possible organization might be to group resources into functional units along the following lines:

  • Science: B.Sc., B.Comp., B.Sc.Tech.
  • Arts and Social Sciences: B.A., B.A.S.
  • Applied Science and Management: B.A.Sc., B.Comm.
  • Engineering: B.Sc.Eng.
  • Agriculture, Environment, and Land Resource Science: B.Sc.Ag., B.Sc.Env., B.L.A., Diploma

These six organizational subunits would help to coalesce advising activity around student expectations and serve as focal points for those students needing specialized attention. The grouping together of related degree programs would also allow pooling of resources to provide services which are impractical in a more fragmented structure. The time frame for these changes would fit the expected schedule for rollout of space from the new buildings. The logistical and staffing issues raised by changes in advising would obviously factor into overall institutional planning for space allocation.

Phase three would proceed once the CUAA has had an opportunity to assess the efficacy of the structures established in phase two. If it is determined that further reorganization is warranted, we would consider physically bringing together the program counsellors, the UAIC, and an admissions welcome centre in one location. This centralized delivery point for advising would simplify the task of the student, and recognize the need for close cooperation among the various units involved, while still respecting the underlying distributed organizational structure.

6. Advising Training

The Committee directs the CUAA to address these issues as a high priority during the completion of phase one as outlined in the previous section.

7. Advising Handbooks

A working group has produced an initial set of handbooks for publication on the intranet. The faculty advisor handbook is attached to this report.

8. Evaluation and Recognition

The Committee directs the CUAA to address these issues as a high priority during the completion of phase one as outlined in the previous section.

Next Steps

The core of the Committee's recommendations is to establish a new body (CUAA) with ongoing responsibility for the evolution of academic advising. The committee has also offered a number of more concrete recommendations in an effort to start the CUAA rolling with some momentum gathered from our review and research into the challenges it will face. The committee expects that the CUAA will actively and continually assess and reassess the progress of the system it oversees and make such mid-course correction as are deemed necessary.