Melinda Roy

This is the second post in the Cultivating Advising Success series. Start at the first post, Cultivating Advising Success: Should You Restructure Your Advising?

When might it be time to uproot a plant, throw it out, or move it to a new spot? While orderly plant rows make a garden easy to maintain, you may lose out on the benefits of companion planting. Strategic garden planting may take many approaches: one strategic gardener may plant companion plants that ward off pests from each other, while another may group plants together based on what they provide each other for structure, sunlight, and sprouting time (think three-sisters plantings of corn, beans, and squash), while others may be willing to battle soil nematodes if it means they can produce sweeter tasting fruit by planting tomatoes next to basil. Similarly, there are many ways to do Strategic Enrolment Management, and Advising is just one plant in the garden plot. What units need to be in close proximity to support it? What processes slow down their work and might need to be kept at a distance or responsibility transitioned elsewhere?

By looking at not just the single struggling plant, but knowing how those around it use up water in the soil, block sunlight, or attract particular pests, one can determine if it’s the struggling plant needs to move, or if the plant simply needs more frequent watering than its neighbors.

If the established mission and goals of advising constrain its ability to provide students with the resources they need, then it might be time to rip up the advising plant and put it in new soil. Academic advising has gone through three main theoretical evolutions: Problem-based, Prescriptive-based, and Developmental advising. While best practices for advising may be different depending on the institution type, educational offerings, and community it services, many institutions in North America who practice SEM are moving to a Developmental approach. The Developmental approach recognizes advising as another area where education and learning take place – the student is seen from a holistic perspective, and the advisor’s role is to act as a guide to support their whole development as a human, rather than to tell a student what set of courses to take (prescriptive), or to address only the current issue the student presents (problem-based).

A developmental approach looks to understand a problem and its solution at its roots, in who the student is, their goals, achievements, and capabilities, and works with the student to develop their skills and design a strategy to solve problem. This learning, of skills and strategic thinking, will help the student develop independence, self-worth, and research skills, in ways that problem-based advising cannot. In problem-based advising, only the issue at hand is addressed, without necessarily preparing or improving the student skills to ensure the problem does not repeat in the future. A prescriptive approach may acknowledge the cause of the problem but is focused on what the effect is now and prescribing a pathway forward. It does not seek to fix the underlying problem, or to remove a roadblock, but instead determine a new direction altogether.

In reality, advisors at times will provide all of these types of guidance at different times. Plants need soil, structure, sun, and water to thrive. But a thriving garden is the result of intentional planting, monitored watering, scheduled fertilizing, and regular time investment to thin, pinch, prune, and weed. An advising practice thrives in the same way: intentional design, monitored growth, scheduled review and renewal, and consistent, regular investment in its staff, technology, communication.

A common sign that a garden isn’t thriving or is ill-suited to its environment and climate, is the lack of pollinators. The cycle of predator booms and bumper crop years are less indicators of the overall health of a garden, than is the decline in pollinating visitors. Healthy plants act as hosts for hive-building, egg-laying, and foraging adult pollinators. Knowing which metrics and on what scale to evaluate the health of a garden, and of an advising practice, likely means having a long-term view on the results, and knowing what factors on those results were controllable or not. When many plants consistently struggle year over year, despite their blooming, despite the deep roots, or the consistent watering, and the harvest has been declining over years, then it’s time toss out the old plants and buy new seeds. This kind of decline will be felt across many departments, not just academic advising.

A restructure might mean developing a Strategic Enrolment Management plan: to foster cross-unit collaboration, design new communication channels, implement new technologies, extend use of institutional data, and develop new processes to move the institution towards sustainability, and its parts toward companionable growth.

Connect with us on LinkedIn to see when the next in the series is posted, or sign up for our Newsletter to be notified when the series is published in full. The Cultivating Advising Success series will cover the following topics:

  1. Cultivating Advising Success: Should You Restructure Your Advising?
  2. Cultivating Advising Success: Theoretical Approaches
  3. Cultivating Advising Success: Structural Models
  4. Cultivating Advising Success: Advisor and Advisee Types
  5. Cultivating Advising Success: A Strategic Approach to the Advising Review


Hagen, P. and Jordan, P. (2008). Theoretical foundations of academic advising. In Gordon, Habley, Grites & Associates (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook.(pp 17-35). Jossey-Bass.

Flaherty, Colleen. (2023). Nearly Half of Students Lack Key Academic Guidance. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges & Universities.

Wall Kimmerer, Robin. (2013). The Three Sisters. In Braiding Sweetgrass. Milkweed Editions.

Young, D., and Zeng W. (2021). An ecological approach to understanding the scholarship of advising practice and administration, New Directions for Higher Education, 51-64.