Most of the students who consult with IU East academic advisor Liz Ferris have a couple of things in common—they're completing their undergraduate degree in psychology, and they are doing so online. Otherwise they're a diverse population: some are transfers from two-year programs like Ivy Tech Community College, some have credits from four or five different institutions, and some are non-traditional students returning to finish their degrees.
How online advising works
The three full-time advisors at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) at IU East serve various populations, including online and face-to-face students studying English, communication studies, criminal justice, political science, psychology, and general studies. "We're a small campus," said Ferris, "small enough that we know most of our students by name."
Part of Ferris's role is to work with the transfer coordinator in the Office of Admissions to evaluate the credits students transfer toward their IU degree. For those new to online study, she explains how faculty generally build courses around a weekly schedule of modules. She cautions students that online work may require a higher level of rigor than on-campus work and that planning a week's study takes discipline. Ironically, she finds that students who are busiest tend to be the most organized and the most likely to thrive.
Ferris holds herself to a high standard. She gives her students in-depth individual attention, hoping to help them overcome what might initially feel like a remote experience. "I want to know more about them than appears on their transcripts," she said. "I ask about their academic backgrounds. I also want to hear their stories, to understand what has led them to IU and their chosen academic program. We try really hard to build rapport with students. This rapport helps us know what electives to recommend."
One student had had a career as a luthier, hand-crafting wooden stringed instruments. "She came to me needing to find a career that didn't involve using her hands," said Ferris. "She'd contracted rheumatoid arthritis and was forced to give it up. She returned to IU East to earn the credentials to launch a new career as a counselor and found that online learning fit her." Another student in his 30s was embarrassed about the poor GPA he'd earned as an 18-year-old. "Your experience isn't unique," Ferris reassured him, as they worked to plan a route out of his academic probation.
Why IU East?
By the time Ferris sees students, they've googled online programs. They recognize the significance of the IU brand. They see "IU," and that automatically has value for them. "When I ask students why they chose IU Online," said Ferris, "they say, 'It's Indiana University.' I tell them, 'You're right. IU Online is Indiana University. It is one system with one Board of Trustees, and courses are developed and taught by IU's own highly credentialed faculty. What's required of face-to-face students is also required of you.'"
"Among all these students, not one has ever said of the online experience, 'This is less than what I'd expected,'" said Ferris. "They know their IU degree will be recognized." Once initially skeptical about online learning, Ferris is a convert. "Now that I see how faculty handle classes, their standards of excellence, and the rigor of their courses, I can't say enough," said Ferris. "My work here is a pleasure. Faculty make it so easy to recommend their programs. I often tell them I think they're All Stars."