During the first three years of my professional life, I taught middle school English Language Arts in Baltimore. The students I taught were talented, funny, and intellectually curious. Unfortunately, many of them were also behind academically.
Getting into a good high school required them to study and perform well on the dreaded Maryland State Assessment, fill out an application or enter a lottery, and often advocate for themselves alongside their parents and teachers if the spot was a competitive one. They navigated this process through trial and error, often frustrated and on the cusp of giving up. And once in high school, enrolling in college required them to overcome the same kinds of barriers all over again on a larger, more intimidating scale.
I encouraged my seventh and eighth graders to set their sights on college. But I also knew that getting to college was just the beginning, and that navigating the unfamiliar jargon, bureaucracy, and expectations of higher education would be even harder.
A reassuring trend in advising
With this in the back of my mind, much of my work at EAB has focused on ways to evolve the way we guide and support college students, especially low-income and first-generation students. One of the most meaningful evolutions I’ve observed is the trend toward holistic, caseload-based advising.
Many colleges and universities are realizing that traditional models of advising—focused on transactional services like course registration and reactive intervention—won’t move the dial on student success metrics. Neither will an advising model owned by faculty. As a result, our partners are finding ways to transform their advising structures and rethink the role of the advisor.
How Keuka College transformed the advisor role
A great example of this transformation is what happened at Keuka College. Keuka is a small private college in New York that, like many small colleges, relied on faculty to deliver the majority of advising. But their faculty advisors had unevenly distributed caseloads with little accountability and limited time to devote to their advisees. Recognizing that this was a problem, leadership at Keuka worked with EAB to create eight Success Advisor roles.
These Success Advisors work with small caseloads to monitor student progress in Navigate, collaborate with faculty and other units to provide support, and build advising relationships with students in need. With this new structure in place, Keuka College saw a dramatic increase in probation students turning around their academic performance and an overall retention increase by 3.8 percentage points in less than two years.
Keuka is by no means the only college to make this shift. In fact, so many of our partners have adopted a new kind of approach (similar to Keuka’s Success Advisors) that we had to give it a name: Proactive Caseload Management.
What is Proactive Caseload Management?
Proactive Caseload Management is an approach to advising that combines three factors:
- An assigned student caseload: The college’s advising structure must allow for reasonably sized assigned caseloads, ideally fewer than 300 students.
- A proactive advising approach: The advisor subscribes to a philosophy of advising that is holistic or developmental in nature, with an emphasis on supporting students’ long-term goals and solving problems before they escalate.
- Access to a centralized technology: Advisors, faculty, and support staff across departments use a shared system, like Navigate, to view data and collaborate.
The five basic “steps” of Proactive Caseload Management start with prioritization and ending with monitoring student progress:
There are several key aspects of Proactive Caseload Management that make it unique. One is differentiated care: Advisors might meet seven times with one student in their caseload and zero times with another. Advisors are also given trust and latitude to manage their caseloads as they see fit, utilizing different tools and tactics to ensure student progress. The approach is inspired by programs like TRIO and athletics advising where staff have small caseloads, monitor student performance metrics on an ongoing basis, and don’t shy away from intrusive advising to reach struggling or unresponsive students.
While you can easily find literature about proactive advising from professional organizations like NACADA, the technology-enabled caseload management component is relatively new. The next step is to continue to codify this approach and provide guidance to advisors themselves.
When I think about the fact that my previous students (now college sophomores and juniors) are more and more likely to find themselves at a school with advisors proactively managing their progress, it reassures me tremendously.