I had the privilege recently of spending three days in Las Vegas, Nevada, attending the annual meeting of NACADA – the National Academic Advising Association. More than 4,000 advising leaders and student success administrators attended the conference to learn from one another and discuss the advising challenges they encounter in most successfully supporting students in finishing what they start.

As a member of the association for most of my professional career, I have been excited to see the advising community expand its scholarly research endeavors and continue to critically examine what defines effectiveness in advising. Three themes stood out as hot topics in presentations that were delivered and in my conversations with conference participants.

Redefining the advising role
First, while supporting students in their academic degree planning remains a cornerstone of what it means to be an advisor on many campuses, most institutions are expanding or redefining who does advising. Success coaching, one-stop student services, and linked academic and career counselors are only a few of the models emerging in the advising community.

Students need holistic support, and cross-training advisors to facilitate more than degree planning conversations is increasingly common. Moreover, financial aid, athletics, residence hall staff, counselors for student veterans, and many other areas offer specialized advising. Institutions moving the needle on their student success and degree completion agendas are breaking down departmental silos to allow staff from these decentralized areas to collaborate more effectively in the advising process and create a personalized success network for each student.

Using data effectively
Second, for those on the front line, regardless of their position at the institution, there is an overwhelming amount of data now available to inform advising conversations with students. The challenge expressed by many at the conference is prioritizing which pieces of data are most important, for which students, and at what periods in their lifecycle.

No level of predictive analytics will replace the human interaction at the core of the advising and student success process. As “big data” projects evolve, it will be crucial to educate advisors on how to most effectively utilize the data available to them and simplify their understanding of what it means for their students. Towards this end, Hobsons is very proud to expand our partnership with NACADA as a sponsor of the Analytics in Advising Seminar in Mesa, Arizona, in February 2016.

Engaging faculty
Lastly, advising leaders seeing the biggest successes in improving course completion rates and term-to-term student progress are not shying away from engaging instructors. In fact, faculty engagement in student success and advising is a core strategy at almost every institution.

Schools know that they need to make it easy for instructors to share feedback with advisors. They also want to simplify the process of having the advisor “close the loop” and let the instructor know that the feedback was received and acted upon in an advising conversation with the student.

Those pursuing this path for several years have seen enormous residual benefits, such as seeing instructors reexamine classroom pedagogies and practices as a result being a collaborative partner in the student success and advising process. For many campuses, advising innovations are enhancing the quality of classroom teaching and learning, shaping curricular reform, and influencing the redesign of office and classroom space.

The 2016 national NACADA conference will be in Atlanta, Georgia, and though time will tell, these three hot topics will likely be at the center of conversations in the higher education advising community at next year’s conference and beyond.

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