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
- Increase retention rates for first-generation and underrepresented new first-time freshmen majors.
- Increase graduation rates for these cohort of students.
- 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
- Connect early and often – explain your role as advisor – be available
- Employ variety of communication channels – text, emails, twitter, Facebook, phone
- Proactively monitor advisee progress – develop early warning indicators (know ACT scores, monitor mid-term & final grades, check on registration status, etc.)
- Know available campus resources -- people you can directly refer students to for help
- Get trained -- in relevant academic/non-academic areas that affect students
- Be caring, honest, positive – be 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 2. Closing the Gap: Proactive Advising Cohort 2, Retention over 5 semesters
Table 3. 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
- Understand and apply retention and graduation data to advising – especially relating to first-generation and underrepresented students.
- Identify resources and individuals at MSU who can provide support for advisees.
- 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.
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
Maria Cerdas Cisneros
Ann Marie Daehn
Maria N Gerasimchuk-Djordjevic
Hui (Anita) Liu