Testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education Wednesday, Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes underscored the results of recent studies (reported here and in the April 2008 TCCTA Messenger, page five), which point to student advising as a much-ignored key to retention.
This is noteworthy because commentators often look reflexively to the curriculum, teaching methods, and other course-based factors in formulating a remedy for high attrition levels at two-year colleges.
The commissioner told the panel that this particular gap in campus practice is "an easy problem to fix."
The committee is charged with examining the effectiveness of student advising and to explore new approaches. According to the commissioner, face-to-face contact with new students is crucial—the earlier the better. According to testimony, many community colleges already have elaborate programs of student advisement. The commissioner believes an entirely new approach may be necessary, however.
"We treat our students as if they are responsible adults," he told the committee, "but this isn't true. Many are still adolescents."
He said students need mandatory and strong orientation programs. This can involve training faculty how to participate more effectively in the process. Student mentors and peer advisors can also be effective, he said, based on documented practices in other states. This kind of orientation is geared toward first-generation students, who often don't have a support system of relatives familiar with navigating the confusing terrain of higher education.
He added, "Faculty should look more carefully after student welfare" when, for instance, a student misses class. The commissioner wasn't specific about how this could be encouraged or required at the state level.
Perhaps most importantly, Commissioner Paredes did not say how new advisement programs should be funded. He has stated repeatedly that developmental education needs "a complete overhaul," with funding to be trusteed to the Coordinating Board for experimental projects geared toward retaining under-prepared students.