Engineering Student Experiences Building Relationships with Academic Advisors in a Distance Program
Enrollment in distance higher education programs has grown tremendously over the past 20 years and continues to grow today at a rate faster than main campus programs. Higher education institutions are responsible for providing support services that encourage student success and satisfaction in distance programs. Distance students have different characteristics than traditional campus enrollees including being older, more likely to be employed, and more likely to be supporting a family (Burke, 2017). Research has shown that students who integrate into their higher education experience by engaging with peers, faculty, and staff have more successful outcomes than those who do not (Astin, 1984; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Tinto, 1993). Academic advising is one student services component that is well suited for engagement with students and providing an avenue toward a meaningful relationship that promotes successful outcomes. Students with strong relationships with an academic advisor are more informed, prepared, motivated, confident, and have a greater sense of belonging (Kyte, Collins, & Deil-Amen, 2020; Powell, Demetriou, & Fischer, 2013; Smith & Allen, 2014). Understanding this relationship in a distance setting provides pathways to better student support services and outcomes.This research used a qualitative single case study method to explore the relationships between engineering distance students and academic advisors. Through interviews with 17 current students and review of seven advising-related documents, I sought to better understand how and why distance students build relationships with academic advisors through the three pillars of Moore’s Transactional Distance Theory – structure, dialogue, and autonomy. Students experienced advising structures through orientation, required advising, and advisor availability. The advisor and students created dialogue through the modes of communication used, proactive outreach, advisor attitude, and personalization. Students viewed themselves as highly autonomous but still needed an advisor to balance academic and personal responsibilities, to work through unforeseen situations, and for confirming information.