Students’ Perceptions of Academic Advisors at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Abstract

The role of academic advisors remains to be crucial for many students, who are in need of additional help, explanations, and guidelines. Students from the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are not the exceptions, and the quality of academic advising at the HBCUs has to be of high quality. In this project, the evaluation of academic advising with the help of students’ perceptions of their advisors will be offered to clarify if the gender of advisors may influence the quality of advising. Students are offered to take a specially developed faculty advisor evaluation questionnaire that touches upon such psychometric properties as an advising session, advocacy accountability for student welfare, knowledge, and accountability. It is expected to get the answers and evaluate if female and male academic have different opinions and suggestions of how students should be provided with help. The HBCUs provide many students with various opportunities, and it is necessary to comprehend if a gender factor is crucial in advising.

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Introduction to Research Topic

The Unites States of America is one of the countries that pays much attention to the sphere of education and tries to make a number of improvements in a short period of time. However, the presence of such issues as racial inequalities, low incomes, or unstable employment situations may be regarded as serious challenges that influence education, and academic advising in particular. Though many reforms have been already offered and approved, the question of the educational opportunities among African American students remains to be open in the USA (Allen, Jewell, Griffin, & Wolf, 2007). There are many African American students, who have a huge academic potential but can hardly use it because of the existing racial misunderstandings. However, the situation is different in special colleges and universities that are based on racial diversity.

In the USA, there are many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) the mission of which is to provide African American students with the required portion of education and to make their further employment possible regarding the level of knowledge they can get (Ezeala-Harrison, 2014). There are many differences between ordinary American colleges and universities and HBCUs. These differences are connected with the relations that may be developed between students, tutors, and advisors, the quality of knowledge that can be offered, and even the time that has to be spent in the chosen academic institutions. There are more than 100 HBCUs on the southern region of the country (Riess, 2015). These institutions play a very important role in the lives of ordinary African Americans because tutors and advisors try not only to provide students not only with some portion of education that can be applied in their further occupations but also to explain the worth of life and develop high-quality relations that can help students in different situations (Wilson, 2011).

Academic advising in HBCUs is an old initiative that is used to increase the level of students’ involvement in the educational process, to improve the development of students, and to help students choose their future occupational paths and make decisions. Academic advising is closely connected with such terms as academic success, student satisfaction, recruitment, and retention. An academic advisor is not a strict instructor, who follows a list of rules and clarifies them to students. In HBCUs, academic advisors are people, who are assigned to students to provide them with the required portion of academic assistance that can be used during the course. An advisor should have a burning desire to share their energy and enthusiasm with students. Besides, it is necessary to be aware of the peculiarities of the course. There are two main types of advising: developmental and prescriptive (Hale, Graham, & Johnson, 2009).

Developmental advising promotes the academic development of students and their direct participation in all academic processes. Advisors take responsibility for the instructions that have to be followed and control the achievements made by students independently. Developmental advising is an opportunity for students to show what they know or want to know, how they can use the gained material, and analyze if the required information is enough for them. Prescriptive advising is characterized by the authoritative relations that have to be developed between students and their advisors. Students are involved in the advising process; still, their roles are passive, and all their actions have to be controlled by advisors. However, it is not enough to consider the main characteristics of advisors and their readiness to fulfill their duties. More attention should be paid to students and their roles in an advising process. Students have to understand that academic advising is directed to facilitate their educational process. Students should know how to ask for help and even how to make the effective corrections or offer the adjustments in case some misunderstandings take place.

In other words, students have to know how they can perceive and evaluate academic advising and people, who offer that practice. It does not matter what kind of advising is practiced; students should have access to share their opinions and the perceptions of their advisors. In this project, the opinions of students will be gathered with the help of Harrison’s evaluation questionnaire where the attention is paid to four main properties: advising session, advocacy accountability for student welfare, knowledge, and availability (Harrison, 2012). The evaluation of these properties can help to understand what kind of assistance students may get from their advisors and if the offered material covers their needs and expectations. Sometimes, students are not confident enough to share their doubts or dissatisfaction. They follow their advisors and their confidence (Drake, 2011; Cuseo, 2007). Students do not understand that they have to be responsible for the results of academic advising. They have to analyze the practices, and Harrison’s questionnaire is one of the possible forms to rely on. There is a list of questions that have to be offered to students. To achieve effective results, students should give clear and true answers. The aim of this project is to understand what students think about their advisors, and how advisors can use this material in order to improve their advising practices.

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Major Theoretical Framework

In this project, it is very important to choose a theoretical framework according to which the study will be organized. There are many options in the spheres of leadership and education to rely on and explain how to use students’ perceptions of their male and female advisors in order to improve the field of academic advising and the results the HBCUs’ students may achieve. There are several studies that can be used for the current project. For example, Hale et al. (2009) used more than 400 undergraduate students to analyze two types of academic advising in order to clarify what is more effective or preferable by students and advisors. The conclusions were based on the perceptions received in the result of the Academic Advising Inventory and the abilities of students to choose the already developed statements that correspond to their own perspectives.

Still, this research is approved by the necessity not to focus on advisor-student relations and the quality of advising offered but also to understand how the gender factor may determine the quality of education as well as how the racial factor may be applied in education (Bonilla-Silva, 2013). In other words, it is expected to combine students’ needs and expectations with the possibilities and skills of advisors that can be used in academic advising. The motivational theory offered by Maslow on the basis of the five main needs of people and the social learning theory developed by Bandura in order to explain how the possibility to observe and model behaviors and attitudes can be used in education will be considered in the project.

On the one hand, students, as well as other social beings, have their needs and develop relations with other people regarding what they want to get. Therefore, the idea to use Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs can be justified as it helps to cover the reasons for why students may want to participate in the study and share their perceptions. There is a list of needs of physiological needs that may be omitted regarding the idea of academic advising because such demands as thirst or hunger should be met by students independently. However, academic advisors should realize that they have to be sure that they may cover such needs of students as safety (the protection against some emotional or physical harm that can be observed in the HBCUs), social needs (the promotion of acceptance in an educational group), esteem needs (the development of student’s self-respect), and self-actualization needs (developmental learning helps students become confident and aware of what is required) (Kremer & Hammond, 2013).

On the other hand, there is the social learning theory that promotes human motivation and the development of thoughts and actions through observations and evaluations (Corey, 2009). Academic advisors have to comprehend that their suggestions and examples are crucial for students. They should provide students in need with the required portion of help and support. At the same time, advisors should not guide students without the possibility to demonstrate the latter their individual traits and attitudes. Bandura’s social learning theory suggests the inability to stop observing and evaluating others’ people examples. Therefore, his approach and methods can be applied in the current study from the point of view of students as observers of their advisors’ practices and behaviors.

Study Subjects

Study subjects are the students and advisors, who are going to participate in the project, and the information obtained from the answers that are going to be offered in the questionnaires. Several HBCUs are chosen for the study. Students have to pass the main requirement that is a direct cooperation with advisors, both male, and female. It is hard to calculate how many students are involved in academic advising in HBCUs; therefore, it is expected to analyze the answers of at least 300 students. Taking into consideration the possibility that some students may not agree to participate or fail to complete their questionnaires according to the deadlines set, it is possible to cooperate with 345 students (200 girls and 145 boys). Such choice of participants can be explained by the possibility to gather enough information from different sources and make conclusions about the quality of academic advising offered. In addition to the random sampling that is preferable in the study, it is necessary to add one certain criterion: students have to be freshmen, who are in need of eye contact with their supervisors in order to get the required portion of instructions and hints.

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The communication between the researcher and participants will be organized in two ways: via e-mail and Skype. Such choice provides students with the possibility to gain control of their activities, and the researcher can forecast possible time that is required for gathering the material. At the same time, students are free to quit the project any time they want. The researcher cannot use the information about the participants, who refused to continue cooperating without their agreements. These conditions will be discussed in the ethical issues of the study.

Data Collection Procedures

Students turn out to be the main source of information for the study. The majority of data is collected from the questionnaires offered to students. The data collection procedure will be organized in several stages. First, it is necessary to choose several HBCUs from the South region to begin research. As soon as several colleges and universities are chosen, special invitations with the explanations and details about the survey should be sent via email. The chosen institutions should accept the invitations to participate in a web-based survey that will help to improve the quality of academic advising from several perspectives and get more students involved in academic advising. Students have to be informed about the purposes of the study and the guarantees they can get.

In the study, the students, who start developing their relations with advisors, are invited only. There is no reason to invite those students, who do not have an idea about academic advising and the conditions under which it can be developed. All their responses should be confidential during the study. Besides, only voluntary participation is appreciated because any kind of impact from the colleges’ or universities sides can change the relations between students and advisors. It is not acceptable for the study. In case students have some questions or ask for more explanation, the researcher is obliged to clarify all aspects of the work. Still, the questions and suggestions of students have to be independent. The researcher does not have the right to impose some ideas or give hints.

The second stage is the direct communication with students, who agree to participate in the study. They have to understand what kind of work they should do. They will be offered the Harrison’s questionnaire form and asked to give their personal opinions on different aspects of their advisors’ work. As soon as the questionnaire forms are filled and sent to the researcher, it is time to analyze the answers. Each questionnaire has to be provided not only with answers but also with some brief information about the advisors. In particular, it is expected that students share the information about their advisors’ gender. It is one of the main requirements of the study – to identify and analyze the differences of academic advising based on a gender factor. Finally, it is also necessary to use the credible literature to provide some explanations of the terms and previous research used in the current study.

Data Analysis

The analysis of the data consists of several stages. First, the identification of four properties should be given and explained. The peculiarities of the advising session, advocacy/accountability for student welfare, knowledge, and availability have to be explained using the past investigations of Harrison (2012) and Hale et al. (2009). The perceptions of undergraduate students that are assigned to male and female advisors turn out to be the main source of information that should be analyzed. It is planned to create a table where all results will be mentioned. As soon as calculations are made and the main results are identified, the analysis of the data can begin. A paired t-test can be used as the main means to examine two samples (two hypotheses) offered in the study (Ary, Jacobs, Sorensen, & Walker, 2012).

This test is used on the basis of independent samples: there are two different groups (students, who cooperated with female academic advisors, and students, who cooperate with male academic advisors). In the study, it is necessary to understand how students, who are divided according to the gender of their advisors, treat academic advising. It is not enough to gather the opinions and make a conclusion. The task is to clarify if the gender difference is crucial for academic advising. If the connection between the advisor’s gender and the quality of advising is proved, it is necessary to identify the differences and explain them in the context of the questionnaires offered to students. T-tests and ANOVA statistical techniques can be rather helpful in the analysis (Ary, Jacobs, Sorensen, & Walker, 2013).

Ethical Issues

In the study, the evaluation of the ethical issues is a crucial step that cannot be neglected. On the one hand, such issues help the researchers to identify the main rules according to which the work has to be based. On the other hand, properly identified ethical issues help to develop trustful relations between the participants of the study and researchers and solve different problems and misunderstandings that cant take place. In this project, there are several procedures that can ensure confidentiality, anonymity, informed consent, and other aspects of the work.

  1. Every participant is provided with clear instructions and explanations of what should be done. They also have the right to ask for clarifications in the 1case of emergency.
  2. Each questionnaire is the same for each participant. There are several facts that have to be mentioned by the participants (e.g. the educational grade or the gender of an advisor).
  3. Every participant is provided with the guarantees that all information stays confidential. It means that their answers and perceptions of academic advisors remain to be anonymous and influence the statistical aspect only. Advisors and other representatives of the chosen HBCUs cannot get the information offered by students. The relations between students, their advisors, and their institutions will not be changed.
  4. Every participant is free to quit the study any time he/she wants. Still, rational explanations should be given so that the researcher can understand the mistakes made or the improvements required.
  5. The researcher cannot use the information offered by the participant without a mutual agreement.

All these aspects have to be identified and explained to the participants so that they can see that their participation is voluntary, and their true questions are in demand.

References

Allen, W. R., Jewell, J. O., Griffin, K. A., & Wolf, D.S. (2007). Historically black colleges and universities: Honoring the past, engaging the present, touching the future. The Journal of Negro Education 76(3), 263-280.

Ary, D., Jacobs, L.C., Sorensen, C.K., & Walker, D. (2013). Introduction to research in education.Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.

Bonilla-Silva, E. (2013). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America. Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Corey, G. (2009). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.

Cuseo, J. (2007). Academic advisement and student retention: Empirical connections & systemic interventions. Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, 1-25. Web.

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.

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.

Harrison, E. (2012). Development and pilot testing of the faculty advisor evaluation questionnaire. Journal of Nursing Education, 51(3), 167-171.

Kremer, W. & Hammond, C. (2013). Abraham Maslow and the pyramid that beguiled business. BBC. Web.

Riess, S. A. (2015). Sports in American from colonial times to the twenty-first century: An encyclopedia. New York, NY: Routledge.

Wilson, V. R. (2011). The effect of attending an HBCU on persistence and graduation outcomes of African-American college students. In C.L. Betsey (Ed.) Historically black colleges and universities (5-47). Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

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