Academic advisers overwhelmed, exhausted by increased workloads

The transition from online to in-person learning and high staff turnover rates has overwhelmed advisors at students’ expense.

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The Fall 2021 semester has been a tough transition period for not just students but staff as USC returns to in-person learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Advising departments across the university are struggling with higher than usual workloads and staff turnover rates.

Some students have experienced longer response times from their advisers, and many have faced trouble scheduling meetings.

Sophia Kruger, a freshman studying computer science, immediately encountered issues with advising upon starting the school year.

“I didn’t have an adviser for the first two months of school,” Kruger said. “After I got my adviser, she didn’t reach out to me, so I had to reach out to her to schedule a meeting about my four-year plan. Two days after that meeting she said that she was no longer my adviser, and I don’t know if I even have an adviser right now.”

Katarina Barron, an academic adviser in the Dornsife Department of Economics, said the problems are derived from high turnover rates in the advising departments, and that people in her department were leaving “left and right.”

“I feel like at the very beginning of this semester throughout the month of September, every week there was somebody leaving,” Barron said. “Whether they were just leaving the department or leaving USC in general, there was an alarming rate of advisers leaving.”

Due to the high turnover rate, Barron claims that some advisers have doubled their workload, causing them to struggle in connecting with students while maintaining a work-life balance.

“We’re so stretched thin that we can’t help our students the way we want to help our students,” she said. “There are eight-hour workdays and unless we’re working overtime, which they will not pay us for, it’s impossible to get to our students. It’s frustrating in the sense that this is a job of helping and I feel like I can’t help all of my students because I have too many.

Barron said she advises nearly 400 students, double that of her usual caseload.

On top of staff turnover, USC Dornsife Program Specialist Alex Eloriaga also attributed the difficulties advisers face to the transition from online to in-person learning.

“We’re all going through a pandemic and we are transitioning now to having this hybrid,” Eloriaga said. “We just came back from all online and we have to find the balance of that on top of the fact that we are now having cases where we have a lot of turnovers. We now have more caseloads because we’re covering for an adviser who’s no longer here.”

Sophomore music industry major Vlad Vutov believes the solution is increasing staff.

“They definitely should have more advisers if the workload is too much and do everything they can to make sure it’s balanced and students can get the help they need in time,” Vutov said.

Advising departments and the university have been working on providing resources for students to receive additional help outside of direct meetings or emails. Senior Associate Director of Annenberg Undergraduate Advising JaBari Brown mentioned Academic Advisor Connect as an additional service that was rolled out in the fall semester to support students.

“If students have questions about quick policy like pass/no pass or add/drop, they can access that website which has all the FAQs from the recently released Provost memo about the revised policy for this semester,” Brown said.

Although advisors and students have both struggled this semester, Eloriaga believes everyone is in it together.

“You have your own experiences, obviously, and it is different from what USC staffers are feeling,” Eloriaga said. “But we’re all at least on the same team. We have different roles and different experiences, but this is not a super great time for anybody, and everyone’s just trying to do their best.”