[Editor’s note: This post first appeared on the EAB blog and is reposted here with permission.]

History is rife with examples of old paradigms being replaced by new ones during times of stress. Between the economy, the fear, the isolation, and the uncertainty, there is plenty not to like about how the COVID-19 pandemic has altered our lives. Yet, if we look hard enough, we can also see some positives. Our sudden move to a virtual lifestyle has accelerated an ongoing technological revolution in how we access services in fields as diverse as commerce, medicine, and fitness. The massive public embrace of video conferencing means that many of these virtual innovations seem destined to become permanent enhancements long after the pandemic has abated.

Related content: How hybrid advising could help your students

One such permanent enhancement for higher education could be virtual advising. By “advising,” I am referring to the broad suite of holistic academic, financial, administrative, and personal support that has been shown to be highly effective at retaining and graduating students.

Virtual advising pre-pandemic

Before this year, virtual advising was mostly used as a supplemental offering reserved for online learners and working adults who were unlikely or unable to meet in-person with an advisor during normal office hours. It was a niche strategy at most schools, and few traditional advising offices seriously considered that video conferencing could challenge the time-honored paradigm of 30-minute, in-person advising appointments.

The pandemic has changed all of this. Virtual advising played a critical role in supporting students and keeping them connected to their colleges during the spring shutdown. Virtual advising will also continue this fall and serve as an ongoing experiment that could open the door to a new opportunity for supporting student success going forward.

Let’s take a look at some of the early data from this experiment:

Virtual advising shows promising results

Now that we have several months of data, we have started to see early evidence that virtual advising offers some advantages over traditional face-to-face advising—suggesting that virtual advising should be a permanent part of your institution’s student success strategy.

Students make more appointments

When the shutdown began, EAB partners quickly reconfigured Navigate to allow students to make appointments with a virtual advising “office” just as they would with in-person advising. Advisors at the University of Wisconsin at Parkside saw a 29% increase in appointments after they moved virtual. Across the nation, Navigate partners saw a 25% increase in students accepting appointment requests sent to their mobile apps.

Students were more likely to show up for appointments

Prior to the pandemic, students at Pueblo Community College would no-show for appointments at a rate of roughly 15%. After the move to virtual advising, the no-show rate dropped to just 5%. At least some of this improvement can likely be attributed to ease of attending a meeting that is only a link away.

Appointments became shorter and more efficient

Pueblo Community College found that their average advising appointment time dropped from around 40 minutes to just 27 minutes. Shorter appointments allow advisors to see more students. They also allow advisors to design advising plans with shorter, more frequent meetings for students with higher levels of need and more complex cases.

Advisors became more proactive in communicating with students

From fall 2019 to spring 2020, Navigate partners across the nation ran 35% more proactive appointment campaigns. They used the platform to send nearly half a million text messages in spring 2020, a 126% increase over the fall.

Students were more likely to use online advising tools

Student at colleges with the Navigate academic planning module saw a 25% increase in student use during spring 2020 versus fall 2019. Advisors responded by accessing and using these plans during their meetings with students 48% more often.

Is virtual advising here to stay?

The long-term benefits of virtual advising

Taken together, these data suggest that virtual advising has had a positive impact on how students are engaging with support. And there are a couple more reasons why it makes sense to carry on with virtual advising even after in-person meetings become possible again.

Virtual advising could help promote equity

Many students live complex and busy lives that make it difficult to carve out time to meet with an advisor in-person. This means that not everyone has equal access, and it may be the students who need the most support who are least able to engage. Shorter, on-demand meetings joined via phone or laptop are a more equitable approach for students trying to seek out support while balancing school, family, and work.

Virtual advising could give you a competitive advantage

Done well, virtual advising could be a selling point for your institution. Even before the pandemic, students had come to expect virtual support in many other aspects of their lives. Now, students nervous about in-person interactions could show preference to schools that offer them safe, convenient support. This will be especially evident for schools that make advising and onboarding a central part of their recruitment and summer melt strategies.

In summary

If these early trends continue, it seems very likely that virtual advising will become a standard part of the toolkit for advising offices even after the pandemic is long gone. Smart advising offices should recognize this shift and use the fall semester to prepare for this future.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at submissions@eschoolmedia.com.

About the Author:

Ed Venit manages student success research for EAB. In this capacity, Ed leads the development and dissemination of best practices for using data and technology to improve retention and graduation rates. Ed provides consultative guidance to senior leadership across the Student Success Collaborative and is responsible for understanding shifting needs and trends. He has over a decade of experience researching data analytics and student success technologies.

Ed presents at conferences using case studies to highlight how looming demographic declines are forcing colleges and universities to rethink student retention as an enrollment challenge. This new mindset is triggering investment in proactive advising and the development of support strategies that pay for themselves (and more) in retention gains. By documenting and sharing these trends, Ed hopes to help senior leaders develop self-sustaining strategies that graduate far more students.


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