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Monday, June 10, 2024

Advising should be a resource, not a hurdle

Why UC Davis needs to reevaluate the goals of academic advising




You’ve just barely crawled across the halfway line of fall quarter and, before you know if you will actually pass CHE 2A, it’s time to schedule your winter quarter classes. You should probably figure out what those classes are. After compiling a list of options and questions, you go to book an advising appointment because, well, you need advice. Sounds simple enough.

Nice try, loser. There are no appointments available for the next three weeks. Maybe check again in February. If you reach out to your major advising email, you can earn yourself a “Please refer to the website,” the website being a decrepit internet cave featuring course listings from 2018 and the contact information of faculty that are probably on sabbatical. Oh, and they just canceled the class you need for your minor. Good luck with that!

Trying to navigate advising at Davis can often feel like fighting through a snowstorm in flip-flops, except instead of frostbite, you’re going to need to take an extra year. Everyone knows someone with a horror story — an abandoned double major, transfer courses that didn’t transfer or a two-year-long attempt to get into DES 001. College is hard enough as it is, and when the “mandatory advising hold” kicks in, it can seem like someone behind a desk is trying to make your life harder.

The decentralized advising system of the College of Letters and Sciences, for example, requires that students schedule separate appointments for their college requirements and their major requirements. This ensures that you’re speaking to someone well-versed in the topics they advise. However, if you’re a student with two majors and a minor, you could end up with four advising appointments just to make sure you’re on the right track. Oh, and maybe you want to study abroad this summer — there’s another appointment. You’re an ROTC student or a student athlete? Another. With lengthy wait times, your simple query could easily stretch into next quarter.

Also, and we hate to be the ones to tell you this, the resources you’re using to check your requirements without advisor approval are deeply flawed. MyDegree is accurate in the way that asking your ex-girlfriend for love advice is useful: it might be true, or it might be some stuff she just made up to ruin your life. Many of these resources — MyDegree, OASIS, even printed departmental worksheets — are not replacements for an advisor’s explicit approval. While they can be helpful, they can just as easily misguide students who put their faith in the wrong spreadsheet.

Generally, advising at UC Davis is doing more right than it is wrong. Drop-in is a great option for students with simple questions or who just want someone to glance at their schedule. Advisors themselves are typically kind, patient people. It’s not entirely their fault when they misunderstand a situation after advising their fifth student of the hour.

But with something as important as requirements to graduate, there is little room for error. At UC Davis, advising is not being made the priority it should be for an academic institution. It’s ridiculous that some majors list requirements on their website that are at odds with the ones described on OASIS degree worksheets. To value both students’ and advisors’ time, the university should funnel resources into improving this system.

There are simple steps UC Davis can take to defray the hoard of students that stampede toward advising when pass times are released. Every major should have a robust FAQ readily available on their websites. Efforts should be made to encourage students to plan their classes well ahead of time, including by publicizing course offerings by quarter and providing early scheduling workshops.

Naturally, many students will still need to speak to an advisor. Ensuring that all departments are fully staffed proportional to the number of students enrolled is essential. Additionally, too many students have been told something by one advisor just to have it negated by another; advisors should be well-versed in university requirements and in agreement with others in their department.

When something goes wrong on the staff side —- a canceled class, a missed email or a  confused course recommendation —- the advising department should take initiative. Advisors and faculty should work with students to ensure that department confusion or delay doesn’t result in a postponed graduation. Sometimes miscommunication happens, but trusting an advisor or a UC Davis website should never be the reason students have to pay for an extra quarter of tuition.

Hiring and retaining more advisors would streamline the advising process, and not just because staff advisors would be less overwhelmed. Ideally, students would be able to consistently meet with the same advisor throughout their college career. By building a relationship with the student, they could better understand their goals, from career aspirations to intended graduation quarter. Having this knowledge could save time usually dedicated to students explaining their entire academic situation to a new face.

Ultimately, this is what advisors are for: not just fixing scheduling emergencies but actually guiding students through their time at UC Davis. Students from small majors often have this relationship with their advisor, but massive majors like political science and psychology are so jam-packed that students can go four years and six advising appointments without meeting with the same advisor twice. When professors and TAs switch each quarter, it can be incredibly impactful to have a consistent, available point of contact. UC Davis is neglecting a very valuable resource, one that would almost certainly improve student success —- and arguably make the advising role more rewarding.

No student should get an unexpected email after proudly walking the commencement stage telling them “Surprise! You didn’t actually graduate,” but it does happen. Adequate staffing, updated websites and reliable resources are the answer. Supporting advising departments is supporting students.


Written by: The Editorial Board


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