Melinda Roy

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

Every time I move, I reassess my growing space for sunlight, soil type, and space before starting my garden. Sustainable gardens are often built with the location and climate in mind. What grows in this location naturally? What have I seen in a similar climate that I want to harvest? Are there factors I can control, and at what cost, to grow the plants I want? These are the same questions that Strategic Enrolment Management asks, and that an Academic Advising restructure must ask.

If educating your community is your goal, what are the types of plants that grow naturally in this environment? What plants are endangered or are in decline in your area? What do they need to thrive? Who in your student community is your academic advising program serving? Who needs what kind of support, and what groups currently are lacking advising support?

Does the kind of student, and their needs, require a different kind of advisor? Some gardeners have honed their skills in floral design, while others are vegetable gardens, and others focused on low or no-water designs.

Knowing the plants and having the skills needed to care for them, in most Canadian climates, is secondary to understanding the season, soil, sun, and precipitation conditions where the garden is located. Many Canadian post-secondary institutions also have a mandate to serve their immediate community as well as their international students, so the advising approach must be designed to meet the needs of both groups. Many institutions practicing strategic enrolment management choose to go with a hybrid model for this reason.

Hybrid Advising Models:

A hybrid model with a problem-based approach identifies and assigns responsibility to two types of learning that occur in advising: “the logic of education”, how each course relates and fits together on a learning path tailored to the student (McFarlane, 2013), and subject level learning (Lowenstein, 2005). The first can be understood as the teaching role of the central office (what program path suits my interest and skills, what supports are available to me, what courses do I take when), and the latter as the teaching role of the program advisor (how can I succeed in this course and/or specialization, how do I get into a clinical placement).

In a hybrid model with a developmental approach, the centralized advising office is responsible for empowering students early decision-making, embedding students into the campus community, and increasing students self-understanding. The role of program advisors is then to empower students in the mid or later part of their studies, focusing on completion and graduation, specialization, and work experience or practicum placements.

The Satellite Model is like dividing a large garden into parts, and placing plants together based on their mature features (intended outcomes). Students are sorted by program or academic unit and receive advising services from an office located within their unit. Sorting declared students is easy, and students generally know where to go for advising. Undeclared students are often assigned to their own advising office.


Advising is provided by staff whose time is split between advising and other support duties. Students may be assigned a particular faculty advisor after they’ve declared a major, or upon completing a specific number of credits in a program.

The program advising needs of students in different academic units likely vary, but this may ignore the unique needs of students from different demographic backgrounds. Not all plants that flower require the same type of soil or sunlight.

The Total Intake Model is like starting seeds indoors before transplanting them in the garden. This model assigns all entering students to a cohort and directs them to a central advising office. After students have completed a predetermined set of criteria (such as number of credits, completion of courses for admission to a major), students are reassigned to a faculty or specialized advisor for their program. This model enables early career advising to take a developmental approach, as this advising focuses on holistic learning, skill development, and decision-making needs of students based on their individual characteristics before moving them to a more outcomes-focused prescriptive or problem-based advising approach. Under this model, the involvement of advisors in program and policy development varies according to the structure and needs of the institution. This model can help address unbalanced faculty-advisor-student ratios at institutions using a fully decentralized model.


The Dual Advising model is like container gardening with sunflowers, where plants follow the sun throughout the day, or where their container can be picked up and moved throughout the season to get more sun. Students are assigned both a Faculty and general advisor, and can choose where to seek out support, where both the generalist and Faculty advisors are responsible for knowing their own limitations and referring the student to the other as appropriate. The central office provides general advising services about registration, process and policy, while Faculty advisors focus on complex program and course selection decisions.


In The Split Advising model, students are grouped according to their academic standing and program progress. Students might be assigned advisors based on their completed credits or year level, special circumstances, identity, or specific support needs. A central advising office serves undecided or general studies students, and those considering a program transfer. This approach is like managing a greenhouse garden where you weren’t sure what kind of seeds you planted, and as they grow become more identifiable. All seedlings need a lot of warmth, so they might be placed on a high shelf in the greenhouse, until they are moved elsewhere once they’re mature enough to identify. But some plants like tomatoes are identifiable early on as seedlings, with distinct leaf shapes, so can be sorted appropriately within weeks of sprouting.


The Supplementary Advising Model is like companion planting, where as plants mature they begin to depend on each other to provide specific supports. As corn grows tall, beans rely on them as a trellis. But beans provide nitrogen to the soil to allow the corn to grow strong. Squash grows low to the ground and is quick to sprout, providing cool shade to tender bean shoots. This model focuses on providing professional development support from the central office to Faculty advisors, while the central office also advises students on paperwork, support referrals, academic conduct, complaints, graduation audits, and manages retention initiatives. Faculty advisors can then focus on program and course advising, and orientation. Further, the central advising office may even provide administrative support and physical space for faculty advising appointments to take place.


The two non-hybrid models are the Faculty Onlymodel, and the Self-Contained model. The Faculty Only model is like row planting a garden—students are assigned a faculty member in their speciality of choice, and advising takes a prescriptive approach focused on academics only.. A prescriptive approach expects the same growth journey and supports to be appropriate for all students within an academic subunit, with few additional supports offered for those with needs that fall outside the norm.


The Self-Contained model is a fully centralized, self-contained advising office, which employs professional advisors, counsellors, and in rare cases, faculty advisors. They have a dedicated physical space, which maximizes office visibility, but have little interaction with the academic subunits. A successful self-contained model would have a dedicated and active channel of communication for professional advisors to send and receive information, ask questions, and collaborate with the various academic units in order to provide accurate program information.


Where the faculty-only model may encounter challenges with providing accurate information about institution policy and procedure, in a self-contained model, advisors tend to be experts. In a self-contained model, advisors must have extensive training and research skills, and be enmeshed in program meetings and decision-making if they are to adequately advise on program-specific matters. In both these models, the garden is neatly organized, but certain student needs may go unmet. Students know where to go for advising, yet may find the advice they receive lacking. Some students may need additional program-specific advice if they are on a unique path to growth that may not be the expertise of advisors in a self-contained model, while others may need specific accommodation or financial support which are not within the expertise of Faculty advisors. In either model, it can be easy for students to go without supports that help them thrive if communication and collaboration is not developed between service areas, operations, and academic subunits in the background.

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Gordon, V., Habley, W., Grites, T., et al. (2008). Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook. (2nd edition). Jossey-Bass

Habley, W. R. (1983). Organizational Structures for Academic Advising: Models and Implications. Journal of College Student Personnel, 24(6), 535-540.

Habley, W., & Morales, R. (1998). Current practices in academic advising: Final report on ACT's fifth national survey of academic advising. National Academic Advising Association Monograph Series, 6.

Iatrellis, O., Kameas, A., and Fitsilis, P. (2017). Academic advising systems: a systematic literature review of empirical evidence, Education Sciences, (7,4). Retrieved from:

Keenahan, J., Casero, M., Cotterill, S., O'Loughlin, F., O'Sullivan, J., Donohue, S., . . . Purcell, P. (2022). Academic Advising in Civil Engineering: Design and Evaluation of a Hybrid Model. Education Sciences.

McFarlane, B. L. (2013). Academic Advising Structures that Support First-year Student Success and Retention. UMI Dissertation Publishing.