To achieve their goal of “making dreams happen,” Stone Child College, supported by their Achieving the Dream (ATD) coach, redesigned its academic advising process to impact student success. A tribal land-grant community college in Montana with approximately 200 students, Stone Child College is laser-focused on making sure each student is well positioned to reach their academic goals.
Until recently, Stone Child College students struggled through the onboarding and registration process. Students had to wait until the fall to connect with their advisors as there was no opportunity to meet in the summer months. This left students with pressing questions around academics or resources for personal challenges, such as childcare and transportation, unanswered until the last minute.
Bottlenecks formed at the beginning of the fall semester as students waited in long advising and registration lines. These delays often led to their missing critical orientation activities that were happening simultaneously. Some students self-registered before meeting with their advisor, sometimes enrolling in courses that were ultimately unnecessary for their chosen pathway. Other students dropped out entirely due to insufficient advising.
As a participating college in ATD’s Serving Native American Students with Holistic Student Supports Project, Stone Child College focused its efforts on redesigning its advising model to overcome these challenges. Marquieta Jilot, Stone Child College Dean of Student Services, outlined the work they have achieved to date along with the emerging benefits to students.
Co-advisors lend added support to first-year students
To begin their reform work, Stone Child’s leadership team created an advising reform subcommittee, with the ultimate goal of sourcing designated faculty and staff volunteers as “co-advisors.” To date, 26 volunteers have agreed to work with a finite number of students assigned by academic program. In this initial phase, co-advisors were equipped with program-specific study plans, training, and protocols for first-year student advising. Co-advisors range in roles at the college including deans and the college President, which Jilot stated “has been nice because [the willingness] reminds us that we are all a team.”
“The goal was getting students through their first year and then hand them off to their faculty advisors, who could then focus more on students’ career goals,” said Jilot.
The co-advisors then began meeting with students from their designated program, connecting them with orientation activities and other resources they could take advantage of before starting their first semester. This allowed students additional time to plan their academic and personal schedules such as balancing work and school or childcare. With that critical piece in place, faculty advisors could meet with students after the semester start to provide career- and program-specific counseling. Dean Jilot noted that “faculty advisors were freed up to do more personalized career counseling and advising.”
Scaling the co-advisor model to fit unique institutional needs
Shortly after rolling out the co-advisor program in the spring of 2020, the pandemic set in, and the program at Stone Child College was put to the test.
Administrators quickly created an Office365 Teams page for every program, which served as a central communication hub for faculty and co-advisors. Prior to the start of each semester, co-advisors now receive a list of students who will be returning, along with their updated education plans, so they can start connecting earlier on registration details and other needs. For the Fall 2021 semester, Stone Child also added contact logs that each co-advisor can access and edit with individualized notes about student progress.
“Let’s say a student comes in to see their co-advisor, but that person happened to be gone that day,” said Jilot. “Now there’s a group of us that are in each program with access [to student information] and can help them get registered for the next semester.”
Stone Child College is also in the process of transitioning to a new student information system, which will further enhance the team’s ability to understand each student’s needs and situation.
Early results show promise for students and faculty alike
“With COVID, everything was forced to an online format,” said Jilot. “It really pushed us to be more innovative in how we can share information and not have to turn students away.”
Administrators found that the new framework allowed advisors to be more connected with students. In previous years, advisors would typically be the first to reach out and establish contact with students. Upon implementing the co-advising program, students instead began to reach out unprompted with questions and progress updates.
With these connections now firmly established, Jilot said advisors are able to build trusting relationships earlier, allowing them to troubleshoot and address students’ needs before they become more serious academic issues.
In the process of streamlining their advising model, Stone Child administrators uncovered areas for improvement in their recruitment strategy as well. Among other planned updates, the college introduced a mobile recruiting event in 2021 that resulted in a record number of student pre-registrations.