Accidental Career Paths: An Exploration of the Lived Experiences of Professional Academic Advisors

Susan M Klusmeier, University of Pennsylvania


As colleges and universities face increasing pressure from policy makers to demonstrate undergraduate student success, campus leaders have turned to professional academic advisors to help achieve institutional retention, persistence, and completion goals. Even as academic advising is seen as critical to student success, the financial limitations facing many public institutions places academic advising programs in a situation where they must continually make a case to receive the resources necessary to provide quality advising services. The increased use of nonfaculty academic advisors— along with the expanding body of knowledge and skills they must have to support students despite limited resources—calls for an understanding of who professional academic advisors are, what motivates them, the knowledge and skills they bring to their work, and how they continue to grow and develop in their roles. For this study, qualitative research methods were used to examine how the lived experiences of 21 professional academic advisors informed their work with students and their professional identity. Study participants had at least five years of advising experience and represented three different large, public, doctoral universities with the highest research activity in the Midwest. Semistructured interviews and focus groups were conducted with participants to explore how their personal experiences, educational backgrounds, and work environments have influenced advising approaches, career aspirations, and professional identity. Narrative inquiry (Clandinin, 2013; Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) along with Dewey’s (1938/1955) theory of experience was utilized to inform the study design and data analysis. Four main conclusions, grounded in the findings of this study, are offered and categorized as: (1) Advisors as Teachers and Learners, (2) The Missing Advisor Perspective, (3) An Institution of Silos, and (4) Professional Identity through an Institutional Lens. The findings of this study can help inform administrators as to the strengths and limitations in advisor experiences, programs, and practices. Additionally, the findings suggest opportunities to strengthen the professional identity of academic advising. Ultimately, this study highlights how attending to the lived experiences of professional academic advisors in the complex and changing context of the large university enables institutional leaders to enhance important educational and institutional outcomes.

Subject Area

Higher Education Administration|Education|School counseling|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Klusmeier, Susan M, "Accidental Career Paths: An Exploration of the Lived Experiences of Professional Academic Advisors" (2017). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10287688.