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Lynn Freeman seems to have the art of advising down to a science.

The academic advising director at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and her growing team have transformed the University’s undergraduate advising program — both structurally and culturally — to successfully handle more than 8,500 appointments annually.

In 2002, UW Oshkosh administrators recognized that a new approach was necessary to address the needs of the University’s large populations of first-generation and transfer students.

Today, students at UW Oshkosh have more time with advisers, more time to explore majors and careers, and greater access to information about policies and procedures regarding general education requirements.

“Students use the advising center more reliably and regularly than ever before,” Freeman said. “Our satisfaction surveys now show that about 85 percent of students rate their advising appointment as ‘excellent’ or ‘very satisfactory’ based on the purpose of their visit.”

Chancellor Richard H. Wells highlighted the recent improvements in his Opening Day remarks to faculty and staff earlier this month.

“We are using our resources more effectively as evidenced in the progress we have made in the area of academic advising to make high-quality education more affordable,” Wells said. “Thanks to differential tuition, we have beefed up the Undergraduate Advising Resource Center (UARC) to empower students to articulate and achieve their personal, educational and career goals.”

The student-approved differential tuition funds about one-third of the cost for five additional advisers.

The transformation also involved including advising as a part of the academic learning/teaching experience with students rather than as a service process.

Freeman outlined these and other steps taken to improve advising at UW Oshkosh in “Establishing Effective Advising Practices to Influence Student Learn and Success,” an article that appeared in the winter 2008 issue of Peer Review, a publication of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

A peer-advising liaison program helps students get initial questions answered, to make appointments with the appropriate staff member and to learn how to use the University’s Web site to find information.

Academic advisers guide students to select courses based on exploration, self-knowledge, goal setting, decision making as well as planning for a major, career and lifelong learning.

“We have learning outcomes now, and we are able to demonstrate, particularly with first- and second-year students, what they learn and what they can do as a result of working with us,” Freeman said. “We now offer more sections of an academic exploration seminar, which teaches students how to explore majors and careers and helps them learn about their skills, interests and work values. We also have created countless tools, sessions and connections as a result of the additional staff.”

In fall 2005, the University adopted a new, cross-campus advising model called the Total Intake Model, which led to more consistent advising across majors and colleges and increased faculty involvement — an important factor in student engagement and retention.

Also, UARC employees serve as advising liaisons to all department and programs in the four colleges, which has increased communication and interaction and resulted in better information and less run around for students.

These days, academic advising begins long before incoming freshmen ever show up on campus Labor Day weekend. During Odyssey orientations in May and June, each student has an individual appointment with an adviser to explore their reasons for attending college and their expectations for the next four to five years.

“We ask these questions first, and then spend time talking about coursework, high school performance and test scores,” Freeman said. “In fact, the discussion about coursework comes last on purpose. We can’t help a student choose appropriate courses until we know their goals for college, understand their academic background and learn as much as we can about their strengths.”

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