two women meet in a student success center

Online vs. In-Person Student Success Centers: Which is better in higher ed?

The recent pandemic has changed the world, from business to socializing, even education has been drastically altered by the change from largely in-person operations to those that are mainly remote or distance-based. One of the ways that the educational landscape has been forever changed is in how students are supported before, during, and after enrolment. 

Since we have been considerably shifted toward a more virtual experience in nearly all instances, there have been some well-deserved questions about whether the distanced approach is as effective as the traditional in-person approach. There are certainly some benefits, as well as some drawbacks, but are the former worth the latter? We’re going to take a close look at the online experience versus the traditional in-person experience, and whether one is better than the other for student success. 


Do students perform better when they are supported online or in person?

There have been several studies published regarding the effects of online activity on the resulting final exam performance of students in higher learning facilities. The results of which seem to indicate that the in-person activities resulted in better performance than online. In nearly all randomized investigations, online advising resulted in lower overall performance in finals testing.


What are the pros and cons of in-person student success centers?

In-person advising, or traditional advising, has several benefits and drawbacks. Here are the most common. 


Allows For Stronger Relationships

One of the biggest benefits of in-person advising is that it fosters a deeper and more detailed relationship between the student and the advisor. With so many students requesting letters of recommendation from their advisors, having a relationship where the advisor has a much more detailed knowledge of the student’s daily life and academics can play a significant role in crafting more effective and truthful recommendations.

Ideal For Underperforming Students

The students most vulnerable to being left behind during virtual advising or distance learning, are those that are facing academic challenges related to underperforming. These students need the additional support of in-person advising, writing, reading, and/or study help. When they are essentially left to fend for themselves in a digital environment they can suffer serious academic shortcomings. It also gives these same students the engagement needed to continue building essential social skills. 


Scheduling & Keeping To A Schedule

There are significant logistical challenges in scheduling the appointments needed for an advisor or tutor to meet the students they help. Additionally, these appointments are buffered and sometimes interrupted by other students that have walk-in issues that need immediate answers. Appointments can also be difficult for students with anxiety or mobility issues and can cause unnecessary stress for them as well. 


What are the pros and cons of online student success centers?

Online, virtual, or remote advising has many potential pros and cons. Many are still under-realized, however, since distance advising is still relatively new.


Incredibly Flexible

Most professionals in an in-person format only have a limited number of office hours that they can spend advising. This time is taken up by appointments that need to be scheduled on a framework of available openings. Virtual meetings allow a much easier and more fluid method of scheduling and meeting students. This gives the students and the advisors more flexibility, which means more productivity.

Conserves Time & Effort

Scheduling appointments, as well as making time to get to the office for an appointment, takes a considerable amount of time and effort. This leads to wasted travel time, as well as the potential for canceled or missed appointments. This time could be better spent studying, completing assignments, or other forms of productivity. Not only is this a perk for the average student, but it also makes advisors much more accessible to those with disabilities who may have increased difficulty getting to or keeping the appointments compared to other students. 

Boosts Access To Resources

There are countless occasions when a student will have a quick question that needs a quick answer. These situations are often when a student may simply drop into the advising office if the advisor has office hours. Many times they don’t have office hours, however, and online advising can make those situations easier. With online advising, it can be far easier for a student to get a hold of an advisor virtually, as well as for the advisor to message them back quickly.

Better Access To Extracurriculars

So many students build their entire college experience and schedule around their extracurricular activities. Those activities can not only shape the entire college experience but they can also be incredibly formative for the student’s future and individual well-roundedness. Online access to advising means that students can more easily contact their advisor, and can get requested material such as announcements, pamphlets, and career information much easier.


Many students find themselves struggling with time coordination and appointment-keeping with advisors in different time zones. Additionally, some virtual models deprive the students of developing a solid relationship with their advisors. This can be a crucial component when taking into account how often students request letters of recommendation from their respective advisors. This can make that lack of relationship even more damaging.


Is a hybrid model best?

Hybrid models are those in which there is an online component as well as an in-person component. These hybrid programs can cut down on in-person risks, while still providing some components of more personal interactions. Hybrid advising models can reduce personnel costs and increase virtual access while avoiding the performance sacrifices have purely virtual advising models can result in.

One study indicated that students with access to a hybrid advising program were able to reach similar results that their peers who only had access to in-person models. The same study indicated that the performance reductions were more pronounced for males in purely virtual environments than females, and for students that were less academically prepared overall.


The Final Verdict

There is no clear-cut winner in the online vs. in-person advising debate. Each has merits that the other can’t match, and each has its drawbacks as well.

The answer will always come down to the unique needs of your institution. The decision to focus on online or in-person student success resources will be dependent on your student makeup, budget, and staffing needs. For further learning, continue reading our blog, or if you have a specific question, please reach out to us, and we would be happy to help you.

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