UA Works to Improve Student Success Through Advising

Student success is at the very core of the University of Alaska Strategic Direction Initiative (SDI). During last year’s legislative session, the message that advising equals student success resonated with a number of state legislators, so much so, the legislature dedicated additional funding specifically for advising to UAA, UAF, and UAS.

SDI interviewed leaders accountable for increasing academic advising at their campuses to get a closer look at how those legislative dollars are being put to work. It was discovered that all campuses share commonalities and at the same time uniquely different approaches toward achieving the a unified outcome: student success.

Enhancing the Tools

There is one common academic advising software tool that’s available at all UA Campuses,  DegreeWorks. All three universities have seen a notable increase in DegreeWorks activity this fall compared to last spring. More and more students and advisors are using the software, and that’s a direct reflection of the outreach that’s taking place on the campuses. Here are some examples:

  • UAF staff and academic advisors just completed DegreeWorks intensive training that included the skills to customize the software in order to better meet the needs of the students they serve.
  • UAS has been using DegreeWorks' software functionalities to enhance student service protocols.
  • UAA has been targeting faculty academic advising training through DegreeWorks, and is working on a software upgrade that should be up and running by the summer of 2013.
  • All three campuses have incorporated DegreeWorks as a vital part of student orientation, degree planning and academic advising.

SDI asked Lora Volden, UAA Registrar, what makes DegreeWorks such an important tool for students?

Volden - Right off the bat, DegreeWorks is accessible to students 24/7. They’re able to see at a moment’s notice what their degree requirements are. DegreeWorks also provides a ‘What if?’ feature that allows a student to ask questions like, 'What if I added a minor?' or 'What if I changed my major?' Students can actually see what overall impact those kinds of questions might have before they make any big decisions. This feature really does allow students to plan better.

SDI: Where does the academic advising fit in to a student’s academic plan?

Volden- Accessibility to DegreeWorks is key, but it is not designed to replace the role of an advisor; it’s designed to provide information that allows the student to be better informed when he or she meets with an advisor. DegreeWorks also allows students to communicate more effectively with advisors through the 'Notes' section in the DegreeWorks planner. Advisors can answer questions or provide students with additional advice that can help them make decisions that won’t impact financial aid or keep them from staying on track. The notes also give incoming students, who already have a lot on their plate, the opportunity to go back and absorb the advice given by the advisor.

Different Approaches Toward Achieving The Same Outcome

University of Alaska Southeast

When we spoke to UAS Vice-Chancellor of Student Services, Joe Nelson about the ‘Student Success’ expansion on which UAS was focusing, he said that the university is recruiting for a general advisor who would be responsible for coordinating and tracking intervention efforts through their early alert system. The position would be accountable for tracking UA Scholars, Alaska Performance Scholars and other cohorts providing valuable data for academic advisors. 

He also honed in on DegreeWorks, and how UAS is using the software to address immediate student financial aid challenges by expanding on some of DegreeWorks planning functionalities.

Nelson: Financial aid has been driving our ‘Student Success’ planning process. DegreeWorks’ Planning Tool is a great tool for addressing that need. So now, a part of the financial aid appeals process that we require at UAS is a print out from DegreeWorks of a student’s academic plan for the next two semesters.

SDI: What other academic advising challenges are you working on at UAS?

Nelson:  What we already see, down the road, is the opportunity to focus much more on course scheduling and course sequencing. When you look at our retention studies, course scheduling and course sequencing are top themes that students tell us we need to get our arms around as soon as possible.

We believe the DegreeWorks Planning Tool will help us begin working on those issues. We’re starting out with the School of Management at UAS. They are going to take the lead by feeding the courses required for an undergraduate degree into a six-year sequence. Then, we can feed that information into DegreeWorks, giving students a comprehensive academic road map to work from. We think this kind of effort will result in improved student retention.

University of Alaska Fairbanks 

UAF is ramping up the front end of its academic advising model with more boots on the ground. According to Alexandra (Alex) Fitts, Interim Dean for General Studies, additional student advising funding is going toward expanding and intensifying its student support services.

Fitts: We have hired more academic advisors to work within the model of student support services, which more specifically is intensive advising. This model goes much deeper than what we might expect from traditional academic advising. In order to better serve the student, we need to gain an understanding of their life situation.  

SDI: Can you explain how that process works?

Fitts: We ask questions like: Do you have your financial aid lined up? How many hours per week are you working? What kind of tutoring might you need? What kind of financial literacy workshops might be helpful for you? Do you need to find childcare services? It’s more of an in-depth one-on-one conversation. By meeting longer and more often with students, advisors can then connect our students with those other support networks that they specifically need.

University of Alaska Anchorage

UAA is expanding its software technology in order to be more proactive about student advising. UAA’s Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs, Bruce Schultz, described how the university is putting additional advising dollars to work for first and second year students.

Schultz: We committed to two very specific upgrades: Enhance and expand our MAP-Works software, and fund a position that would more effectively integrate MAP-Works in our advisors’ toolboxes. And we’ve done that. We expanded the MAP-Works program to include 100 percent of our Anchorage campus degree-seeking freshmen and sophomores, and 100% of students who are enrolled in 100 (or lower) coursework on the Anchorage Campus. So we went from having 2,000 UAA students in the MAP-Works program to over 10,500 students.

SDI:Can you give us an example of how these upgrades will benefit students now?

Schultz:  One important MAP-Works feature we rolled out this year is ‘Faculty Referrals’. Now all faculty who are teaching 100 or lower numbered courses can submit alerts on students for whom they are concerned. For instance, if a student has not shown up for class or if he or she might be thinking about dropping out of school, that alert can be sent electronically to our intervention team. Faculty can now put that information in the MAP-Works profile, which attaches itself to the student’s risk indicator and is automatically made available to a whole cadre of professionals connected with that student. We’re excited about this model, not only because it provides timely academic intervention for the student, but it also provides a certain amount of accountability. Think about all the university processes that are dependent on student attendance. Now, if a student is not showing up for class, the faculty has the ability through the MAP-Works Faculty Referral program to notify UAA so it can respond to other implications like student aid, academic records and a host of other factors that cost both the student and the university.”

The Bottom Line

Expanding a tool like DegreeWorks, that allows UA students to academically navigate through their higher learning journey, is a big step forward. Students studying at UAF Bristol Bay, UAS Ketchikan or UAA Kachemak Bay, have access to the same academic advising software. All of the additional commitments of more trained academic advisors and enhanced academic advising software tools are a part of the immediate initiative to grow ‘Student Success’. By growing ‘Student Success’, the University of Alaska has a greater opportunity to grow student enrollment. According to the UA office of Budget, a 1 percent increase in overall student credit hours generates an additional $1.2 million. So, growing ‘Student Success’ helps grow the University of Alaska’s bottom line in a very meaningful way.

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