SDI Theme: Student Achievement and Attainment

Innovations in Academic Advising

A little over a year ago, the University of Alaska began looking closely at how to ramp up innovative approaches toward building student success. UAA, UAF and UAS all received funding from the Alaska State Legislature specifically dedicated to advising. All three institutions took different approaches, and all three came up with very positive results. SDI talked to leaders accountable for increasing academic advising at their institutions throughout the academic year to get a closer look at how those legislative dollars were put to work. The following is a chronological perspective of how each institution implemented strategies to achieve greater academic success.

University of Alaska Southeast (UAS)

In October 2012, UAS Vice Chancellor of Student Services Joe Nelson, talked about UAS’s comprehensive advising strategy. At the time, UAS was recruiting a general advisor who would be responsible for coordinating and tracking intervention efforts through their Early Alert System. The position would also be accountable for tracking UA Scholars, Alaska Performance Scholars and other cohorts that provide important data for academic advisors. 

Academic advising in action.

Nelson honed in on DegreeWorks (an academic advising software tool for students, faculty and advisors) to implement the new strategy. UAS began using the software’s features to address student financial aid challenges by expanding on its planning functionalities. They implemented a policy requiring a print out from DegreeWorks of a student’s two-semester academic plan in order for a financial aid appeal to be processed. The move provided a measure of accountability planning for both students and advisors, while meeting federal financial aid requirements in a more comprehensive manner.

According to Nelson, course scheduling and course sequencing were issues that students identified as top priorities. To address the issue, UAS began developing and implementing DegreeWorks scheduling and sequencing functionality to guide students through a six-year course sequence plan, and a one-year class schedule. 

In February 2013, Vice Chancellor Nelson provided an update on further academic advising initiatives at UAS. In the update, Nelson addressed some of the areas that were showing immediate positive results for UAS students:

  • A very important part of the increased comprehensive academic advising effort at UAS is the Academic Early Alert System. As part of this program, advisors are alerted by faculty when students fall behind in courses, allowing them time to intervene and provide additional support services to the student. By the beginning of November, the number of early alerts increased by 28 percent over last spring’s numbers. UAS faculty participation in the program increased by 23 percent over last spring. These two indicators are important contributors to UAS’s commitment to increase student retention.
  • The UAS Financial Aid Office successfully implemented a financial incentive for the Stay on TRACK program.  A total of 131 students received a $500 tuition waiver by registering for 15 or more credits and meeting additional qualifications. Of the students who received the scholarship, 82 percent maintained 15 or more credits through the end of the fall semester.
  • UAS partnered with Tlingit and Haida Housing Authority to provide a multi-week financial literacy series on campus. Twenty-seven students entered the six-week program studying topics of budgeting, credit card management, interest rate analysis, identity theft prevention and purchasing insurance. Twenty students completed 100 percent of the sessions; five more completed two-thirds of the sessions.
  • UAS added an academic advisor position. In addition to providing comprehensive academic advising for UAS students, this person is responsible for tracking targeted groups of students, including Alaska Scholars and students referred through the Early Alert System.
  • UAS also developed a retention program for students on probation. Degree seeking, full-time freshman and sophomores  enrolled in fall 2013, will be a part of the program. The purpose of the probation program will be to assist students in returning to and maintaining academic good standing.

Today, more comprehensive academic advising data is pointing toward greater academic success at UAS. Vice Chancellor Nelson shared some of the trends after UAS’s 2013 spring graduation.

  • With the funds provided for additional advising, UAS has been able to expand its academic and career services advising. UAS continues to provide incentives for students to ‘Stay on TRACK’—in order to increase the number of credits taken and to complete degrees more quickly.
  •  UAS faculty and academic advisors are continuing to identify students who struggle through the Early Alert System and are providing intensive advising to get students back on track. They continue to encourage students to participate in internships, practicum experiences, field courses and study abroad—all of which add value to their education, and promote student success.
  • UAS also developed an Academic Recovery Program designed to assist students placed on academic probation to return to and maintain academic good standing. Students placed on probation this spring and those admitted on probation for fall will be advised to continue participation starting fall 2013.

University of Alaska Fairbanks

In October 2012 , UAF Vice Provost Alexandra Fitts shared UAF’s focus on intensifying academic advising by expanding Student Support Services. According to Dean Fitts this Comprehensive Advising Initiative included a more in depth, one-on-one approach toward meeting students’ needs.

  • UAF hired more academic advisors to build a more intensive advising model within student support services, the Academic Advising Center, and the College of Liberal Arts. This model goes much deeper than traditional academic advising. In order to better serve the student, advisors gain an understanding of their life situation.
  • Advisors asked 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 the students, advisors had the opportunity to connect them with support networks that they specifically needed.

In February 2013

Between October 2012 and February 2013, UAF began collecting data on numbers of students advised, and the percentage of students that are first-generation or low-income. Other data included the amount of tutor hours provided, and the amount of scholarship money that was disbursed during October and November 2012. Below are some of the results that were linked directly to the UAF Comprehensive Advising Initiative.

  • 327 different students were advised in 474 appointments. Of these students, 275, or 78 percent, were first-generation and/or low-income status.
  • Student Support Services, the Degree Completion advisor, the Student-Athlete advisor, and the staff advisor in the College of Liberal Arts provided wrap-around advising for these students.
  • Tutors in Student Support Services provided an additional 159 hours of tutoring to low-income, first-generation students.
  • 85 students have already applied for Comprehensive Advising scholarships in the College of Liberal Arts alone. The scholarships were awarded during the spring semester. 


The goal of the UAF Comprehensive Advising Initiative continues to focus on increasing student success, retention, and attainment particularly for first-generation, low-income, and other at-risk students.

Fitts noted that UAF’s advising model represents a more holistic attention to a student’s circumstances than the outdated model of “fill in your registration form and I’ll sign it.” Instead, a student meets regularly with her or his advisor and discusses placement, goals, progress and challenges. The advisor presents opportunities for academic support, like tutoring, and makes referrals to various campus offices that might assist the student, such as Financial Aid, Health and Counseling, or Disabilities Services.

Below, is a look at the progress made through the UAF Comprehensive Advising Initiative:

  • Over the course of Academic Year 2013, UAF hired several staff advisors in Student Support Services, the Academic Advising Center, and the College of Liberal Arts. There is a new Degree Completion Advisor, who guides students who have earned more than 100 credits but have not made sufficient progress toward a major. There is a new Student Athlete Advisor, who assists student athletes with their very specific academic requirements. UAF has also provided $50,000 for scholarships and funding for tutors.
  • In looking for innovative ways to support at-risk students, UAF provided financial support to the Math Bridge Program, which offers intensive, individualized review and guidance on all aspects of getting through a math course at the college level. They also funded the pilot of ENG111x Plus, which links a section of ENG 111x (basic composition) with a one-credit developmental English course for students who have been identified as marginally qualified for ENG111x. Finally, in an effort to increase attention to faculty advising, UAF offered funding for faculty members to attend a recent National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) conference on academic advising.
  • During fall 2012, Comprehensive Advising served 327 individuals and provided scholarships to 34 students. The early data indicates that Comprehensive Advising does have a positive effect on Satisfactory Academic Progress and retention. UAF is now in the process of compiling more evidence of student performance for the spring 2013 semester. By fall 2013, UAF will be able to gauge spring to fall retention rates. That data should provide a better sense of what worked well this past academic year, and provide insight into how to direct or redirect their efforts for 2013-2014 and beyond.

University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA)

In October 2012 , UAA expanded its MAP-Works software technology in an effort to be more proactive with comprehensive academic advising. UAA’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Bruce Schultz, described how the university put additional advising dollars to work for first- and second-year students.

  • UAA committed to two very specific upgrades: enhance and expand MAP-Works software, and fund a position that would more effectively integrate MAP-Works in advisors’ toolboxes. UAA expanded the MAP-Works program to include 100 percent of Anchorage campus degree-seeking freshmen and sophomores, and 100 percent of students who are enrolled in 100-level (or lower) coursework on the Anchorage Campus. 
  • One important MAP-Works feature 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 the 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. This model not only provides timely academic intervention for the student, but it also provides a certain amount of accountability.  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.

UAA Update-February 2013

Between October 2012 and February 2013, UAA continued an intensive campaign to reach out to faculty and staff with regard to comprehensive advising. Vice Chancellor Schultz provided the following update on MAP-Works’ progress at the beginning of the AY 2013 spring semester:  

  • In fall 2012, the MAP-Works program significantly increased by doubling the student cohorts. This year, all degree-seeking first-year and sophomore students on the Anchorage campus are MAP-Works eligible.
  • To date UAA has received 65 alerts, each resulting in interactive student contact by an advisor. Significant faculty participation came from the departments of College Preparatory and Developmental Studies, Biological Sciences, and Computer Office and Information Systems.
  • In fall 2012, front-line Student Affairs staff and faculty from New Student Orientation, Advising and Testing, Guidance 150, and Residence Life completed 856 targeted and intentional interventions with struggling students based on MAP-Works student enrollment profiles.
  • Administrators in Student Affairs have provided more than 50 faculty members, department chairs, and academic deans with information and training on use of the faculty referral system. The faculty referral system is easy to use, confidential, and FERPA compliant.
  • The most common issues identified in faculty referrals were 1) students falling behind in coursework but still attending class regularly; 2) students experiencing unforeseen and temporary events negatively affecting their success that semester; and 3) issues related to student’s time management and work obligations impacting success.
  • The total number of student responses to MAP-Works surveys in fall 2012 nearly doubled from fall 2011 (832 students in fall 2011 vs. 1,625 in fall 2012).
  • By the end of fall 2012, the network of registered faculty and staff MAP-Works users on the Anchorage campus grew to 68.


UAA expects to see concrete and specific gains in the retention, persistence and successful transition of students within the target area. UAA’s freshman retention rates are approaching an all time high, according to figures published in fall 2012 by the UA Office of Institutional Research and Analysis.

According to Schultz, the goals and strategies are in place. Combined with the momentum UAA has established, UAA is poised to realize collaborative partnerships that will help them achieve their desired outcomes.

Below are some of the highlights of UAA’s comprehensive advising outcomes:

  • The first-time, full-time degree-seeking retention rate among baccalaureate degree seeking freshmen increased to 71.5 percent for FY13, a .08 percent increase from FY12 and a 3.9 percent increase from FY06.
  • Substantial new collaborations occurred in FY13. Advising and Testing and the Child Welfare Academy have formed new partnerships, as have the Multicultural Center, and the Office of Student Affairs. Advisors in the Educational Talent Search TRiO program and the Child Welfare Academy are now working with Student Affairs through MAP-Works, and the Alaska Commission on Post-Secondary Education and MAP- Works has also begun a new partnership initiative. All three of these new partnerships with MAP-Works focus on retention of the respective group’s graduated high school students, as they transition to and succeed in college.
  • Through the MAP-Works Faculty Referral Alert System, faculty can refer students in the MAP-Works system to MAP- Works staff when the student is in need of additional academic support.
  • Through collaboration and outreach with many UAA departments, 2,329 surveys were taken through the MAP-Works program, by degree-seeking freshman and sophomores in AY13.   The information gathered in these surveys is providing major policy insights to senior leadership at UAA.

The true effectiveness of the MAP-Works program will ultimately be measured by increases in timely graduation (six years for baccalaureate degree- seekers; three years for associate degree-seekers). Considering this metric, effectiveness beyond year-to-year retention will take four to six years at a minimum to gauge.

A Common Thread

There is one common academic advising software tool that’s being used more effectively at all UA Campuses: DegreeWorks. Registrars at UAS, UAF and UAA have continued to see growing numbers of students and academic advisors using the software.

Registrars note that:

  •  DegreeWorks is accessible to students and advisors 24/7. Students have immediate and direct access to their degree requirements. 
  • 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.
  • DegreeWorks is designed to provide information that allows the student to be better informed when he or she meets with an advisor. It also allows students to communicate more effectively with advisors through the 'Notes' section in the DegreeWorks planner. The ‘Notes’ section also gives incoming students, who already have a lot on their plate, the opportunity to go back and absorb the advice given by the advisor.
  • 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.

Achieving Great Outcomes

Academic advising continues to be a high priority throughout the University of Alaska because of its demonstrated impact on student retention and success. Growing ‘Student Success’ through comprehensive advising translates into growing student retention and completion. All three institutions saw an increase in endorsements, certificates and degrees awarded Spring 2013.

Retaining students and encouraging enrollment in 15 or more courses has a positive impact on the university as well. The UA office of Budget has determined that a one percent increase in overall student credit hours generates an additional $1.2 million, which also grows the University of Alaska’s relevance as a vibrant, sustainable university for this, and future generations.

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