What advisors need to know: perceptions of underserved students’ needs in professional allies

Today’s United States colleges and universities are tasked with serving an increasingly diverse student population. As universities experience these changing demographics, educators in and outside of the classroom must assess how prepared they are to meet the needs of underserved students, specifically: first generation, low income, and students of color. As universities evaluate their ability to serve the needs of histrically underserved students, it becomes important that those working directly with students are in the practice of seeking new and more effective ways to better support the academic success of these students. This study took place at a public institution in rural Northern California and focused on the role academic advisors play in supporting underserved students. Three populations were of focus: paraprofessional advisors, professional academic advisors and underserved students, themselves. The researcher employed qualitative research methods to transcribe and analyze the data. Four main themes were identified through the research. Academic advisors in the Advising Office do not have an in depth knowledge of the developmental academic advising practice and student participants desire a relationship that parallels the developmental advising framework. Assumptions of student diversity and perceived needs of underserved students identified by advisors were not consistent with the needs identified by students themselves. However, all three populations interviewed identified the significant role advisors play in serving as the primary educational allies for underserved students in higher education. Lastly, this study revealed existing structures that constrain advisors’ ability to meet the identified needs of underserved students.