This qualitative study aimed to understand how U.S. institutions assist students in transitioning into higher education (HE) and how the individual characteristics and qualifications of academic advisors and administrators at Dream State University assisted first-year students to transition and navigate through the campus.
HE comprises not only direct instruction facilitated by the faculty, but teaching is also employed in academic staff’s and academic advisor’s responsibilities (Crookston, 1972; Hunter & White, 2004). Hence, Appleby (2008) states, “Advising is teaching” (p. 85). Academic advisors strive to explore their interests, weaknesses and strengths, and the impact of classes students favor, directing students to resources on campus and encouraging their socialization. Conversing about ethics, beliefs and values with academic advisors, students align their academic engagement and socialization (Bigger, 2005; Campbell, 2008).
The higher education system in Azerbaijan is centralized, the organizational structure is highly hierarchical, and the educational leadership executed is traditionally based on the top-down authority (Boer et al., 2017). The four-year higher education institutions (HEIs) do not provide first-year students with academic advising, and such a pivotal component is missing in the higher education culture (Light, 2001). Faculty advisors only advise graduates, academic advising remains fragmented, and mediocracy still exists.
The study was based on educational inquiry (Maxwell, 2013), and it drew primarily on interviews (Kvale, 2006). The constructivist and interpretivist frameworks were interchangeably applied. The collected, analyzed, interpreted and utilized data assisted in understanding the organization and delivery of academic advising in a four-year public institution in the U.S..
A purposeful sampling, particularly snowball sampling strategy, was utilized. The saturation applied helped to find distinct knowledgeable individuals. Data triangulation assisted in drawing the evidence from multiple sources, including observation and document review. The construct validity and reliability of findings were addressed and established.
There was not revealed any fixed or long-established ways to advise first-year students, except Academic Orientation Programs in fall, spring, and summer terms and First-year seminars. This research occurred right in the middle of a year of significant change in advising at a college level. Loosely coordinated and decentralized advising practice in the College of IT, Technology, and Machinery transitioned and moved under the Undergraduate Studies Office. The big shift in the structure made academic advising delivery somewhat consistent, centrally coordinated, and overseen across the campus.
The academic advisors and supervisors’ evaluation and assessment of advising delivery were not completely centralized and unified across campus. There were not fixed or established benchmarks. The evaluation forms and templates differed from college to college, even departments. Recently, a new rewarding component was incorporated into the assessment process. The leadership tended to conduct centralized student surveys and analyze the data to be used as the base for changes by a taskforce. Thus, the departments individually launched students survey to measure student satisfaction on academic advisors’ performance. The leadership attempted to align professional development activities, advisor training program and delivery of advising with NACADA core competency areas. Still, brand-new Advisor Portal launched for fast, constant, and sustainable virtual interaction and communication across campus community and networking was not effectively used as expected.
Based on the Academic Advising Model implemented in DSU, the researcher offered an adapted academic advising model to be established as a structure in HEIs in the Republic of Azerbaijan. The centralized Academic Advising Model will assist HEIs to best ensure the first-year students have equal access to quality studies and academically support them. This model is a combination of academic services and student affairs that is a centralized advising unit in which professional academic advisors and faculty are housed in one office.