Retention, retention, retention! This is the battle cry heard so frequently on today’s college campuses. What measures, however, are being implemented to ensure that our first-year students successfully matriculate? This is the million dollar question that is continually posed to advisors throughout higher education. What are advisors, who are charged with developing rational, collaborative relationships with students, doing to ensure that they become vested not only in their futures but in their institutions?
Understanding the complexity of the advising terrain, as well as the importance of its role in the success and retention of first year students, in the fall of 2003 the University of Miami Florida initiated the Academic and Career Advisor in Residence (ACAR) program to connect academic advising to the student experience. Inspired by the model put forth by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, housed within the living/learning community of the residential colleges, the ACAR initiative was designed to provide a “one-stop-shop” for all things related to academic and career advising. The ACAR offices are physically located in two of the five residential colleges. The population of those two buildings is approximately 85% freshman out of 900 per building. Here students would have a personalized resource to turn to as they moved through the phases of academic and career exploration. Acting as supplemental advisors to the “traditional” academic advising process, the goal of the ACAR staff was to develop rational, collaborative relationships with their students that would serve to promote their holistic development. Additionally, by infusing the academic process with career information, these staff sought to integrate classroom experiences with occupational choices, thus promoting a seamless continuity of lifestyle planning services.
Supervised by the Senior Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education and the on-campus Career Planning and Placement Center, the ACAR program sought to provide academic orientation, academic advising, assistance with major and career selection, and referral to academic support services. ACAR staff were expected to work collaboratively with residential college faculty and staff, academic units, and a variety of University services to help students develop career plans that were congruent with their abilities, interests, aptitudes and values. The ACAR staff were anticipated to use a variety of strategies including academic advising, personality and aptitude testing, programmatic presentations, and individual outreach. They were expected to provide follow-up to all students receiving academic deficiencies and make them aware of services available to help improve their performance, assist students in the transfer process between academic units, and offer assistance in evaluating the role of study abroad, internships, and extra curricular activities.
Recognizing that academic advising is an integral part of undergraduate education, it is pivotal that advising systems respond to institutional change and evolving student expectations. The University of Miami’s ACAR program, through the provision of quality services, seeks to do just that by acting as a conduit between academics and student services. It serves as a catalyst for student success and provides an opportunity for individuals to explore the world –of work in an effort to promote self-reliance and interdependence. The program was designed with retention in mind, but results that provide direct correlation do not yet exist. The ACAR staff has striven over the past three years to educate and nurture students as they explore and develop the skills they need for a lifetime of successful decision making. As a result, this initiative has received praise and support from various departments throughout campus. It has been credited with promoting the development of realistic self-perceptions, appropriate academic preparation and reasonable world-of-work expectations. It connects academic advising to the holistic student experience. While still in its infancy, this program could serve as an ideal model for those who are attempting to connect not only curriculum to career, but individual to experience.