What is professionalization? And what does it mean for professional advisors?
There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about the professionalization of advising. In my experience this topic has come up regularly at conferences, in the NACADA clearinghouse in the form of online articles, and generally in conversation among advising professions.
But what is a profession really? Where do we delineate the boundary between vocations, occupations and professions? Furthermore, do we even want advising to completely professionalize, or are we better off with the status quo?
We must also consider the Canadian context. In Canada we have a longer ways to go to even recognize advising and student affairs as professions. I can recall a phone call last year with an American colleague where she said to me, “Aren’t you glad in this day and age every academic advisor typically has their masters?” I was shocked! This was not the case by a long-shot at my institution. Was her institution better off to have this higher requirement for academic advisors? Is being deemed a profession the ideal because of the prestige and potential pay? Or do “professions” exclude certain candidates because because of credentialism?
For the purpose of this blog I will use a relatively narrow definition of profession i.e. a job that requires a high level of training, qualifications and recognition. One of the frameworks to understand which occupations are professions that I find particularly useful is by Rudi Volti (2012). Volti uses the following checklist to determine if an occupation is a profession.
- A curriculum that consists of specialized knowledge (without being too narrowly
- Require training that includes university education,
- Hold a place of value in society,
- Trust in the work of the profession through an established code of ethics,
- Cooperation within the organization of professionals, and
- Function autonomously which includes a licensing board consisting of members from the profession
By no means is the only framework for a profession but for the purpose of reflecting on the field of academic advising we will analyze each item.
1 A curriculum that consists of specialized knowledge
NACADA recently released competencies related to academic advising. While this competency framework is a useful tool for institutions to use in regards to their advising roles, it is by no means a universal standard for academic advisors across Canada. Therefore it would not be accurate to say that we have specialized knowledge as academic advisors.
2 Requires training that includes a university education
Academic advising roles may require training on some campuses, but not always. Academic advising may also require an undergraduate education but not in any particular field. While Kansas State University offers an academic advising masters degree, this program is also not required across all institutions. So university education is a bit grey as many job postings do require a degree however this is not an explicit requirement of being an academic advisor.
3 Holds a place of value in society
I love the work we do. At the same time, I have to admit that the average Canadian is not familiar with the term “academic advisor” nor does it spring to mind as a potential career for the average high school student. While we have an important role within higher education, we are not yet well known enough to say that we meet this requirement of a profession.
4 Trust in the work of the profession through an established code of ethics
The Council for Advancement of Standards of Higher Education (CAS) is an association that promotes professional standards for higher education roles. We also have to abide by privacy laws with confidential information. One could argue we have some connection to ethics and standards.
5 Cooperation within the organization of professionals
Academic advising does have professional organizations such as NACADA, as well as smaller provincial groups. The number of conferences is also indicative of a healthy level of organization. Advising could claim that there is some organization of professionals.
6 Function autonomously which includes a licensing board consisting of members from the profession
This one is fairly straightforward. We do not have a licensing body for academic advising.
Conclusion: We’re not strictly a textbook “profession” and that’s a good thing!
According to this framework we only partially meet the criteria for a profession. What does that mean?
Professionalization may seem like an obvious desire. When we think of doctors, lawyers engineers and other “professions” we often think of prestige and high pay. Are we in a bad situation if we are not yet known as a profession?
I would say that we should be proud of the current status of our work even if we are not a “textbook” profession. This is because professions are more exclusive than many occupations. And not everyone needs to be part of a exclusive profession. That is why I am proud that academic advising is an occupation that is open to individuals from different walks of life, and not to a select few who pursue a strict accreditation. Our diversity is our strength and so whether or not we ever reach the status of a “profession” there is no work that I would rather be engaged in than academic advising. We are the sometimes unsung heroes who know how to listen to students’ concerns, nudge them towards success and connect them to communities on campus. Important work like that may not be recognized as professional work, but it is full of meaning which can be even more valuable.
Volti, R. (2012). An introduction to the sociology of work and occupations. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.