Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
In 1998, James Madison University (JMU) integrated its academic advising office and its office of career services to form the university’s office of academic advising and career development. The move to integrate was mandated by the university president at the time to address concerns about enrollment management and timely completion of degrees.
“At that time, JMU did not have a declaration deadline, so there were seniors who were still officially listed as ‘undeclared’ even though most were following a curriculum,” explains Mary Morsch, the university’s director of career and academic planning, adding that JMU has since added a deadline for students to declare a major by early in their sophomore years. “A few years prior to that, an advising office was created, and staff who performed advising services in different areas of campus—such as athletics and multicultural student services—were pulled together to provide personnel.”
During the integration, JMU’s associate vice president of student affairs and the office of career services were moved over to academic affairs to work with the provost. Later, however, the combined office—referred to as career and academic planning (CAP)—was moved back to student affairs, where it is currently housed.
“This structure provides strong collaboration and connection with academic affairs, academic departments, and faculty, and gives us a unique opportunity to incorporate career readiness earlier in a student’s college career. With an emphasis on career readiness, we are well positioned to move forward to introduce these concepts to students at the beginning of their college careers, and show how they can grow and develop over their four years.”
CAP oversees advising for all first-year students. CAP staff members with the primary responsibility of supporting this program include an associate director of first-year programs, an assistant director of first-year advising; two support staff also dedicate some time to administrative support for advising.
“We recruit 55 faculty for first-year advising, 10 CAP advisers who work with undeclared students, and 10 full-time departmental advisers,” Morsch notes.
Included in the office’s coordination of first-year advising, it:
- Provides training to all 75 first-year advisers in May and August;
- Provides resources for first-year advisers and first-year students;
- Troubleshoots for advisers and students when there are challenges; and
- Advocates for advisers and students when additional information or input on policy is needed.
“In addition, we provide technology for adviser use that will support advising processes,” Morsch adds. “For example, we lobbied to allow [a learning management system] to be used by advisers with their advisees and we created numerous queries with our IT department to make adviser data access on their students more efficient.”
At JMU, the shift in structure has evolved into the creation of a university advising office that provides resources and some services to upperclass students, coordinates transfer advising, and supports the many faculty advisers who advise upperclass students.
“It has also paved the way for a growing number of professional full-time advisers who have been added to several academic departments with high enrollments,” Morsch says. “While these full-time advisers are embedded in the academic units where they serve, many report to the director of university advising so some consistency is established.”
Morsch offers several tips for others who want to integrate academic and career advising:
- Communicate with stakeholders as the decision-making process is being made. Doing so will make transition issues more transparent and shorten the duration of growing pains that can occur when merging two different operations.
- If one is not already in place, create a platform for advisers from different areas of campus to gather, communicate, and exchange ideas and experiences. It could be a common professional development program with time built in for discussion, or an advising board with representation from each advising entity across campus.
- Create a forum to allow good advisers to share best practices
- Be intentional about cross-training and who does what. Integrate advising and career functions within each professional position rather than just housing two groups of professionals within one office.
- Be mindful of the steady high levels of activity that this integration creates. The peak time is nearly year-round. Planning time needs to be deliberately incorporated. Strategically create time for retreats, reflection, and opportunities to re-energize staff.
“It makes sense to connect these two functions because when students are asking themselves what they want to major in and what they want to do when they graduate, these are not two different questions, but they are part of one big question that all ties in together,” Morsch says.