Who is my advisor? How do I declare or change my major? What must I do to graduate in four years? These questions and many like them have been a constant in the undergraduate pursuit of efficacy and clarity in the registration and advisement processes throughout centuries of change in public higher education, and for good reason.
Riva Kadar concluded in the Journal of College Counseling, “Academic advising is often the catalyst for frequent and consistent contact with students, but it is much more than a process of simply advising students about which courses to take. Advisement offers multiple chances to develop a rapport with students and, more often than not, the occasion to discuss any prospects, goals, and personal issues that may be impeding their success.”
Effective advisement fosters student success and one measure of individual and institutional success is the rate at which students graduate. Among the 27 public and private colleges and universities in New Jersey, Ramapo College ranks fourth in the percentage of freshmen that graduate within four or six years. These graduation rates, published by the Star Ledger, show that Princeton University has had the most success in graduating students within four to six years, followed by Drew University, then the College of New Jersey, and then Ramapo!
Ramapo has bucked the national trend. An analysis released by The Chronicle of Higher Education of nearly 1,400 four-year institutions between 2003 and 2008 shows that nearly 500 of the participating institutions reported declining graduation rates during the five year period. Not so at Ramapo…in 2004, 36% of our students graduated in four to six years and by 2008, that number had increased to 53%. Of the 900 institutions that reported increases in graduation rates from 2003 to 2008, the average increase was 2%. We, by contrast, saw graduation rates increase 17%.
We can attribute much of this increase to the efforts of Ramapo’s Center for Academic Advisement and First Year Experience (CAAFYE) and the invaluable relationships, as Kadar described, that it has built with students and faculty advisors. CAAFYE’s contributions to improving our graduation rates are evidenced by its semiannual outreach and celebration of March and October as Advisement Months, its Comprehensive Advisement Guide, its Recommended Four-year Plans, and its impressive My Advisor/My Advisee initiative.
The Comprehensive Advisement Guide provides students with everything from how the five schools at Ramapo are structured to a listing of what courses may be waived for incoming transfer students. The Recommended Four Year Plans are updated annually. These plans, individually designed for each of the College’s 40 majors, help take the guess work out of course selection. They recommend a sequence of courses and are designed to provide a blueprint for students to complete their degrees within four years. My Advisor/My Advisee is an instructive Web portal designed to help students and advisors identify the resources they need to develop a successful relationship and an effective academic plan. It is a convenient collection point for academic policies, college catalogs, registration deadlines, and more.
Beyond efficiency and rapport, retention and timely graduation of students yields financial benefits both for the student and the institution. Joe Cuseo and Randi Levitz noted that “a fiscal advantage associated with student retention efforts that effectively promote student persistence to graduation is that graduating students are much less likely to default on their student loans than students who drop out—due, in large measure, to the fact that graduates are more likely to find gainful employment.”
Cuseo adds, “Student recruitment efforts require substantial institutional expenditures (e.g., hiring of staff, travel funding, and marketing costs). In contrast, retention initiatives designed to manage student enrollment are estimated to be 3-5 times more cost-effective than recruitment efforts, i.e., it takes 3-5 times as much money to recruit a new student than it does to retain an already enrolled student.”
President Obama declared in 2009 that by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. Since the college-age population is projected to level off and possibly decline, this initiative will require a major increase in graduation rates across the country. Thanks in large part to Ramapo’s effective advisement model and its relationship building among faculty, staff, and students, we are ahead of the curve. We have already seen significant improvements in our graduation rates over the last decade and we can look forward to continued success in this area as we approach 2020.
Peter P. Mercer