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Last modified: Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Advising task force report focuses on professionalism, serving students

June 15, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A report issued by the Indiana University Bloomington Academic Advising Task Force underscores the crucial role played by the campus's nearly 150 academic advisors and offers recommendations aimed at supporting their professional development and career advancement.


Student Ryan Rahrig meets with Department of Political Science advisor Marsha Franklin.

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The recommendations, designed to improve learning opportunities for students, include the creation of a central advising office, development of a well-defined career path for advisors, adoption of better tools and technologies, and adherence to recommended standards for compensation and student-advisor ratios.

"In a word, the emphasis of the report is on professionalism," said Padraic Kenney, professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences and chair of the task force. "Academic advisors are educated, hard-working and well-trained professionals who have the interest of students foremost in their minds. The campus needs to provide them with support to do their jobs as effectively as possible."

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Sonya Stephens appointed the 25-member task force to address such issues as the philosophy of advising and what students should learn from the experience.

"The task force has produced a detailed and helpful report, focused both on student success and on professional development opportunities for advisors campus-wide," Stephens said. "In so doing, its members have engaged in broad consultation and careful research, and demonstrated a commitment to collaboration and to the values of an IU Bloomington education. The next steps are to examine each of the recommendations in the integrated plan that the report proposes, and to consider how best to implement changes in academic advising. This work is under way, and we hope to be able to give a more detailed response to the recommendations by the end of the summer."


Sonya Stephens

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The creation of the Academic Advising Task Force resulted from the April 2009 report Enhancing Undergraduate Education at IU Bloomington, which called for better advising for the campus's 32,490 undergraduates. Reports by student groups also called for advising improvements.

"Advisors at IU Bloomington are essential to the welfare and success of all undergraduates," said Provost and Executive Vice President Karen Hanson. "This thoughtful and important report should be read by all sectors of the campus involved in undergraduate education. The report, and reactions to it, will help guide our efforts to support and enhance one of our core missions. We are grateful to the task force members for their hard work, their ideas and insight, and their collaboration on behalf of students."

Gail Fairfield, assistant director for undergraduate programs at the Kelley School of Business, said that currently, most advisors who want to advance in their careers must go into administration or leave advising.


Jane Rogan, associate director of the Liberal Arts and Management Program, advises student Michael Cui.

"If implemented, the recommendation for career ladders would help IU attract and retain excellent advisors who, with their theoretical understanding of student development, their interpersonal skills, and their institutional knowledge, already contribute enormously to the educational mission of the university," she said. Fairfield added that a centralized advising office "would provide advisors with campus-wide leadership, a 'voice' for communicating the expertise and feedback of advisors to other constituents, and the infrastructure for consistent advisor training and development across all IU units."

The advising report points out that students typically arrive with little knowledge of IU Bloomington's vast range of majors and programs, world-renowned scholars, state-of-the-art cultural facilities, and opportunities to participate in research, study-abroad, service, community and athletic activities. Nor do they understand how their own academic or professional goals are likely to develop.

"The academic advisor is central to any effort to build the student's understanding of the university and of her/his own development," the report says. By working with advisors, "students can make sense of the varied signals they receive from faculty, parents, peers, and their own intellectual explorations, in order to develop their personal, academic and professional plans for the future."

Padraic Kenney

Padraic Kenney

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The report addresses concerns that advisors often work in isolation and encounter institutional barriers to collaboration, that they are significantly underpaid, and that their professional skills are not developed in a coherent way or used consistently. Recommendations include:

  • Student-advisor ratios should comply with national standards, with full-time advisors in academic departments assigned to no more than 300 students.
  • Advisors should develop and use advising syllabi with clear Student Learning Outcomes, and they should engage students through more methods than traditional one-on-one meetings.
  • Advisors should make use of tools for student self-assessment, planning and goal-setting.
  • Participation on academic committees and in professional development and training should be part of advisors' job duties, and evaluations should be tied to their professional growth.
  • The campus should develop regular assessments of advising programs, and it should adopt a uniform system for advisors to record, store and share notes on student contacts.
  • The campus should create a central coordinating office for advising, headed by an associate vice provost for academic advising.
  • The associate vice provost should convene a Campus Advising Committee, made up of directors of advising, front-line advisors and faculty, to help set policies.
  • The campus should establish a three-step career ladder within advising based on knowledge and experience, along with two career steps in advising administration.
  • Advisor salaries should be comparable to those at research universities that have established advisor-centered models for professionalism and compensation.
  • Advisors may be reclassified as academic specialists if it is not possible to create a satisfactory career ladder under the university's human resources system.

By the spring of 2011, the report says, the campus should: create and staff a central advising administration, convene the Campus Advising Committee, submit a budget for professional development, implement technology for notes and appointments, and develop advising resources.

By the spring of 2012, the campus should: implement a new career ladder and pay structure, identify key student learning outcomes, and develop uniform evaluations and program assessments.

To read the full report, see