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eAdvisor helps undergrads find major that fits

August 29, 2007

ASU is committed to every student’s success, and this includes seeing them choose a major that fits their interests and aptitudes.

While some students may know exactly what they want to do or be when they come to the university, others have no idea, or they may have parental expectations that turn out to be unrealistic.

A new tool is now available to help ASU students find their way through the maze of majors. Called eAdvisor, the online advising and tracking program compliments personal academic advisers by helping students understand the courses that are required for a specific major. eAdvisor helps students explore majors in a systematic fashion.

“People assume that students drop out of college because they can’t do the work, but this is not usually the case,” says Elizabeth D. Capaldi, ASU’s executive vice president and provost. “Many of the students we lose have excellent academic records. They just can’t seem to find a major that fits, and they get frustrated that they aren’t making progress toward a degree. The most significant improvement leading to timely graduation comes from good academic advising.”

eAdvisor enhances advising by providing the prescriptive advising element – telling students what and when they should take courses – while in-person advising allows the advisors to deal with the “people issues,” such as exploring interests and examining special circumstances.
Universities such as the University of Florida, where Capaldi formerly served as provost, use similar online tracking tools. When this tool was implemented, Florida experienced a 7 percent increase in retention and graduation rates, as well as a 57 percent increase in students’ positive feelings about the university’s registration and advising process.

Here’s how it works. For students who don’t know what they want to major in, eAdvisor helps them assess the majors that might be good for them, based on their interests and career goals.

Each of ASU’s 250 undergraduate majors has what is called a “major map,” where students can browse the required coursework. Faculty responsible for each program develop the major maps that include general education requirements, prerequisites, required courses, electives and the sequence in which courses should be taken.

Once students choose a major, eAdvisor gives them “feedback” on how they are progressing toward their degree. Integral to the major map is exposing students to critical coursework required for their degree program early in their academic experience.
These courses are bolded and colored “red” on the major map. If students perform well in their critical coursework and meet the designated GPAs on the major maps, it is likely they are suited to succeed in the major.

“A number of students put off taking basic required courses until their junior or senior year,” Capaldi says. “They may struggle and then come to the conclusion that the major isn’t for them. Having to change your major that far into your academic career can delay graduation. That is why it is so important for students to take this coursework during their freshman and sophomore years.”

With professional programs such as business or nursing, it is vital to stay on track, Capaldi says. Students must show significant academic achievement at the end of their sophomore year to be accepted into the professional program.

eAdvisor identifies students who are off track and notifies their personal academic advisers. Situations that can cause a student to get off track include:

• Dropping or not registering for a course defined as a critical requirement.

• Not meeting the minimum course grade.

• Not meeting the overall university GPA requirement.

• Being placed on academic probation.

Once off track, students cannot register until they meet with their advisers. The advising sessions help them get back on track or explore other degree options. This introduces the necessary personal element to determine why a student is off track. For example, the advisor will allow a student who had personal issues to continue in the major, while a student whose academic skills do not match the major will be guided to a better major match.

“Advisors sometimes want to focus on helping students through a major when it isn’t working,” Capaldi says. “Sometimes we have to be an academic coach and help them find the position that fits.”

In Spring 2008, the eAdvisor system will be expanded to include a more robust degree search that will allow students to compare the coursework they have completed to various major maps. They then can review alternative tracks that show what they would need to complete an alternative major. This gives students more control over their options and more accurate information about the additional times that may be required to complete a new major.

An added benefit of eAdvisor is that it helps colleges manage enrollment. If departments know what students are majoring in and what courses they are required to take, they can increase or decrease seats accordingly.