Overseas educational advising is approaching a critical juncture in its structure and viability. Traditional OSEAS advising services, based on free personal counseling in USIS and Binational educational advising centers, are being challenged by three converging forces.
The increase in students and scholars demanding exchange advice, the impact of USIA budget cutbacks on advising centers, and the emergence of new electronic communications technologies in higher education worldwide are each challenging advising capabilities. Individually they are affecting the capacity of advising centers to advise. Together they may challenge the viability of USIA-assisted educational advising centers as an institution.
Perhaps most significant among the forces is the impact of electronic mail. E-mail is changing advising relationships in unexpected ways. Ironically, these changes are being forced by the advising clientele, rather than advisers themselves. A rapidly increasing proportion of the students and scholars who comprise the advising clientele are regular users of electronic mail. They have begun to search for educational advising via E-mail. But OSEAS advisers are unable to respond.
Legitimate educational advising by OSEAS professionals is not available via E-mail. In consequence, E-mail users are bypassing OSEAS advising centers altogether to seek E-mail advice from alternate sources.
What are the implications for overseas advising centers of this E-mail challenge? What new opportunities does E-mail offer? Could E-mail enable a more responsive, cost-effective advising structure, and ease the financial plight of USIA-assisted advising centers? Is E-mail "distance advising" an opportunity to restructure overseas advising more effectively for the educational mobility challenges of the 1990s?
Advising Center Capacity and Advising Demand
The past five years have witnessed a groundswell in the numbers of students and scholars wishing to study and research in the United States, resulting in overwhelming demands on counseling time and resources in overseas advising centers. The coincidence of U.S. government budget cutbacks has only sharpened the dilemma of reduced advising supply versus increased client demand.
How to finance advising services in the face of budget cutbacks was addressed in Marti Thomson's article on Defrayment of Costs: Considerations for Overseas Advisers in the Winter 1991 Advising Quarterly:
"Since 1986," says Thomson, "the U.S. Information Agency budget for the support of international education and exchange support services has declined by more than 35%, while the number of foreign students enrolling in U.S. universities has continued to increase steadily." Thomson suggests charges might be paid by clients for certain advising materials and services to compensate for "the realities of shrinking budgets and increased number of students seeking our services."
Yet implicit in Thomson's article is the presumption that the structure and nature of advising would remain static; in reality the exchange environment is changing dynamically. USIA-assisted educational advising centers have traditionally provided free selection and admissions advice to the full range of host-country nationals wishing to study or research in U.S. higher education institutions. But dramatic changes in international student mobility since 1986 have created different advising needs from those which existed before. Should free advising for all comers continue to be the premise of advising centers, or do the new dynamics in international education provide an opportunity for a more specialized and cost-efficient advising profile?
A more specialized role would fit well the decentralization of higher education exchange advising toward local university centers. The current structure of USIA-assisted national advising centers evolved at a time when free exchange advising was seldom available from university or host-government centers. This situation is now changing rapidly.
The Emergence of New University Advising Centers
Particularly in Europe, in response to the emergence since 1986 of ERASMUS, COMETT, TEMPUS, TEXT, NORDPLUS and other such higher educational exchange schemes, universities have begun to create their own international centers, with their own educational exchange advisers. An entirely new echelon of staff and services has been introduced into the advising dynamic. New cadres of university advisers are emerging almost overnight, with their primary responsibility to provide free exchange advice to their own institution's students and staff.
How should we regard this new factor in the advising equation? It is obvious that university advisers will have different clientele and responsibilities from traditional OSEAS advisers. But it is also apparent that university and USIA-assisted advisers should coordinate their advising efforts in order to serve the rising numbers of those newly interested in study abroad in a practical and cost-effective manner within the budgetary limits and advising capabilities available to each.
Consider the plight of university advisers. Most are new to their jobs, in jobs which are new to their institutions, and involved with exchange schemes which are themselves relatively new within the field of international education. There is seldom a foundation of experience or materials on which to draw for guidance. The demands on university advisers are intense. They must advise on all their constantly-changing institutional exchange agreements, from complex multinational schemes such as ERASMUS to a variety of one-to-one linkages in different disciplines and countries. Both time and expertise are limited. University advisers may be able to provide basic, general information for each of their exchange relationships, but they can seldom be specialists in any one program or country.
Nor can most university advisers afford to amass expensive reference collections for each of the countries with which they must work, even if they had the time to read them. University advisers are generalists. They lack precisely the country-specific advising expertise and practical exchange knowhow which is the capital of OSEAS advising. They urgently need the specialized perspectives and resources on U.S. higher education selection options and admissions procedure which OSEAS advisers are uniquely equipped to provide.
A New Advising Role?
A new 1990s role for USIA-assisted advising centers may well be "advising advisers." Increased cooperation among traditional OSEAS and new university advisers would be symbiotic and mutually beneficial. The network of university advisers throughout a country would provide most of the direct client contact with their institutions' students and scholars, while USIA-assisted advising centers would continue to provide client contact for USIA-sponsored scholars, such as Fulbright, Humphrey, and Eisenhower grantees, as well as for unsponsored clients who are not affiliated with a university.
However, traditional OSEAS centers would increasingly provide specialized training and counseling directly to university advisers, rather than to their clients. Such a relationship should enable a more cost-effective allocation of time and services for university and OSEAS advisers alike. Not only would OSEAS advising centers be relieved of much of the high cost and low efficiency of direct group or individual client contact (which university advisers are obliged to provide for their students and staff in any event), they would also save on the costs for postage, faxes, photocopying, and video services that accompany such contact. Further, the testing, credentials certification, and other consultation work done for university advisers could be charged on a standard-cost basis directly to the university.
Individual students and scholars would thus continue to receive free and competent advice at both university and OSEAS centers. University advisers would gain access to professional advising services specific to the U.S., and OSEAS centers would gain new financing from the universities. Advising costs would not need to be passed on to individual clients. Such a relationship would bring greater financial stability and a more highly-profiled advising professionalism to OSEAS counseling centers.
The Growing Implications of E-Mail for Overseas Advising
Overseas advisers must also consider the implications of new technologies on their role and organizational structure. Perhaps most critical to future advising is electronic mail. An E-mail capability for USIA-assisted centers is vital for university relationships; most universities are already on E-mail. Indeed, the ability of advisers to gain access to the E-mail "Internet" (cf. The Marvels of 'Telematics' for Advisers in the Winter 1991 Advising Quarterly) may soon determine whether traditional OSEAS advising centers will remain viable or be bypassed altogether in the search by clients for study abroad advice.
The importance of E-mail for advising is directly connected to the growing use of E-mail by universities. The Internet is comprised mainly of academic and research institutions, most of which provide free access to E-mail for their students and staff. As a result, the users of electronic mail are increasing rapidly. University students and staff also comprise the vast majority of the educational exchange clientele. Our future advising clientele increasingly will be experienced users of electronic mail. They will expect OSEAS advisers also to use E-mail.
The Nature of E-Mail Communication
How does this affect advising? We should first review the nature of E-mail. E-mail is a quick, low-cost communications medium which is free from most constraints of time or place. E-mail may comprise personal notes to individuals, or requests for the retrieval of information from computerized archives. E-mail may be sent with equal ease to either single individuals or sizeable lists of individuals. E-mail provides both individual and mass communications rapidly, cheaply, and efficiently.
Among services on the Internet are electronic discussion groups such as the NAFSA "Inter-L" forum. There are thousands of such forums. Scholars throughout the world may participate freely in them via E-mail. Participation may include discussion of ongoing subjects among the membership, or requests for information on questions within the broad interests of the forum.
International electronic discussions are being adapted into new "Distance Education" curricula, and are being incorporated into many university courses. Participation on E-mail networks is a new academic resource, a unique, compelling, and powerful new self-directed pedagogical tool.
The E-Mail Advising Challenge
Students are thus encouraged by their universities to use E-mail. Once a user, the convenience of obtaining and distributing information directly from the computer in one's home or office is compelling. The growing prevalence of E-mail brings implications and opportunities for advising. Electronic mail enables an individualization of communication and information access which was not possible with previous technologies. It empowers individuals to seek and quickly obtain information from "known" or anonymous sources throughout the world, independently of most restraints of cost, time, or personal acquaintance.
With E-mail it is as quick and easy to solicit advice from across the ocean as across the street. A student who can contact his adviser in the next building by E-mail can use the same technology to contact advisers in the next city, the next country, or the next continent. This concerns OSEAS directly.
If we assume that students will seek information from what they perceive to be the fastest, cheapest, and easiest source, then it follows that students who are already using E-mail for other purposes will also attempt to use E-mail to solicit exchange advice. Indeed, this is already happening. And since there is currently no established OSEAS advising via E-mail, it is happening outside the OSEAS domain.
Consider the following two attempts by students from Turkey and Taiwan to solicit exchange advice, in issues #13 and #14, June and July 1990, of "SCUPNews," the bimonthly E-mail publication of the Society for College and University Planning.
- "I am a freshman at Aegean University Computer Science and Engineering Department. I have some problems and would be pleased if you help me.
I plan to continue my higher education in the United States. I took the SAT, TOEFL and 3 Achievement Tests. I plan to start in September 1991. I do not know whether I should apply as a transfer student or as a freshman. I was born in 1972 and I don't care about the time I will lose if I restart as a freshman. But the point is, does the admission committee appreciate this? Will I be given an equal opportunity if I apply as a freshman even if I have completed two years of study by the time I apply? In which instance will I have more chance of being admitted (as a freshman or transfer student)? And, can I apply under the early decision plan? I am looking forward to hearing from you soon. Thanks for all your help."
- "My name is [XXXX] 25 years old, female. I majored in Information Science and graduated from Providence University in Taiwan. When I was a junior on campus, I started writing an RM-COBOL book. The book was published in 1989 by the best computer books company. There is going to be a third edition and will be used as a textbook in many universities. My co-author, who was my department-head, and I were invited by the Minister of Taiwan Education to edit the COBOL book for occupational high school. My third book will be published in July.
I am working at the computer center of Chung-Hsing University now. I am managing the Appleshare of the MacIntosh, developing an accounting system and controlling the CDC Cyber.
I am interested in applying to a computer science graduate school in the U.S. Can you help me and provide some information and suggestions? I thank you deeply....."
Both requests, which will sound familiar to any adviser, were sent by students with E-mail access to the Internet. Of particular interest is the fact that both students lived in cities, Izmir and Taipei, which have USIA-assisted advising centers. A personal visit to a center should not have involved undue burden of time or cost. One might ask whether the students knew the local centers existed, but at least in the second example, it is likely that an employee of the Taiwan Ministry of Education would know of the existence close by of the Binational Fulbright Commission Advising Center.
However, neither student went to the center to consult a trained adviser with their questions. Instead, they used E-mail to solicit advice from an electronic forum on the Internet. Why SCUPNews? Most likely, using standard E-mail procedures, they retrieved a list of the names and topics of all discussion forums on the Internet. Scanning through the list for possible sources of information, they found "SCUPNews," and concluded that a U.S. "College and University Planners" forum might be able to answer questions on U.S. university admissions. Their inquiries were subsequently distributed to hundreds of subscribers to the SCUP E-mail forum worldwide, including me.
I do not know how many responses the two students received, or what range of information these included. I do know that both students received at least one response each which gave the address of their local Advising Center, and directed them to advisers at these centers for answers to their questions. The response to the student in Taiwan, for example, was:
"...I noticed your request for assistance in applying to a U.S. computer science graduate school in issue #14 of SCUPNews on Bitnet. In your case, I feel you could obtain the best advice directly in Taipei rather than through Bitnet. The local Binational Fulbright Commission, known in Taiwan as the Foundation For Scholarly Exchange, has Overseas Educational Advisers who are trained to answer questions such as yours free of charge to all who are interested in higher education in the U.S. The Foundation works in conjunction with the Ministry of Education of Taiwan.
The Foundation has an extensive collection of reference books covering all aspects of curriculum, admissions requirements and deadlines of U.S. universities, local dates of necessary advance testing, details for your credentials evaluation, and advice on possible scholarship assistance. The advisers have had specialized training and have themselves studied in the U.S.
I suggest you contact either Julie Hu or Anthony Wang at the Foundation, 1-A Chuan Chow Street in Taipei. Ms. Hu's phone number is 02 3017353, FAX 3058743. Mr. Wang's phone number is 3058743...."
I also wrote a description of OSEAS advising for the SCUPNews Editor, with instructions for how to obtain addresses and phone numbers for OSEAS advising centers in different countries (even by E-mail from the College Board). I recommended that a visit to trained advisers was preferable to soliciting admissions advice via E-mail from persons unlikely to be familiar with the intricacies of country-specific credentials evaluation, local testing dates and requirements, and other such standard information which local educational advising centers provide.
The Editor agreed to send this in reply to all further such inquiries, instead of distributing the inquiries via SCUPNews. She also published it in Issue #15 of SCUPNews. I did not hear any further from the two students.
Overseas Advisers Must Gain E-Mail Enfranchisement
What should advisers conclude from these examples? On one level, they are a warning. Attempts to use E-mail to obtain advising information will increase. If OSEAS advising is not available via E-mail, the increasing numbers of clients who are on E-mail will likely bypass OSEAS centers in their search for advice. They will try instead to obtain answers from whatever alternate E-mail sources are willing to respond.
However, students would seldom be capable of judging the validity of unfiltered information thus obtained, particularly details outside the context of their own educational background. Every adviser will recognize this as a truism. But students may not perceive possible flaws in non-professional advice. They may simply continue to solicit and "test" advice until they feel they have workable answers. Where would this eventually lead?
Advising solicitations will continue whether or not advisers are on the Internet. Where there is unmet demand, suppliers will emerge to meet that demand. New sources of advising outside the OSEAS domain would soon gain dominance, if for no other reason than their command of the means of delivery, irrespective of whether the advice conveyed was valid. What would the consequences be for the advisees, and the reputation of legitimate advising?
Conversely, an OSEAS E-mail presence on the Internet could provide legitimate, professional counseling to a wide range of students and scholars, and also support a variety of other specialized, cost-effective advising services. E-mail could benefit existing national advising centers, and enable the creation of new E-mail "Distance Advising" centers.
A Proposal for OSEAS E-Mail Distance Advising
Using the analogy of "Distance Education," where one may pursue studies via guidance and materials from a remote provider, overseas advisers might establish a "Distance Advising" network. E-mail distance advising would be simple and inexpensive to implement.
A single "listserver" could provide the backbone for an E-mail global advising network. Operating costs would be lower than for any local advising center. Access to a listserv computer could be negotiated at modest rates from virtually any institution in any country on the Internet. The Distance Staff could reside in any location allowing E-mail access. Computer and staff could be geographically separate, but linked electronically. Staff costs would be moderate. Distance advisers need not be newly-budgeted employees; they could include local advisers working part-time for the new electronic unit.
Envisage a three-adviser "central" Distance Unit. It could operate through a computer in Australia with staff in Tokyo, Washington, and London or Bermuda, Crete, and Sri Lanka. Staff could work from wherever they happened to live, or wherever their residence would be most practical or least expensive. A physical "central office" would not be required; staff could "telecommute" from computers in their homes.
What would they do? The Distance Unit staff could handle E-mail advising requests directly from clients around the world. They could also provide a rapid reference capability for queries from local advising centers. Responses could be delivered within 24 hours of the query, regardless of time zone or country of origin. Fast, flexible, individualized service is a hallmark of E-mail technology. It is a boon for advising efficiency.
The Distance Unit could also archive E-mail libraries of standard advising documents. The documents would be available for E-mail retrieval by clients or advisers, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Documents could include testing dates, costs and guidelines; university catalogs, lists of study fields by institution; descriptions of institutions by type, region, cost, and size; U.S. travel and higher education orientation information; virtually the full range of materials that advising centers currently attempt to maintain.
Coordination Between Distance Units and Local Units
Client needs could easily be coordinated between the Distance Unit, respective national USIA-assisted advising center, and local university advising center. When E-mail clients of the Distance Unit require consultation with a home-country adviser, the Distance Unit staff would refer them to the national advising center in their country. An E-mailed file of the client's background and needs could be forwarded in a matter of seconds to the local adviser, together with recommended advising materials, for preparation of the counseling visit. It is also possible for such in-country consultations to be undertaken via E-mail, or for the adviser to relay the client file and materials to the student's local university adviser, if more appropriate.
Local advising centers could clearly benefit from E-mail supplementation to personal client visits. They would still handle client visits when needed, but a considerable volume of their advising could be transacted via E-mail, without the time-consumption of personal visits, or the overhead of postage, photocopies, telex, fax, or long-distance telephone costs.
A Natural Incorporation of E-Mail Benefits
E-mail Distance Advising would incorporate the individualized information-retrieval empowerment of electronic mail. It would enable clients themselves to retrieve advising information from remote archives, and conduct a significant portion of their own preparatory work. Advisers could assume a more specialized consulting role, much of which could also be handled via E-mail. Compared to current practices, savings in advisory time and costs of materials, plus gains in efficiency, would be substantial.
E-mail advising would remain free, although costs of certain printed materials and personal consultations could be passed on to clients without infringing the principle of "free advising." This would follow the practice already used by some exchange organizations which charge a lower membership fee for institutions who obtain placement and orientation materials via E-mail, and a higher fee for those who require print versions of the same materials.
This is only a quick sketch of how E-mail could reduce costs and improve efficiency in overseas advising. E-mail distance advising, even at its most basic level, would enable the delivery of more, more detailed, and more up-to-date information to more clients worldwide. It would be simple to organize and easy to implement. It would supplement the current services of local USIA-assisted centers and provide professional advising on U.S. higher education to the growing E-mail clientele on the Internet.
The technology to enable this is already fully operational in thousands of similar services on the Internet. All that overseas advisers need to implement their own service is the E-mail enfranchisement of existing advising centers, and the establishment even an initial rudimentary establishment of a central distance unit. The resulting improved networking of advisers and sharing of advising resources would go far toward satisfying increased advising demand worldwide while reducing advising costs.
New technology is producing rapid and dramatic change throughout international educational exchange. As exchange advising rapidly moves toward a decentralized market of advisory supply and demand, we should consider how new technologies might improve our work. Electronic mail brings new challenges and opportunities to overseas advising. Each technology carries an impetus toward new administrative structures and working habits. Electronic distance advising would provide an opportunity to restructure, revitalize and improve the OSEAS advising profession.