Large class brings big changes to freshmen advising appointments

This year’s large freshmen class has forced Butler Universityto re-evaluate how academic advising is handled.

With changes being made to the core curriculum and class requirements, proper advising for the new freshmen on campus is more imperative than ever before.

Jennifer Griggs, director of the Learning Resource Center, said there were some adjustments Butler had to make to the standard advising process as a result of this year’s large incoming class.

Griggs said Butler has had to utilize less common methods of advising, such as e-mail and telephone scheduling,  which in the past were reserved for students with extenuating circumstances that prevented them from attending a registration session on campus.

“With the incoming class we’ve used the same process of early registrations, and we had some very large ones,” Griggs said. “Over the course of the summer we did a lot of registrations long-distance, using phone and email.”

She said part of the issue this year is that students took longer to decide where they wanted to go to school, meaning Butler then had to provide those students with options to register for classes after all the initial registration dates had passed.

“I do worry that a student who registers that way may not feel so connected,” Griggs said.

Students in these long-distance scenarios have an even higher need for a personal connection with their adviser, she said.

Griggs said because these methods involve a less personal approach, Butler has attempted to make new students comfortable with their environment through Welcome Week activities and by remaining focused on adding the personal touches in the future that were initially lacking in advising.

Freshman Ian Ray said his first group advising experience was not what he expected, but in a good way.

“I expected it to be simply a boring lecture about classes or our major,” Ray said. “But the activities we did as a group turned out to be very fun and also effective at breaking the ice amongst the people in the group, which was very important in making the experience as a whole an enjoyable one.”

Ray said he also thought the move to use technology rather than face-to-face conversation was the most efficient way of keeping students and advisers connected throughout the school year.

“I think that would be the most critical singular change that the advising program could make,” he said. “While at times face-to-face conversations can serve a certain purpose, following the technological trend will be integral to keeping students connected with their advisers.”

Griggs said the success of these methods can only be evaluated after this class’ freshman-to-sophomore retention rate has been calculated.

“We have very good freshman-to-sophomore retention and I think that is partly due to the fact that our faculty members understand the importance of that first year,” Griggs said.

She said the concern this year is that more students translates to a higher number of students per adviser, which raises the question of whether faculty have the opportunity to give each student the necessary individual attention.

“It may mean that they’re advising more students and I think that distribution comes across depending on what the student’s majors are,” Griggs said.

Certain departments have seen increased student interest, but this year has brought an influx of exploratory majors as well.

Griggs said exploratory majors usually require more specialized advising, which has created additional demands on the process as a whole.

“We have a very structured and intentional exploratory studies program that now suddenly has a lot more students in it,” Griggs said.

She said although the process of scheduling and advising is rarely ideal the first year, all the necessary classes are available and it is just a matter of coordinating students’ time schedules.

“There’s always a difference between what you want in your ideal schedule and what we can deliver and still keep you on track,” Griggs said. “We did try to promote all the first year seminar classes so that if you came to them later you still had options available.

“We were very intentional this year, because of the big numbers, to make sure we had seats in the classes.”

She said the advising system that has always been in place at Butler is a good one despite a few minor adjustments that had to be made this year.

“We have a good process,” Griggs said.  “What we’re doing is just accommodating the class.

“We’re strained this year to provide the same level of support to a student population who we really want to spend a lot of time with so that we can advise them appropriately. We were able very well this year to deliver what was needed.”

Griggs said that although the current methods do work well, they can always be adjusted and improved to deal with unexpected circumstances, as experienced this year.

“With academic advising, there’s always potential to do better,” Griggs said.  “I think the institution is always looking for ways to better train advisers, to better communicate information. We’re always looking for ways to improve.”

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