Fort Hays State moves to centralized council
By Cristina Janney
Fort Hays State University has launched a new centralized counseling program, with most students registering with professional counselors for fall classes.
Campus departments have rolled out the system differently, but all freshmen on campus are expected to use the new system for classes that start in August.
Some departments have also included graduate classes. Other departments will adopt a more phased approach to deployment.
International cross-border and graduate students will still be advised by faculty. Online students were already advised through a centralized advising system.
Although enrollment counseling will no longer be a faculty responsibility under the new system, all students will be assigned a faculty mentor with whom they can discuss professional goals, said Jill Arensdorf, provost. of the FHSU.
The change will not affect teachers’ salaries.
The goal of the change is to increase student retention and success, which has been shown in research to be improved with centralized guidance, she said.
“We want to keep our students here,” Arensdorf said. “We want to make sure they get accurate information until they graduate and pursue jobs, second majors, or graduate degrees.”
All but one of the Kansas Board of Regents schools have some sort of centralized board, though Arensdorf said that varies from campus to campus.
Grady Dixon, dean of the Werth College of Science, Technology and Mathematics, said most students at his college have transitioned to the centralized counseling model.
“We’ve seen faculty responsibilities increase over the years,” he said. “A lot of those responsibilities are areas they’ve never really been professionally trained in, and this is one of them. …
“I think one of the benefits is that we now have people for whom it’s their full-time job. They put 100% of their effort into being good at it. That thing is really valuable for the success of the students.”
FHSU’s Department of Geosciences adopted a single counselor for all of its students long before the university moved to adopting a centralized council as a whole.
Students liked the change because they always knew who to discuss advice with, Dixon said. Faculty were able to focus more on teaching and mentoring graduate students. In the first year of the board change, the department more than doubled the number of graduates from its master’s program, Dixon said.
“The driving force behind this is to better serve students – to better help them take the courses they need and understand their progress,” he said.
Coming to campus for the first time can be very intimidating, and centralized guidance can help students answer essential questions, Dixon said.
“It’s so disappointing when someone fails or gives up on these technicalities, not on the high-end complex course concepts, but just on the administration,” he said.
All professional counselors are on campus and are employees of FHSU. Five additional employee advisors were added to the already 20-member advisory department to accommodate the centralized deployment of advice.
Additional training has been provided to counselors so that they are able to better welcome students to campus and the new programs they will be working with.
Counselors will specialize in certain colleges. With a broad knowledge of a college, students should be able to transition between majors within a college with the help of their advisors, Arensdorf said.
Officials hope the new system will increase access to advisers.
“We had professors mentoring 50 to 100 students in addition to teaching, research, and other service activities,” she said. “It was a lot of additional responsibilities for the faculty and we hope professional counselors can fill in some of that work.”
A working group studied the transition to centralized advice before deployment. This task force found that professors did not have time to advise on courses and mentor students in their careers, Arensdorf said.
“By giving this responsibility to two people per student,” she said, “the student has the advisor who is always up to date on the program and the system and they also have this faculty mentor who really knows the discipline and career area and the internship and clinical opportunities may be available for this major and this student.”
Arensdorf said she received no feedback from students on the new systems.
“The university has been talking about it for a long time,” Arensdorf said. “It was finally time to implement it, and it fit perfectly with our strategic plan.”