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Eliminating the shuffle: Reviewing the coordination of first-year advisors, coaches and counselors

July 29, 2022

Carlos R. A. Jones, MFA

Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences and Coordinator of Africana Studies, SUNY College at Buffalo

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

The context:

Concerns about waning enrollment led to an investigation of the student matriculation across academic years. It was noted that one primary contributor to low percentage rates was persistence and retention of first-year students. Further, it was decided that focusing campus efforts on the first-year experience would be an effective and expedient way to reverse the hemorrhaging of overall campus retention.

The campus took action by setting in motion several initiatives aimed at helping first-year students navigate their initial year on campus. All departments were asked to develop advising plans for each level of student. The campus remodeled the library to include an academic success suite and hired professional advising staff to focus on the registration and advisement of first year students.

The acquisition of several completion coaches and peer mentors was made possible through a Title III grant, and access scholarships such as SAY YES and EOP were enhanced via staff professional development and hiring. Each of these initiatives have shown some level of success and the units implementing those initiatives report continual self-evaluation and recalibration. The work, however, is often siloed; creating a climate of redundant efforts and misinformation.

This issue:

Lack of coordination among units has laid the ground for student, staff, and faculty frustration.

Faculty and staff have assumptions about how students are being supported in other areas. As a result, they often provide incomplete information to students, offer annoying time-consuming redundancy, or they send the student the incorrect offices for additional support. The faculty and staff become irritated when their efforts appear to be futile or a waste of time.

To add, their views on supporting these initiatives, financially, become less favorable. The students, are continually frustrated at being launched into what we call the Buffalo State Shuffle. Naturally, they disengage and are reticent to continue to ask for support. They leave campus or are relieved from campus feeling unsupported and view the campus as having no care for their wellbeing.

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The project task, outcome, and goal:

My project was to identify the administrative inefficiencies in the coordination of the units who facilitate first-year academic advising, academic coaching, and academic counseling.

My expected outcome was a body of information by which I could solicit support from the unit heads to make recommendation. The goal is an academic support system that better serves students, thereby eliminating the Buffalo State Shuffle and fashioning the Buffalo State SLIDE.

I spent my time visiting units across campus. Facilitating multiple meetings with unit directors, I collected information on their unit charge/responsibilities, practices and procedures, their understanding of the purpose and function of collaborating units, and their unit title and its connection to what they do, (i.e. completion coach = social and wellbeing guidance).

My findings confirmed my assumptions. The various units assumed they were working similarly to others and had a false understanding of the coordinated responsibilities. After completing my meeting and synthesizing my information, I called a joint meeting of the directors to report my findings. The meeting was well received and by the end, the directors had a collective desire to set in place actions to monitor and better coordinate their areas in the future.

The recommendation/next steps:
  • Work as a subgroup of the already established campus committee-the Academic Success Collaborative. This subgroup would specifically look at the coordination of the support efforts.
  • An academic support services gathering each semester to report out any new developments.
  • An annual review of the processes. This will keep the campus focused and continually evaluating efficiency.
  • A report of these findings to the provost and his council.

Thank you to EAB and the Administrative Efficiency and Effectiveness resources for this project and indeed ALL of the resources. I will use them often.

Thank you to Kimpton Farren and Angela Street facilitating private sessions with me. You provided a space to streamline my thoughts into a project that was achievable within the time frame of the fellowship.

Finally, thank you to my EAB fellow capstone partner, Dr. Eric Bielefeld, and to EAB fellow, Dr. Jocelyn Mitchell Williams. You were invaluable sounding boards and creative inspiration.

See the fellows’ blogs from the capstone projects

Carlos Jones and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in spring 2022

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