Advising matters: Title III grant helps GCC focus on academic advising

October 9, 2009

Staff and faculty at Greenfield Community College recognize that college is more than coursework and exams and know that academic advising plays a crucial role in students’ college experiences. Now, thanks to funds provided by a five year federal grant, GCC’s advising program is even more effective at helping students achieve their academic and career goals.

The Title III Part A U.S. Department of Education grant helped enhance academic advising at GCC by providing a new web-based computer system for accessing student records, expanding professional development opportunities for faculty and staff, and creating new ways for advisors to engage with students. With funds from the grant, GCC developed Banner Self-Service, a user-friendly web-based system for maintaining and accessing student records. Banner allows students and faculty to plan their academic programs and more easily track how students are progressing with their degree requirements.
In addition to providing a more efficient system for accessing student records, the grant impacted the culture of advising at GCC, expanding the perception of advising to include more than simply helping students register for courses. In their 2009 evaluation of the grant, Market Street Research, Inc. reported that advisors “spend much less time with their advisees going through the paperwork or processes required for registration. With much of the labor involved in these processes shifted to quick, streamlined electronic systems, more time is freed up to talk with students about ‘big picture’ issues: academic goals, career goals and options, and personal issues that may be affecting their work at GCC.” Such “big picture” discussions are more satisfying for both students and advisors. In the 2009 evaluation, one academic advisor said, “My expectation of myself is higher than what it’s been in the past. I don’t have as many moments when there’s a student at the door and I’m thinking, ‘Oh god, I don’t have time for this.’ Now, I welcome the moments when students come to the door.”

Key to the success of the grant were the work of the grant’s staff, a steering committee, and a pilot group of advisors called the “ATeam.” The grant’s staff included administrators and specialists in advising and technology. The steering committee included faculty, staff and students who met regularly and provided advice and support to the professional staff working on the grant projects. The A-Team was the self-named group of advisors of primarily liberal arts students who accepted the invitation to participate in the Title III pilot group. They formed 15 special interest groups to work on projects they identified and designed to improve the advising experience for all GCC students. The A-Team’s projects included work on an advising web page, early progress reports, an advisor development manual, peer advising and parent/family orientation.

Reflecting on the impact of the grant, GCC President Bob Pura said, “What started out as a desire to simply get needed resources for our advising work has turned into a deeper and richer understanding of advising as a core function of our students’ learning and all transitions as key to student success. This grant has been transformational in that regard. Our college culture has been changed for the better and our students’ experience will be better as a result. Our heartfelt appreciation to Larry Dean, the Title III Steering Committee, and all of the ‘A-Team’ for their leadership and hard work.” For more information about the Title III Grant for Advising, contact Martha Field, Dean of Institutional Support and Advancement, at (413) 775-1421 or field@gcc.mass.edu.