What exactly is a Profession? Is Advising a Profession?

Paul SileikaWhat 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.

  1. A curriculum that consists of specialized knowledge (without being too narrowly
  2. Require training that includes university education,
  3. Hold a place of value in society,
  4. Trust in the work of the profession through an established code of ethics,
  5. Cooperation within the organization of professionals, and
  6. 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.

Worked Cited

Volti, R. (2012). An introduction to the sociology of work and occupations. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.


CACUSS and NACADA Competency Frameworks Compared: Which works best for the Canadian Advising Professional?

Paul SileikaThe CACUSS Student Affairs and Services Competency Model and the NACADA Advising Core Competencies Model were both released relatively recently. For those of us who are involved in NACADA and CACUSS, we are in the advantageous position of having two frameworks to work with when looking to implement training and development for our institutions.

On a personal note, the emergence of these competency models also mirrored my professional life.

I work full-time at Ryerson coordinating university-wide projects for supporting academic advising.  As we begin to move forward with training programs I have been using the NACADA model to design advising workshops with the first series being centred around the “Relational” component, with the “Informational” and “Conceptual” to follow in the future.

I also teach a class for the Student Advising and Support Certificate at George Brown part-time in the evenings. As part of the curriculum, we spend the first class discussing the CACUSS Competency Model since we have students in this course who may work across several different student affairs roles. We typically begin the first class by reflecting on our strongest competencies as well as our weakest so that we can direct our learning based on what we want to improve.

Below are my thoughts on the two competency models. If you agree or disagree we would love to hear from you! Feel free to start a discussion in the comments.

NACADA Competency Model Advantages

1) Specifically designed for the role of academic advising

The NACADA core competencies are based on three components: Conceptual, Informational and Relational with more details listed under each component. The conceptual refers to theories and approaches of advising, the informational to institutional knowledge, and the relational refers to your advising skills. These competencies can help most advisors find where they have room for improvement in regards to their professional practice.

The CACUSS competency model, on the other hand, is meant to cover a whole array of student affairs roles with its 11 different competencies (more details below). It does have seemingly equivalent competencies: higher education acumen could stand in for informational, emotional and interpersonal intelligence could stand in for relational and student learning and development could stand in for conceptual. On some level, CACUSS could be considered equally apt however it is much broader and not meant solely for advising staff and faculty. For simplicity, the NACADA model works well for departments that are focused solely on advising as opposed to a broader Student Affairs department.

2) Competencies can be applied in ways to fit your institution

One of the benefits of the NACADA competencies is that it can work within any institution’s mission and processes. For example under the Informational Component there are some competencies that lend themselves to institution-specific knowledge:

1- Institution specific history, mission, vision, values, and culture

2- Curriculum, degree programs, and other academic requirements and options.

3- Institution specific policies, procedures, rules, and regulations

7- Information technology applicable to relevant advising roles.

These points are generic but also applicable to every college or university. These points acknowledge the value of an institution’s unique mission and values.

CACUSS Competency Model Advantages

1) You can explore more nuances with the CACUSS Competency Model

The CACUSS Competencies include:

Communication; Emotional and interpersonal Intelligence; Intercultural; Indigenous cultural awareness; Post-secondary acumen; Equity, diversity and inclusion; Leadership; management and administration; Strategic planning; research and assessment; Student advising; support and advocacy; Student learning and development; Technology and digital engagement.

When I presented these two models to my students one of them pointed out that she found the NACADA competencies limiting whereas the CACUSS competencies allowed you more room to explore.

The higher number of the CACUSS competencies (11 with CACUSS versus 3 with NACADA) allows you take a strengths-based approach to your own career in student services. You can find the competencies that work best with your skills set and reflect on how that allows you to contribute to the field of student affairs. Professionals who use the CACUSS Competency Model can identify where they are already strong by using the levels of core, intermediate and advanced as outlined in the detailed CACUSS Competency Model document.

2) CACUSS has the Canadian context in mind

The CACUSS Competency Model describes itself as “uniquely Canadian.” The document states that “many noted provincial diversity, language differences, Aboriginal student success, and the differences between colleges and universities.”

Indeed many student affairs professionals across Canada are interested in supporting Indigenous students attending college and university. When my students rank their strongest and weakest CACUSS competencies, typically Indigenous cultural awareness is the one area where professionals are eager to learn more. This is just one of the ways that the CACUSS Competency Model may demonstrate itself to be a better fit for Canadian academic advising professionals.

So with these ideas in mind, which do you think is the best model for the Canadian academic advising professional? Leave your comments below if you are interested in engaging in a discussion on this exciting topic for advising in Canada!

2017 CACUSS Preview

As the 2017 CACUSS conference draws near, the task of planning one’s time to make the most of the event is top of mind.  Each year, we’re overwhelmed by the number of fabulous sessions to choose from and the variety of topics that are presented.  There is so much going on at the conference that it’s almost a test of stamina to be able to take advantage of the sessions and networking opportunities.  As a way of helping attendees focus on a particular interest area, the conference program this year will identify both the Communities of Practice (CoP) and the CACUSS competencies that are relevant to a particular session.  These will be added to the digital program to help you easily choose the sessions might be the most relevant to your interests. It is worth noting not every presenter added a Community of Practice to their proposal so it’s in your best interest to read through the program and find the gems of sessions that will enhance your conference experience.

As the co-chairs of The Advising CoP (as we will officially be known – phew – because our old name was just so much of a mouthful to say and type and don’t even get us started on printing buttons!), we have provided a list of topics for several of the advising specific sessions for your consideration.  From advising special populations, to advising models, to advising portfolios, the CACUSS conference promises to deliver a variety of sessions to address your advising challenges. The breadth of topics relevant to advisors and those with a keen interest in advising includes:

  • Advising special populations
    • Grad students
    • Online students
    • At-risk students
  • Advising models
    • Integration of career and academic advising
    • Collaboration between student affairs and academic affairs
  • Advising Approaches and frameworks
    • Advising and retention
    • Appreciative advising
    • Advisors as cultural navigators
  • Professional development
    • Advising communities
    • Student Affairs collective
    • Team building
    • Academic learning and storytelling

As an association that embraces student services of all types, we would be remiss if we did not encourage all attendees to find sessions that will help them expand their own professional practice.  And we all know that conferences are more than just attending fabulous sessions, they are also about opportunities to network with old friends and a chance to meet new colleagues from across the country.  Since the introduction of the CoP model a couple of years ago, CACUSS has built in opportunities for professionals to network with like-minded folk both during the conference and at social events.  This year, the Advising CoP will be hosting both a CoP social (Monday, June 12 at 6:00 pm at the Highlander Pub) and a CoP meeting on Tuesday, June 13 at 9:00 am (which is so much better than 7:30 am), we hope you will mark these in your calendar!

At our CoP meeting on Tuesday morning, our goal will be to meet with folks who want to either find out more about our CoP or folks who would like to become more involved with our activities.  We are open to your ideas about the types of activities that the CoP should be working on throughout the year, so reaching out to the co-chairs of the CoP is a great way to become more engaged and active.  We will also be launching our steering committee later this summer that will have a number of small projects over the course of the year.

Finally, we would like to thank Tim Fricker, outgoing co-chair for the Advising CoP, for his tireless work and effort to establish the Integrated Academic and Professional Advising CoP.  We hope that he will continue to be involved in the great advising conversations that we have been fortunate to have begun over the last couple of years.  Joining us as in the role of in-coming co-chair for the Advising CoP will be Paige Doherty from St. Jerome’s University, federated with the University of Waterloo.  Paige is currently working on her M. Ed and has been involved with CACUSS as a conference reviewer, presenter and CoP member for the past two years.  We are looking forward to Paige’s contributions in the Advising CoP.

Shea Ellingham, Mount Royal University
Darran Fernandez, University of British Columbia
Tim Fricker, Mohawk College
Paige Doherty, St. Jerome’s University

Finding a professional home for advisors in Canada

Any good storyteller will tell you that the key to a good plot is tension. For many years, the tension for academic advisors in Canada has been centered on our own professional identity.  As academic advisors, do we fit within the sphere of student affairs professionals?  As Canadians, do we see enough common ground to fit within NACADA? For faculty advisors across Canada, professional development is often housed within their academic discipline which can exclude primary-role or professional advisors. Without a common professional home that is inclusive for all, the result is a lack of common identity for Academic Advisors in Canada. The tension builds . . .

I have been a member of NACADA for eight years and in that time, I have served as a Regional Conference Chair, Region Steering Committee member and most recently, I have taken on the role of co-chair for the Canada Interest Group.  I know that the number of Canadian members of NACADA is a small percentage of those who advise across Canada. Many of us join NACADA in those years that we plan to attend either a Regional or the Annual conference and few of us take part in or recognize the other value-added benefits of our NACADA memberships outside of conference attendance.

The story for conference attendance at CACUSS is somewhat similar for academic advisors, we only become a member of the association when we plan to attend an annual conference.  I also think that it’s challenging for academic advisors to actually see where they fit within CACUSS because, for many years, it’s been challenging to find advising related sessions at the annual conferences. The development of the Communities of Practice model over the last three years has provided an opportunity for academic advisors to find space within CACUSS and see themselves as members of the association.

My goal in becoming involved as the co-chair of the Canada Interest Group for NACADA and a co-chair of the Integrated Academic and Professional Advising Community of Practice with CACUSS was to reach out to advisors across the country and help promote awareness of advising in and across Canada.

In the December issue of Academic Advising Today, a NACADA publication, Erin Justyna wrote about advising as a profession and several of the initiatives currently underway that will contribute to the conversation, namely Advising Core Values and Academic Advising Core Competencies. Both happen to be under revision, as Justyna (December, 2016) adds, “the revised core values and the core competencies model will continue to define the advising profession and provide a solid conceptual framework within which advisors can work and will allow for more consistency in advising practice.” And closer to home, CACUSS recently launched a set of core competencies for Student Affairs professionals, including academic advisors (Fernandez et al, 2016). The establishment of the core competency framework through CACUSS is reflective of the association identifying the need for student affairs professionals, and among them academic advisors, to acquire the skills needed to advance professionally at an introductory, intermediate and senior level. These frameworks from both CACUSS and NACADA, in effect, establish a professional space for academic advisors in Canada.  Academic advising has been recognized at many Canadian institutions as an activity that is critical to student success and the work on competencies and core values at both NACADA and CACUSS provide an opportunity to inform and advance the field of advising.

The story is by no means over, but perhaps we are ready to begin a new chapter with the work that NACADA and CACUSS are doing on behalf of academic advisors and student affairs professionals. NACADA’s executive director, Charlie Nutt wrote in that same December, 2016 issue of Academic Advising Today, that academic advisors are fortunate in that we often have “ . . . had a foot in both academic and student affairs . . .” and our work should be on building bridges between the two spheres rather than competing against one another. He adds, “just as higher education is complex, the work we do across campuses to increase student success is complex and cannot be done in isolation or in established silos” (Nutt, 2016, December). It is possible to work together between and within professional associations to achieve practical goals that will support our students and ourselves as professionals.  This is a good news story for advisors in Canada. We have the opportunity to become engaged members wherever we see that our professional development interests are being met and where we feel that we have a voice that allows us to make a meaningful contribution to our profession.

by Shea Ellingham


Fernandez, D., Fitzgerald, D., Hambler, P., & Mason-Innes, T. (2016) CACUSS student affairs and services competency model. Overview retrieved from: http://www.cacuss.ca/Student_Affairs_and_Services_Competency_Model.html

Justyna, E. (2016, December). On being an advising professional. Academic Advising Today, 39(4). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/On-Being-an-Advising-Professional.aspx

Nutt, C. (2016, December). From the executive director: Building collaborative partnerships to support student success. Academic Advising Today, 39(4). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/From-the-Executive-Director-Building-Collaborative-Partnerships-to-Support-Student-Success.aspx

Welcome to your community

As an advising professional, no matter in what capacity you advise students, this community is for you.  There are great things happening in Canada with respect to post-secondary advising, but we don’t as yet have a means to promote this greatness widely. So welcome to your community.

Just like the elusive perfect model for academic advising, there is no such perfect approach to academic advising.  We wanted to create a digital space that can be both a resource and a forum, an opportunity for sharing and learning from one another.  We also wanted to be able to highlight activities, and relevant news from professional associations – primarily CACUSS and NACADA.  But we are not limited here either – NASPA, ACPA, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences – the avenues for resource sharing, research and professional development abound.  It’s difficult to keep track of them all and we don’t propose that we will be able to do that here, but we wanted to be able to have a space where membership is not a pre-requisite for access to information or discussion.  All that is required is an interest and willingness to get involved.

Who are we?  We are the co-chairs of the Community of Practice for Integrated Academic and Professional Advising through CACUSS and the co-chairs for the Canada Interest Group for NACADA and we have been working for the past couple of years to find out more about advising across this country.

Just over two years ago, the CACUSS Community of Practice for Integrated Professional and Integrated Academic Advising was launched just prior to the annual conference in Vancouver.  At the inaugural meeting of conference attendees who expressed interest in the community of practice, we asked the question “what do you want from this CoP and how can we, the co-chairs, best serve the interests of the community members”? As a result of that first conversation, we distributed a survey to find out more about what advising looks like across the country, we hosted a webinar to discuss the results of this survey and also published our survey results in an issue of Communique (CACUSS publication).

In April at the Region 5 NACADA conference in Toronto, Tim Fricker led a pre-conference workshop with advisors to delve into the ‘state of advising in Canada’ and determine what role CACUSS, NACADA and OAAP can play with respect to promoting the profession of advising across the country.  Advisors identified networking, communications, professional development, association partnerships and research as areas of growth that are needed in order to better brand advising  in Canada. You can read more about this session on the OAAP blog.

In May 2016 at the Annual CACUSS conference a group of conference attendees gathered very early on the last morning of the conference and talked about plans for the next year to help anchor a Canadian advising network and communication became a topic of conversation.  We asked “how can we best reach the advising community across the country?” And how can we be sure that this network of advising is inclusive and enables advisors to participate outside of a membership requirement?” And so, the idea of an independent blog/website was born.

We hope that you will share your best practices for advising on your campus.  How have you overcome the challenges of resources, advisor to student ratios, working with at-risk and special populations? This forum is an opportunity to share your successes and your challenges with your colleagues as a way of promoting advising in Canada.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Looking Ahead- Conferences

If you are planning on conference attendance this year related to Academic Advising or Student Affairs, here are some possibilities from CACUSS and NACADA:  (if you have other conference opportunities to share, please add them to the blog)

CACUSS Annual Conference, June 11-14, 2017
Ottawa, Ontario
Call for programs closes January 13, 2017

Regional Opportunities:

NACADA Region 1 (includes Newfoundland  and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Quebec)
March 8-10, 2017
Verona, NY
Call for proposals closed October 24, 2016

NACADA Region 5 (includes Ontario and Nunavut)
March 15-17, 2017
Rosemont, IL
Call for proposals closes November 28, 2016

NACADA Region 6 (includes Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Northwest Territories)
May 17-19, 2017
Winnipeg, MB
Call for proposals for pre-conference session closes November 21, 2016 and concurrent sessions proposals are due by January 27, 2017

NACADA Region 8 (includes Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon)
April 10-12, 2017
Missoula, MT
Call for proposals pre-conference sessions proposal close December 20, 2016, final date for concurrent sessions close January 12, 2017

AACUSS 2017 (Atlantic Association of College and University Student Services
May 24-26, 2017
Dalhousie University, Truro, NS

Manitoba Advising Professionals Conference
November 3-4, 2016
University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB

Ontario Academic Advising Professionals Conference
Dates TBA
York University, Toronto, ON

NACADA Region 2
March 29-31, 2017
Pittsburgh, PA
Call for proposals closes November 18, 2016

NACADA Region 3
April 19 – 21, 2017
Raleigh, NC
Call for proposals closes November 28, 2016

NACADA Region 4
March 29-31, 2017
Jackson, MS
Call for proposals closes December 2, 2016

NACADA Region 7
February 26-28, 2017
Tulsa, OK
Call for proposals closes November 18, 2016

NACADA Region 9
March 22-24, 2017
Reno, NV
Call for proposals closed October 31, 2016

NACADA Region 10
March 20-22, 2017
Phoenix, AZ
Call for proposals closes November 15, 2016