How Thematic Major Clusters, Major Maps, and Faculty Mentorship Elevate the Student Experience


How thematic major clusters, major maps, and faculty mentorship elevate the student experience

Today’s students face more difficulties succeeding in their academic experience than those that came before them. The last two years of the pandemic impacted students’ academic success and their transition to a residential campus setting. Further, low retention and graduation rates continue to affect overall student success and disproportionately impact vulnerable student groups (e.g., BIPOC and first-generation students).  Academic advisors act as students’ principal resources in navigating their student experience. Yet, students often see advising sessions as transactional activities synonymous with “course registration” and have inconsistent experiences due to the lack of overall structure. To combat these issues and increase student achievement, campus leaders must shift to a student-centered advising model. This will allow institutions to start focusing their efforts on closing chronic gaps in achievement.

Student-centered advising encourages one-on-one sessions with a single advisor to create a lasting, comfortable relationship during a student’s undergraduate career. This shift requires investments in new advisors and training for students and staff. The lack of bandwidth and time to make this shift can make it seem impossible to improve the student advising experience. However, there are steps institutions can take to make a shift to student-centered advising easier or improve their current advising structure without significant personnel investments. Read below for three solutions you can implement to shift toward student-centered advising and positively impact retention.

Solution #1 – Create Thematic Major Clusters

Thematic major clusters are degrees grouped based on similar coursework and student major selection patterns. They also include secondary programs, as different degree options may have a high number of students transferring in or out of the major. For example, a Life and Health Sciences cluster should include primary majors, like chemistry and biology, and popular secondary majors students may transition to, like psychology and marketing. Reorganize advising so that each advisor is assigned to one of these meta-major clusters. This ensures students meet with the same advisor regardless of any major changes. Further, thematic major clusters offer first-time first-generation students clear options to choose from rather than an intimidating and large list of degree programs.

Solution #2 – Develop Major Maps

Major maps offer students outlined plans for potential experiential learning opportunities and a clear course sequence, which ultimately helps retention. Major maps help students think about career outcomes within their academic experience, despite the fact more traditional career advising is often siloed from the academic advising experience. Additionally, they ensure alignment between academic requirements and experiential learning opportunities, putting students on the path to fulfilling postgraduate careers. Lastly, the maps provide academic and career counselors a blueprint for their student interactions, allowing them to design paths for career and academic success for the students they work with. Utilize these EAB tools to create degree maps for each major and bolster the student experience.

Solution #3 – Invest in Faculty Mentorship Programs

Mentors play a large role in whether students feel supported, challenged academically, or satisfied with their degree. Faculty mentorships benefit students greatly by creating networking opportunities and offering a safe space, which leads to increased retention. This is especially important to first-generation or BIPOC students who face uncertain challenges without the right resources or support. Ensure these vulnerable student populations have access to a faculty mentor. A student’s performance, engagement, and choice to continue college is improved through mentor relationships. Further, mentor programs help lighten advisor courseloads as students have more points of contact when seeking support.

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