Handle with care: the significance of caring in academic advising

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Holmes, Cole Evan

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This qualitative study explores the nature of caring and its significance in college and university academic advising. Although care has often been mentioned in academic advising literature as a key component in the process, no effort has been made to define what is meant by “caring” or to describe what caring looks like or what it entails. The focus of this inquiry was to examine caring as expressed in the practices of professional advisors in their relationships with the undergraduate students they advise. Guided by Nel Noddings’s (1984) exploration of the ethic of care and its implications in the caring encounter, the work of ten professional academic advisors was examined to provide a rich description of the characteristics of caring advising. Constructivist-based research methodology utilized for this study included purposeful sampling, videotaped participant observation, and advisor and student interviews. Multiple data sources and collection methods established trustworthiness and ensured the rigor of the study. Constant comparative analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) was used to identify patterns, code data, and categorize findings. Respondents’ voices are expressed through rich, descriptive vignettes to reveal the qualities and characteristics that define the important role caring plays in academic advising. The findings indicated that caring is enacted in the meaningful relationships professional advisors build and sustain with students. Findings also revealed that caring advisors practice maternalism and mentorship in their work with students and also balance power in these significant relationships. Caring advising is characterized by an advisor’s preparation for the encounter, and his or her commitment to trust, sincerity, accuracy, and knowledge. Caring cannot be achieved by formula and is, at times, inconsistently present in advising practice. The conclusions indicate that the caring relationship between an advisor and his or her students greatly enhances students’ educational experiences. This study will make a significant contribution to the academic advising profession as well as scholarship in the field. By studying experienced caring advisors, the existing theory of the ethic of care is enhanced to offer a better understanding of the impact caring has in advising practices.