The academic advising department at UCCS experiences noticeably high turnover rates, recognized by both students and department staff.
Secondary education major Catalina Ramirez has had three advisors in her four years at UCCS. She agreed to share her experience with advising over the course of that time.
Out of her three advisors, Ramirez felt that she had a strong relationship with one of them, Cara Elliott. She expressed gratitude toward Elliott for building their relationship but felt that it lacked depth because Elliott had so many students to build relationships with.
“She fully remembered who I was, what I was doing and everything, so she definitely had that connection there, but at the same time it felt like she was always rushing me through because she had so much to do,” Ramirez said.
While Elliott’s individual caseload at the time cannot be determined, Director of Academic Advising, Brett Fugate, reported that caseload sizes currently range from 300:1 to 500:1 with the median caseload being 355:1.
When Elliott left UCCS in January of 2023, Ramirez was left without an advisor, and nine months later Elliott is still listed as Ramirez’ advisor on her student portal. This leaves Ramirez with no individual advisor to connect with.
When Ramirez switched her major from visual arts to secondary education, she had to connect with advisors, department heads and other offices, which overwhelmed and confused her.
“If you don’t know exactly what you need, they kind of just pass you around from person to person in hopes that one of them will maybe answer the questions you have,” Ramirez said. “If they are confused on their end with what they have to do and their workload, it confuses us too.”
Following the departure of her most recent advisor, Ramirez feels she’s had to navigate her degree alone. “I’ve just kind of been roughing it out, trying to figure it out on my own and I feel like I’ve gotten more help in advising from my professors than I have from actual advisors here,” Ramirez said.
Heads of academic advising are aware of the issues students have been facing and are working to find solutions to the department’s problems. Fugate, who has worked in the department for 12 years, is advocating for higher pay and lighter caseloads for advisors.
“The reality is our pay in advising, and frankly a lot of our pay at UCCS for our frontline staff does not match what is needed to live in Colorado Springs,” Fugate said.
Fugate has been working to improve advisor pay, saying, “We were able this last year to at least bump up advisor pay. We used to start at about $44,000 which is not much at all, we bumped that up another $2500 or so just to help. We’re not there yet, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
During his time as director, Fugate has worked to implement a system of upward mobility within the department by creating new roles including senior advisor and lead advisor.
Advisors who have been in their position for three years have the opportunity to become a senior advisor and take on more responsibility. Advisors can also apply to be a lead advisor, a position in which they would have a caseload of their own and act as supervisors to a team of advisors.
Fugate isn’t the only person in the department who sees a need for more employees. Senior business management major Shea Moss is a student employee in the academic advising office. Moss is one of three front desk assistants who answer phone calls, schedule appointments, and connect students with advisors.
“We don’t have a big enough budget to get more front desk [employees], which can be challenging with our school schedules,” Moss said.
Like Fugate, Moss also recognized that low salaries play a big part in the department’s turnover. “I think with the turnover we’re having, or we’ve had, it’s not really the culture it’s more of the money part, which is not the best obviously,” Moss said.
Fugate also spoke of the department culture, saying, “Something I think we excel at is having a group that is passionate about students, passionate about the student journey, and wanting to help.”
While Fugate spoke highly of the advisors, he recognized some of the department’s shortcomings.
“When something doesn’t look right or something’s off on the degree plan it shouldn’t be up to the student to recognize that on their own, as a campus we should be doing a better job of helping that student understand what’s happening,” he said.
Fugate also recognized the frustration students may have with the department or their advisor. “If [students] aren’t happy with their advising experience, we’re happy to listen to that and we’re happy to take that feedback in and adjust things,” Fugate said.
According to the Division of Student Affairs’ Impact Report on academic advising for the 2023 fiscal year, provided by Fugate via email, advisor retention is one of the biggest issues facing the department. The report listed staff retention as one of the top priorities for the 2024 fiscal year.
Academic advising employees help student check in for appointments or schedule appointments with advisors. Pictured is Mya Guerra (left) and Shea Moss (right). Photo by Kira Thorne.