College Proactive Advising

Unlike some other higher education institutions, Missouri State University’s first-generation students arrive academically prepared. Similarly, though, to other higher education institutions, our first-generation students experience significantly lower retention (+/- 11%) and graduation rates (+/-12%). Once we realized that our first-generation students were as academically prepared as our continuing generation students, we posited that we needed a strategy to help our first-generation students access other resources to succeed at similar rates to our continuing generation students.

From our literature review and data analysis, we ascertained that they need:

  • Information – need help to enhance social capital related to college experience
  • Increased Engagement – get connected to campus and community
  • Additional Resources – financial competency and social skills
  • Proactive Contact – via advisors, resident assistants, & student peers

Proactive Advising Approach Rationale

  • Historically, one-third of first-time new freshmen entering MSU self-identify as first-generation students. 
  • First-generation students at MSU experience lower retention and graduation rates.
  • Proactive advising can make a difference for students as they re-acculturate to the complex and hidden curriculum of college.

Proactive Advising Program Timeline

In the summer of 2017, one academic college expressed interest in piloting a proactive advising approach to assess whether retention rates could be improved for their first-generation students. Currently, three colleges are using this proactive advising program with first- and second-year students.

  • College of Arts & Letters initiated the program in August 2017  
  • College of Natural & Applied Sciences joined in August 2018 
  • McQueary College of Health and Human Services joined in January 2020

College Proactive Advising Goals

  1. Increase retention rates for first-generation and underrepresented new first-time freshmen majors.
  2. Increase graduation rates for these cohort of students. 
  3. Eliminate or narrow the success gap between these students and their non-first-generation peers.

How we achieve the College Proactive Advising Goals

Our focus is on intentional or proactive contact with advisees to address issues and problems early and recommend appropriate interventions for students. 

Our approach is building relationships akin to a professional mentor

  • Contact initiated by advisor – at critical periods (especially during the first year) when selecting a major, midterms, registration, etc. 
  • Active-concern approach – willingness to help students get connected with services that will improve academic success & motivation.
  • Assistance to improve retention/graduation rates of students – preferred by many students, especially high achieving and at-risk students.

Proactive advising steps

  1. Connect early and oftenexplain your role as advisor – be available 
  2. Employ variety of communication channelstext, emails, twitter, Facebook, phone
  3. Proactively monitor advisee progressdevelop early warning indicators (know ACT scores, monitor mid-term & final grades, check on registration status, etc.)
  4. Know available campus resources -- people you can directly refer students to for help
  5. Get trained -- in relevant academic/non-academic areas that affect students
  6. Be caring, honest, positivebe willing to connect on campus outside office, always maintain clear professional boundaries.

Summary Results of proactive advising program

Table 1. Closing the Gap: Proactive Advising Cohort 1, Retention over 7 semesters

Table: Closing the Gap - Proactive Advising Cohort 1, Retention over 7 semesters


Table 2. Closing the Gap: Proactive Advising Cohort 2, Retention over 5 semesters

Table: Closing the Gap - Proactive Advising Cohort 2, Retention over 5 semesters


Table 3. Closing the Gap: Proactive Advising Cohort 3, Retention over 3 semesters

Table: Closing the Gap - Proactive Advising Cohort 3, Retention over 3 semesters​​​​​​​


Selection process for advisors

  • Deans and department heads consulted to select advisors (one or two advisors per department selected based on number of advisees).
  • Deans agreed to pay small stipend to participating advisors.
  • Initial contact with faculty via email followed by a letter of invitation with relevant details (program description, expectations, time commitment, payment).
  • First-generation students identified during summer orientation and assigned to proactive advisors by each department.


Workshop Learning Objectives

  1. Understand and apply retention and graduation data to advising – especially relating to first-generation and underrepresented students.
  2. Identify resources and individuals at MSU who can provide support for advisees.
  3. Apply relevant advising practices to assist students, focusing on proactive advising strategies.

Training occurs over three weeks with each session lasting two hours. It is offered at the beginning of the semester to coincide with new students coming to campus.

Program coordinators

Dr. Tracey Glaessgen, Associate Director, Center for Academic Success & Transition
Dr. Kelly Wood, Executive Director, Center for Academic Success & Transition
Dr. Mark Biggs, Associate Dean, College of Arts and Letters, Retired August 2019

Publications and Presentations

Glaessgen, T., & Wood, K. (2020).  Supporting first-generation students through campus-wide collaborations and initiatives. Competitively selected concurrent session presented at the 39th Annual FYE conference, Washington, DC.

Glaessgen, T, Biggs, M., Darabi, R., & Wood, K. (Eds.). (2019). Special issue on first-generation college students [Guest editors for special issue]. eJournal of Public Affairs.

Biggs, M., Glaessgen, T., Wood, K., & Darabi, R. (2019).  Creating a proactive advising program for first year students: Lessons learned. Competitively selected concurrent session presented at the 38th Annual FYE conference, Las Vegas, NV.

Glaessgen, T., Wood, K., Biggs, M., & Darabi, R. (2018). Creating pathways to improve first-generation student success.  E-Source for College Transitions, 16(1), 16-19.

Wood, K. S., Glaessgen, T., Darabi, R. & Biggs, M. (2018). Improving first-generation student success with instructional and advising pathways.  Competitively selected concurrent session presented at the 37th Annual FYE conference, San Antonio, TX.

Glaessgen, T., MacGregor, C., Cornelius-White, J., Hornberger, R., & Baumann, D. (2018). First-generation students with undecided majors: A qualitative study of university reacculturation. NACADA Journal, 38(1), 22-35.

Wood, K. S., Glaessgen, T., Darabi, R. & Biggs, M. (2017).  First generation strategies to improve student success and retention. Competitively selected concurrent session presented at the 36th Annual FYE conference, Atlanta, GA.

Faculty and Staff Participants


Josh Albers
Deidre Argyle
Antoinette Barffour
Fatih Benzer
Mark Biggs
Lisa Brescia
Maria Cerdas Cisneros
Nora Cox
Ann Marie Daehn
Jack Dimond
Mike Foster
Lyn Gattis
Maria N Gerasimchuk-Djordjevic
Sean Herring
Holly Holladay
Marcus Howell
Mitzi Kirkland-Ives
Melanie Kleeschulte
Sean Lyman
Linda Moser
Paula Patterson
Erin Plisco
Jin Seo
Stephen Spates
Tim White
Sarah Wilcoxon


Damon Bassett
Tiglet Besara
Melanie Carden-Jessen
Tony Clark
Dylan Earnshaw
Debra Finn
Sarah Foster
Katy Frederick-Hudson
Evan Frodermann
Tina Hopper
Hui (Anita) Liu
Siming Liu
Sean Maher
Ron Malega
Matt McKay
Gary Meints
Helena Metzker
Gary Michelfelder
Xiaomin Qiu
Emmett Redd
Katy Seery
Steven Senger


Cathy Adams
Michele Brown
Zachary Burt
McCall Christian
Natalie Curry
Michele Day
Clay Franklin
Hugh Gibson
Cynthia Hagenhoff
David Johnson
Sung-wan Kang
Hillary Mayes
Maryann Mitts
Regina Russell
CaSandra Stanbrough
Carly Totsch
Joe Williams
Brittany Wise


Caryn Saxon


An important part of our mission is to coordinate with college staff, department heads, and faculty to support their retention and graduation efforts. Currently we offer the following programs:

  • A 6-hour proactive advisor training program for faculty to develop the skills necessary to advise with student success in mind. Contact Dr. Kelly Wood or Dr. Tracey Glaessgen to learn more about or participate in this program.
  • Assistance with retention and persistence reports that allow you to identify students struggling in courses, on probation, returning from suspension, have not registered, have dropped or failed major coursework, or did not return to your academic department or the University.

Contact Dr. Kelly Wood if you are interested in using the available data to improve retention and graduation rates.