If you’re not quite sure where it disappeared to, the LSA academic advising office is now located on East Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor – its temporary home while the Angell Hall office undergoes a bit of remodeling. And if you’ve ever interacted with LSA’s academic advising, you understand how it’s in dire need of improvement. Though it is only my second year at the University, one thing has become increasingly clear: If you can navigate the University, you can navigate the world. The University’s reputation as one of the nation’s most prestigious universities is well deserved, and many of us were drawn in by its offers of endless opportunity and readily achievable anonymity. But during another maddening round of class registration in which Wolverine Access becomes a virtual battleground, the failures of LSA’s academic advising office leave little room for romanticism.
As we fight for a prized spot in popular classes, spend hours glued to the computer screen and stalk academic advisors to make sure we enroll in courses that can someday translate into a degree, we sometimes find ourselves wondering if a smaller, more intimate school might have made our lives easier.
Students find the University’s incredible resources largely inaccessible because LSA’s academic advising program has failed. A sprawling maze of confusion and red tape, it has left students to fend for themselves in one of the largest research universities in the world.
Navigating the University can be a source of pride for undergraduates, who are likely some of the most independent and self-sufficient college students in the nation, given the sheer size of the school they have chosen to attend. But with thousands of classes to choose from, numerous majors to explore and a substantial number of distribution requirements to conquer, the University’s academic advising program should be a source of support, not stress, for its students.
The student who decides to study abroad, for example, will make more than one trip to the Office of International Programs. Those who choose to embark on a non-University study abroad program, however, will find that OIP is of no help to them at all. I asked the OIP if they could answer a few questions for me about how to transfer credit from my non-University study abroad program of choice and was told point-blank, “We don’t do that here.” When I asked if someone could refer me to an office that does do that, they could not. Instead, they gave me a single sheet of paper published by the University with a checklist of more offices to visit, people to see and still more red tape to unravel before I could study abroad.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are seniors who suddenly realize they are on the five-year plan, second-semester juniors without majors and freshmen without a clue. While being proactive and learning to self-advocate are skills as important at the University as they are in life, the University has the ability and the responsibility to give students the tools they need to take advantage of the resources it has to offer. LSA’s academic advising system leaves the enormous potential of our school untapped and largely inaccessible to the student body.
There are tangible things that can be done, beginning with a new attitude toward academic advising at the University. It is precisely because of the University’s large size that LSA’s advising program must be taken far more seriously and held up for scrutiny.
Advising should be a student-friendly, transparent process that gives every student the opportunity to have a friendly and productive relationship with his advisor. Although it is the quantity of time with advisors that is in question, and not necessarily the quality, advisors must be more knowledgeable about the complicated and bureaucratic workings of the system of which they are a part. Advising departments need to become more centralized and establish better communication between various offices; there should be a single office, for example, that helps all University students make the necessary arrangements to study abroad.
Like College of Engineering students, LSA students should be required to meet with an academic advisor before registering for classes. If you know to ask, any advisor can pull up a “progress-to-degree” report that reveals which and how many classes you need to earn a degree or complete a concentration. This report should be accessible through Wolverine Access so students can track their own progress whenever they so desire.
Students at the University are already at a disadvantage when it comes to obtaining recommendations and credit for internships and independent studies because large class sizes severely limit their contact with professors. Academic advisors should be more involved here as well. Students can currently request to see a specific advisor, but they often find it difficult to develop a relationship or even a rapport with a single advisor – not that surprising considering how many different types of advisors can be necessary throughout a student’s undergraduate career.
It’s not sexy, but it sure is scandalous. The extensive resources, opportunities and classes offered at the University are rendered useless if the vast majority of students are unable to take advantage of them. The time has come for LSA’s academic advising to get more than a facelift.
Gay can be reached at email@example.com.