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GRCC Students Report High Satisfaction With Academic Advising, But Getting In Is The Problem

GRCC sign shows opportunities for students at the college. (Lillian Linscott/The Collegiate)

By Brandon Smith

Like getting past the intimidating bouncer at a nightclub, Grand Rapids Community College students have expressed frustration with getting into academic advising appointments. Those who get through the doors often sing the advisers’ praises, but others feel as though they’re left standing in line outside.

The process to get an appointment with an adviser should be straightforward, yet some students are reporting confusion with the Navigate app and frustration at only having options for online appointments. For some, speaking into a microphone is far more uncomfortable than speaking face-to-face.

“Most of my appointments are done online,” says Natalie Onderko, a 19-year-old Fine Arts major. “(The adviser) was really nice. She helped me out with a lot of planning out classes, she helped when I changed my (degree path) to Fine Arts.”

Onderko said they were impressed with the work that the GRCC staff is doing to ensure that students like them were informed about their degree paths. However, other students have trouble getting the help they need.

“All (my adviser) has is virtual appointments, so she’s never there,” says Tyleesha Hightower, a 24-year-old from Kalamazoo currently majoring in medicine. Hightower expressed that she was uncomfortable with speaking over Zoom and frustrated with the long wait time. “Her appointments are so far away. If I need to ask questions about something, I have to ask my teachers because she’s not available.”

Last year, the Collegiate reported that the Navigate app would be coming to GRCC. The intention was that the app would make it easier for students to receive academic advice, but it has since become the default way to arrange an appointment with an adviser. When a student visits the Academic Advising and Transfer Center, the staff behind the front desk guide them to a computer and have them set up the appointment themselves.

“It’s virtual,” Hightower throws up her hands in exasperation. “Why?”

The Academic Advising and Transfer Center, recently relocated to the first floor of the Raleigh J. Finkelstein Building, is a crucial resource for students to make it to graduation. It is recommended by GRCC that students seek help from the advisers to make decisions about their academic futures.

“At this time, we’re making due with what we have and the number of faculty members on our team,” stated Kaelee Steffens, Program Director of Academic Advising, in an email to the Collegiate. Steffens has served in the role for four months, and has previous experience in Admissions and Enrollment, the TRIO Program, and other academic departments. “What this means for a student: we do our best to offer opportunities outside of a scheduled appointment, such as an electronic academic plan where we send them their course recommendations electronically.”

In her time as department head, Steffens has worked to assign students to one adviser to facilitate a more personal understanding of a student’s needs. She has also broadened the methods that advisers use to communicate with students, from in-person meetings to emails to even texting.

“I do think Navigate makes it easier for students to connect with their adviser,” Steffens wrote. “Students are able to see their ‘Care Team’ from Navigate, and they can schedule the appointment right from their Navigate Portal. So, if a student is off work at 7 p.m. and our center is closed, they can still hop on Navigate and set up an appointment with us. They don’t have to wait for us to reopen the next day.”

That said, Steffens is still sympathetic to any student who may have issues scheduling an appointment or getting a response from their assigned adviser.

“I want students to know that if they are having a difficult time reaching their assigned adviser, they can always reach out to me.” Steffens wrote. “We don’t want any student to go without the support and service they need.”

Including Director Steffens, the Academic Advising and Transfer department consists of 14 individuals. For comparison, at the beginning of the Winter 2023 semester, there were approximately 11,000 students enrolled at GRCC according to. Even if only half of those students sought academic advising, that would mean each faculty member would be responsible for almost 400 students each.

“(My adviser) did not respond to my emails, but I did end up going through the front desk in order to set up an appointment,” says Alejend Bowman, a 22-year-old audio engineering major. “It was a good experience. She pointed me in the direction that I needed to go. It’s kind of their passion, helping students.”

To make an appointment, the Academic Advising and Transfer center can be reached at advising@grcc.edu or called at (616) 234-3900. Steffens can be reached directly at kaeleesteffens@grcc.edu.

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