The Academic Advisor Scheme will provide all first year students with a member of academic staff as mentor and advisor from O Week.
Associate Professor Kay Souter, Associate Dean (Education), said the program sees a return to what used to happen when La Trobe University first opened.
‘Then we provided students, often the first in their family to go on to higher education, with a point of contact in a bewildering environment,’ she said.
The Academic Advisor Scheme, which will be run through the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, would see students and mentors meet twice a semester.
‘We have been looking for ways to stem the withdrawal rate which, at this University, peaks at weeks 5-11 of the year.’
Associate Professor Souter said that student retention is a major issue for the modern university.
‘It costs a good deal to attract and enroll students in an institution, and if they then withdraw from studies, it’s a major budgetary headache,’ she said.
‘But the human cost is much greater: for students to enroll and withdraw from their studies often comes at great personal cost: they will have acquired a HECS debt of some sort, and they will usually have experienced a series of bruising personal difficulties.’
The decision to revive the Academic Advisor Scheme emerged through data that La Trobe University has collected about student satisfaction, progress and achievements.
‘Our data confirms that students benefit enormously from contact with academics,’ she said.
While this used to be commonplace 30 years ago, today many Australian students may often have almost no contact with academic staff.
‘This, coupled with the fact that first year classes in urban areas are enormous in many disciplines and that students are frequently part of lecture groups of several hundred and more, and seminars of 25 plus, means that few will catch the attention of an academic,’ said Associate Professor Souter.
She believes this lack of contact with academics is largely an Australian problem.
According to Associate Professor Souter, the US and the UK have extensive systems of academic advisors, though the roles are seen differently.
In the US, student advising is professionalized, with a good proportion of advising provided by people whose job it is. Student participation is required, and advisors provide systematic support for at-risk students. In the UK academic staff are assigned a group of tutees, and participation is voluntary.
‘In both systems, students are assured of one-to-one academic advice and contact throughout their studies, and are generally required to consult them if they intend to withdraw from a course,’ she said.
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