Advising Handbook

Academic Advising Resource Material

Table of Contents

  1. The Academic Advising Process
  2. Academic Advising Skills
    1. Responsibilities of the Advisor
    2. Advisor Behavior
    3. Characteristics of a Good Advisor
    4. The Devil’s (Advocate) list for Good Advisor Characteristics
  3. Academic Advising Tips
    1. The Do’s of Academic Advising
    2. The Donts of Academic Advising
    3. The Stereotypes of Academic Advising
    4. Strategies of Academic Advising
      1. What is a Student?
    5. Thirty Reminders of Effective Advising
  4. Academic Advising Resources
    1. Academic Problems
    2. Academic Difficulty Analysis Form
    3. Academic Difficulty: The Low-Achieving Advisee
      1. A Self-Inquiry Routine for Advisors
    4. Academic Difficulty: Advising Students who have Personal Problems
      1. When to Refer
      2. How to Refer
      3. To Sum It Up
    5. Academic Difficulty: Student Misbehavior
    6. Referral Skills Summary
      1. How to Refer Students
    7. Academic Difficulty: Students on Academic Probation
      1. The Role of the Faculty Advisor
      2. Student Errors
    8. Career Development
      1. Thoughts to Consider
  5. Legal Issues of Academic Advising
    1. Contractual Relationship
    2. The Buckley Amendment (FERPA)
    3. Privileged Communication
    4. Academic Due Process
  6. Legal Issues and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

This document has been prepared using the Example of a University Academic Advising Handbook from the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA). Anyone who uses this Handbook should review the specific policies/procedures at the individual university/college for accuracy and relevancy.

This information is being used with the permission of the preparer: Karen P. Fasanella, Ed.D., Associate Dean for Academic Success, Felician College, Lodi, NJ.


  1. Exploration of Life Goals
  2. Exploration of Career/Educational Goals
  3. Selection of Educational Program
  4. Selection of Courses
  5. Scheduling of Classes

    (The American College Testing Program, 1979b, p. 14)

“Happiness is the only good.
The place to be happy is here.
The time to be happy is now.
The way to be happy is to
help make others so”
—Robert Ingersoll (Wons, 19930, p60).



  • Helps Student Define and Develop Realistic Goals
  • Identifies Special Needs
  • Matches Student to Available Resources
  • Assists Student to Plan Program Consistent with Abilities and Interests
  • Monitors Progress Toward Educational/Career Goals
  • Discusses Linkage Between Academic Preparation and World-of-Work

(The American College Testing Program, 1979b, p. 11).



  1. Teach skills necessary to improve academic standing while at the university (academic survival skills).
  2. Make clear the available student personnel resources, such as the counseling center, health center, student center.
  3. Be available to students for personal discussions.
  4. Help the students to gain an understanding of their own abilities, interests, and goals.
  5. Offer a relationship to students that would contribute to a personalized educational experience during orientation.
  6. Provide help and encouragement to students to explore the best they can be (to maximize their potentials).
  7. Provide an integrated picture of the university with respect to courses, procedures, requirements, and university goals.
  8. Encourage students to evaluate themselves in relation to the university and its opportunities.
  9. Disclose information about yourself as a person who is going through the process of becoming educated.
  10. Show empathy and understanding of the college transition process.
  11. Demonstrate personal warmth, respect, and a genuineness related to problems presented by the students.


  1. Demonstrate an understanding of what new students must go through in order to become
  2. matriculated.
  3. Provide references to other university resources when necessary.
  4. Help the students assess realistically their college major choice.
  5. Help the students attain their immediate educational goals.
  6. Provide information regarding courses, requirements, tests, registration, course changes, and
  7. so forth.
  8. Interpret test results by relating them to standardized ability tests, and course exemptions.
  9. Help students to evaluate and understand their educational goals.
  10. Provide time for students to ask questions (Aiken, et. al. 1976, p. 18).


  1. Is personally and professionally interested in being an advisor.
  2. Listens constructively, attempting to hear all aspects of students' expressed problems.
  3. Sets aside enough regularly scheduled time to adequately meet the advising needs of students assigned to him.
  4. Knows university policy and practice in sufficient detail to provide students with accurate, usable information.
  5. Refers students to other sources of information and assistance when referral seems to be the best student-centered response to be made.
  6. Attempts to understand student concerns from a student point of view.
  7. Views long-range planning as well as immediate problem solving as an essential part of effective advising.
  8. Shares his advising skills with working colleagues who also are actively involved with advising.
  9. Continually attempts to improve both the style and substance of his advising role.
  10. Willingly and actively participates in advisor-training programs, both initial and in-service (Metz and Allan, 1981).



  1. COAX AND WHEEDLE - "A student with your average (3.7) and breadth of interests should be exploring a variety of career options."
  2. COERCE - "If you want me to support your reinstatement request then you must schedule only these courses next semester!"
  3. CONFRONT - "But you really do not believe that I can tell you what your major should be, do you?!"
  4. PERSUADE - "The reading and study skills course we offer can certainly help you improve your academic performance!"
  5. PRESCRIBE - "With your SAT scores, you should take two preparatory math courses (before taking engineering calculus) and seek tutoring assistance. Come back in three weeks and we will check on how things are going.
  6. SUGGEST - "You can decide whether it makes sense, but I think withdrawing this semester is the best thing to do."
  7. DENY - "I know how you feel, but I cannot retroactively drop your last semester’s course just because you failed it!"
  8. BACKSLIDE - "Look, I know what the campus policy is, but, given your situation, I will make an exception." (Metz and Allan, 1981).

Back to Top



  1. APPRECIATE the emotion behind your advisee's words (voice intonation and body language).
  2. Constantly try to CHECK YOUR UNDERSTANDING of what you hear (not hear what you want to hear).
  3. DO NOT INTERRUPT your advisee's sentences. Let him/her tell his/her story first.
  5. CONSTANTLY CHECK to see if your advisee wants to comment or respond to what you have previously said.
  6. RELAX - try not to give the impression you want to jump right in and talk.
  7. Establish GOOD EYE CONTACT.
  8. Use AFFIRMATIVE HEAD NODS and appropriate facial expressions.
  10. INTERMITTENTLY RESPOND to your advisee with "uh, huh," "yes-s-s," "I see," etc.
  11. ASK CLARIFYING OR CONTINUING QUESTIONS (it demonstrates to your advisees that you are involved in what they're saying).
  13. It says that "I'm available to you."
  15. This is a sign that the helper is open to what the advisee has to say. It is a non-defensive position.
  16. LEAN TOWARDS THE ADVISEE, another indication of availability or involvement.
  18. Examples are bodily movements, gestures, facial expressions. Also recognize the para-linguistic behavior. Examples are tone of voice, inflections, spacing of words, emphases and pauses. This will enable you to respond to the advisee's total message and not just words.
  20. Be an active listener and listen for feelings and content behind the words, not just the words. Try to recognize if the feeling of the advisee is anger, happiness, frustration, or irritation and see if this conflicts with the words the advisee uses. This will enable you to respond accurately and effectively to the advisee in full perspective.
  21. OFFER REFLECTIONS ON WHAT THE ADVISEE IS FEELING, based on the advisor's observations.
    Example: "I sense you are kind of tense about this."
  22. SELF-DISCLOSURE which can support the student's experience.
    Example: "I remember how nervous I was the first time I went in to see an advisor."
    Example: "I hear you saying that you aren't completely sure this is the right major for you."
  24. INDIRECT LEADS allow the student to choose the direction of the discussion.
    Example: "What would you like to talk about today?"
  25. DIRECT LEADS help the student to further explore a specific area.
    Example: "Can you tell me more about your thoughts on changing your major?"
  26. FOCUSING helps the student zoom in on a particular issue after many issues have been presented.
    Example: "We're talking about a lot of things here, which one is most important for you to work on now?"
  27. ASKING QUESTIONG USING “WHAT” AND “HOW” can help the student give more than "yes," "no," "because," or "I don't know" answers.
    Example: "What do you like about this major and what don't you like" (Crockett, 1988, pp. 313-314)?


    You can't listen while you are talking.
    Try to put yourself in his/her place so that you can see what he/she is trying to get at.
    When you don't understand, when you need further clarification, when you want him/her to like you, when you want to show that you are listening. But don't ask questions that will embarrass him/her or show him/her up.
    Don't interrupt the other person; give him/her time to say what he/she has to say.
    Actively focus your attention on his/her words, ideas, and feelings related to the subject.
    His/her face, mouth, eyes, hands, will all help him/her to communicate with you. They will help you concentrate, too. Make him/her feel that you are listening.
    Don't overdo it.
    Try to push your worries, your fears, your problems outside the meeting room. They may prevent you from listening well.
    Try not to get angry at what he/she is saying; your anger may prevent you from understanding his/her words or meaning.
    Put down any papers, pencils, etc. you may have in your hands; they may distract your attention.
    Concentrate on the main ideas and not the illustrative material; examples, stories, statistics, etc. are important but are usually not the main points. Examine them only to see if they prove, support and define the main ideas.
    Don't let your reactions to the person influence your interpretation of what he/she says. His/her ideas may be good even if you don't like him/her as a person or the way he/she looks.
    Only part of the responsibility rests with the speaker; you as the listener have an important part. Try to understand. If you don't, ask for clarification.
    When you are trying to understand the other person, it is a handicap to argue with him/her mentally as he/she is speaking. This sets up a barrier between you and the speaker.
    You can listen faster than he/she can talk. Use this rate difference to your advantage by trying to stay on the right track, anticipating what he/she is going to say, thinking back over what he/she has said, evaluating his/her development, etc. Rate difference: Speech rate is about 100 to 150 words per minute; think rate is about 250 to 500 words per minute.
    Sometimes you can learn just as much by determining what the other person leaves out or avoids in his/her talking as you can be listening to what he/she says.
    We frequently concentrate so hard on what is said that we miss the importance of the emotional reactions and attitudes related to what is said. A person's attitude and emotional reactions may be more important than what he/she says in so many words.
    You may cause the other person to conceal his/her ideas, emotions, and attitudes by antagonizing him/her in any of a number of ways: Arguing, criticizing, taking notes, not taking notes, asking questions, not asking questions, etc. Try to judge and be aware of the effect you are having on the other person. Adapt to him/her. Ask for feedback on your behavior.
    One of the best ways to find out information about a person is to listen to him/her talk. As he/she talks, you can begin to find out what he/she likes and dislikes, what his/her motivations are, what his/her value system is, what he/she thinks about everything and anything that makes him/her tick.
    They can get you into trouble in trying to understand the other person. Don't assume that he/she uses words in the same way you do; that he/she didn't say what he/she meant; that he/she is avoiding looking you in the eyes because he/she is telling a lie; that he/she is trying to embarrass you by looking you in the eye; that he/she is distorting the truth because what he/she says doesn't agree with what you think; that he/she is lying because he/she has interpreted the facts differently from you; that he/she is unethical because he/she is trying to win you over to his/her point of view; that he/she is angry because he/she is enthusiastic in presenting his/her views. Assumptions like these may turn out to be true, but more often they just get in the way of your understanding.
    It has some value, but beware. Too frequently we classify a person as one type of person and then try to fit everything he/she says into what makes sense coming from that type of person. He/she is a Republican. Therefore, our perceptions of what he/she says or means are all shaded by whether we like or dislike
  22. Republicans. At times it helps us to understand people to know their position, their religious beliefs, their jobs, etc., but people have the trait of being unpredictable and not fitting into their classifications.
    Wait until all the facts are in before making any judgments
    Try to be aware of your own feelings toward the speaker, the subject, the occasion, etc. and allow for these prejudgments.
    Frequently it is difficult to sort out good and faulty reasoning when you are listening. Nevertheless, it is so important to a job that a listener should lend every effort to learn to spot faulty reasoning when he/she hears it.
    As you listen, try to identify not only the significance of the facts and evidence, but also their relatedness to the argument (Crockett, 1988, pp. 315-316.).


Certain aspects of faculty advising have tended to gloss the process so that the true dimensions of advising have been obscured. Among the stereotypes are these:

    This is the common "slip a coin in and get a schedule out" process wherein the student and advisor interact solely in a mechanical process of working out a program suitable for a given period of registration. In a recent study it was noted that in many colleges the view prevails that when a student has been assisted in arranging a program of classes that has met his/her needs, the major task of advising has been fulfilled. Students deserve much more assistance in the forms of analysis of their achievement, assistance in occupational exploration, referral to remedial and developmental services, effecting suitable work-study and recreation patterns, referral to health services, financial assistance, part-time work, and discussion of appropriate graduate and professional programs with eventual placement.
    This stereotype is one that conceives the advisor as active in arranging a program of courses and subsequently checking a month or six weeks thereafter to see how the program has worked. This and little more! This stereotypic action has been described as follows:
  3. ...the university provided me with a freshman advisor to whom I was to go when my first month's grades were turned in, and regularly thereafter once a month. My particular advisor was an ascetic-looking assistant professor in English, very scholarly and by no means interested in callow freshmen. He had a half-dozen other freshmen besides me to advise, and his technique was to get rid of us as quickly as possible. Every month he gave me my grades and said, "That's fine; you're doing very well." I said, "Thank you," and walked out. In later years when I became interested in the institution of freshmen advisors, I questioned numerous students on the campus and found not one who had received more advice from his [sic] than I had from mine.
    In this role, the faculty advisor is galvanized into action at moments of crisis. The student fails miserably; is entrapped in a violation of academic or social regulations; is about to drop or be dropped; with the result that the faculty advisor races to the scene (office of the academic or personnel dean) with sirens blowing. Too little and too late is usually the appraisal of this well-intentioned but ill-planned maneuver.
    One more stereotype surely deserves to be mentioned. It is that which pictures the faculty advisor as mother hen, with a wingspread like that of an eagle, hovering over the student by day and by night-- protecting, preventing, paternalizing. Probably, at some time or another, the advisor wonders if he/she is not prolonging infancy. These times should be rare--in the early weeks, for instance, when for the freshmen, the break from home and home town may seem cataclysmic. It must be patently understood that any program of faculty advising that stultifies human growth and development cannot be justified.

There are assuredly other stereotypes, but the ones noted above seem to illustrate some myths and confusions about the advisor role. All these certainly miss the point of real importance: the consideration of the learner in the climate of his learning (Hardee and Mayhew, 1970, pp. 10-11).


Emphasized below are basic strategies of advisement used to assist in individual student development. Please review them carefully.

  1. Attempt to become acquainted with the advisee in as many aspects as possible.
    Getting to know the advisees outside the formality of the office when possible, and not only during class scheduling or unusual circumstances, can be extremely valuable. Knowing the academic abilities and background of the advisee is also important. Having good documentation (the advising folder) such as high school courses with grades, rank in graduating class, ACT or SAT scores, transfer courses and grades from other universities, and present academic status is essential when assessing a student's ability and future direction.
  2. Explore the objectives, interests, and motivations of the advisee.
    The advisee's actual certainty of future objectives and goals is difficult to ascertain. When the advisor has some knowledge of the advisee's non-academic background -- such as home influence, hobbies, and friends -- a more thorough type of advisement is possible.
  3. Develop rapport with advisees.
    If the student knows the advisor as a professional person who has a genuine interest in students, the advisement process becomes much more beneficial for both advisor and advisee. The student should be encouraged to become acquainted with other faculty members in the department, for multiple contacts can be useful to the student who is attempting to assess his personal goals.
  4. Become knowledgeable concerning university rules, policies, regulations, and procedures that affect academic programs and activity.
    Every advisor must be well informed regarding current academic policies and procedures for these are the foundations on which all advisement efforts will be built. Review of prior policies and study of new policy changes should be a regular activity of each advisor before beginning each registration period. Familiarity with courses generally taken by advisees, the characteristics of teachers of the courses, and how the courses have been appraised by prior students can make the advisement process smoother and more successful. Suggestions for student involvement in campus activities is often the key to retention in school.
  5. Evaluate student motivation.
    Enhancing a student's motivation by capitalizing on good academic planning can be a very helpful strategy. While lack of motivation is generally recognized as the most common cause of poor academic performance, no clear cut methods to help a student achieve maximum motivation have been developed. Suggested strategies might include:
    1. Matching courses early in the program to the student's academic strengths, interests, and background;
    2. Helping the student, when possible, have a chance to build on success rather than failure;
    3. Challenging capable students to continue their efforts toward academic excellence.
    4. Explaining the rewards of a strong academic program and associated good grades.
  6. Be aware of the limitations of responsibility which place the burden of the advisement process on the shoulders of the student.
    Obviously, an advisor cannot make decisions for an advisee, but can be a sympathetic listener and offer various alternatives for the advisee's consideration. Advisors cannot increase the ability of a student, but can encourage the maximum use of that ability. While advisors cannot change some aspects of class schedules or employment loads, the students can be referred to the proper offices for such adjustments when desirable.
  7. Seek to determine the level of advisement appropriate for your own comfort and training.
    Generally, advisors should not attempt to personally handle complex problems concerning financial aid, mental or physical health, personal or social counseling. When these situations do arise, the faculty advisor should refer students to professional personnel who are specially trained and knowledgeable about dealing with such problems (Morehead State University, 1981).


A STUDENT is the most important person in any educational institution.

A STUDENT is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him/her.

A STUDENT is not an interruption of our work. He/she is the purpose of it.

A STUDENT does us a favor when he/she enrolls. We are not doing him/her a favor by serving him/her.

A STUDENT is a part of our work--not an outsider.

A STUDENT is not just a statistic. He/she is a flesh and blood human being with feelings and emotions like us.

A STUDENT is a person who comes to us with his/her needs or wants. It is our job to fill them.

A STUDENT is deserving of the most courteous and attentive treatment we can give him/her.

A STUDENT is the life blood of this and every other educational institution (source unknown).


  1. Care about advisees as people by showing empathy, understanding, and respect.
  2. Establish a warm, genuine, and open relationship.
  3. Evidence interest, helpful intent, and involvement.
  4. Be a good listener.
  5. Establish rapport by remembering personal information about advisees.
  6. Be available; keep office hours and appointments.
  7. Provide accurate information.
  8. When in doubt, refer to catalog, advisor's handouts, student handbook, etc.
  9. Know how and when to make referrals, and be familiar with referral sources.
  10. Do not refer too hastily; on the other hand, do not attempt to handle situations for which you are not qualified.
  11. Have students contact referral sources in your presence.
  12. Keep in frequent contact with advisees; take the initiative; do not always wait for students to come to you.
  13. Do not make decisions for students; help them make their own decisions.
  14. Focus on advisees' strengths and potentials rather than limitations.
  15. Seek out advisees in informal settings.
  16. Monitor advisees' progress toward education goals.
  17. Determine reasons for poor academic performance and direct advisees to appropriate support services.
  18. Be realistic with advisees.
  19. Use all available information sources.
  20. Clearly outline advisees' responsibilities.
  21. Follow up on commitments made to advisees.
  22. Encourage advisees to consider and develop conversations for future reference.
  23. Keep a factual anecdotal record of significant conversations for future reference.
  24. Evaluate the effectiveness of your advising.
  25. Do not be critical of other faculty or staff to advisees.
  26. Be knowledgeable about career opportunities and job outlook for various majors.
  27. Encourage advisees to talk by asking open-ended questions.
  28. Do not betray confidential information.
  29. Categorize advisees' questions; are they seeking action, information, or involvement and understanding.
  30. Be yourself and allow advisees to be themselves (The American College Testing Program, 1979a, p. 4.138).

Back to Top



  • Academic
  • Values and Goal Clarification
  • Career Plans
  • Interpersonal
  • Personal
  • Physical

(The American College Testing Program, 1979b, p.7)


Factors which, in the judgment of the student, are contributing to scholastic difficulty in specific subjects. Please indicate subject (history, biology, etc.) and check appropriate items.

print form (leave fields empty at the bottom if you would like to physically sign)

Do not study
Have reading problem
Do not hand work in on time
Am excessively absent
Am frequently late to class
Do not spend enough time on lessons
Have health or other personal problem
Do not seek help from teacher
Have poor background for subject
Am not interested in subject
Am working too much outside school
Have too many outside activities
Case unknown

In conference, the student and I affected the following actions relating to the above:

(Brown, 1972, p. 265)



  1. Is underachievement a problem with this advisee? Is he underachieving in all areas?
  2. What capabilities can I infer from his folder?
  3. Has this advisee any physically limiting impediments?
  4. Is remedial help available that is free from stigma?
  5. Do I really know this advisee's interests? Can I utilize this information for more effective advising?
  6. Does this advisee have academic successes? Can I account for his success in some areas, and his lack of success in others?
  7. Have I begun to sow seeds of dissatisfaction with complacency?
  8. Do I talk with an advisee or to him?
  9. Would my assistance in planning a time schedule with the advisee be welcome?
  10. Have I had contact with the parents of this advisee? Do they provide support for his efforts?
  11. Is this advisee attending class regularly?
  12. Does this advisee know how to take notes? Does he use the library?
  13. Am I a potent reinforcer? Do my advisees perceive me as a resource?
  14. Does this advisee's out-of-class life style support his educational efforts?
  15. Does this advisee have solid peer contacts? Is his tour at college a solo performance?
  16. Would some other faculty member be more effective as an advisor to this student

(Crockett, 1978b, pp. 5.363-5.364)


At one time or another most academic advisors have had a student come in to discuss a personal problem. In many cases a sympathetic ear and emotional support are all the student seeks or needs. In some cases, however, the student might need assistance that you are unable to provide.

In these instances you need to decide whether or not to refer the student for additional help and, if so, how to go about making the suggestion that further help is required. This section suggests effective strategies for listening and for discussing personal problems with students. Additionally, it outlines some common symptoms or personal distress so that you will be better able to know when a student is suffering with a problem, and it provides guidance on how to decide when to refer a student for further assistance. Finally, procedures for making a referral are outlined.

Active Listening Skills

To be successful in helping students with personal problems, you must first have a clear understanding of the exact nature of the problem. Attaining understanding requires listening in an active and participatory manner. If you are a good listener, you will notice that others are drawn to you. Listening is a commitment and a compliment. It is a commitment to understanding how other people feel and how they see their world. It means putting aside your own prejudices and beliefs, your anxieties and self-interests, so that you can see the world from the other person's point of view. Listening is a compliment because it says to the other person: "I care about what is happening to you; your life and your experience are important." People usually respond positively to the compliment of listening.

Successful listening requires a number of simultaneous activities: paraphrasing, clarifying, feedback, empathizing, being open, and being aware.

Paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is absolutely necessary to good listening because it keeps you busy trying to understand what the other person means, rather than blocking or having your thoughts wander to what you will say next. You can paraphrase by using such lead ins as "What I hear you saying is...In other words...So basically how you felt was...Let me understand...what was going on for you was...What happened was...Do you mean...? You should paraphrase every time someone says something important to you.

Clarifying. Clarifying, which often goes along with paraphrasing, means to ask questions until you get a more complete picture. Since your intention is to understand fully what is being said, you often have to ask for more information and background to get a fuller picture of the circumstances surrounding a problem. Concentrate on the main ideas and not the illustrative material; examples, stories, statistics, and the like are important but usually do not represent the main points. Examine them only to see if they prove, support, or define the main ideas. Clarifying helps you sharpen your concentration so that you hear more than vague generalities. Clarifying also lets the other person know that you are interested.

Feedback. After you have paraphrased and clarified what has been said, you need to share, in a nonjudgmental way, what you thought, felt, or sensed. The feedback that you give should be immediate, honest, and supportive. Immediate means giving the feedback as soon as you fully understand the communication. Honest means expressing your true feelings. Supportive means gently and sensitively reacting to what you hear and feel.

Empathizing. Empathize with the student--try to put yourself in the student's place as if you were he or she but without ever losing the "as if" condition. Concentrate on what the student is saying--focus your attention on his or her words, ideas, and feelings.

Being Open. Being open as you listen means that you hear the whole statement, the entire communication, before judging. If you are judging and finding fault, you will have difficulty listening. Recognize your own prejudices--try to be aware of your feelings toward the student, the subject, and the occasion. Allow for these prejudgments in formulating your feedback.

Being Aware. There are two components to listening with awareness. One is to compare what is being said to your knowledge of history, people, and the way things are. You should do this without judgment, simply making note of how a communication fits with known facts. The second way to listen with awareness is to hear and observe congruence. Does the student's tone of voice, emphasis, facial expression, and posture fit with the content of his or her communication? If someone is telling you that his father has just died but smiles and leans back in his chair with his hands laced behind his head, the message is not making sense. There is no congruence. If body, face, voice, and words fail to fit, your job as a listener is to clarify and give feedback about the discrepancy. If you ignore the incongruity, you are settling for an incomplete or confusing message.

Total listening. A student coming to you with a personal problem clearly wants you to listen and will look for clues to prove that you are. A number of verbal and nonverbal behaviors can help you listen and can help you communicate the fact of your total attention. Here are a few suggestions on how to be a total listener:

  1. Stop talking--you cannot listen while talking.
  2. Maintain good eye contact.
  3. Lean slightly forward to indicate your involvement.
  4. Reinforce the speaker by nodding or paraphrasing.
  5. Do not interrupt. Give the person time to finish what he or she has to say.
  6. Clarify by asking questions.
  7. Move away from distractions.
  8. Be committed, even if you are angry or upset, to understanding what the student says.

Indicators of When to Be Concerned

Being aware of signals that indicate the possibility of problems can be helpful to a faculty member in making a judgment about whether or where to refer a student for counseling.

The following signs may indicate that a student could benefit from a referral to the Counseling Center.

Unusual Behavior

  1. Withdrawal from usual social interaction
  2. Marked seclusion and unwillingness to communicate
  3. Persistent antisocial behavior such as lying, stealing, or other grossly deviant acts
  4. Lack of social skills or deteriorating personal hygiene
  5. Inability to sleep or excessive sleeping
  6. Loss of appetite or excessive appetite
    Example: starving or bingeing behavior
  7. Unexplained crying or outbursts of anger
  8. Acutely increased activity
    Example: ceaseless talking or extreme restlessness
  9. Repeated absence from classes
  10. Unusual irritability
  11. Thought disorder
    Example: the student's conversation does not make sense
  12. Suspiciousness, irrational feeling of persecution
  13. Irrational worrying or expressions of fear

Traumatic Changes in Personal Relationships

  1. Death of a family member or a close friend
  2. Difficulties in marriage or family relationships
  3. Dating and courtship difficulties
  4. Sexual abuse
    Example: rape, incest, harassment
  5. Terminal/chronic illness of a family member

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

  1. Indications of excessive drinking or drug abuse
    Example: binges, neglects eating or physical appearance, impaired thinking
  2. Severe drug reaction
    Example: bizarre behavior, unexplained "blackouts" of memory
  3. Being a child of an alcoholic or drug dependent parent
  4. Academic Problems
  5. Dramatic drop in grade point average
  6. Deficient reading speed or comprehension
  7. Poor study habits
  8. Incapacitating test anxiety
  9. Sudden changes in academic performance
  10. Lack of class attendance

Career Choice Problems

  1. Dissatisfaction with academic major
  2. Unrealistic career aspirations
  3. Confusion with regard to interests, abilities, or values
  4. Chronic indecisiveness or choice conflict
  5. Uncertainty of career alternatives

Taken alone any of these signals may be insufficient to warrant intervention. However, duration of behavior, combination of signals, and the degree of intensity of indicators will determine the type of intervention needed.

When to Refer

Aside from the signs or symptoms that may suggest the need for counseling, there are other guidelines which may help the faculty member define the limits of his or her involvement with a particular student's problem. It is important not only to hear what the student is saying, but to be attentive to the non-verbal behaviors as well as the feelings underlying the message to you. A referral is usually indicated under the following circumstances:

  1. When a person asks for referral. However, you need some information from the person to know where the best referral is. It is also a good idea to explore with the student how urgent this need is. It may be that the student is feeling quite upset and some exploration with you will help the individual feel more comfortable being referred.
  2. When a student presents a problem or requests information which is outside your range of knowledge.
  3. A person contemplating suicide. This has the potential of being the most severe of all crises dealt with herein. Although there are wide differences in the seriousness of suicidal thoughts, any time a student is thinking of it seriously enough to discuss it with you he or she is probably pretty upset. Although it is important for you to help deal with immediate feelings, a threat to self or others ethically requires strong intervention on the part of the faculty or other professionals. In order to assess the severity of the suicidal thought, a counselor from the Counseling Center or faculty member in the Psychology Department should be contacted. Offer to walk with the student to see the Counselor or Psychology Department faculty member. It is possible to save a life by taking quick, effective action.
  4. Someone you feel you have not helped, or whom you've gone as far as you can go with, but who you feel needs help. None of us can help everyone needing help because of personality differences, lack of experience, or a variety of other reasons. When you have the feeling that you have not been helpful, try to be honest with the student and suggest a specific person or agency that would meet the student's needs. Also suggest Counseling or Psychology faculty.
  5. Lack of objectivity on your part. You may know the student on other than a professional basis (friend, neighbor, relative), may know the person the student is talking about, or be identifying too closely with the problem being discussed. Any of these may interfere with your ability to be a nonjudgmental listener. It would be better for the student to be referred to someone else.
  6. If a student is reluctant to discuss a problem with you for some reason. You may sense that the person may not feel comfortable talking to you; for example, the student might be more at ease talking with a male or female, or a black or white counselor. In that case, you should refer the student to an appropriate individual and suggest that the person is very easy and pleasant to talk to.
  7. If a student has physical symptoms. Headaches, dizziness, stomach pains, insomnia can be physical manifestations of psychological states. If students complain about symptoms they suspect (or you suspect) may be connected with their problem, it would be in their best interest to refer them to a professional, possibly the school nurse or the school physician.

How to Refer

When you believe that a student might benefit from professional counseling, speak directly to the student in a straight-forward, matter-of-fact fashion, showing simple and concrete concern. Never trick or deceive. Make it clear that this recommendation represents your best judgment based on your observations of the student's behavior. Be specific regarding the behaviors that have raised your concerns and avoid making generalizations or attributing anything negative to the individual's personality or character.

Except in cases of life threat to self or others, the option must be left open for the student to accept or refuse counseling. It is not uncommon for students to be anxious when being referred to a professional. If you have had positive feedback from other students about the Counseling Center, you could tell the student you have referred others there and that they found it helpful. If the student is skeptical or reluctant for whatever reason, simply express your acceptance of the feelings so that he or she feels free to reject the referral without rejecting you. Give the student room to consider alternatives by suggesting that perhaps you can talk about it later after the individual has had some time to think it over. If the student emphatically says "No," then respect the decision and again leave the situation open should he or she decide to reconsider. Above all, do not rush. Unless it is a matter of clear urgency, go slowly.

If the student agrees to the referral, place the call to the Counseling Center right then, with the student present. Usually, you'll make an appointment through the receptionist. A home and work number may be left and the student can also be called later if the counseling person cannot talk on the phone at that time. In most cases the student can be seen within two days. If it appears to be an emergency, ask to speak directly to a counselor or to have your call returned as soon as possible. If appropriate, suggest to the student that with his or her permission you will give information to the counselor about the nature of the problem. Have the student write down the counselor's name, address, extension, and the time and date of the appointment. Having a confirmed appointment sometimes makes the difference in whether or not the student goes to the appointment. Finally, follow up with the student at a later date to show your continued interest even if he or she did not accept a referral.

To Sum It Up

  1. Find out enough about the student's problem to be able to make the best referral.
  2. Involve the student in the process. Deal with the feelings about the referral
    Example: objections, fears, etc.. It is better to have them discussed before the student leaves.
  3. Go slowly--except in an emergency, the student should be made aware that he or she has a choice to accept or refuse the referral.
  4. Be very specific in the referral
    Example: identify location, name of counselor, telephone number.
  5. See how much help the student needs in contacting the referral-- some may need to be escorted over. On the other hand, try to let the person do as much for himself or herself as you can.
  6. Follow up! Even if the student did not accept your referral, following up at a later date will demonstrate your continued interest.

Finally, the referral process is one that should communicate to the student that (1) you are concerned about his or her well-being and (2) you consider the problem one which requires professional attention, which you are unable to provide. These two messages, effectively communicated, can determine the attitude with which the student enters counseling. That attitude affects the progress and outcome of any psychological intervention.

If you have any questions about the material in this section, please contact any of the counselors at the Counseling Center or Department of Psychology (Scott, 1988, pp. 297-303).


SHOULD MISBEHAVIOR BE REPORTED? In most instances of minor misbehavior, the situation can be best handled within the organization through group sanctions and penalties and with the advisor counseling with the students involved. In other instances not covered by existing procedures or policies, the advisor must use his/her best judgment, referring or reporting serious cases of misbehavior or maladjustment to the appropriate college office.

Keeping in mind his responsibilities to the welfare of the individual student, the organization, and the institution, the advisor will also need to consider such other factors as these:

  1. Does the type of misbehavior cast a serious doubt on the individual's fitness for his objective? For example, consider the accounting major who embezzles money from the group treasury.
  2. Can an otherwise worthwhile young person be deterred from other and more serious misbehavior by firm action and rehabilitative counseling at this stage?
  3. Does the misbehavior constitute a criminal act which the advisor's failure to report may result in his being implicated?
  4. Are there serious implications for the institution's public posture or relationship with the community?
  5. Is the misbehavior symptomatic of possible psychological disturbance on the part of the student who could require professional attention? The counseling center, student affairs office, or dean's office may know of other similar incidents which, with the advisor's report, may indicate a disturbed student who needs assistance.

The responsibility of the advisor to the student is a real one but he must not assume that referral to the student personnel office will necessarily work to the student's disadvantage or result in his dismissal. If the advisor is in doubt as to the correct action, he should consult the dean's office or student affairs office on a confidential basis or at least by describing the situation as a hypothetical case (Bloland, 1967, p. 27). Refer to the current Student Handbook for additional information and specific policies.


  1. Referral decision--ability to determine whether a referral should be made.
    1. Determination of problem(s)
    2. Determination of whether or not you can help and/or are qualified to offer the assistance needed.
    3. Determination of possible agencies or persons to whom the student may be referred.
  2. Referral process--ability to professionally refer the student to the proper person or agency for help.
    1. Explain in a clear and open manner why you feel it desirable or necessary to refer.
      1. Take into account the student's emotional and psychological reaction to the referral
      2. Get the student to discuss his problem(s), consider reasons for referral, evaluate possible sources of help, and assist in the selection of the specific person or agency.
    2. Explain fully the services that can be obtained from the resource person or agency you are recommending.
    3. Reassure student about capability and qualifications of resource to help meet the particular need expressed.
    4. Attempt to personalize the experience by giving the student the name of a contact person to ask for or help by calling for an appointment for the student. Give directions to the office if necessary.
    5. Discuss with the student any need for transfer of data and obtain consent and approval for the transfer.
    6. Assist the student in formulating questions to ask or approaches to take.
    7. Transmit to the person or agency who will assist the student all the information essential for helping the student.
  3. Follow up--ability to evaluate the appropriateness and effectiveness of the referral.
    1. Determine if the student kept the appointment.
    2. Discuss with the student his or her evaluation of the help received from the agency or person.
    3. Determine whether you selected the appropriate source of help for the student (Crockett, 1988, p. 331).


The Role of the Faculty Advisor

Many university personnel who work daily with students on academic probation find that those who are academically dismissed later make relatively common errors in judgment. Many of these students might have stayed in college if they had made different decisions while on probation.

Listed below are some student errors occurring most often and the logic students use to make these mistaken judgments.

Students think they can "get it all back" through one heroic try and, thus, attempt to make the entire grade point-average improvement in a single semester.
ASSISTANCE: Students on probation should take fewer credit hours, not more. Students who attempt to make large grade-point-average improvements in one semester usually find they do poorer work because of the multiplying effects of more quizzes, papers, tests, class hours, etc. A maximum course load for students on probation might be the minimum for full-time student classification (12 hours). A student who earns more average grades makes less grade-point improvement than the student who earns fewer, but higher grades.
Students fear repeating courses they earned below-average grades in and, instead, hope to make up the difference in other courses.
ASSISTANCE: Students who earned below-average grades in courses usually should repeat courses as soon as possible -- at the University repeated grades replace original grades taken at the University in calculating the grade-point-average if the repeated grade is higher than the original. For example, a student who repeats an "F" course and receives a "C" has improved his/her GPA as much as earning an "A" in another course, because the repeated grade replaces the original in calculations.
Most students do improve a grade upon repeating a course because prior exposure to the course makes them aware of expectations and study needs. Unless the student lacks a prerequisite for repeating the course, he/she usually should repeat the course to improve his/her grade-point-average and to remove the failure symbolically, if not physically, from his record.
ASSISTANCE ADENDUM: The reverse of ERROR 2 may be true at some universities. At the University of Houston for example, the cumulative grade point average is based upon all work taken at the University, including courses that are repeated, for which grade point values are assigned. A repeated course, including courses repeated during a summer session, is equivalent to a new course both in the determination of classification and in computing the cumulative grade point average. Deviations in the computation may occur depending on the catalog year under which graduation occurs. Students at the University of Houston should be advised carefully when discussing the possibility of repeating courses.
Students believe they will receive special consideration because of their situation and expect to withdraw to protect their grade point average.
ASSISTANCE: An advisor should emphasize that a student cannot withdraw from courses past the established deadline. The last day to drop a course with a “W” grade is usually the end of the eleventh week of the semester. For specific dates, advisors should consult the college calendar.
Students hope that they can do nothing and have university officials ignore their incomplete grades. Sometimes they fear completion of the grade (i.e., replacement grade for the incomplete) will hurt their chances for continuation at the college.
ASSISTANCE: Students who do not resolve incomplete grades usually suffer more serious consequences than if they resolved the incomplete grades routinely. At the University, incomplete grades change to failures after one year. Thus, advisors should inform students of the significance of resolved incomplete grades compared even to mediocre completion.
Many students think they must graduate on time and, therefore, must not interrupt the sequence of courses for any reason.
ASSISTANCE: Students sometimes believe they must continue the scheduled sequence of courses in spite of academic difficulties. In rigorous majors, students should repeat some courses, even when they earn passing grades, if they are weak or ill-prepared to continue the sequence. Often students refuse to take a short delay in completing a sequence, which, in turn, may cause a much greater delay if they are dismissed form school for academic reasons. Students should know the difficulty involved in mastering advanced courses in their major and should prepare sufficiently before proceeding.
Students often are “advised” by friends to take courses simply because someone else found these courses met his/her need.
ASSISTANCE: Students often take courses on the advice of friends. Friends with good intentions may misadvise their peers about courses that are easy and appropriate for some, but difficult and inappropriate for others. The probationary student should place only limited faith in the course selections of friends.
Students want to get all the basic courses out of the way. The reverse of this is true also—some students do not want to take any basic courses.
ASSISTANCE: Students frequently feel compelled to complete all general education courses as soon as possible. With this approach, however, a student may become discouraged and lose sight of the relevance of a total education. Thus, an advisor should encourage a probationary student to combine general and major course work, and when possible, to take at least one in his/her own interest area each semester.
Students want to succeed on their own and seek help only when it is sometimes too late.
ASSISTANCE: Students often fall prey to the myth of self-reliance. They believe that if they are not totally independent they are somehow unfit or unqualified for higher education. Such an assumption is neither true nor necessary. Students need to know about resources available on campus and to be assured that using support services is expected and encouraged as part of the total academic experience. Exact advice given an individual probationary student depends, of course, on that student’s unique situation and the academic rules and regulations of the University. Nevertheless, academic advisors who discuss the problems mentioned above with probationary students likely will point out many errors their students may be making. Reducing these common errors should reduce the attrition of students who, with proper academic advising/counseling, will go on to adequate scholastic achievement (Russell, 1981, pp. 56-58).


Career development is a major concern today. Some of the topics being discussed by students, faculty, administration, and the public which reflect this concern are as follows: relating one’s choice of major(s) to getting a job; maintaining academic credibility in the face of economic pressures; and questioning by lawmakers and the public about the relationship between a college degree and the job market.

Below are some suggested practical goals that each student might consider:

One aspect of career development is self-awareness.
Students should…

  1. Be able to assess their own interests and values that may affect career decisions.
  2. Be familiar with resources available to help persons assess their interests.
  3. Be able to assess their own specific abilities that may affect pending career decisions.
  4. Be able to identify ways to improve career and occupational capabilities through extracurricular activities and part-time work.
  5. Be able to associate the abilities they are developing with potential choice of career.
  6. Be able to apply the steps of the decision-making process to career decisions.
  7. Be able to identify job characteristics that are important to them.

Another aspect of career development is knowledge of the world of work.
Students should…

  1. Know types of occupations most likely to satisfy their personal interests and values.
  2. Know the major duties and required abilities of jobs in the occupational family of their career choice.
  3. Understand differences in responsibilities of various jobs within the occupational family of their career choice.
  4. Be aware of the genera l satisfaction people obtain from various kinds of jobs.
  5. Understand that technological, economic, and social changes result in decreases in the availability of some kinds of jobs and increases in others.
  6. Understand the value of maintaining a number of occupational alternatives.

A third aspect of career development is skills actually required to obtain a job.
Students should…

  1. Be able to identify the steps in a process of obtaining a job.
  2. Know how to find resources to help them in the job-seeking process.
  3. Know ways to evaluate and improve their job-seeking skills.
  4. Be aware of generally accepted personnel selection practices.
  5. Know several sources they can use to find out about job possibilities.
  6. Be able to identify a number of job possibilities for which they are educationally qualified and that require the competencies they have developed.
  7. Be able to evaluate job possibilities considering the job characteristics that are most important to them.
  8. Know how the job market operates in specific occupations.
  9. Be able to identify the qualifications required for the jobs in which they are interested.
  10. Be able to prepare a letter of inquiry and a resume, that reflect their qualifications for the jobs for which they are applying.
  11. Be able to obtain and use references appropriate for the jobs for which they are applying.
  12. Be able to identify possible questions they may be asked in interviews.
  13. Be able to articulate why they are qualified for the jobs for which they are applying
  14. Know how to investigate an organization, institution, business, and/or community concerning a job (Crockett, 1988, pp. 332-334).

Back to Top

The academic advisor is on the "front line" of the college or university in dealing with students. It is a critical position, and the success or failure of the student's education and growth is influenced greatly by the advising function. In today's litigious atmosphere, the advising function is more critical than ever.

Academic advising occurs under the umbrella of academic affairs. The courts have always hesitated to enter the academic arena and substitute their judgment for that of the academician. In doing so, they have recognized the academic freedom which protects academic decisions, including advising decisions. They have recognized also that their repeated presence in the academic community possibly could cause deterioration in the otherwise beneficial student-faculty relationship. Thus, if academicians do not abuse their discretion in dealing with students, they need not fear judicial intervention. The courts will intervene, however, if evidence exists of arbitrary or negligent treatment of students or a denial of their protected rights. The increasing number of court decisions dealing with classroom and academic matters attests to the growing judicial sensitivity to students' rights in academic affairs. The advisor's job falls within this academic affairs area, and, thus, advisors must understand the legal issues involving four major areas: the contractual relationship between student and institution, guidelines governing privacy of student records, the concept of privileged communications, and academic due process and the need for grievance procedures.


In academic affairs, a contractual relationship exists between the student and the institution.
The basic provisions of the college catalog, recruiting brochures, various bulletins, and the student handbook become part of the contract. The institution sets forth certain requirements for passing courses and for successful completion of programs and subsequent graduation. If students fail to meet the required standards, they can be penalized through such action as dismissal, suspension, or failure to graduate on schedule; if the institution fails to respect its own regulations, then the student may seek judicial relief.

An institution may create certain contractual obligations through statements in its publications. Advisors' obligations and responsibilities usually appear in an advisor's handbook and often in publications readily available to the student. An increasing emphasis on quality advising to enhance retention brings added responsibilities to the advisor. More and more advisors not only are expected to understand such things as scheduling and registration procedures and degree and program requirements, but also they may be expected to function as a referral service or possibly as career counselors. Thus, if institutions promise such services from their advising system, they should ensure that their advisors can deliver these services. Where an advisor did not, or could not, perform his contractual obligation, then possibly liability could be present. Thus, institutions should be conscious of an advisor's obligations which might be created by unequivocal statements regarding advisors' responsibilities.

Most institutions' catalogs state that the ultimate responsibility for knowing degree requirements rests with the student. This type of statement normally would protect advisors if they commit an advising error. Generally, the advisor is not going to be held personally liable for erroneous advising in the absence of gross negligence, irresponsible behavior, or arbitrary or capricious treatment of the student. Advisors should keep notes of their discussions with students during advising sessions. An accurate record of advising sessions would help solve any disputes over the content of previous advising and also serve as a legitimate protection against claims of erroneous advising.


Since advisors maintain educational records -- records of advisees' grades and other academic information -- they must understand the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (commonly referred to as The Buckley Amendment). Basically, this act provides students with access to information placed in their advising files. Furthermore, it ensures that only school officials with a legitimate educational interest may see the student's file. The student's permission must be obtained before any other party may have access to the student's file. Thus, advisors, upon request, must allow students access to their advising file. This fact, however, does exclude a student's right of access to personal notes that the advisor may have made during the advising sessions. Under this Act, these notes constitute records made by educational personnel and kept solely in their possession. Advisors may allow someone who temporarily performs his/her advising duties to see the notes; if the advisor is to be replaced permanently, however, he/she should remove any personal notes from the student's file before transferring the file to the replacement.

Under legislation, the student has the right to an informal hearing regarding material in his record. If at this hearing the student does not receive satisfaction, then he/she may insert explanatory material in the file. The Act specifically denies students the right to a hearing regarding grades received. The student, however, may challenge the accuracy of transferring grades to the student's record.

Information in the file may be sent to parents of financially dependent students without the student's written consent. The registrar's office usually maintains information regarding a student's status as a financial dependent. Institutional policy, however, will determine whether or not information must be sent to parents without the student's consent.

According to the Buckley Amendment, a record also must be kept of requests received from school officials to obtain information from the student's file. The record should not only identify the official making the request, but also the official's legitimate educational reason for requesting the information. The record should remain in the student's file. Each institution is individually responsible for determining which parties qualify as "school officials" and what constitutes a "legitimate educational interest." Advisors should familiarize themselves with their institution's policy governing this matter, as well as other institutional policies regarding implementation of the Buckley Amendment.


Although the law recognizes the student's right to privacy of his/her educational records, it also recognizes the advisor's right to privileged communications. Thus, in an effort to help a student, advisors can discuss confidential information regarding that student with other appropriate individuals. The courts generally will respect the right to such communications and will not hold the advisor liable for statements considered as privileged communications. This right, however, is not an absolute one, and advisors must exercise good judgment in making all confidential statements. To determine the appropriateness of confidential discussions, an advisor should simply ask if such a discussion would serve the student's best interest.

At times, students will come to advisors with personal problems; normally these problems should remain confidential. In some instances, however, a student may tell the advisor of certain intentions that would prove harmful to the student or possibly to others, such as the intention to commit suicide or the desire to harm another person. Although the statements are made in confidence, an obligation rests with the advisor to disclose such information to an appropriate party, such as parents, an intended victim, a school psychologist, or police.


The courts have mandated that students receive due process guarantees of notice and hearing in disciplinary cases, but students with grievances concerning academic affairs, such as situations involving erroneous advising, disputed grades, or alleged arbitrary course requirements, generally find themselves without due process guarantees. The courts, to this date, have not mandated legally what constitutes due process in academic affairs. Courts generally will respect the institution's procedures for handling academic affairs cases, as well as their decisions resolving these cases. As previously indicated, the courts will intervene in cases involving seemingly arbitrary or capricious treatment of a student. The voluntary application, however, of the spirit and principles of due process to academic affairs can reduce the incentives for legalism and reliance upon the courts by students when they feel aggrieved. With clearly defined grievance procedures in place, courts will decline to intervene until a student exhausts this administrative remedy. Thus individual departments or divisions of the institution should outline procedures that students will follow in registering any grievances resulting from erroneous advising or any other action taken by the advisor. The following suggested procedures should not be construed as specific prescriptions to cover every case, but rather as a guideline:

  1. Institutions should define clearly and publish the responsibilities of advisors and students in the advisor-advisee relationship.
  2. Information the student is expected to know, such as academic requirements for continuance and graduation, should be clearly specified and publicized.
  3. A well-documented and orderly procedure of appeal should be established and promulgated. A committee should be appointed in each department or division or one committee for the entire institution, if that is deemed appropriate, which would hear complaints by students against advisors for alleged advising errors or negligent and irresponsible advising. The advisor against whom the allegations have been made should receive all due process rights in defending his/her actions.

Implementation and promulgation of these recommendations would not open a Pandora's box with a proliferation of student complaints against advisors. Rather, advisors would maintain a responsible attitude toward students, and students would understand more clearly their responsibilities in the advising process. The channeling of complaints through an appointed committee would formalize a fair and reasonable procedure which does not exist on many campuses today.

Two elements have combined to cause an increase in the number of academic affairs cases: arrival of consumerism to the campus and the lowered age of majority. Consumerism on campus today considers whether or not an institution delivers to the student the product it claims in its various publications, as well as in oral presentations. As legal adults, by virtue of the lowered age of majority, students must accept more responsibility for their actions on campus and thus also may have a great inclination to press charges against the institution when they believe they have received arbitrary or capricious treatment. This does not mean that all students might file a court suit when they reach the age of majority, but since they must accept the responsibilities of that status they will most likely be more zealous of their rights. With these prevailing conditions and the fact that quality advising is fast becoming a criterion for promotion, tenure, and salary increases, advisors should seek to understand the legal issues related to advising. This understanding will ensure a responsible attitude toward students and protect their rights as well as those of the advisor.

By knowing the current legal parameters and by practicing the "golden rule," advisors will create and maintain those policies and practices that respect the worth and dignity of each student. By doing so, they will help create a better climate for reducing the incentives for legalism and respecting the rights, freedoms, and responsibilities of all (Young, 1982, pp. 41-45).

Back to Top


    FERPA, 20 USC 1232g, also known as the Buckley Amendment, was enacted on August 21, 1974, and took effect on November 19, 1974. It was enacted in response to a growing public awareness regarding government record keeping and the dissemination of information commonly considered private in nature. It provides rights of inspection and prohibitions against unauthorized dissemination of educational information and applies to elementary, secondary, and post secondary educational agencies. The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now Health and Human Services) was charged with implementing the act and maintains oversight of complaints under the act today.
    1. The act applies to all public and private institutions of higher education which receive funds made available under programs administered by the Secretary of Education, including federal grant monies, Pell grants, Guaranteed Student Loan Programs, and other such funds. If an institution receives monies under one or more such programs, the regulations apply to the recipient as a whole, including each component or department within the institution. In other words, most institutions of higher education, whether public or private, fall under FERPA regulations.
    2. For Texas state-supported institutions, the legislature has incorporated the provisions of FERPA into the Texas Open Records Act, Article 6252-17a, Vernon's Annotated Civil Statutes. Consequently, requests for student records may be referred to the Attorney General for ruling if the records should not be disclosed.
    Selected definitions include:
    1. Student--any individual who is or has been in attendance at an institution and about whom the institution maintains education records. Eligible students are those who are 18 years of age or older.
    2. Parent--parent of a student, including natural parent, guardian, or an individual acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or guardian.
    3. Attendance--attendance in person or by correspondence. This definition also includes that period of time during which a student might be working under a work study program. Note that it is not enough to be enrolled; the student must be physically present at the institution except in cases involving a correspondence course.
    4. Disclosure--to permit access to education records or the personally identifiable information in the records by any means, including oral, written, or electronic means.
    5. Personally identifiable information--student's name, parent and family member names, address of student and parent or family members, a personal identifier such as social security number or student number, a list of personal characteristics or other information which would make the student's identity easily traceable.
    6. Directory information - information contained in education records which would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if released. Specific examples include student name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, major field of study, participation in recognized activities and sports, weight and height of athletes, dates of attendance, degrees and awards received, and the most recent previous educational institution attended. For public institutions in Texas, the Attorney General has broadened this list somewhat to include marital status, religious preference, student parking permit information, current class schedule, current number of hours enrolled, and class roster.
    7. Education records--those records that are directly related to a student and are maintained by an educational institution. Education records do not include:
      1. records of instructional, supervisory, and administrative personnel that are kept in the sole possession of the maker of the record and are not revealed to anyone except a substitute. Example: grade books and lesson plans.
      2. records of a law enforcement unit of an educational institution if the records are maintained separately from education records, maintained solely for enforcement purposes, and disclosed only to law enforcement officials of the same jurisdiction.
      3. records relating to an individual who is employed by an educational institution that are maintained in the normal course of business, related solely to the individual as an employee, and are not available for any other purpose. Exception: records of an individual who is employed by the educational institution as a result of his or her status as a student are educational records and are not excepted from coverage under this section. Examples include employment records of research and teaching assistants.
      4. records that contained information about an individual after he or she is no longer a student at the institution.
      5. records of a student that are made or maintained by a physician, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other recognized professional or paraprofessional acting in such capacity which are made or used only in connection with treatment of the student and are disclosed only to persons providing the treatment. Treatment does not include remedial educational activities or activities that are part of the program of instruction.
    1. FERPA provides that an institution must allow an eligible student to inspect and review his or her educational records. The educational agency must provide the records no later than 45 days after requested. The institution must respond to reasonable requests for explanations and interpretations of the records. And records may not be destroyed if there is an outstanding request for inspection. Records not subject to review include:
      1. financial records of the parents; and
      2. confidential letters and statements of recommendation if the student has waived the right to review and inspect these documents and the letters are related to the student's admission, application for employment, or receipt of an honor or honorary recognition. The waiver is valid only if it is not a condition of admission to the institution or of receipt of a benefit or service from the institution and if it is in writing and signed by the student. If the student provides such a waiver, the student shall receive, upon request, the names of the persons providing the recommendations, and the institution shall not use the letters for any purpose other than that for which they were originally intended. The student may revoke the waiver in writing; however, revocation affects actions only after it is received. In other words, a student may not revoke the waiver in order to see documents already received.
    2. If a student believes that the records contain inaccurate or misleading information or information that violates the student's right to privacy, the student may request that the institution amend the records. If the institution does not agree, it shall inform the student in writing and advise the student of the right to a hearing. If, as a result of the hearing, the institution agrees with the student, it shall amend the record and notify the student in writing. If the institution does not agree, it shall advise the student that he or she may place a written statement in the file contesting the information. If the student chooses this option, the statement must be maintained with the contested information and disclosed in conjunction with any release of the contested information. Minimum hearing requirements include:
      1. the hearing must be held within a reasonable time after the request;
      2. the student will be provided reasonable notice of the date, place, and time;
      3. the individual conducting the hearing must not have a direct interest in the outcome;
      4. the student must have a fair opportunity to present his/her case and may be assisted by an attorney;
      5. the decision must be in writing and rendered within a reasonable time after the hearing. It must be based solely on the evidence presented at the hearing and must include a summary of the evidence and the reasons for the decision.
    3. The courts have ruled that FERPA does not provide a means by which a student may obtain information on how a particular grade was assigned. "At most, a student is only entitled to know whether or not the assigned grade was recorded accurately in the student's record." Tarka v. Cunningham, 741 Supp. 1281 (W. D. Tex. 1990).
    1. In general, an eligible student's consent must be obtained prior to disclosing personally identifiable information from the student's educational records. The consent form must be in writing, stating the date, the records to be released, and the purpose of the disclosure. Exceptions to this rule include:
      1. directory information unless the student has requested in writing that all or any portion of those items designated as directory information not be disclosed;
      2. disclosures to internal officials who have a legitimate educational interest in the information;
      3. disclosures to another educational institution where the student seeks or intends to enroll;
      4. disclosure is to be made to authorized representatives of the Comptroller General of the U.S., the Secretary of Education, or state and local educational authorities;
      5. financial aid which the student has applied for or received if the disclosure is for the purpose of determining eligibility, amount or conditions of aid, or to enforce the terms and conditions of the aid;
      6. disclosures to organizations conducting studies for or on behalf of educational agencies to develop, validate, or administer predictive tests or student aid programs or to improve instruction;
      7. disclosures to accrediting agencies to carry out accrediting functions;
      8. parents of a dependent student, as defined by the Internal Revenue Code;
      9. disclosure is to comply with a lawfully issued subpoena or court order if the institution makes a reasonable effort to inform the student in advance of compliance;
      10. emergencies if knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals;
      11. disclosures of the results of disciplinary proceedings conducted by the institution against the alleged perpetrator of any crime to the alleged victims of any crime of violence.
    2. An educational institution has a duty to record and maintain each request and release of personally identifiable information from a student's educational records except when the request is received from an institution official, a parent or eligible student, or a person with written consent or when the request is for directory information.
    3. A student's privacy rights under FERPA and the Open Records Act terminate upon death. See, Open Records Decision 524, May 18, 1989.
    FERPA requires each institution to develop a policy spelling out the manner in which the institution advises parents and students of their rights under the act; the procedure to inspect and review records, including legitimate reasons to deny a request, and a schedule of fees for copying; a list of the types and locations of educational records, including the title of the individual responsible for those records; a statement that personally identifiable information will not be released without written consent except under the exceptions listed above; if the institution releases information to internal officials, specify the criteria for defining a legitimate educational interest; a list of the items which constitute directory information; a statement regarding the right to a hearing and an opportunity to correct or protest the record. The policy shall be in writing and available upon request.
    1. The Family Policy and Regulations Office of the Department of Education is authorized to investigate and review potential violations and to provide technical assistance regarding compliance issues.
    2. In the event that the office determines that a complaint is meritorious, the office shall recommend steps necessary to insure compliance with the act and provide a reasonable time for an institution to come into compliance.
    3. If an institution does not come into compliance, the department is authorized to terminate all or any portion of the institution's federal funds.
    4. There is no private right of action under FERPA; in other words, an aggrieved student may not bring suit in state or federal court for an alleged violation under the act. Tarka v. Franklin, 891 F.2d 102 (5th Cir. 1987) (Footer, 1992).

Back to Top