Academic Advising Plays Part in Success of Students Studying Online

April 28, 2022  |  by Heidi Wells, Global Campus

Melissa Lowrimore
(Photo submitted)
Melissa Lowrimore is pictured with her husband and four children.

Melissa Lowrimore may be your typical University of Arkansas student studying online. Her children range in age from 3 to 9; although she planned to have three, unexpected twins upped the number to four. She is a stay-at-home mother who wants to work as an advocate for children, having been a survivor of domestic abuse herself.

When she decided to earn a college degree, Lowrimore knew studying online was the only way to go. University of Arkansas staff member Melinda Dunlap has advised Lowrimore since she started working on her bachelor's degree in human development and family sciences in the fall of 2020.

Lowrimore, who since moved from Alma across the state border into Oklahoma, described her backstory to Dunlap and told her what she wanted to do.

"She pointed me to the degree I'm in now. I went in not knowing anything, and the first semester was difficult," Lowrimore recalls as she describes challenges getting registered for a math class the first semester. "Melinda has been great. I normally have classes I want to take picked out before I meet with her, and she is very helpful with advice on what might be good to hold off on for a different semester and telling me these are the ones I need to focus on."

I take 12 hours a semester. The first semester I wanted to take 15 hours, but I realized that wasn't practical. She helped me decide which class to drop."

Melissa Lowrimore, student, bachelor's degree in human development and family sciences

Academic advising can have a tremendous impact on a university student's success. For a student studying online, regular interaction with an adviser is vital. Advisers help students make thoughtful decisions so that they continually progress toward completing a degree in a field of their choosing.

Dunlap and Lucas Simmons have been recognized for their work in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences. Dunlap, academic counselor, won the New Academic Advisor of the Year award from the university's Academic Advising Council, and Simmons, senior advisor and student experience coordinator, won the Silo-Busting Award from the council. Dunlap advises students studying online in the bachelor's degree in human development and family sciences among the total of about 200 students she advises.

Advisers primarily help students choose classes they need to take in the upcoming semester, paying close attention to prerequisite courses and when they are offered. Missing a prerequisite that is offered only in the spring, for example, can throw off a student's plan and expected graduation date.

Bumpers College is moving to a professional academic advising model, Dunlap and Simmons explain. Professional academic advisers will advise transfer students, students who changed their majors to one in Bumpers, freshmen and sophomores. After their sophomore year or when they have completed 60 hours, students are assigned a faculty member to advise them.

Melinda Dunlap and Lucas Simmons
University of Arkansas
Melinda Dunlap, left, and Lucas Simmons work with students in the Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.

"It's joint ownership with the student, and the adviser has to ask questions at appropriate times," Simmons says. "We want students to visualize themselves as graduates from Day One."

Previously, departments conducted their advising in different ways with some assigning faculty to advise a student through the student's entire degree program.

"We really focus on what's called appreciative advising," Simmons explains. "We break down barriers with students. We talk to them about more than classes. We talk to them about their long-term goals, their interests. We ask them, ‘Why do you think you want to do this?' They need a support network.

"There is a great need for flexibility for online students," he continues. "For students studying online, it's about having a presence for them. They know if they email Melinda, she will reply, and the same with a phone call."

Students studying online need to get a reply when they email their adviser and an answer or returned call when they call. Dunlap says online students have more questions than students studying on campus, in general. They are more likely to be nontraditional students, often older than those studying on campus and with families of their own.

"Because they do all of their work online on their own time, they may need a bit more extra help with time management," Dunlap says. "They do it all on their own. From an advising standpoint, they tend to ask me more questions that are technical in nature."

On winning the New Academic Advisor of the Year award, Dunlap says it's important to care about the students.

"I really feel that's essential," she says. "I care about their success. I want them to graduate. I'm pretty patient. No question, to me, is a stupid question. I answer and try to be as thorough as possible.

"I love my job," Dunlap continues. "I call it my dream job. I love interacting with students. I feel I've done a good job when they leave and feel ready for the next semester and know what they're going to do. That's very rewarding for me."

She can empathize with the students studying online because she earned her degree in the U of A's online bachelor's degree program in human resource and workforce development.

"When I'm advising, I understand how these students are feeling," she says.

Lowrimore says, as an adult learner, she feels like a role model for her children.

"I'm the first generation in my family to go to college so, especially with my 9-year-old, I explain what I'm doing, why this is important, why we need to pay attention to grades, why this is the next step in our lives," she says.

The U of A, through the Global Campus, offers 75 online degree, certificate, microcertificate and licensure programs. In academic year 2021, 279 undergraduate students and 858 graduate students earned degrees through online programs. To learn more about online degrees from the University of Arkansas, visit our website.


What Students Can Do to Get the Most Out of Advising

  • Check their internet is adequate
  • Be sure their camera is working
  • Be in a safe environment, not driving, for example
  • Go over their degree audit
  • Look ahead of time at available courses and when they are scheduled
  • Have two to four classes picked out they would like to take
  • Pay attention to regular communication from their college and social media

Photo of Heidi Wells

Heidi Wells

Content Strategist

Heidi Wells is the content strategist for the Global Campus at the University of Arkansas and editor of The Online Learner. Her writing spans more than 30 years as a communicator at the U of A and a reporter and editor at Arkansas newspapers. Wells earned two degrees from the U of A: a master's in 2013 and a bachelor's in 1988.

Wells can be reached at or 479-575-7239.

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Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences

Do you like working with people? This bachelor’s degree program will prepare you for human services careers that assist individuals and families of all ages, from infants to seniors. You will gain knowledge and skills that you can use to help others cope with crises or help them plan better lives.

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