Using NSSE Data in Strategic Decision Making for Advising
In Eastern Connecticut State University’s NSSE 2010 results, end-of-survey comments clearly indicated that the advising system was broken and that depending on faculty to advise students wasn’t working. The survey’s hard data were also compelling: only 46% of first-year students and 49% of seniors had talked with a faculty member about career plans. What’s more, on a scale of 1=poor to 4=excellent, students rated Eastern’s academic advising program only 2.9, significantly below ratings by their peers at comparable institutions.
While the problem itself was clear enough, how to engage faculty in owning and implementing an improved advising model was a challenge. Eastern’s President, Elsa Núñez, asked an award-winning professor—who was respected by his colleagues and loved by his students—to join her in promoting the new advising model across academic departments. The plan was for a professional advising office to take over some aspects of advising outside of the faculty’s subject matter expertise so that professors could focus on providing students with program- and course-specific counseling and support. Faculty challenged the plan and questioned the findings, but the student voices were hard to ignore and the faculty champion’s endorsement was persuasive.
An academic advising committee led by faculty finalized the plan for a multi-tiered advising model. The new structure included a newly staffed office of professional advisors; clear roles for that office and for faculty; and programs to provide advising at four critical stages in a student’s time at Eastern: pre-enrollment, first-year experience, choosing a major, and career planning. Eastern even brought advising into the residence halls so that students are “at home” when talking about their academic and career futures.
Using Title III funds as well as other university resources, Eastern invested $4 million in the new program, and a year after it was implemented student satisfaction rose from 69% to 78%. NSSE data showed that from 2008 to 2012 student ratings increased by 31 percentage points for faculty accessibility, 11 points for Eastern as a supportive campus, and 12 points for prompt feedback from faculty. NSSE 2017 data showed Eastern outperforming its Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges peers with regard to faculty and students discussing careers and topics beyond the classroom. These successes may partly explain why Eastern’s retention rose almost 6 points over a decade.