Sonoko Morikawa, International Christian University
This article originally appeared in Academic Advising Today. Ms. Morikawa is in her first semester in the K-State Academic Advising Master’s Program.
Quantitative data are powerful persuaders. If this is a true statement, then why don’t we use this powerful tool more for planning in academic advising? This article discusses an analytical approach to the collection and analysis of data in academic advising and provides examples of the use of quantitative data within advising practice at International Christian University (ICU).
Introduction to ICU
International Christian University (ICU) is a private, four-year liberal arts college, founded in 1953 in Japan. The student population is about 3,000 including the graduate school. The student-faculty ratio is 18 to 1, which is about the average for Japanese universities (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Sciences and Technology, 2008). From the beginning of the university, ICU has had a faculty advising system where each student is assigned a faculty advisor.
Academic planning practices at ICU arguably can be considered a pioneering endeavor among Japanese institutions. Although academic advising is beginning to get attention in Japan, it is still not common among Japanese universities. This is because most Japanese students choose their major before they enter college; once entering students find that the curriculum is fixed and there is very little flexibility for course selection. Therefore, there is less need for advising than in North American schools since students follow the course sequence within standard programs.
Change in Academic Advising at ICU
Before 2008, ICU had a typical Japanese system where students entered one of the six divisions under the college of liberal arts and followed the specified curriculum for their chosen division. In 2008, ICU underwent a major academic reform that merged the six divisions to one Arts and Sciences division with 32 majors. Students were granted the freedom to choose their major(s) at the end of their second year. The new ICU curriculum was more flexible, requiring students to have the ability to make academic planning decisions and take responsibility for those decisions.
This curricular change had a major impact on the ICU academic advising system. Advisors assigned to new students might not be in the student’s chosen major nor may they have knowledge about the curriculum of the majors outside their chosen field. Out of necessity, the Academic Planning Center (APC) was established in 2008 to strengthen advising at ICU. The mission of APC is to help students navigate through the major declaration process and to foster “intentional learners” who can design their learning processes and make decisions on their own in order to achieve their goals (Academic Planning Handbook 2010). This unit was purposely not named an “advising” office in a belief that students should take the initiative for their academic planning.
ICU started learning about leading advising practices at NACADA institutes in the U.S; there were no models in Japan for helping students select a major. Since an office that specialized in academic advising was new to ICU, we decided to collect data and record our advising practices from the start of the APC so we could monitor how our new advising system functioned.
The intended outcomes for data collection and the analysis were:
- Data can help us anticipate student need for academic advising
- Data can help advisors expand their capacity to handle student advising needs
- Data can help us find ways to improve academic advising.
The three outcomes were derived from two data sources: 1) records of every student visit to the APC as transferred to a web system after advising sessions, 2) Academic Planning Essays students are required to write every year. The Academic Planning Essay is a chance for the students to regularly review and assess their progress, organize their thoughts, and develop their ability to plan (Academic Planning Handbook 2010).
1. Analysis of student visit records. The following are findings from data collected in 2008 and 2009:
- Number of student visits. The total number of students visiting the APC doubled in two years (Approx. 300 in 2008, approx. 600 in 2009). By the end of 2009, 40% of the total first-year student population and more than 60% of the total second year student population visited the APC.
- Dates of student visits. The peak time for student visits to the APC in 2009 was course registration periods. We now know that the university calendar affects the number of students who visit.
- Student Questions:
- Major selection is the main concern of second year students
- Third year students are concerned about senior thesis and graduation
- Transfer students need academic planning
- Senior students are worried about graduation
The operation of the APC became efficient because we analyzed these data. Knowing when peak periods occur made it possible for us to effectively schedule APC events. Figuring out the needs of each class enabled us to better prepare for student questions, discuss how questions vary, and provide advisors with the academic information needed to handle questions posed by students. The data also suggested that if only 40% of first-year students came for advising, then more might be done to advertise APC services to students.
2. Analysis of the Academic Planning Essays. Information obtained from the Academic Planning Essays was especially beneficial in analyzing student academic trends. Students were asked to choose up to three majors of interest in their Pre-Matriculation Essay. Analysis of these essays indicated that 25% of matriculating students chose the International Relations major as compared to 5% or fewer students who choose any of the other 31 majors. Analysis of the End of First Year Essay showed that 10% of students chose the Media, Communication and Culture major, while the number of students who chose the International Relations major dropped to 5%.
The results of the analysis of these essays indicated that one year of college experience had a great impact on the student decision-making process. The data showed a drastic change in student interests and supported what was heard in advising sessions with pre-major students. Matriculating students who were eager to major in international relations hoped to do something “international” in the future; these students had the same international goal after one year but saw other ways to achieve it. The data confirmed our perception regarding the trend in student major selections. Knowing the transitions students go through helps advisors prepare for the predictable advising patterns.
The role data plays in academic advising is significant especially when there are few models for advising at an institution. The data assisted APC staff to anticipate advising questions, expand advisors’ capacity to help students, and help advisors find effective measures for improvement. An analytical approach can be invaluable in surmounting challenging issues in academic advising.
Academic Planning Center
International Christian University
Academic Planning Center (2009), Academic Advising at ICU. Academic Planning Handbook 2010, pp.7-8
School Fundamental Survey (2008): Catalog of Statistical Charts, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Sciences and Technology.