Murray State University

Enhancing Retention Through Dual-Advising Model

A collaborative campus initiative provides first-year students with two advisors: one who supports their experience in this university’s campus services, registration, and schedules, and another who guides them through their academic journey in their major and minor programs.

It started with this question: “How do we enhance student success and retention?” Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, was doing very well with student retention, but the institution wanted to know how it could do better. Through a collaboration between academic and student affairs, Murray State developed a holistic two-year dual-advising model geared toward supporting its first-year student population. Students who are enrolled in their first year at the university as a freshman or a transfer are each assigned two advisors who provide complementing roles. The professional advisors from the Center for Student Engagement and Success are trained on dual and transfer credit advising as well as student success resources and supports. These advisors help students with registering for their initial course load, locating on-campus resources, explaining campus policies and procedures, and acclimating to Murray State University. The faculty advisors are trained in the academic requirements within the students’ programs, career and cocurricular opportunities, and long-term goals.

The dual-advising model emphasizes that successful advising can be achieved by connecting incoming and current students with the information, resources, and contacts needed for their ongoing success. The approach is founded on three pillars: the successful transition experience, the successful college experience, and the successful academic experience. As students transition to Murray State University, their advisors help establish a sense of belonging as they work with the students on their financial, academic, and service needs. Retaining these students is achieved through the ongoing assistance the advisors provide during the students’ college experience, including guiding them through their coursework, experiential learning opportunities, and other academic-related activities.

Murray State’s model ensures that student needs related to navigating higher education are met as well as their career readiness and career planning needs. Professional and faculty advisors engage students in critical conversations beyond the courses they may need by asking the students questions such as: “How are you doing with financial aid? How are you doing with your transition to Murray State? Are you a first-generation student? How is your family dealing with you being in college?” Through these efforts, Murray State University is dedicated to providing enhanced postsecondary value for its students.

The Methodology

Murray State University’s process for developing the dual-advising model from concept to implementation was highly collaborative, with undergraduate students, staff and faculty members, department chairs, deans, and executive leaders playing critical roles. University leaders knew strong holistic academic advising could yield promising results, and with anticipated staffing changes in the Center for Student Engagement and Success, it became the ideal moment to rethink what was possible. Leaders in academic affairs and student affairs partnered and discussed what effective academic advising could look like, what they were doing well, and what needed restructuring, among other issues. They understood that academic advising is not only selecting courses for the next term but also shifting the culture of Murray State’s campus community. To accomplish those ends, they determined that the current advising model needed to be coupled with research on effective advising practices.

Following these discussions, the university president’s Commission on Academic Advising was formed. The commission included representatives from academic and student affairs to engage as many staff and faculty members, department chairs, deans, and students as possible in discussions about the new academic advising model and the departments to be included in the pilot group. The commission was charged with taking an in-depth look at the importance of academic advising, barriers that may exist, high-impact academic advising practices, and required training and resources for effective implementation. Meeting twice a month for one year, the commission reviewed and assessed different academic advising models and submitted recommendations to the president in the spring of 2022.

One of the commission’s key recommendations was to create a dual-advising model to support students during their first year at Murray State. The model was rolled out during a pilot period that focused first on areas with higher than average enrollment, areas that volunteer, and/or areas with lower retention within Murray State. The commission then solicited feedback from different groups on campus to ensure the process of developing this new model remained collaborative and transparent. Commission members visited all academic units, engaged in conversations, and listened to and addressed their concerns. It was very much a team effort and a strong partnership between academic and student affairs.

The two-year advising experience that evolved required the hiring of a coordinator who would oversee and manage the program. The position reports to the director of the Center for Student Engagement and Success and will assist with student success initiatives for first-year students. The coordinator is tasked with establishing and training professional advisors dedicated to specific colleges and schools at Murray State.

The first year is expected to occur as follows:

  • Professional and faculty advisors will meet with students during their orientation.
  • Department chairs will establish expectations for their area with the professional advisors.
  • Faculty advisors will meet with students in September/October.
  • Professional advisors will prioritize for students the specifics of class schedules, student experiences, and connections.
  • For orientations, professional advisors will draft student schedules prior to orientation. Faculty advisors will prioritize academic experience and career goals.

The second year is expected as follows:

  • Faculty advisors will maintain and build academic relationships with students throughout the year.
  • Faculty advisors will take lead for advanced scheduling at the end of the second semester.
  • Professional advisors will prioritize class schedules and advising until faculty advisors transition to students’ primary advisors.
  • Professional advisors will notify students of deadlines and university supports.
  • Transfer students with enough credits may transition to their primary academic advisor sooner if appropriate, as determined by their department chair, professional advisor, and faculty advisor.

The dual-advising program was launched in the fall 2023 semester.

The Impact

The No. 1 success indicator of the dual advising model at Murray State University is the persistence rate of first-year students from the fall to spring semesters. Students who participated in the dual-advising model had a 94.2% persistence rate from fall 2023 to spring 2024 semesters, according to university data. These students had at least one meeting with a first-year professional advisor versus a 70.4% persistence rate for students with zero meetings with a first-year professional advisor.

In addition to persistence rates, surveys indicate overall support for the dual-advising program at Murray State. Student surveys revealed that large numbers of respondents received sufficient notice of scholarship and registration deadlines—among other university policies and procedures—and advice on long-term career goals earlier in their academic careers. Furthermore, fewer students reported taking redundant classes. A survey of faculty revealed that more than 56% of respondents enjoy and are satisfied with advising and more than 50% believe that advising assignments are equitable or fairly assigned within departments (the second one is an indirect outcome).

Key Takeaways

If a postsecondary education institution is considering implementing a dual-advising model, they should consider the following before launching this program:

  • Be flexible.
  • Find champions for the cause.
  • Base decisions on data.
  • Accept small wins.
  • Build the right team of individuals who can add value to the initiative.
  • Be persistent.
  • Partner with academic and student affairs and ensure a shared sense of responsibility for student success.
  • Adhere to a schedule for researching and implementing the model out of respect for the time and commitment of those involved.

“We are, unapologetically, a very hands-on institution. … If [individuals] want to come to a place where they can get lost in the crowd and no one cares, this isn’t a good fit for them because we’re going to do all of the things to support them. We follow up with students, and if they’re not going to class, if they’re not doing well, we want to know. And then we want to find out why. We really want students here to feel that they’re cared for and that they matter because that’s very important. That’s where this [dual]-advising model comes into play, because advising is more than just helping students determine which classes to take. It’s really more of a holistic approach. That’s what Murray State’s been about since it was founded in 1922.”

Don Robertson, Ph.D., vice president of student affairs and enrollment management, Murray State University

“I have been directly involved with student advising at Murray State for more than 25 years. The dual advising model that we have recently started has the potential to be one of the most beneficial and impactful student-focused initiatives during my time here. Having a dual approach where students have access to professional as well as academic advisors provides students with access to a breadth of university and discipline-specific knowledge and guidance that isn’t possible under a single, academic-only advising model. This is especially helpful and important for our large population of first-generation college students. I am confident this will have a lasting impact on the retention, success, and overall satisfaction of all of our students. I’m excited to see this program grow.”

Roy “Heath” Keller, Ph.D., chair of the department of management, marketing, business administration, and logistics and supply chain management, Murray State University

“We have truly collaborated and worked with one another, and I’m so proud of that. It’s easy to become disheartened in the university landscape sometimes because there is so much that you have to make sure you get done. But keeping that human component at the forefront has really helped us collaborate with one another because this is a model that’s not only beneficial to students, it’s beneficial to staff and faculty. And that’s one of the things that I’ve said continuously—that we’re helping one another as much as we’re helping students. Establishing trust was vital.”

Leanna McClure, dual advising coordinator, Murray State University

“The implementation of the first-year dual advising program is a paradigm shift in academic advising and promises to significantly enhance student persistence and retention. This intentional and holistic model is tailored to meet students’ individual needs and goals to support their success and overall well-being.”

Bob Jackson, PhD., president, Murray State University

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