Understanding and unlocking the potential of online academic advising

Student support services, such as academic advising, promote college student retention and increased graduation rates. As educational institutions continue to face budgetary uncertainties, academic advising services are facing cuts that threaten their ability to provide student support. Online solutions are being advanced at many institutions, as they offer potential amplification of dwindling resources. Although online education has been heavily researched, online academic advising is not as well studied. This study sought to understand the core components of academic advising and applied these findings to the creation of an online academic advising website, a virtual intelligent counselor (VIC). VIC was then used to probe student perceptions of online academic advising. A mixed-methods multiphase research design, using both a pre-validated survey instrument and student interviews, permitted comparison of student perceptions of this academic advising website to perceptions of an actual advising system at a local area community college. Student perceptions of the website demonstrated support for peer-generated educational roadmaps and other design elements incorporated into VIC. Additionally, the usefulness and potential of this website as a planning tool was seen in student interviews. Online tools hold the promise of delivering advising services in financially difficult times, and the importance of proper design has been shown to be a key to unlocking this great challenge.