As with all nursing practice, how nurse faculty advise students should be based on evidence. However, the number of research studies regarding faculty advisement and nursing students is limited. This pioneering study provides beginning evidence that will help make educated decisions about faculty advising in prelicensure nursing programs.
The faculty advisor has an important role in facilitating the timely completion of prelicensure nursing programs. The course sequence in most nursing programs leaves little flexibility or margin for error, and there are few, if any, elective courses in the program sequence. A misstep in the sequencing of courses may lead to additional time and expense for the nursing student. Another concern is the grade point average required in math and science courses for transition into the nursing program. Because of the complexity of nursing programs, prenursing and nursing students tend to visit their advisors frequently. Harrison (2009) noted that the relationship between nurse faculty advisors and nursing students differs from the relationship between faculty advisors and students in other majors.
The traditional student, ages 18 to 22 years, is in the minority on many college campuses. Nontraditional students, the majority, meet at least one of the following criteria outlined by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, n.d.): delayed enrollment, attending part time, working full time, considered financially independent, has dependents other than spouse, is a single parent, or does not have a high school diploma. With the multiple responsibilities they have beyond their educational requirements, nontraditional students often struggle to fit in the time needed to meet with their academic and/or faculty advisors (Bell, 2012).
Nevertheless, academic advising is important to student retention. Swecker, Fifolt, and Searby (2013) found that the number of advisor meetings was a significant predictor of student retention in first-generation college students. Although some students may view advising as a waste of time, others want the security of meeting with an advisor to ensure timely completion of the program (Christian & Sprinkle, 2013). With the increase in blended or online options for courses in many nursing programs, nurse faculty members are utilizing various electronic and online options to provide faculty advising and eliminate the need for on-campus visits for students.
Several studies in the education literature have looked at student perceptions of academic advising. In the 2009 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report, academic advising rated among the top four student satisfiers based on institution type. Advisor approachability, knowledge, and being clear and reasonable were the top three important attributes noted (Noel-Levitz, 2009).
Qualitative research by Museus and Ravello (2010) identified humanizing the advising process; using a multifaceted, holistic approach; and being proactive as three qualities that positively influenced success. Barnes, Williams, and Archer (2010) identified positive advisor attributes as accessible, helpful, socializing, and caring. Researchers have also shown that, when academic advisors and faculty advisors possess these positive attributes, there is a positive impact on students’ success. In research completed with 1,200 engineering students, results indicated that students who were well advised stayed on track and progressed to graduation (Khalid & Williamson, 2014). In another study, a positive correlation was reported between the number of visits to the academic advisor and student retention in first-generation college students (Swecker et al., 2013).
Nursing Student Perceptions
There is a paucity of research related to academic advising and nursing students. Harrison (2009) determined that the nurse faculty advisor-nursing student relationship differed from the relationship between students of other majors and faculty advisors. Harrison identified two characteristics of an effective advisor not found previously in the education research: being authentic and possessing moral virtues such as caring and trustworthiness.
As more universities and colleges add online components or fully online programs, research pertaining to online advising has become necessary. Several researchers have examined students’ experience with online advising. Luna and Medina (2007) reported that 25 graduate students felt that in-person advising was not needed, whereas Gaines (2014) found that undergraduate students preferred face-to-face advising. Schroeder and Terras (2015) found that online students identified the need for the advisor as an essential link to the institution. They also found that online learners expect a much faster response in communication, within hours, as opposed to 24 to 48 hours for cohort or classroom students. Gravel (2012) surveyed 200 junior business major students and found that online students required prompt, personalized interaction with their advisors.
There are gaps in the literature with regard to nursing students’ perceptions of faculty advisors and their perceptions of online advising. The purpose of this study was to identify prelicensure nursing students’ perceptions of faculty advising. A secondary purpose was to determine students’ perceptions of the most effective method of faculty advising. The results from this study will add to the knowledge concerning prelicensure nursing students’ perceptions of academic advising.
Research Design and Setting
A descriptive research study was conducted. Data were collected via a Qualtrics Internet survey. The sample consisted of prelicensure nursing students who were members of a state student nurse association (SNA) in the northeastern United States. Inclusion criteria were prelicensure students 18 years and older. Power analysis was completed with a significance of .05 and power of .8. Using a medium effect size, a sample size of 88 complete data sets was required. The survey was sent to approximately 5,000 members of the state SNA. Inclusion criteria were assessed by questions at the beginning of the survey.
The Faculty Advisor Evaluation Questionnaire (FAEQ) was used to collect the data. Harrison (2012) developed and piloted the FAEQ, which consists of 30 items scored on a 6-point Likert-like scale. Scores are determined in four factors: Advising Session, Advocacy/Accountability for Student Welfare, Knowledge, and Availability. The total score indicates the student’s overall perception of faculty advising. Items are ranked as 5 (completely agree), 4 (generally agree), 3 (neither agree nor disagree), 2 (generally disagree), 1 (completely disagree), and 0 (not applicable).
Face validity and content validity were established by Harrison (2014). Reliability was established in a pilot study (Harrison, 2012), with Cronbach’s alpha at .81 for the total scale. In a follow-up study, Cronbach’s alpha for the total score was .98 (Harrison, 2014), and alphas for the four factors were as follows: Advising Session, .98; Advocacy/Accountability, .90; Knowledge, .94; and Availability, .84. In this study, the Cronbach’s alpha for the total FAEQ was .96; alphas for the four factors were as follows: Advising Session, .95; Advocacy/Accountability, .90; Knowledge, .89; and Availability, .71. These results indicate good reliability and are very similar to Harrison’s (2012) results.
Demographic and background data collected included gender, marital status, and nontraditional status. Additional questions asked for the most frequent method of advising and the student’s perception of the most effective method.
Institutional review board (IRB) and SNA Board of Directors approvals were obtained for this research prior to data collection. The SNA executive director emailed a letter from the researcher to members. The letter included information regarding confidentiality of data, reporting of aggregate data, the length of time required to complete the survey, permission to opt out at any time by not completing and/or submitting the questionnaire, and a link to the Qualtrics survey. To maintain anonymity, there was no way to link the survey to personal identifiers. Individuals who completed the survey could participate in a raffle for a $100 Amazon gift card.
Data were obtained from Qualtrics and exported into IBM SPSS Modeler 16 and cleaned. Missing data were replaced with the imputed mean. The data are maintained on the investigator’s password-protected computer and will be destroyed after three years.
Survey results were collected over an eight-week period. The email was distributed to approximately 5,000 SNA members in one state. Respondents were from various prelicensure programs throughout the state, including diploma and associate and baccalaureate programs. The response rate was 2.5 percent as 123 surveys were completed; 17 respondents did not answer the FAEQ questions and were excluded from the data analysis. The remaining 106 complete data sets were uploaded to SPSS.
Characteristics of the Sample
The majority of respondents, 92.3 percent (n = 96), identified as female; two respondents did not reply to this item. One respondent received a high school equivalency certificate; of the 105 high school graduates, 67 (63.2 percent) had graduated within the last four years; 31 respondents (29.2 percent) were considered nontraditional students based on starting college more than two years after high school graduation (NCES, n.d.).
Most respondents, 95.3 percent (n = 101), were attending school full time; 77 (72.6 percent) were working, with most (58.5 percent, n = 62) working part time. Those working full time (7.8 percent, n = 6) were considered nontraditional. Respondents were given the option of choosing indicators that would further identify them as nontraditional students; when these factors were considered, 65 percent of respondents (n = 69) were nontraditional students (see Table 1).
Most faculty advisors (78.3 percent, n = 83) were from the nursing department. The majority of advising sessions (76.4 percent, n = 81) were conducted face-to-face, with 12.3 percent (n = 13) conducted electronically. Of respondents choosing “other” (11.3 percent, n = 12) in response to the question about advising method, half (n = 6) reported in a free-text field that they had never met with their advisor. The remainder reported “meeting” by phone, email, or in class for advising.
The 13 respondents who chose “electronically” as the method of advising proceeded to a question regarding the method of electronic advising. Responses varied, from the computer application Tango (n = 1) to email (n = 12) to telephone (n = 1), with multiple responses permitted.
Student Perception of Faculty Advising
The result for the total FAEQ score was a mean score of 112.10 (SD = 31.47, median = 117, range 29 to 150). For the 15 questions evaluating the advising session, the total mean score was 58.62 (SD = 16.25, median = 62.0, range 14 to 75). For the five questions evaluating advocacy/accountability for student welfare, the total mean score was 15.30 (SD = 7.75, median = 16.5, range 0 to 25). For the six questions evaluating knowledge of the faculty advisor, the mean score was 22.75 (SD = 6.48, median = 24, range 0 to 30). For the four questions evaluating faculty advisor’s availability, the mean score was 15.43 (SD = 4.19, median = 16, range 1 to 20).
Most Effective Method of Faculty Advising
More than half of the respondents (58.5 percent, n = 62) reported that face-to-face advising was the most helpful method. This was followed by a combination of face-to-face and electronic advising (30.2 percent, n = 32). Only four respondents (3.8 percent) noted electronic methods to be the most helpful. Six respondents did not answer, and two provided missing data.
The response rate for this study, 2.5 percent, was much lower than the expected response rate for online surveys; response rates for online surveys typically range from 20 percent to 47 percent (Nulty, 2008). A number of factors likely contributed to the low response rate, including the timing. The first email, which coincided with finals week followed by winter break, received a low response; a reminder email, sent after winter break, resulted in sufficient returns required to meet the power analysis. If the researcher had personally accessed schools of nursing or used alternative ways of dissemination, such as social media, the response rate might have been better. As the low response rate introduces nonresponse bias (Bias in survey sampling, 2017), the results may not accurately represent the nursing student population, limiting generalizability.
Characteristics of the Sample
According to National League for Nursing 2013-2014 data, 85 percent of student nurses are female (NLN, 2014). The study sample had a higher percentage of female respondents at 92.3 percent. When all nontraditional factors are considered, the sample population was 65 percent nontraditional students, which corresponds with 2013 data from the NCES (Bell, 2012). Missing data related to gender may be associated with the limited gender responses permitted; future research should include transgender response options.
Student Perceptions of Faculty Advising
Previous research has helped identify the attributes that students value in a faculty advisor (Barnes et al., 2010; Museus & Ravello, 2010; Noel-Levitz, 2009). In the current study, utilizing the FAEQ (Harrison, 2014), respondents reported they were highly satisfied with their faculty advisor. Students who receive a high level of faculty advising are more likely to stay on track and progress to graduation (Khalid & Williamson, 2014). Future research should include data regarding the frequency of faculty advising visits.
Respondents in this study were highly satisfied with advisor attributes such as pleasant personality, manner of speaking, and making direct eye contact, attributes that add to the development of a positive relationship between the faculty advisor and nursing student. A supportive advisor-student relationship is helpful to the student’s transition to academic life (Chan, 2016).
The high level of satisfaction related to the advising session supports the need for holistic and complex advising reported by Schroeder and Terras (2015). With minority students, Museus and Ravello (2010) found that a faculty advisor who humanized the practice of advising added to the student’s success. Factors examined in the advising session (e.g., makes me feel welcomed, is kind to me, respects me) add to this feeling of humanization.
A high level of student satisfaction related to advocacy and accountability for student welfare helps the advisor to be the major link to the institution. The current study results support the findings of Schroeder and Terras (2015), who identified this link. The link between the advisor and the student not only supports the student but also helps develop loyalty to the institution.
The questions about knowledge examine the advisor’s knowledge of courses, policies, and progression, areas of advising that fit into the basic level of prescriptive advising (Crocker, Kahla, & Allen, 2014). The high levels of satisfaction with the advisor’s knowledge in this study compare well with the findings of Harrison (2014) and are especially important to nursing students. A misstep in courses in the nursing curriculum may result in an extra semester or even a year of studies (Harrison, 2009). Communication of changes in policies was one of the lower scored attributes in this area, indicating a continued need to improve communication processes with advisees.
The lowest mean score was on questions about the faculty advisor’s response time to emails. This result corresponds with previous research findings, indicating that students are not satisfied with faculty advisor response times (Schroeder & Terras, 2015). Interestingly, the previous research identified a difference in definitions of fast response. On-campus students considered within two days to be an adequate, whereas completely online students expected a response within hours. The current study did not ask for a definition of adequate response time.
Most Effective Method of Faculty Advising
Most respondents reported face-to-face advising to be the most helpful form of advisement. This finding is important since the majority of respondents were nontraditional students. Previous research has indicated that nontraditional students have trouble finding time for advising (Bell, 2012). It is worth noting that face-to-face advising does not necessarily need to take place in the faculty advisor’s office on campus. Other sites may provide better availability for meetings with nontraditional students, including clinical sites, local libraries, or even a local coffee shop. The nursing administration and faculty will need to identify suitable places and times for such meetings.
The study findings are significant to nursing faculty and school of nursing administration. Faculty should examine their advising sessions to ensure that they are providing both prescriptive and developmental aspects. The study findings indicate that improvements are necessary in prescriptive areas such as helping to select courses and plan class schedules. Likewise, developmental advising, involving developing educational goals and career goals, need improvement.
It is interesting that respondents’ perceptions about their faculty advisors’ knowledge of policies relevant to the plan of study were found to be high, whereas students were less pleased with how advisors informed them about policy changes that impacted them. This result indicates that communication with advisees should be examined and improved. Other areas for improvement include intervening on the student’s behalf and responding to student emails.
Because this is one of the first studies related to perspectives of faculty advising by nursing students, it is evident that current faculty advising programs are not evidence based. Faculty can use the FAEQ on an individual basis to prescribe improvements in their own advising sessions, knowledge, advocacy, and availability. Nursing programs can also use the FAEQ for program evaluation to determine student perceptions about program and individual advising. Accrediting bodies expect programs to continually assess and improve their programs. As changes are made, improvements can be demonstrated by positive FAEQ scoring.
Perhaps the most interesting finding is that face-to-face advising is perceived as the most helpful method of advising, even though the majority of respondents were nontraditional students. Nontraditional students have multiple responsibilities beyond their educational responsibilities and generally are challenged to find time to meet with faculty advisors. To provide options for nontraditional students, nurse faculty have attempted to use various online methods of advising, but little or no research exists that supports online advising methods as helpful or effective.
Replicating this study with a national, random sample of undergraduate students is recommended to provide more generalizability. In addition, studies comparing traditional and nontraditional students and full- and part-time students would provide additional information about the most appropriate methods of advising for these groups of students. Most advising programs are designed to meet the needs of the full-time, on-campus student, and this study showed that face-to-face advising is preferred. It would be interesting to determine if traditional students, who are technology natives, find online methods of advising to be preferable. Based on findings by Swecker et al. (2013), data regarding first-generation students should be added to future research.
Future research comparing student cohorts from different types of nursing programs will also provide additional insight. Given the high-stakes nature of nursing programs, it may be interesting to measure whether advising can reduce stress in nursing students. In addition, while there is research related to faculty perceptions of advising, it would be interesting to compare the advisor perceptions and student perceptions. Finally, research around the definition of adequate response time is supported by this research.
The response rate for this survey was only 2.5 percent, which limits the generalizability of the research results. Furthermore, a convenience sample of nursing students in one state was used, so results cannot be applied nationally. The email with the survey link was distributed by the SNA and not by the researcher, which resulted in the survey being distributed at an inopportune time in the school calendar.
The purpose of this research was to determine prelicensure nursing students’ perceptions of faculty advising and the most effective method of faculty advising. A descriptive study was conducted using a convenience sample of nursing students who were members of a state SNA; 106 respondents were included in the analyses.
The faculty advisor helps ensure the timely completion of the nursing program. This study demonstrated that prelicensure students perceived their faculty advisors to be knowledgeable, available, and advocates on their behalf. Advising sessions were perceived to be effective in meeting the students’ needs related to advising. The most helpful methods of advising were face-to-face advising or a combination of face-to-face and electronic methods. Thus, use of exclusively electronic methods of advising should be closely examined, as they may not meet students’ perceived needs.
A “one-size-fits-all” advising program may not meet the needs of all students. Future research should include national random samples. By comparing traditional and nontraditional and full- and part-time students, nursing programs can use evidence-based findings to design the advising program that is most appropriate to their students’ needs.