Advising Online Graduate Students: It's More Than "What Class Comes Next?"

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

In this online Ed.D. program, advising is more than, “What class comes next?” The Graduate Advising Space (GAS) offers traditional academic support along with a means of socializing as an Ed.D. student, and provides community with peers and faculty as cohort students progress through the program.


Kristi A. Preisman, Ph.D. is an associate professor and program director for the online Doctorate of Educational Leadership program at College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Nebraska. Her research interests include online education, adult learning, and educator dispositions.

Extended Abstract

The national attrition rate in doctoral programs hovers around 50% due to factors such as student demographics, high college costs, technology challenges, isolation, poor program fit, and motivation, among others. Some authors (Cassuto, 2013; Gilmore, Wofford, & Maher, 2016) bring to light that the blame may not necessarily lie with the student who is leaving the program, but rather with the graduate department itself. The field of online advising, which has been highlighted more recently in the literature, may be beneficial in helping retain Ed.D students. Knowing that online advising is different than face-to-face advising, the program director of this Doctorate in Educational Leadership program has taken a different approach to advising online students.

At this small Catholic university, the online doctoral program in Educational Leadership (Ed.D) feels the impact of attrition. Many times, students will exit the program because of significant external factors, such as finances, health, or family-work-life balance. However, there are also instances that are more directly related to ‘softer’ reasons of personal, professional and/or academic success or fit within the program. The program director recognizes that some circumstances are beyond the control of the program, but as she continues her tenure as director, she realizes that there is more that can be done within the program to support students and help decrease overall attrition. One way in which the director and her faculty are trying to positively impact students’ time and success in the program is with the Graduate Advising Space (GAS).

Currently, the Ed.D. program is not large enough to employ a full-time advisor on staff. The program director is then left with the additional responsibility for of advising each student in the program. Acknowledging the responsibility this places on program director, the GAS, which has been developed based on various theoretical frameworks, has become a substantial ‘member’ of the Ed.D. program. This space has evolved over the past four years and continues to change based on the ever-changing needs of students entering the program. The GAS was originally created to communicate basic advising information, such as plan of study, textbook information, cohort and faculty contact information, and introductory videos. It has since morphed into a support resource for students to which they have access to prior to the start of courses through the completion stage of their dissertation. The Graduate Advising Space is based on the core values from NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising, as well as theory related to socialization (Bragg, 1976) and community in online learning (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2010). This presentation will address the strategies and tools currently used (as well as ideas that are scheduled for creation and implementation in the 2019 fall cohort) to positively impact the Ed.D. students’ experiences and, hopefully, decrease attrition.  This advising space provides more information for students than “What class do I take next?” The GAS offers academic support, a means of socializing as an Ed.D. student, and offers each student a community with peers and faculty.

Through an explanation of key components of the Graduate Advising Space, the objectives addressed in this presentation are:

  1. Using Core Competency Areas for Academic Advising (NACADA), participants will identify, through interactive technology, how their personal (or potential) online advising practices address or do not address the core competency areas.
  2. Using sample pieces from the GAS, the presenter will identify the frameworks of socialization and community within this online advising setting and how these pieces may positively impact graduate involvement and within the program.
  3. Using sample pieces of the GAS as a platform for discussion, participants will provide input regarding personal strategies and practice that enhance socialization and community in a graduate online advising space.