Shaffer et al. (2010) and McMahan (2008) strongly emphasized the need for a master's degree upon entry into the field of academic advising. Aiken-Wisniewski et al. (2015) identified that some advisors “stumbled” (p. 68) into the profession, some learned of it through their graduate programs, and others began other careers in higher education before transitioning to advising. Likewise, Rubin (2017) reported a similar finding with athletic academic advisors.

Advisor responsibilities can vary across institutions (Imbeah, 2017); however, advisors must maintain continued engagement with students (Aiken-Wisniewski et al., 2015), they must keep up with the changing needs of students, and they must challenge their advisees to think about life-long learning (Lowenstein & Bloom, 2016). Additionally, advisors are responsible for knowing, understanding, and communicating academic policies, curriculum and graduation requirements, and strategies for student success (NACADA, 2021).

Training for academic advisors has predominately been on-the-job, though a push for quality academic training has become increasingly more important as the drive for specialization grows. Lowenstein and Bloom (2016) emphasized that academic advisors keep a pulse on what occurs on campus in a way that few others can replicate. Senior or lead advisors use philosophy and theory to understand what is happening both nationally and globally, as well as on campus, to further understand the impact on students (Lowenstein & Bloom, 2016). These responsibilities and foundational skills cannot simply be learned on the job and must be supported by additional training and development.

### Instrument

After gaining Institutional Research Board and NACADA approval, the survey was distributed to NACADA members via its LISTSERV. The final sample consisted of those who completed the survey, 1,062 with representation from all 10 NACADA regions, 15 countries, and all 50 U.S. states.

### Data Analysis

Descriptive statistics were used to analyze the quantitative questions surrounding participants' institutions, salaries, gender, degrees, age, ethnicity, and number of years they intended to remain in their current positions. The question of how participants entered advising was examined by qualitative analysis according to Creswell and Guetterman's (2019) coding process. The research team members individually read more than 1,000 participant responses to this open-ended question. The data was coded by “identifying text segments, placing a bracket around them, and assigning a code word or phrase that accurately describe[d] the meaning of the text segment” (Creswell & Guetterman, 2019, p. 244). Codes were developed until a point of saturation was reached, meaning no new codes could be created. Codes were then analyzed to determine how they could be collapsed or combined with others to reduce the number of codes, which would become the major themes. The research team met after creating individual themes and there was clear consensus as the identified themes were discussed. This method of peer checking helps achieve confirmability, a trustworthiness criterion according to Lincoln and Guba (1985). Another trustworthiness criterion, credibility, was achieved by having a large number of participants share their advising story.

The electronic survey included questions about demographics, educational background, how participants became advisors, and intent to remain in their position.

### Gender and Ethnicity

Among the survey participants 82.37% identified as White, 5.42% as Latino, 4.88% as African American, 3.44% as Asian American/Pacific Islander, 1.54% as mixed race, 1.36% as other, and 0.99% as Native American, Aleut, or Aboriginal Peoples. Data obtained from NACADA shows White members make up 61.64% of NACADA membership, African American at 11.46%, Latino at 7.99%, Asian American at 3.56%, Native American/First Nations at 0.68%, and mixed-race at 2.18% (see Table 1). As shown in Table 2, 82.72% of participants identified as women, 16.62% identified as men, and less than 1% identified as nonbinary or other.

Table 1.

Ethnicity comparison percentages between survey participants and NACADA data

Table 2.

Gender comparison percentages between survey participants and NACADA data

We isolated gender and ethnicity and found White women represented 71.00% of the survey respondents, White men 14.00%, Latina women 4.80%, African American women 4.30%, and Asian American women 2.60%. We also reviewed gender and ethnicity of primary-role advisors and found White women represented 72.70% of all primary role advisors and White men 12.70% (see Table 3). The next closest group was Latina women at 4.40%, followed by African American women at 3.80%, and Asian American/Pacific Islander women at 1.90%. Among the 479 women in the sample who were primary-role advisors, White women comprised 86% of these women, followed by Latina women at 5%, African American women at 5%, Asian American/Pacific Islander women at 1%, and Native American women at 1%. Among the 91 primary-role advisors who identified as men, White men comprised 79%, followed by Latino men at 8%, Asian American men at 7%, African American men at 3%, and mixed-race men at 3%.

Table 3.

Gender, ethnicity, and percent of those who work primarily as academic advisors (n=565)

### Educational Backgrounds

Participants were asked about their post-secondary degrees and majors at the bachelor's level and higher. Nearly all (99%) held bachelor's degrees, 84% held master's degrees, and 14% held doctoral degrees. As shown in Table 4, the top bachelor's degrees were psychology (17%), English (9%), communications (8%), business (7.5%), and education (6%). Of those with master's degrees, 38% were in higher education/student affairs, followed by counseling (18%), educational leadership (11%), business (5%), and English (4%). Nearly half (48%) of all doctoral degrees were related to the education field with higher education first at 18%, curriculum & instruction and educational psychology with 16%, educational leadership at 13%, and psychology at 6%. The survey asked participants to indicate their NACADA region, which included an international region beyond the United States and Canada. Sixteen of these members indicated they had master's degrees, a stark contrast from the overall top majors of the larger sample. International master's degrees included political science, mathematics, biology, elementary education, journalism, human resources management, theology, social science, and law.

Table 4.

Top degree programs of study among NACADA members

### Job Satisfaction and Retention

Survey participants were asked how long they had worked in their positions, how long they intended to remain, their salary ranges, job satisfaction, and whether they believed their work was valued on campus. Across all salary ranges, participants were largely satisfied with their respective jobs (see Table 5). The lowest paid salary group ($30,000–$34,999) was the most likely to leave their positions within the next 2 years (39.39%; see Table 6). Two salary groups ($40,000–$44,999 and over $70,000) showed above 90% job satisfaction. Employees with salary ranges above$50,000 were less likely to agree that they would leave their positions within the next 2 years.

Table 5.

Salary and job satisfaction and agreement that job is valued on campus

Table 6.

Percent who indicated number of years to remain on job based on salary

Findings from this study indicate there is no one clear path to becoming an academic advisor. Rather, five major pathways appear to lead to a career in academic advising. Participants responded to an open-ended question, which asked how they “got into” advising. The pathways that emerged from this study are (a) because of a career shift, (b) through graduate experiences, (c) intentionally, (d) by happenstance, and (e) involuntary.

#### Career shift.

In easily the largest group at 39%, many advisors in this study indicated finding their role as an academic advisor after leaving a position that was either outside of higher education (secondary education, social work, or for-profit sectors) or from within another area of higher education (residence life, financial aid, and faculty). Those who made this career change suggested that the move was often an attempt to better align their own values with the expectations of their job. One individual saw advising as a perfect combination of their strengths and background, commenting that “advising was a perfect way to utilize my skills and it involved the best parts of teaching and counseling.” A former high school teacher said, “I wanted to find another position where I could still support student development but not have to grade papers.”

Even though most undergraduates encounter academic advisors, advising as a career remains largely out of one's awareness. One participant shared that when they went back to school and met with an advisor, they “mentioned an interest in possibly doing something like she did (academic advising). That conversation went exceptionally well.”

Those who were in instructor roles, ranging from adjuncts to tenure-track faculty members, also made career shifts to advising. One former adjunct said, “I was looking for full-time employment and [an advising position] seemed like a good way to earn experience in other areas of higher education.” Another commented that they came to advising “via the adjunct instruction route and the realization that academic advising was not understood or in some instances discounted by many faculty members.”

Not all faculty members discount advising. For some faculty members, academic advising was a more suitable avenue. A former faculty member said, “After being a sociology professor, I wanted to spend more time with students and left a tenure-track job in order to begin pursuing an advising path.” Another said, “I was dissatisfied with teaching and the academic world…. I like working with students, but not evaluating them academically.”

Academic advising as a career is not often at the forefront for graduate students. Once brought into awareness, many said they “fell in love” with advising (“love” was mentioned in a variety of ways more than 80 times). Similarly, some mentioned they realized they preferred working with students in one-on-one settings. For instance, “When I applied to jobs, I applied for both res life and advising positions. After grad school, I accepted a hall director position and I hated it…. That's when I realized advising suited me better.” Though a graduate degree seems to be a growing requirement for advising positions (84% of the participants in this study held master's degrees), many advising positions continue to list a bachelor's degree as the minimum educational background.

#### Intentionally.

I loved helping people schedule classes and asked my advisor what training advisors need. After taking a couple years off, I went back to school to earn a degree in student affairs. My first job was in orientation with elements of advising. My next job was as a program coordinator where I was trained as an advisor and advised my undeclared students. My next job was as an academic advisor.

#### Happenstance.

Some 17% of the advisors in this study reported having “fallen into” becoming an academic advisor. A common theme of happenstance is captured by one quote: “It was never my intent to be an academic advisor.” For another participant, advising seemed to come naturally:

I fell into it. I started advising, without realizing it, when I was completing my student teaching. It then progressed as I worked at a technical school as I was the person students saw when they failed a term. Then, as the sole office person for my departments, and the only 12-month employee, advising fell on me as no one else was around or available to see students.

For some, it was the specific invitation to apply for an advising position from a mentor, friend, or family member. One individual said, “Someone else suggested that it would be a good fit.”

### Preponderance of White Women in Advising

The Council for the Advancement of Standards in higher education (CAS; 2019) suggested advisor training and ongoing professional development should include student development theory, advising best practices, information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, and “strategies for building strong relationships and connections with students from diverse backgrounds through a variety of advising interactions” (p. 38). McMahan (2008) suggested prospective academic advisors seek master's degrees in higher education or college student personnel to learn the essential skills necessary to working as advisors. However, advising administrators are encouraged to consider applicants of other disciplines as well. It is nearly impossible to tell from a résumé how skilled someone is at connecting with students.

Though 70% to 90% of the participants in the current study expressed satisfaction with their current positions, more than 39% of those with annual salaries under $35,000 plan on leaving their positions within 2 years. Perhaps more surprising, within the$45,000 to \$49,000 salary range, more than 77% of participants intend to leave their positions within 5 years. It is important for administrators to recognize advising is a transient field where most advisors are constantly seeking opportunities. Rubin (2017) noted a similar finding with intent to leave and a high burnout rate among athletic academic advisors. Salary may be part—but not the whole—reason advisors seek other opportunities (see Table 6). Advising administrators can use this data to inform their recruiting practices.

### Limitations

The current study has limitations. First, the international response was unanticipated and some forced-choice questions, such as salary and institution type, were developed on a U.S.-centric model. Second, not all academic advisors are NACADA members, and nonmembers are not represented in this study. Finally, although advisors were asked about job satisfaction, a valuable additional question would address what it would take for them to remain in their roles.

### Future Research and Practice

This study identified several areas where further research is needed. One such area is understanding how graduate students of color are drawn to student affairs roles and specifically academic advising. As demonstrated through the demographic information reported by the survey participants in this study, the field of academic advising is overrepresented by White women. Because academic advisors are so integral to the student experience and because it is critical for students to see faculty and staff members who look like them, academic advising must diversify.

Nelson (2020) framed his study of undergraduates enrolled in an introduction to student affairs course within Social Cognitive Career Theory (SSCT). This theory “explores the congruence between academic major/career aspirations and personal abilities, self-efficacy, and career performance/satisfaction” (p. 36). Within SSCT, background, personal goals, learning experiences, actions, self-efficacy (i.e., their belief in their ability), and interactions with mentors all contribute to career development. Each element could be explored within the context of academic advisors' career development. According to Nelson, in SSCT, “career choice goals inform career choice actions” (p. 162). An action of enrolling in a graduate program or seeking an advising internship/practicum directly stems from one's career choice goal of becoming an academic advisor. In addition, SSCT can be applied to one's realistic job expectations and satisfaction.

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### APPENDIX

#### Survey questions

Demographic information (gender, age, salary range, ethnicity, degrees earned)

What is your job title? ____________

What is your institution's size? (small, medium, large)

What is your institution's type? (4 year/2 year; public/private; other)

How many years have you worked in your current position? ____________

How many years have you worked in higher education? ____________

How satisfied are you with your current position? (extremely unsatisfied to extremely satisfied)

How long do you intend to remain in your current position? (0–2 years; 3–5; 6–10; through retirement)

Do you have a bachelor's degree? (If so, please specify your major)

Do you have a master's degree? (If so, please specify your major)

Do you have a doctoral/professional/terminal degree? (If so, please specify your major)

Overall, your work is valued at your institution (strongly disagree to strongly agree)

As an undergraduate, how involved were you on campus? ____________

## Author notes

Rene Couture, PhD, is an associate professor of student affairs administration at Arkansas Tech University. His research interests include first-generation students, academic advising, and geographical differences in higher education. He began in academic advising as a graduate assistant and worked as a professional academic advisor at both a community college and large research institution before moving into a faculty role. He may be reached at rcouture@atu.edu.

Michele Tyson, EdD, began her career in Student Affairs as an academic advisor, served in an advising administrator role and is currently a clinical assistant professor at the University of Denver. Her research interests include adult students, organizational change, access and retention, and the preparation of graduate students to be leaders within higher education. She may be reached at michele.tyson@du.edu.