Academic Advisors at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Problem Statement

Academic advising has been established in the literature as essential to undergraduate students’ development, academic success, satisfaction, recruitment, and retention (Allen, Smith, & Muehleck, 2013: Habley & McClanahan, 2004; Harrison, 2012). Moreover, of the two most common styles of academic advising, research indicates that most undergraduate students (95.5%) prefer developmental advising over the prescriptive style of advising (Hale, Graham, & Johnson, 2009). Whereas the prescriptive form of academic advising is akin to the authoritative relationship between a doctor and her patient (the doctor diagnoses and prescribes a treatment protocol for the patient to follow), developmental academic advising is likened to a collaborative teaching-learning relationship between a teacher and his student that involves developmental growth for both (Crookston, 1972/1994). Developmental academic advising is grounded in educational development theories, and adherents practicing this style of advising are student-centered in their approach and concerned with cognitive processes, environmental and interpersonal interactions, and behavioral awareness (Crookston, 1972/1994).

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The practice of “tailoring advising encounters to student circumstances, characteristics, and education level” is well established in the academic advising literature (Allen et al., 2013, p. 3), including gender-related issues. For example, Eagan et al. (2014) reported a gender gap in how male and female academic advisors engage their undergraduate advisees, and Ezeala-Harison (2014) did a comparative analysis of male-female retention rates among Black students enrolled at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Yet, no research literature could be found that compared the practices of male academic advisors and female academic advisors from the perspective of undergraduate students. Given research findings that show the positive relationship between academic advising and student success/retention and findings indicating the importance of congruence between students’ preferred developmental academic advising style and their advisors’ actual style of academic advising (Hale et al., 2009), it is important to address this gap in the literature.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this quantitative comparative descriptive survey study will be to examine the four domains of academic advising—the advising session, advocacy/accountability for student welfare, knowledge, and availability—by comparing the perceptions of undergraduate students assigned to female academic advisors with undergraduate students assigned to male academic advisors at historically Black college and universities located in a Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Harrison’s (2014) Faculty Advisor Evaluation Questionnaire (FAEQ) will be utilized to collect data from study participants. The FAEQ is based on Crookston’s (1972/1994) seminal developmental advising theory.

Significance of the Study

This proposed study that aims to examine the four domains of academic advising by comparing the perceptions of students assigned to female academic advisors with students assigned to male academic advisors at HBCUs is significant to the existing body of literature in educational leadership, specifically the academic advising literature. Research shows a positive relationship between academic advising and undergraduate students’ development, academic success, satisfaction, recruitment, and retention (Allen et al., 2013: Habley & McClanahan, 2004; Harrison, 2012). Additionally, the academic advising literature shows the importance of achieving congruence between students’ preferred developmental academic advising style and their advisors’ actual style of academic advising (Hale et al., 2009). More specifically, studies that examined gender-related issues found differences in how male and female academic advisors engage students (Eagan et al., 2014) as well as differences between male and female student retention rates (Ezeala-Harrison, 2014).

Despite findings indicating gender may be a factor in achieving congruence between students’ preferences and advisors’ academic advising style, no research literature could be found that compared the practices of male advisors and female advisors from the perspective of undergraduate students. Findings from this proposed study may contribute to an understanding of how students’ perceive male academic advisors and female advisors relative to the academic advising relationship according to four domains: the advising session, advocacy/accountability for student welfare, knowledge, and availability (Harrison, 2014). These findings can benefit college students, particularly those enrolled at HBCUs, by improving their academic advising experience, which ultimately impacts their academic success and satisfaction (Allen et al., 2013: Habley & McClanahan, 2004; Harrison, 2012). These findings can also benefit the HBCUs by contributing to a fuller understanding of how the gender of academic advisors affects students’ perceptions about the advising experience, which may, in turn, positively impact student retention (Allen et al., 2013: Habley & McClanahan, 2004; Harrison, 2012).

Relevance to Educational Leadership

Research shows that academic advising impacts student persistence and degree completion and, therefore, is relevant to educational leaders, especially those serving as academic advisors (Smith & Allen, 2014). For more than 30 years, postsecondary leaders have attributed improvements in academic advising to student retention (Habley, Valiga, McClanahan, & Burkum, 2010; Smith & Allen, 2014). The relationship between academic advisors and students is crucial to student retention (Young-Jones, Burt, Dixon, & Hawthorne, 2013; Swecker, Fiflot, & Searby, 2013). Young-Jones et al. (2013) found relationships between advising and retention factors, specifically student self-efficacy, study skills, and engagement in educational activities. Moreover, Smith and Allen (2014) identified learning outcomes (five cognitive and three affective) that were positively associated with students’ frequent contact with an academic advisor. Students who met with advisors in a formal advising system had significantly high scores on all eight learning outcomes than students who did not meet with advisors. The students with higher learning outcome scores reported more knowledge and attitudes consistent with persistence and degree completion (Smith & Allen, 2014).

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Implications of this proposed study for leaders at HBCUs concerned with undergraduate students’ success are numerous. For example, study results may provide a fuller understanding of how academic advising, overall, positively impacts undergraduate students’ development, academic success, satisfaction, and retention (Allen et al., 2013: Habley & McClanahan, 2004; Harrison, 2012). More specifically, study findings could yield new knowledge relative to how the gender of academic advisors affects students’ perceptions of the advising experience. Valuable knowledge about students’ interactions with male and female advisors according to the four domains of the advising session, advocacy/accountability for student welfare, knowledge, and availability may be gained.

This new knowledge could empower HBCU leaders to respond to students’ perceptions about how the gender of academic advisors can improve or hinder their academic advising experiences, which the literature indicates ultimately impacts their academic success and satisfaction (Allen et al., 2013: Habley & McClanahan, 2004; Harrison, 2012). Academic advising leaders could utilize this study’s findings to achieve congruence between students’ preferred developmental academic advising style and their advisors’ academic advising styles. Although the literature examining gender-related issues shows differences in how male and female academic advisors engage students (Eagan et al., 2014) and differences between male and female student retention rates (Ezeala-Harrison, 2014), educational leaders at HBCUs could benefit from undergraduate students’ perspectives when designing improvements to the formal academic advising system.

Leadership can be developed by individuals to influence groups’ achievement of shared goals (Poetert, 2011). In higher education, distributed leadership theory has been applied to the relations between formal leadership and organizational performance at colleges and universities (Harris, 2013). In the case of this proposed study, HBCU leaders can benefit from understanding how the conditions under which students cooperate with their academic advisors and advisors’ application of advising methods can impact both groups and the shared goal of academic success. It is possible to apply trait and behavioral theories of leadership and explain how such issues as personal ambitions, self-confidence, honesty, self-monitoring, and intelligence can improve educational and advising processes and involve more students and advisors. Moreover, academic advisors’ practice may improve with a fuller understanding of how gender differences between advisors and students can impact, positively or negatively, student learning outcomes and degree completion.

Brief Review of Literature

The academic advising literature has been dated from the middle of the last century when higher education tutors expanded their institutional focus by becoming attentive to students’ personal needs, goals, and expectations (Young-Jones et al., 2013). Modern-day examples of this focus on students can be found in the works of Reynolds, Fisher, and Cavil (2012) and Wilson et al., (2011). These authors emphasized the role of academic advising in institutions, particularly from the perspective of students. For example, there are the instances when students are involved in various extracurricular activities and cannot cope with required academic assignments. Such students need additional relational support to navigate the challenges they face. Academic advising is not a direct help in completing necessary tasks. Rather, academic advising is support provided to students in need by experienced and knowledgeable individuals (Holmes, White, & Colley-Doles, 2014).

Wilson et al. (2011) stressed the importance of hierarchical relations in academic advising. These researchers adhere to the prescriptive model, explaining that student’s roles and possibilities should be defined by their advisors while adhering to the requirements set by institutions (in this case, the requirements that are set by Historically Black College and Universities that can be found in a particular region of the country). Drake (2011), however, emphasized the developmental approach to advising whereby a mutual process of relationship building occurs between the student and advisor that empowers the student to participate in determining the type of support needed and how that support will be facilitated.

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The literature on the importance of academic assessment has linked academic advising to student retention, development, satisfaction, recruitment, persistence and academic success (Allen et al., 2013: Habley & McClanahan, 2004; Harrison, 2012). Research relating academic advising improvements to student retention and student development dates back to the mid-1970s (Habley, Valiga, McClanahan, & Burkum, 2010). Tinto (1975), for example, examined interaction processes between students and institutions of higher education to gain new insights about how these social interactions impact the dropout phenomenon. Grites (1977) focused on developing a model for student development that viewed the academic advising process as the means of involving higher education personnel in an integrative student development program. However, current trends in the literature focus on the impact of academic advising on student success in higher education (Smith & Allen, 2014; Young-Jones et al., 2013).

This brief review of the literature is divided into seven sections. The first section presents literature on students’ perceptions about the academic advising process. The second section addresses the literature relating academic advising to student retention, followed by a section relating academic advising to student success. The fourth section presents literature specific to academic advising as HBCUs. Next, the four domains of academic advising that are the variables of focus for this present study are discussed, followed by academic advising styles discussed in the research literature. Lastly, this section concludes with a brief review of the literature addressing the academic advising challenges and gender factors at HBCUs.

Students’ perceptions of the academic advising process

Students are the important participants in the educational process, and their opinions should not be neglected. Research literature that views students and advisors as equal participants in the advising process is limited. Yet this limitation hinders a fuller understanding of students’ perceptions about different aspects of the advising process (e.g., the quality of advising offered by male and female advisors). Harrison (2014) introduced the student as the subject matter of research and defined academic advisors as the major facilitators of students’ search for identity and academic purposes. Moreover, “it appears probable that different advising perspectives and approaches are more likely to be evaluated accurately by discipline-specific instruments, which also enables faculty development and improved advising outcome” (Harrison, 2012, p. 170).

Students’ perceptions should be integrated into research aimed at contributing to improvements of the conditions under which academic advising is offered. Furthermore, students’ perceptions and opinions can help advisors identify their weak and strong points and share their experiences with other advisors. At the same time, there should be a certain criterion according to which students’ opinions can be generated. Harrison (2012) developed the Faculty Advisor Evaluation Questionnaire (FAEQ) in order to learn how the advising session, advocacy/accountability, knowledge, and availability should be utilized by advisors. The FAEQ is an effective measure of these four factors, enabling researchers to investigate academic advising as a process that can be improved and properly developed to meet the demands of their institutions, expectations of students, and the abilities of advisors.

Academic advising and student retention

Reynolds et al.’s (2012) research is an example of how a quantitative study can be designed to examine a particular group of people bounded by demographic variables such as gender or socioeconomic status, race, and personal interests (in this case, athletes were chosen for analysis). The authors discussed the importance of utilizing academic advising centers to assist student athletes with homework preparation and other tasks requiring additional explanations and evaluations (Reynolds et al., 2012). Academic performance is of central importance in higher education, and students, regardless of their personal interests or extracurricular involvement, should avail themselves of support mechanisms that will help them succeed academically.

For example, student athletes often require support from subject-matter tutors, academic advisors, and family members. They need to develop the ability to balance the rigorous demands of physical training with educational pursuits. As such, oftentimes student athletes require additional guidance and support from various experts (Reynolds et al., 2012). In addition to students developing necessary understanding and abilities to balance physical training with academic requirements in order to be successful in postsecondary education, advisors can positively impact the retention of students. Reynolds et al.’s (2012) findings were applicable to a particular group—student athletes. Yet, the results of their study may be helpful to college students in general, contributing to an understanding of the importance of clarify students’ tasks and duties in the academic advising process.

Swecker et al. (2013) found links between academic advising and student retention. Their study findings emphasized the significance of academic advising as an effective process for engaging, involving, and interacting with students in the most captivating and effective way. Although this present proposed study is not focused on student retention per se, the importance of academic advising as a process that may lead to improvements in student retention should not be neglected (Craig, 2011). Retention is the result of successful cooperation that exists between an advisor and a student. Moreover, academic advising is the practice that connects students to their academic institution (Swecker et al. 2013), and this type of connection should not be neglected. Swecker et al. (2013) described the required connection between institutional leadership and academic advising as the potential to increase the number of personnel that can take responsibility for meeting students, formatting information delivery, and coping with academic challenges and needs of students. Furthermore, Swecker et al. (2013) recommended that institutional stakeholders engage in proactive advising in order to establish professional relationships between advisors and advisees.

Academic advising should play a central role in administrators, advisors, and students’ efforts to develop guidelines for integrating interventions into established programs and activities (Wilson et al., 2011). The point is that current global changes in such spheres as economics, politics, and education reveal weaknesses in developed systems and the inabilities to address these weaknesses within in a short period of time. Wilson et al. (2011) recommended that institutions of higher education re-evaluate existing educational practices and methods of academic advising in order to help stakeholders understand basic processes and make valuable contributions to different spheres of life. Therefore, academic advising ought to be regarded as an effective means of helping students appreciate the importance of their academic pursuits as well as understand the overall impact of education on their futures (Wilson et al., 2011).

Student retention is one indication that an educational system is functioning properly, and academic advising is considered one of the crucial factors that may influence student retention (Wilson et al., 2011). When contributing factors such as self-image or financial support are investigated and improved to the required extent, the worth of academic advising can be better understood and developed. For example, Kendricks, Nedunuri, and Arment (2012) showed the connection between academic advising and student retention in that some students may need more time and support efforts to encourage their involvement in the educational process. However, the role of advisors should not be limited to interacting with students on required instructional material. Advisors need to develop an underlying understanding of why students may need additional help and the proper timing and facilitating of necessary advising support (Kendricks et al., 2012). Moreover, advising processes should be improved by advisors in order to create appropriate educational conditions for their advisees (Drake, 2011; Kendricks, 2012; Wilson et al., 2011). Advising helps students realize their roles, comprehend their duties, and identify their abilities in regards to the tasks that they have to complete in particular institutions, including HBCUs (Craig, 2011).

Academic advising and student success

Recent research relating academic advising to student success includes studies by Young-Jones et al. (2013) and Smith and Allen (2014). The aim of Young-Jones et al.’s study was to examine academic advising as it relates to student needs, expectations, and success. Findings from their survey study of 611 student participants revealed six factors that significantly related academic advising to student success: advisor accountability, advisor empowerment, student responsibility, student self-efficacy, student study skills, and perceived support. Additionally, Young-Jones et al. (2013) found differences in the advisement of demographically diverse students, which has significance to this proposed study of students enrolled at HBCUs relative to their perceptions of academic advising provided by male and female advisors.

In their web-based survey of 22,305 students from two community colleges and seven universities, Smith and Allen (2014) evaluated five cognitive and three affective outcome measures of students’ judgments and attitudes resulting from quality academic advising encounters. Using a six-point Likert-type scale, student participants indicated their agreement with statements related to the eight outcome measures:

  1. knows requirements,
  2. understands how things work,
  3. knows resources,
  4. understands connections,
  5. has educational plan,
  6. values advisor-advisee relationship,
  7. supports mandatory advising, and
  8. has significant relationship with advisor.

Smith and Allen (2014) found that “scores on all eight learning outcomes were significantly higher for students who had met with an advisor in the formal advising system than for those who had not” (p. 56). Student participants reported that initiative in contacting an advisor and frequency of contact contributed to their success. Based on their findings, Smith and Allen (2014) recommended that institutions of higher education take steps to ensure that students receive advising from official sources even using mandatory advising requirements if necessary.

Academic advising in historically black colleges and universities

When considering academic advising available for students enrolled at HBCUs, a number of external and internal factors may influence student learning and educational outcomes. During the last several years, the focus and purpose of academic advising have been re-evaluated (Holmes et al., 2014). Much attention has been given to prescriptive and developmental approaches of advising. Holmes et al. (2014) introduced prescriptive advising as an option for advisors to provide new HBCU students with the proper information for education and cooperation. Advisors have to demonstrate their proficiency and responsibility in helping students cope with all academic assignments and activities while considering the importance of their racial diversity. One of the main tasks for advisors who work with HBCU students is address the neglect of demographic factors as a race.

African-American students should be confident that a wide variety of advising options are offered to support their academic activities while promoting high academic achievement and student personal development (Holmes et al., 2014). Developmental advising is based on such concepts as student self-actualization and the development of abilities needed to successfully work with instructional materials. This type of advising promotes the personal and professional growth with a focus on empowering students to make independent decisions and solve their problems. In addition to helping students develop requisite personal skills and abilities needed for problem solving, academic advisors learn how to cooperate with students and encourage them in making independent and proper decisions (Holmes et al., 2014). Equally important is the role of advisors in being attentive to HBCU students’ progress while expressing appreciation of their efforts, which can involve a system of rewards. Holmes et al. (2014) described academic advising as involving the interplay of such activities as teaching, learning, and advising. Furthermore, they stressed the importance of practice of helping students to acquire necessary knowledge, use it, and understand how it can be used in different situations (Holmes et al., 2014).

Teaching is the core of academic advising programs at HBCUs because students need to learn how to take an active role in different aspects of their professional and personal development while respecting advisors’ efforts to assist them (Young-Jones et al., 2013). Kendricks et al. (2012) stated that the academic advising process depends equally on students and advisors because the latter introduce the options, and the former has to understand what is more appropriate for them. Like students worldwide, HBCU students are challenged by such factors as the cost of education, campus environments, lack of peer engagement, and poorly developed relations with advisors and tutors (Craig, 2011). However, the outcomes of these factors differ among the HBCU students because a considerable number of African-American students lack persistence and dropout after the first two years of attending an institution of higher education (Craig, 2011).

One of the causes attributed to this student instability is poor advising techniques (Pargett, 2011). According to Craig (2011), Pargett (2011), and Young-Jones et al. (2013), many students are not provided with opportunities to share their personal attitudes about their academic work with tutors and advisors. Dealing with personal discontent and struggling to solve the problems, students at HBCUs are often poorly prepared for meetings with their advisors. An outcome of students’ negative advising experiences is low retention ratings at HBCUs (Drake, 2011; Ezeala-Harrison, 2014). Therefore, it is imperative for HBCU leaders to develop new academic advising strategies that meet students’ needs (Habley et al., 2010).

Four domains of academic advising

The Faculty Advisor Evaluation Questionnaire (FAEQ; Harrison, 2014) is a valid instrument for gathering students’ perceptions about the quality of academic advising offered at their institutions of higher education. The FAEQ Harrison measures four main domains of academic advising: the advising session, advocacy/accountability for student welfare, knowledge, and availability. Each factor impacts on advising practices and educational processes. An instrument is a tool for helping leaders in higher education examine the positive and negative aspects of academic advising programs and processes. Moreover, the FAEQ is helpful for generating a better understanding of the relations between students and advisors, which can contribute to the development of academic advising mission, vision, and philosophy (Harrison, 2014).

Each of the four factors of academic advising included in the FAEQ contributes to a well-rounded understanding of advising roles and supporting materials (Harrison, 2014). For example, the advising session factor is concerned with identifying the main steps in an educative process, developing educational goals, creating an appropriate environment, and engaging the best qualities of an advisor. Additionally, this factor deals with readying students for advising sessions by familiarizing them with what to expect from such sessions. The factor of advocacy/accountability for student welfare is concerned with the need to determine the quality of work provided by an advisor in regards to students’ personal needs and expectations. The two factors of knowledge and availability are focused on the personal traits of advisors and their abilities to cooperate with students (Harrison, 2014).

Academic advising styles

Due to the fact that academic advising has considerably progressed during the last decades, a number of theories that help to analyze the peculiarities of academic advising have been offered by different researchers (Crookston, 1994; Drake, 2011; Hale, Graham, & Johnson, 2009; Harrison, 2012; 2014). Young-Jones et al. (2013) state that faculty-student interactions have to be related to academic goals and the abilities to promote student developed. Advisors have to consider the abilities of their students and analyze the environment under which students have to study in order to choose an appropriate academic advising style. Besides, Holmes et al. (2014) introduce the requirement according to which students should voice their opinions and possible improvements that can be done in the sphere of academic advising. Holmes et al. (2014) also underline that a properly chosen advising style indicates the level of advisor’s proficiency. The choice of the academic advising style should be based on the abilities of students to search the material, to ask and answer questions, to investigate the offered field, and to set and understand the goals that should be achieved during an advising and learning processes. Pargett (2011) proves that the quality of student involvement in meeting the requirements set by their advisors motivates students work harder and demonstrates their best academic qualities.

The current investigations show that not all HBCUs introduce successful academic performance because of poor teaching styles, poor academic advising, and inabilities to combine personal, academic, and career goals (Craig, 2011). Recent research developed by Hale et al. (2009) introduces two main types of academic advising that can be offered to educators. Holmes et al. (2014) develop another powerful study within the frames of which the authors criticize the positive and negative aspects of two different academic advising styles. On the one hand, students and advisors can benefit with a developmental academic advising style within the frames of which students are able to develop strong personal and professional relationship with their advisors and integrate their academic, careers, and several personal goals in an advising process (Hale et al., 2009). In their turn, advisors should participate in the life of their advisees, learn the changes that may take place in their lives, and analyze if the changes can influence the academic performance of a student (Holmes et al. 2014). On the other hand, there is a prescriptive academic advising that is defined as an authority-based type of relations between students and advisors that lacks of individual development and the possibility to ask questions that may involve students in a learning process (Hale et al., 2009). Findings of the project developed by Hale et al. (2009) introduce 429 undergraduate students, who are eager to share their opinions and attitudes to different academic advising styles.

The majority of answers are given in favor of the development advising style: many advisors prefer the developmental style of advising because students are eager to participate in their educational processes, understand the worth of each step taken, and be sure that it is possible to influence the development of the events in the offered advising program. Only 1.8% of the participants admit that they prefer to cooperate with a prescriptive advisor and choose the prescriptive advising style as the most appropriate solution in their cases (Hale et al., 2009). In this research, the authors also focuse on the differences between the current advisor’s style and the preferred advisor’s style and concludes that the students, who cooperate with developmental advisors, are more satisfied with the working process in comparison to the students, who choose a prescriptive advisor but follow the development academic advising style. The investigations of these researchers indicate that the advising academic style and the level of student satisfaction are interrelated and cannot be ignored in the analysis of the student work, the quality of performance, and the outcomes of academic advising. Holmes et al. (2014) contribute the prescriptive academic advising by means of explaining that prescriptive advisors can help students find immediate and accurate information. The prescriptive academic advising style has a kind of monopolized nature because advisors try to support novices and explain the backgrounds that should be used in an educational process.

Two different styles offer two different approaches of how the relations can be developed between an advisor and an advisee. At HBCUs, students are always free to choose the advising style they want to follow in order to promote their development and demonstrate high levels of graduation (Pargett, 2011). Still, to be able to make a decision, students should take into consideration six crucial factors such as the existing recruitment, the level of flexible admission requirement, sound financial aid, an appropriate institutional climate, a variety of mentoring programs, and the attitudes to African-American students in a chosen institution (Pargett, 2011). As soon as these factors are discussed and clarified, the peculiarities of the styles are evaluated. If students want to develop their skills and believe in the importance of their self-actualization, they are welcome to focus on the development academic advising style. If students have to deal with a number of new tasks but fail to comprehend the essence of the work that should be complete, they can benefit with the prescriptive type of advising within the frames of which the student development does not play a crucial role (Holmes et al., 2014).

The main goal of this style is to provide students in need with the required portion of help and explanations. Though the main role is performed by advisors in this kind of academic advising, students can benefit a lot with the opportunities and knowledge obtained during a working process with a prescriptive advisor. Though students do not know how to pose questions and promote their self-actualization, they can trust their academic performance in the hands of their advisors and learn the achievements they can observe in the field (Hale et al., 2009). Prescriptive advisors help students to choose their majors , improve their experiences with college, and understand what they can do to be properly involved in their academics (Daly & Sidell, 2013). Developmental advisors do not just help but motivate students think and identify their strong and weak qualities and rely on them when they make the decisions about their future careers, establish their professional and personal goals, and realize what skills and knowledge they should gain and develop to become able to meet the objectives set (Smith & Allen, 2014). Therefore, the choice of academic advising styles is a crucial step that has been discussed by a number of researchers to create a solid background for further investigations in different colleges and universities with different attitudes to an educational process.

Besides, in addition to two completely different styles of academic advising, in 1975, Glennan offered a new type of cooperation and called it intrusive academic advising. Intrusive advising occurs when students are able to develop their skills and knowledge in terms of the instructions offered by their advisors as well as tutors can participate in the activities taken by their students (Smart, 2010). The investigations introduced by Smart in his book are based on the works developed by Glennan. The researchers underline that there is a chance when advisors are eager to take the first steps and involve students in academic advising. Such style of cooperation is beneficial for students, who do not know how to use their financials and institutional resources. In such style, advisors do not guide students but do not make them follow the rules that have been already established. The intrusive academic advising style is the tool that has not been practiced in all academic institutions due to the existing contradictions and the inabilities to create the same standards for all advisors (Smart, 2010).

Academic advising challenges and gender factors at HBCUs

The educational experience of students may be predetermined by the quality of the relations that students can develop with the faculty and the level of satisfaction students have in regards to the conditions under which they have to study (Braun & Zolfagharian, 2016). However, higher education literature does not cover the topic of the relations between student satisfaction and participation in its full extent (Braun & Zolfagharian, 2016). The absence of clear and justified studies on the chosen topic is one of the main challenges in academic advising and gender factors. There are many factors that may influence the quality of academic performance, and the investigation of the students from HBCUs show that such factors as background characteristics, nonacademic college experience, admission selectivity, and even student population may play an important role in an educational process (Reeder & Schmitt, 2013).

As well as Chen, Ingram, and Davis (2014), Reeder and Schmitt (2013) underline the fact that the gender factor is as crucial as the racial difference between students in ordinary colleges and universities. In HBCUs, the gender factor remains to be a crucial point for consideration because students and teachers are free from racial judgments and inequalities and focus on the quality of education and academic performance students have to demonstrate. Sex differences turn out to be evident in the experiences of Blacks at HBCUs and promote the discussions of the challenges that are related to such issues as academic under preparation, financial resources, family environment, and help-seeking development (Strayhorn, Williams, Tillman-Kelly, & Suddeth, 2012). The academic advising literature addressing gender difference is sparse. Craig (2011) investigates female and male students and their levels of retention in higher education. The investigations of this author are based on the analysis of several academic articles and studies with the help of which Craig (2011) introduces the challenges that can be identified for effective retention, the factors that may affect the retention rates, and the reasons for why student retention is important and remains to be a crucial aspect in academic advising. Craig (2011) concludes that African-Americans male students have lower retention rates in comparison to female students of the same institutions.

Wilson et al. (2011) found that female students in the STEM disciplines faced serious challenges in achieving recognition and rewards in comparison to male students. With the help of the already developed Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professors Program at Louisiana State University, the authors of this study indicate several key factors that influence student attrition and the desire to work in classrooms and with advisors. The challenge is based on the necessity to take into consideration a number of personal factor that may predetermine the quality of a student’s life and their readiness to cooperate with advisors. At the same time, although these studies examined gender as a factor in student retention and academic recognition, they did not address the gender of academic advisors who interacted with the students. Academic advising has been connected with the concept of student retention and investigate thoroughly by such researchers as Smith and Allen (2014), Young-Jones et al. (2012), and Braun and Zolfagharian (2016); however, not much attention has been paid to the differences of female and male advising, and there is a burning need to comprehend if it is possible that students get a chance to experience different attitudes and gain different knowledge regarding the gender of a person, who advises them.

Students’ perception of academic advising

Academic advising is the process that is based on a particular system with the help of which students and advisors are able to develop professional and effective relations, identify resources that are crucial for advising and educational processes, solve the problems that may occur between students and their tutors or because of misunderstanding of the instructions, etc. (Swecker et al., 2013). The relations between students and advisors are properly discussed by Smith and Allen. Research developed by Smith and Allen (2014) consists of several logical sections with the help of which they discuss the main characteristics of academic advising and the possible worth of a properly chosen academic advising style. The authors measure the duration and periods of academic advising and determine the style according to which students can get the required portion of information. The results of 2 one-way ANCOVAs show that the students, who are able to cooperate with advisors regularly according to a certain scheme developed beforehand, have higher academic performance levels then the students, who lack of academic advising or are the members of an advised occasionally group.

The relations between advisors and students play a crucial role in an academic performance, and students have to understand that their perception of academic advising should be not less important in the educating process. Research on academic advising and its possible impact on student academic and personal growth remains to be a poorly investigated area, and student preferences have to investigated properly. It is not enough to consider the opinions of students. It is more important to comprehend how students’ preferences may influence their relations with advisors. It has been already proved that the developmental academic advising is a preferable type of relations between advisors and their advisees (Hale et. al., 2009). Significant limitations of Hale et al.’s research evoke the necessity to focus on HBCU students and their relations with advisors regarding the sex differences of advisors. Craig (2011) proves that sex difference among students may predetermine the quality of relations that students develop with their advisors and the quality of academic performance students can demonstrate. However, research literature fails to introduce if there is a possibility that sex differences between academic advisors can predetermine the quality of knowledge students can gain and the relations students can develop in the chosen academic institution.

Major Theoretical Frameworks (Leadership and Educational)

In their study of 429 undergraduate students, Hale et al. (2009) found that the majority (95.5%) of study participants preferred developmental academic advising. Unlike the authoritative nature of the traditional “prescriptive” relationship between an academic advisor and student in which the advisor advises and the student acts on the advice, developmental academic advising is based on educational development theories, including those related to cognitive processes, environmental and interpersonal interactions, and behavioral awareness, as well as problem solving, decision-making, and evaluation skills (Crookston, 1972/1994). According to Crookston, developmental advising is a “teaching function based on a negotiated agreement between the student and the teacher in which varying degrees of learning by both parties to the transaction are the product” (p. 9). Creamer and Creamer (1994) explained that in developmental advising, academic advisors employ teaching strategies “mostly, though not exclusively, in out-of-classroom settings and concentrate principally on student-as-subject-matter” (p. 19).

Research Questions

Four research questions will focus this comparative study of HBCU student’s perceptions of academic advising received from female advisors and male advisors.

  • RQ1. How do HBCU undergraduate students assigned to female academic advisors and HBCU undergraduate students assigned to male academic advisors compare in their perceptions of the advising session?
  • RQ2. How do HBCU undergraduate students assigned to female academic advisors and HBCU undergraduate students assigned to male academic advisors compare in their perceptions of their academic advisor’s advocacy/accountability for student welfare?
  • RQ3. How do HBCU undergraduate students assigned to female academic advisors and HBCU undergraduate students assigned to male academic advisors compare in their perceptions of their academic advisor’s knowledge?
  • RQ4. How do HBCU undergraduate students assigned to female academic advisors and HBCU undergraduate students assigned to male academic advisors compare in their perceptions of their academic advisor’s availability?

Research Design

A quantitative comparative descriptive survey design is appropriate for investigating the four domains of academic advising (the advising session, advocacy/accountability for student welfare, knowledge, and availability) by comparing the perceptions of HBCU undergraduate students assigned to female academic advisors with HBCU undergraduate students assigned to male academic advisors at historically Black colleges and universities. A comparative descriptive survey design aims to examine differences in perceptions or behaviors in two or more groups without using experimental manipulation or inferring causes of the differences (Creswell, 2009). When designing quantitative non-experimental research, such as this proposed study, it is important to consider both the primary research objectives and the time dimension (Johnson, 2001). The primary objective for this proposed study is to describe the perceptual differences between two groups—HBCU undergraduate student assigned to male academic advisors and HBCU undergraduate students assigned to female academic advisors—at one point in time. As such, the research design is both descriptive and cross-sectional in nature. Harrison’s (2014) Faculty Advisor Evaluation Questionnaire (FAEQ), which is based on Crookston’s (1972/1994) developmental advising theory, will be utilized to collect data from study participants.

Study Subjects

The study institutions are comprised of approximately seven historically black colleges and universities located in the Middle-Atlantic region of the United States. My intent is to invite undergraduate students in the many different colleges at each university to participate in the survey. From this sample, a subsample will consist of first-time freshmen (students who enrolled in the university with no post high school college credit) were selected for examination.

The study universities will require that students see an advisor, and receive what is known as a personal identification number (PIN) to register for coursework. By selecting these institutions for further review, a more robust analysis of satisfaction and learning associated with advising can be performed as most students have participated in academic process. The study will also focus on undergraduate students preferring developmental advising over the prescriptive style of advising.

Instrumentation

The Faculty Advisor Evaluation Questionnaire (FAEQ) will be utilized to collect data from the study participants. Based on Crookston’s (1972/1994) seminal developmental advising theory, the FAEQ (Harrison, 2014) is a 30-item self-report instrument comprised of subscales that measure four domains of academic advising: (a) the advising session, (b) academic advisor (AA) advocacy/accountability for student welfare, (c) AA knowledge, and (d) AA availability. Survey items are formatted according to a six-point Likert-type scale (completely agree = 5, generally agree = 4, neither agree nor disagree = 3, generally disagree = 2, completely disagree = 1, and not applicable = 0). The advising session subscale is comprised of 15 items that measure specific behaviors and activities that can be observed during the advising session. The AA advocacy and accountability for student welfare subscale includes five items that measure the AA’s role in nurturing and promoting student success and accountability in the advising process. The third subscale is comprised of six items that measure the AA’s knowledge relevant to effective academic advising. The fourth subscale includes four items that measure the AA’s availability to students, specifically the ease of being reached and flexibility in arranging meeting times.

Harrison (2014) established the construct validity and internal reliability of the instrument. The Cronbach’s alpha for the four domains of academic advising indicated homogeneity among the items: advising session (0.980), AA advocacy/accountability for student welfare (0.904), AA knowledge (0.942), and AA availability (0.837). The Cronbach’s alpha for the total item pool was 0.976. Rattray and Jones (2007) explained that the Cronbach’s alpha should exceed 0.70 for a developing data collection instrument and 0.80 for an established instrument. Therefore, the value of the overall reliability indicates that the FAEQ consistently measures the four domains of academic advising. Written permission to use the FAEQ instrument will be obtained from the author prior to conducting this proposed study.

Data Collection Procedures

Students will be sent an email from the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs at the study institution inviting them to participate in the web-based survey that can be accessed through an embedded link in the email message. The elements of informed consent will be included in the email message where the purpose of the survey will be described to the students explaining that their response will be kept confidential, and their participation is strictly voluntary, and their participation in the survey would not impact their relationship with their universities.

Data Analysis

This study will examine four main subsets of data, namely, the advising session, advocacy/accountability for student welfare, knowledge, and availability by comparing the perceptions of undergraduate students assigned to female academic advisors with undergraduate students assigned to male academic advisors at historically Black colleges and universities located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

Ethical Issues

According to Creswell (2009) researchers need to anticipate ethical issues that may arise during their studies and need to protect their research participants; develop a trust with them; promote the integrity of research; guard against misconduct and impropriety that might reflect on their organization or institutions: and cope with new and challenging problems. Basically, his argument regarding ethical principles in any study is respect for human dignity and voluntary participation; respect for confidentiality, privacy, justice and inclusiveness; minimizing harm and maximizing harm and maximizing benefits. In essence, the researcher should follow ethical agreements in order to ensure that proper conduct is followed throughout the research study.

As researchers anticipate data collection, they need to respect the participants and the sites for research. Many ethical issues arise during this stage of the research. Investigators file research proposals containing the procedures and information about the participants with the IRB campus committee so that the board can review the extent to which the research being proposed subjects individuals to risk. In addition to this proposal, the researcher develops an informed consent form for participants to sign before they engage in the research. This form acknowledges that participant’s rights will be protected during data collection. Elements of this consent form include the following:

  • Identification of the researcher
  • Identification of the sponsoring institution
  • Identification of how the participants were selected
  • Identification of the purpose of the research
  • Identification of the benefits for participating
  • Identification of the level and type of participant involvement
  • Notation of risks to the participant
  • Guarantee of confidentiality to the participant
  • Assurance that the participant can withdraw at any time
  • Provision of names of persons to contact if questions arise

One issue to anticipate about confidentiality is that some participants may not want to have their identity remain confidential. By permitting this, the researcher allows the participants to retain ownership of their voices and exert their independence in making decisions.

Definition of Terms

This study will be based on a thorough review of the literature on academic advising and structures that support retention at Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the Mid-Atlantic metropolitan region of the United States. Therefore, the following terms are defined to assist with clarification and understanding of the study.

These terms will be used throughout the study:

  • Academic Advisors. These professional advisors are employed by the college to help students develop a plan of study that will allow them to reach their goal. An advisor also helps students make choices and be responsible for the choices they make.
  • HBCUs – Historically Black Colleges and Universities
  • Student involvement. This term refers to the quantity and quality of the physical and psychological energy that students invest in the college experience.
  • Student persistence. This term refers to students continuing their education until degree attainment.
  • Student retention rate. This term indicates the measure of first-time students who enroll in the both two- and four-year colleges during the fall semester and return the following spring semester.
  • Advising characteristics. Standards and guidelines developed by the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) in Higher Education with states that academic advising must be guided by a set of written goals.
  • Prescriptive Advising. – student-advisor relationship based on the authority of the advisor and the limitation of the student (Crookston, 1972).
  • Developmental Advising. – a relationship in which the academic advisor and the student engage in a series of developmental tasks such as reaching an agreement on who takes the initiative, who takes responsibility, who supplies knowledge and skill, and how they are obtained and applied, that result in varying degrees of learning by both parties (Crookston, 1994).

Advising session

  • Academic Advising Inventory (AAI). – a survey used to evaluate academic advising practices.
  • Academic success/achievement. – for the purposes of this study refers to a GPA of 2.00 and above.
  • Advisement frequency. – the number of times per semester and advisee meets with advisers.
  • Attrition/retention. – student persistence or lack of persistence in the college of first-time college students (Titus, 2006).

References

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Braun, J. & Zolfagharian, M. (2016). Student participation in academic advising: Propensity, behavior, attribution and satisfaction. Research in Higher Education, 57(2), 1-22.

Craig, W. O. (2011). Strategies for improving the retention of engineering and technology students at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU). International Transaction Journal of Engineering, Management, & Applied Sciences & Technologies, 2(5), 561-568.

Creamer, D. G., & Creamer, E. G. (1994). Practicing developmental advising: Theoretical contexts and functional applications. NACADA Journal, 14(2), 17-24. Web.

Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Crookston, B. B. (1994). A developmental view of academic advising as teaching. NACADA Journal, 14(2), 5-9. (Reprinted from Journal of College Student Personnel, 13, 12-17, 1972). Web.

Daly, M., & Sidell, N. (2013). Assessing academic advising: A developmental approach. Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, 18(1), 37-49.

Drake, J. K. (2011). The role of academic advising in student retention and persistence. About Campus, 16 (3), 8-12. Web.

Ezeala-Harrison, F. (2014). Male-female student retention in HBCUs: A comparative analysis of sample data across five colleges. Research in Higher Education Journal, 26, 1-15. Web.

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Habley, W., Valiga, M., McClanahan, R., & Burkum, K. (2010). What works in student retention: Fourth national survey (report for all colleges and universities). Web.

Hale, M. D., Graham, D. L., & Johnson, D. M. (2009). Are students more satisfied with academic advising when there is congruence between current and preferred advising styles? College Student Journal, 43(2), 313-324.

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