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Implementing a caseload management model in a newly centralized division

August 10, 2023

Melissa Grant

Associate Dean of Advisement, Office of the Provost, Pace University

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

It has been well established that Academic Advisement services have a positive impact on student success and retention, but the structures and approaches vary widely across institutions and at times, even within an institution. Without a one-size-fits-all model to adopt and implement, student success leaders are tasked with making strategic, evidence-based decisions regarding what will be most impactful for their student populations.

As the Associate Dean of Pace University, a mid-sized, urban, private institution with campuses in New York City and Westchester, I was granted the opportunity to build a centralized model of Academic Advisement from a formerly siloed structure. An internal, university-wide assessment discovered that our advisement model, with separate units embedded in five schools and two programs across both campuses, held an array of weaknesses and inconsistencies that negatively impacted students and staff.

Over the first two years of centralization, nearly all issues were remedied inclusive of streamlining job descriptions, organizational structures, compensation, professional development opportunities, hiring and promotion criteria, caseload numbers, technology usage, and documentation practices. The remaining, overarching goal was to produce a solution to my guiding question of this EAB Fellowship: “How can Academic Advisement ensure consistent, proactive, and personalized advisement to students across multiple schools and campuses?”

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With advisement strategies varying by school, campus, and even advisor, the following realms continued to have wide inconsistencies which problematized our shared intent to support student success and retention.

  • Varied approaches to support academically struggling students who may be at risk of probation, dismissal, or withdrawal.
  • Varied approaches to engage high-achieving students and ensure they are taking advantage of all competitive opportunities and not at risk of transferring.
  • Varied approaches to proactive communication—with some areas still functioning in an outdated reactive model.
  • No common Advisement curriculum or talking points to ensure information equity—safeguarding that all students are connecting with departments and services appropriate for their needs.

A streamlined caseload-management advisement strategy, which in our case has become a Tiered Advisement model, can align intentional support with student needs to ensure advisement equity. This approach groups students into three distinct success tiers and aligns each with advisement touchpoints and content. The following steps were taken to build this model for implementation in fall 2023.

Tier criteria

Although some institutions utilizing this model employ a broader range of criteria to construct success categories, such as bio-demo data, we chose to launch solely on the basis of cumulative GPA. Tier one encompasses all students with a 2.19 and lower, tier two holds students with 2.2–2.79, and tier three contains 2.8–4.0. Although GPA is the sole defining factor at this time, we anticipate incorporating credits earned by year and D/F/W rates in future iterations of this plan.

Touchpoint calendar

Each tier is aligned with a shared touchpoint calendar which identifies a set number of communications containing pre-designed yet highly personalized content relevant for each student group. While tier one will require five touchpoints throughout the semester, tier two will require three, and tier one will require two. This ensures a common set of outreach standards for each student group and eliminates communication inconsistencies as well as any lingering reactive models of advisement.

Advisor caseloads

A tiered advisement model is highly dependent upon equitable and manageable advisor caseloads. Although NACADA standards recommend an average of 300 students per advisor, we aim to maintain a 250 average due to the necessity of high-touch outreach to a select portion of each caseload. An analysis of caseloads by tier is essential for effective planning and successful outcomes for advisors and students. Current ratios at Pace illustrate the feasibility of this model, as advisors rarely have more than 5% (headcount of 12) students in tier one/the at-risk population.

Advising curriculum

Establishing key talking points for each touchpoint and student tier will support our efforts to provide each student with the specific guidance, tools, and referrals relevant for their degree of academic success.

All tiers will receive foundational guidance to connect with faculty during office hours, visit career services, engage with student life, and take advantage of counseling services when needed. But some key distinctions will include the degree of advisor involvement with faculty and the learning commons (tutoring center) to support struggling students and continuous outreach regarding competitive research and related opportunities for high-achieving students.

Advising technology

Spring 2023 collaborations with ITS have resulted in a “Success Score” that groups students into our desired tiers based upon our recommended GPA ranges. This technology enables advisors to quickly identify their caseloads by tier and send mass communications to each group as per the shared calendar. Once the success score data-validation process is complete, division-wide advisor trainings will launch over the summer in preparation for fall 2023 implementation.

I am so grateful for the wonderful resources provided by EAB to support this effort, inclusive of the EAB white paper, “Breaking the Advising Stalemate—Building a Consistent Advising Experience to Address Students’ Needs”, 2022. My work also benefited greatly from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “The Future of Advising—Strategies to Support Student Success”, 2022.

I am also enormously appreciative of my Advisement team at Pace University, who are always willing to try new things that may improve the success of our students, along with the invaluable support of the Provosts Office and our Human Resources team who granted me the opportunity to serve as an EAB Rising Higher Education Leader Fellow. The experience was invaluable, and I look forward to staying in touch with my EAB cohort as we move forward in our careers and efforts to improve the landscape of higher education.

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