Academic Advising Is Not a Profession: Who Knew?

Anna C. Johnson, University of Utah
Joshua M. Larson, University of Utah
Jason P. Barkemeyer, University of Utah

Introduction

The catalyst for this research project occurred when a group of advisers at the University of Utah campus questioned the status of academic advising as a career. Initially, they were curious why many individuals who became academic advisers viewed the job as a stepping-stone to something else. To understand why individuals viewed the career this way and to assess changing viewpoints, the group investigated what an occupation or a profession is and how one chooses to become a career academic adviser. This inquiry led them to investigate other advisers’ definitions of academic advising, whether advisers were satisfied with the career status, and, if not, what directions would be suggested for the future of the academic advising career. Our group considered two main research questions:

  • Is academic advising a profession?
  • How does the term “profession” relate to the occupation of advising?

The researchers used Audience Response Systems to gather data during a presentation outlining the historical and sociological definition of professions in the United States. The presentation employed survey and pre/post-test research methods at six National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) regional conferences from 2012 through 2013. An earlier pilot study occurred at the Utah Advising and Orientation Association’s (UAOA) annual conference in May 2011; a full review of the results from that study was published in The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal (Adams, Larson, & Barkemeyer, 2013). Data presented in this paper include results solely from the six NACADA regional presentations.

Literature review

Within the last few years, at least four articles have been published that explore why academic advising is not considered a profession and discuss steps that should be taken to elevate academic advising to the status of a profession (Shaffer, Zalewski, & Leveille, 2010). While the research clearly demonstrates that academic advising does not meet the historical or sociological definition of a profession (Kuhn & Padak, 2008; Habley, 2009; Shaffer et al., 2010), it is unclear if practicing academic advisers agree, know, or understand they are not part of a profession or if they can articulate the future direction for making change.

Though the concept of a profession and the route of professionalization can be unique and diverse (Evetts, 2003; Wilensky, 1964; Shaffer et al., 2010), the following three characteristics and usually a fourth are found in most literature defining professions. Wilensky (1964, p. 138) summed up these conditions by stating, “Any occupation wishing to exercise professional authority must find a technical basis for it, assert an exclusive jurisdiction, link both skill and jurisdiction to standards of training, and convince the public that its services are uniquely trustworthy.” These four criteria can correspond to a long tertiary education, self-regulation, sole jurisdiction, and expert service provided to an otherwise unknowledgeable or vulnerable population.

All professions require a long and tertiary education that is steeped in theory (Evetts, 2003; Klass, 1961; Kolb, 2008; Macionis, 2007; Shaffer et al., 2010; Wilensky, 1964). The theoretical background reinforces the fact that skills required of a profession are not prescriptive, cannot be learned on the job, and often require years of formal hands-on training that allow the professional to apply theory to practical situations.

A profession possesses sole jurisdiction over the duties it performs; thus, only its members are allowed to practice or offer its skills and services and the scope of its responsibilities (Evetts, 2003; Klass, 1961; Kolb, 2008; Macionis, 2007; Shaffer et al., 2010; Wilensky, 1964). As Kolb (2008) stated, “When a profession is recognized, it is granted an exclusive franchise as only those who are licensed can practice.”

Professions are legally recognized as self-regulating bodies (Evetts, 2003; Klass, 1961; Kolb, 2008; Macionis, 2007; Shaffer et al., 2010; Wilensky, 1964). Member practitioners form a professional organization that creates the standards, procedures, and pay scales for the profession. In addition, the profession is legally recognized by the state or other government entities as having self-regulatory rights.

Finally, professions provide a service that is necessary to the public and serves the public good (Evetts, 2003; Klass, 1961; Kolb, 2008; Macionis, 2007; 2010; Wilensky, 1964). The public places a high level of trust in the professional skills of the expert. Wilensky (1964, 140) illustrated the service imperative, public good, and trust by asserting, “The client is peculiarly vulnerable; he is both in trouble and ignorant of how to help himself out of it.” Klass (1961, p. 700) focused more on the professional’s perspective of service: “It is the result of the association of men and women of superior type with a common ideal of service above gain, excellence above quality, self-expression beyond pecuniary motive and loyalty to a professional code above individual advantage.”

Research by Kuhn and Padak (2008), Wilensky (1964), and Shaffer et al. (2010) details where academic advising falls short of the professional criteria and asserts that academic advising as a field and profession is probably a good distance from satisfying all four prerequisites. With such consistent and clear research describing why academic advising is not a profession, how is it that advisers are confused about their field’s status as a profession?

The confusion could stem from many sources. It may largely be due to the fact that academic advisers identify themselves as professional academic advisers. The adjective professional in the academic adviser title has many possible origins. Describing the shift from advising as a faculty responsibility to that of a person hired to do advising full time, Kuhn and Padak (2008, p. 2) said, “Hence, as advising is being unbundled at a time when ever more students require assistance and direction with their academic, social, and personal concerns its function is being assumed by individuals whose primary purpose is to advise students.” In a colloquial sense, when a task shifts to a full-time occupation, people often refer to themselves as professionals. Dictionary.com defines professional as “following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain.” Advisers may have added professional as a way to denote performance of a full-time task. Shaffer et al. (2010) asserted that in higher education the phrase professional academic adviser originated as a way to differentiate the duties of the non-faculty adviser from the duties of faculty members. It is unclear that advising practitioners understand these distinctions.

The higher education setting may further confuse the issue of advising as a profession. According to Shaffer et al. (2010, p. 67), “Academia has long been considered a profession.” Professors are considered by many to be a part of a profession (Evetts, 2003; Wilensky, 1964). It is easy to understand why an adviser might measure the advising occupation alongside other occupations in higher education and assume that advising is a profession. In fact, many theories and articles discuss the duties of or propose a similarity and strong relationship between advising and the teaching profession (Crookston, 1972; Lowenstein, 2005; Darling & Woodside, 2007). The advising community commonly refers to “advising as teaching” and as Appleby (2008) asserts, “ ‘advising is teaching’ is the guiding principle of the Global Community for Academic Advising,” (p.85). This theory may be further evidenced by NACADA’s discussions about advising as teaching (Creamer, 2000), which assert a similarity between the profession of teaching and the practice of advising.

The distinction and confusion between professional and profession is probably no accident. As Evetts (2003, p. 396) pointed out, the term appeals to customers, and “it is used in mission statements and organizational aims and objectives to motivate employees. It is an attractive prospect for an occupation to be considered a profession and for occupational workers to be identified as professionals.” Indeed, advising offices, higher education administrators, and advisers themselves may have used the term to “convince, cajole and persuade employees, practitioners and other workers to perform and behave in ways which the organization and the institution deem to be appropriate, effective, and efficient. And ‘professional’ workers are very keen to grasp and lay claim to the normative values of professionalism” (Evetts, 2003, p. 411. In other words, acting professionally and using the title “professional academic adviser” was to the advantage of the institution, the academic adviser, and the student.

As indicated by Evetts (2003), the use of the term professional can indicate both a type of attitude and a destination for an occupation. This may partially explain why NACADA states in its strategic mission and goals section that its members “include professional advisors/counselors, faculty, administrators and students whose responsibilities include academic advising” (NACADA, 2014a, ¶ 3), even though all research indicates field of academic advising cannot be considered a profession according to the sociological definition. According to Cook (2009, p. 18), the formation of NACADA had professionalization as one of its goals: “… only with the founding of NACADA in 1979 did academic advising begin its journey to professionalization.” Grites and Gordon (2009, p. 41) echoed this when describing the inception of NACADA: “… It was to be a new professional association that would focus on academic advising and those who provide this service and expertise.” As stated in the NACADA by-laws, NACADA seems to aspire to operate as a professional organization by creating standards, recommendations, and by serving as, “the representative and advocate of academic advising and academic advisers to higher education” (NACADA, 2014, p. 2).

Reading the NACADA website, one might assume advisers think of themselves as professionals. NACADA also considers its members to be professionals and that both advisers and NACADA aspire for advising to be a profession. While this assumption may be true, it is unclear if advising practitioners—also called front-line advisers, who practice advising daily as opposed to serving as advising administrators—know they are not part of a profession or understand the criteria that establish an occupation as a profession. One may also conclude that front-line advisers are not aware of the advantages or disadvantages that professionalization may bring to the field of advising. This lack of understanding and confusion may have contributed to the lack of participation in research regarding professionalization. Most research on professionalization of academic advisers has been conducted by NACADA staff members, higher-level administrators, or by researchers in higher education not currently practicing advising (Grites & Gordon, 2009; Habley, 2009; Shaffer et al., 2010; McGillin, 2000).

Aiken-Wisniewski, Smith, and Troxel (2010) illustrated the lack of engagement in research by front-line advisers. Current research has not involved or questioned the advising practitioner’s viewpoint, understanding, or desire for professionalization—nor have front-line advisers conducted research themselves—therefore, it is not clear whether advisers understand the definitions of the terms professional or profession. Thus, the researchers believe that academic advising practitioners generally and NACADA members specifically do not understand the criteria of a profession, and they have a unique and colloquial understanding of the ways in which academic advising relates to a profession.

To further substantiate the hypothesis that advisers, particularly front-line advisers, are not aware of the implications or criteria of professionalization, Josh Larson, Anna Adams, and Jason Barkemeyer conducted a pilot study at the Utah Advising and Orientation Association (UAOA) conference in May 2011 (Adams, Larson, & Barkemeyer, 2013). In the 2013 pilot study, before participants heard an educational presentation about the sociological and historical criteria for categorizing an occupation as a profession, 96 percent of respondents stated advising should be considered a profession, but after the presentation only 16 percent felt advising should be considered a profession. The change of opinion seemed to indicate that advisers were unaware of professional criteria and professionalization and that more information is needed to understand how academic advisers describe advising as it relates to a profession.

After gaining insight into the state of advising and its relationship to the occupational status of a profession, researchers can further evaluate the desire for, appropriateness of, and action steps for professionalization. While advisers may choose not to pursue professionalization, it is clear from the pilot study results that advisers would advocate for a path that recognizes and supports characteristics found in professions: appropriate compensation, recognition, training, education, increased levels of autonomy, and scope of responsibilities. Evetts (2003) sheds light as to why the status of a profession is appealing to so many through his explanation of the characteristics of professions:

The ideology of professionalism that is so appealing to occupational groups and their practitioners includes aspects such as exclusive ownership of an area of expertise and knowledge, and the power to define the nature of problems in that area as well as the control of access to potential solutions. It also includes an image of collegial work relations of mutual assistance and support rather than hierarchical, competitive or managerialist control. Additional aspects of the ideology of professionalism and its appeal are autonomy in decision-making and discretion in work practices, decision-making in the public interest unfettered only marginally by financial constraints, and in some cases (for example the medical profession historically) even self-regulation or the occupational control of work. (Freidson, 1994, p. 407)

Methods

As investigators, we used clickers as an Audience Response System technology to compile data from the survey and pre/post-test questions. Clickers have been shown to be effective in gathering information in an efficient, understandable, and entertaining manner (Bunz, 2005; Prather & Brissenden, 2009). Clickers facilitate anonymous data collection, which particularly suited this topic and allowed strong emotions to surface. Large-group surveys have been shown to be as effective as individual interviews (Molitor, Kravitz, To, & Fink, 2001).

The analysis of data gathered during a presentation on the historical and sociological definition of professions assessed how academic advising may or may not fit a professional definition. The beginning of the presentation posed a series of questions to familiarize participants with the technology and to gather demographic information. Two pre-test questions immediately followed the demographic questions: “Is academic advising a profession?” and “should academic advising become a profession?” The audience then received information on the historical and sociological criteria for recognized professions along with historical information on the occupation of academic advising (refer to the Tables for a list of all questions and data gathered). During the presentation of this information, survey questions gathered information on the audience’s concurrence with the information presented. First the survey posed a question, then results of the question appeared on the screen, and the group as a whole discussed the results. Research by Smith, Wood, Krauter, and Knight (2009) found that discussion among peers, even when no one knows the correct answer, improves test scores and understanding of concepts. Peer discussion during the survey helped to ensure the respondents were able to understand and dissect the concepts thoroughly, and it provided an opportunity for respondents to add information, thus reducing researcher and presenter bias. Discussion also added a source of data to increase our validity and reliability. The presentation concluded with a repeat of the original two questions: “Is academic advising a profession,” and, “should academic advising be a profession?”

Findings

Three categories below best articulate the findings: Demographics, Survey, and Pre/Post-Test.

Demographics

Each presentation started with a series of demographic questions to assess participants’ years of advising experience, percentage of time spent advising, education levels, and regional affiliation. Participants represented six of the ten National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) regions (see Table 1 for a complete record of attendance by region). The majority of respondents were newer to the field of advising, with 56 percent of respondents reporting six or fewer years of advising experience. More than 85 percent of respondents reported working in the advising field for fifteen years or less (see Table 2). Advisers from all regions surveyed responded in the majority that advising was a full-time responsibility; 15 percent reported spending fewer than thirty hours per week in direct advising-related tasks (see Table 3). Ninety-eight percent of those surveyed had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. Specifically, 28 percent reported bachelor’s degrees, 65 percent had earned master’s, and 5 percent had doctoral degrees. The remaining 2 percent represented one associate’s degree and one without a degree. Table 4 displays this information in detail.

Table 1. Summary of Clicker Data: What region are you from? (clicker test question)
ANSWER REGION TOTAL (%) RESPONSE COUNT
Region 2 20.321 38
Region 5 10.695 20
Region 7 12.299 23
Region 8 22.995 43
Region 9 6.417 12
Region 10 22.995 43
Outside of Region attended 4.278 8
Totals 100 187

 

Table 2. Summary of Clicker Data: How many years have you been advising?
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
Less than 3 30.95 (13) 19.05 (4) 8.7 (2) 32.61 (15) 23.08 (3) 25.58 (11) 25.532 (48)
3-6 years 21.43 (9) 28.57 (6) 30.43 (7) 32.61 (15) 46.15 (6) 32.56 (14) 30.319 (57)
7-10 years 16.67 (7) 14.29 (6) 30.43 (7) 13.04 (6) 7.69 (1) 16.28 (7) 16.489 (31)
11-15 years 14.29 (6) 19.05 (4) 17.39 (4) 10.87 (5) 7.69 (1) 11.63 (5) 13.298 (25)
16-29 years 16.67 (7) 19.05 (4) 13.04 (3) 8.7 (4) 7.69 (1) 13.95 (6) 13.298 (25)
30+ years 0 0 0 2.17 (1) 7.69 (1) 0 1.064 (2)
Totals 100 (42) 100 (21) 100 (23) 100 (46) 100 (13) 100 (43) 100 (188)

 

Table 3. Summary of Clicker Data: Are you a full-time or part-time adviser?
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
Full-time (30+ hrs) 82.93 (34) 85.71 (18) 90.91 (20) 86.96 (40) 85.71(12) 79.55 (35) 84.574 (159)
Part-time 17.07 (7) 14.29 (3) 9.09 (2) 13.04 (6) 14.29 (2) 20.45 (9) 15.426 (29)
Totals 100 (41) 100 (21) 100 (22) 100 (46) 100 (14) 100 (44) 100 (188)

 

Table 4. Summary of Clicker Data: What is your highest level of education?
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
No degree 0 0 0 0 0 2.22 (1) 0.524 (1)
Associate’s 2.44 (1) 0 0 0 0 2.22 (1) 1.047 (2)
Certificate 0 4.55 (1) 0 0 0 0 0.524 (1)
Bachelor’s 21.95 (9) 9.09 (2) 26.09 (6) 32.61 (15) 28.57 (4) 37.78 (17) 27.749 (53)
Master’s 68.29 (28) 81.82 (18) 73.91 (17) 63.04 (29) 64.29 (9) 51.11 (23) 64.921 (124)
Doctorate 7.32 (3) 4.55 (1) 0 4.35 (2) 7.14 (1) 6.67 (3) 5.236 (10)
Totals 100 (41) 100 (22) 100 (23) 100 (46) 100 (14) 100 (45) 100 (191)

Survey

This section examines the results as they relate to the four tenets of a profession discussed above.

The first tenet we examined was the requirement that all professions must have a long, tertiary education. The majority of respondents concurred that the occupation of advising warrants this level of education. However, more than 40 percent disagreed. See Table 5.

Table 5. Summary of Clicker Data: Do you think the advising occupation warrants a long, tertiary education?
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
Yes 53.66 (22) 54.55 (12) 69.57 (16) 67.44 (29) 50 (7) 44.44 (20) 56.383 (106)
No 46.34 (19) 45.45 (10) 30.43 (7) 32.56 (14) 50 (7) 55.56 (25) 43.617 (82)
Totals 100 (41) 100 (22) 100 (23) 100 (43) 100 (14) 100 (45) 100 (188)

Next, attendees were asked whether advisers provide a necessary service to a vulnerable population, another tenet of recognized professions. Ten percent disagreed or strongly disagreed, while 89 percent agreed or strongly agreed. See Table 6.

Table 6. Summary of Clicker Data: Advisers provide a necessary public service to a vulnerable population who relies heavily on the advising expert.
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
Strongly Agree 35 (14) 77.27 (17) 59.09 (13) 57.78 (26) 57.14 (8) 40.43 (19) 51.053 (97)
Agree 42.5 (17) 22.73 (5) 40.91 (9) 37.78 (17) 28.57 (4) 44.68 (21) 38.421 (73)
Disagree 20 (8) 0 0 4.44 (2) 14.29 (2) 12.77 (6) 9.474 (18)
Strongly Disagree 2.5 (1) 0 0 0 0 2.13 (1) 1.053 (2)
Totals 100 (40) 100 (22) 100 (22) 100 (45) 100 (14) 100 (47) 100 (190)

The third tenet addressed the principles to which professionals must adhere. Groups were asked if they were aware of NACADA or Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) guidelines for academic advising. More than half of respondents (59 percent) indicated they knew of these standards; 31 percent did not. The remaining respondents indicated they were unsure if they were aware of these standards. See Table 7.

Table 7. Summary of Clicker Data: Are you aware of the NACADA or CAS standards?
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
Yes 56.76 (21) 60.87 (14) 61.9 (13) 65.91 (29) 42.86 (6) 55.56 (25) 58.696 (108)
No 32.43 (12) 21.74 (5) 28.57 (6) 27.27 (12) 57.14 (8) 31.11 (14) 30.978 (57)
Not sure 10.81 (4) 17.39 (4) 9.52 (2) 6.82 (3) 0 13.33 (6) 10.326 (19)
Totals 100 (37) 100 (23) 100 (21) 100 (44) 100 (14) 100 (45) 100 (184)

The fourth tenet pertains to all professions having a governing body that determines the scope of practice for all professionals and bears sole authority to grant or revoke professional status. Survey participants were questioned “whether the governance of the occupation of advising should be consistent nationally, determined within a state or local to each institution.” In total, respondents were nearly evenly split on the occupation of advising being consistent nationally or locally. Only 11 percent agreed that the state should determine the scope of advising. See Table 8.

Table 8. Summary of Clicker Data: The occupation of advising (the duties, norms, and skills) should be relatively consistent nationally, within a state, or local to each institution?
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
Be relatively
consistent nationally
38.46 (15) 81.82 (18) 73.91 (17) 50 (21) 35.71 (5) 21.28 (10) 45.989 (86)
Be determined
within a state
10.26 (4) 9.09 (2) 13.04 (3) 38.1 (5) 0 14.89 (7) 11.23 (21)
Be local to
each institution
51.28 (20) 9.09 (2) 13.04 (3) 38.1 (16) 64.29 (9) 63.83 (30) 42.781 (80)
Totals 100 (39) 100 (22) 100 (23) 100 (42) 100 (14) 100 (47) 100 (187)

The next two questions delved into the scope of the practice of advising. Respondents viewed a list of tasks and recorded whether or not they regarded each activity as an advising responsibility. The activities included general education guidance, new student orientation, advising handbook development, transfer-credit evaluation, degree-audit monitoring, and liaising with academic departments or schools. Ninety-five percent of advisers either agreed or strongly agreed the list of tasks was advising related. See Table 9.

Table 9. Summary of Clicker Data: I _____ that advisers should be involved with these types of these activities: general education guidance, new student orientation, develop advising handbooks, evaluate transfer credit, monitor degree audits, liaison to academic departments/schools.
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
Strongly Agree 52.5(21) 69.57(16) 69.57(16) 63.04(29) 46.67(7) 60.42(29) 60.513(118)
Agree 45(18) 26.09(6) 30.43(7) 34.78(16) 40(6) 31.25(15) 34.872(68)
Disagree 2.5(1) 0 0 21.7(1) 13.33(2) 6.25(3) 3.59(7)
Strongly Disagree 0 4.35(1) 0 0 0 2.08(1) 1.026(2)
Totals 100(40) 100(23) 100(23) 100(46) 100(15) 100(48) 100(195)

The second list of tasks presented included research and publication, curriculum, assessment and development, service (academic committees, national committees), accreditation, and student mentoring. Sixty-seven percent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that advisers should be involved with these activities, while 7 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed they should be involved. See Table 10.

Table 10. Summary of Clicker Data: I _____ that advisers should be involved with these types of activities: research & publications, curriculum, assessment & development, service, accreditation.
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
Strongly Agree 27.5 (11) 60.87 (14) 40.91 (9) 25 (11) 28.57 (4) 23.4 (11) 31.579 (60)
Agree 37.5 (15) 30.43 (7) 36.36 (8) 36.36 (16) 14.29 (2) 40.43 (19) 35.263 (67)
Depends 32.5 (13) 8.7 (2) 18.18 (4) 27.27 (12) 42.86 (6) 27.66 (13) 26.316 (50)
Disagree 2.5 (1) 0 4.55 (1) 11.36 (5) 14.29 (2) 4.26 (2) 5.789 (11)
Strongly Disagree 0 0 0 0 0 4.26 (2) 1.053 (2)
Totals 100 (40) 100 (23) 100 (22) 100 (44) 100 (14) 100 (47) 100 (190)

A follow-up question then asked, “If the occupation of advising required advisers to conduct research and assessment, publish scholarly articles, participate in curriculum development and accreditation, complete service activities (serve on academic committees, volunteer time), what should be the minimum education requirement for an academic adviser?” As literature suggests, many of the above are in line with master’s level education. Respondents’ views aligned with the literature with 85 percent indicating education beyond a bachelor’s degree is necessary to complete items such as research, assessment, and publication of scholarly inquiry. See Table 11.

Table 11. Summary of Clicker Data: If the occupation of advising required advisers to conduct research and assessment, publish scholarly articles, participate in curriculum development and accreditation, complete service activities (serve on academic committees, volunteer time), what should be the minimum educational requirement for an academic adviser?
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
Certification 0 4.35 (1) 0 2.17 (1) 0 4.17 (2) 2.062 (4)
Bachelor’s 7.69 (3) 8.7 (2) 17.39 (4) 6.52 (3) 6.67 (1) 25 (12) 12.887 (25)
Master’s 79.49 (31) 69.57 (16) 56.52 (13) 63.04 (29) 80 (12) 54.17 (26) 65.464 (127)
Doctorate 5.13 (2) 8.7 (2) 8.7 (2) 8.7 (4) 0 4.17 (2) 6.186 (12)
Licensure w/Degree 7.69 (3) 8.7 (2) 17.39 (4) 19.57 (9) 13.33 (2) 12.5 (6) 13.402 (26)
Totals 100 (39) 100 (23) 100 (23) 100 (46) 100 (15) 100 (48) 100 (194)

Lastly, if advising became or was considered to be a profession, the literature suggests it must forgo 9–5 workday expectations (guaranteed hours, schedules, sleep). Commenting on the strenuous nature of a profession, Klass (1961) stated, “It takes little account of contemporary standards of work hours, of limits of fatigue, of expectations of monetary compensation, in its stern view of professional duty” (p. 699). Participants were asked if they would be willing to forgo these workday expectations; fifty-six percent responded in the affirmative. Twenty-five percent indicated “maybe.” See Table 12. It is important to note that while many advisers already advise more than forty hours a week, if professionalized, this extra time would most likely be more appropriately compensated or better limits on work structure might be enforced. For instance, specific time allotments for advising appointments could be enacted similar to the standards set for psychologist appointments. Additionally, many professions with added work requirements often provide other incentives such as more flexible schedules to compensate for the increased work hours. Finally, current advisers may engage in additional work time at home or in other work responsibilities out of obligation or desire to provide their valuable services. Professionalization of the occupation would likely achieve more favorable recognition, status, and compensation for this additional work.

Table 12. Summary of Clicker Data: Are you willing to forgo 9-5 norms (guaranteed hours, schedules, sleep) to become a profession?
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
Yes 46.15 (18) 73.91 (17) 76.19 (16) 62.22 (28) 50 (7) 42.22 (19) 56.15 (105)
No 15.38 (6) 4.35 (1) 14.26 (3) 17.78 (8) 7.14 (1) 37.78 (17) 19.251 (36)
Maybe 38.46 (15) 21.74 (5) 9.52 (2) 20 (9) 42.86 (6) 20 (17) 24.599 (46)
Totals 100 (39) 100 (23) 100 (21) 100 (45) 100 (14) 100 (45) 100 (187)

Pre/Post-Test

At the end of the demographic section, the first pre-test question appeared: “Is academic advising a profession?” Ninety-one percent of respondents agreed that academic advising was a profession. There was no discussion following this question. See Table 13.

Table 13. Summary of Clicker Data: Is academic advising a profession? (Pre-test)
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
Yes 88.1 (37) 95.45 (21) 95.65 (22) 95.65 (44) 85.71 (12) 86.96 (40) 91.192 (176)
No 11.9 (5) 4.555 (1) 4.35 (1) 2 (2) 14.29 (2) 13.04 (6) 8.808 (17)
Totals 100 (42) 100 (22) 100 (23) 100 (46) 100 (14) 100 (46) 100 (193)

The group then answered a second pre-test question: “Do you think advising should be considered a profession?” The goal of this question was to allow respondents the opportunity to indicate whether advising should move to professional status if they didn’t think the field had obtained it already. Included in the response choices was “not sure.” Eighty-four percent responded affirmatively to this question, and 12 percent indicated they were not sure. The majority of participants in all regions agreed advising should be considered a profession. See Table 14.

Table 14. Summary of Clicker Data: Do you think advising should be considered a profession? (Pre-test)
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
Yes 75 (30) 86.96 (20) 82.61 (19) 93.48 (43) 69.23 (9) 84.44 (38) 83.684 (159)
No 10 (4) 0 0 0 15.38 (2) 6.67 (3) 4.737 (9)
Not sure 15 (6) 13.04 (3) 17.39 (4) 6.52 (3) 15.38 (2) 8.89 (4) 11.579 (22)
Totals 100 (40) 100 (23) 100 (23) 100 (46) 100 (13) 100 (45) 100 (190)

At the end of the presentation, the researchers asked the same two questions considered at the beginning. Affirmative responses to the question, “Is academic advising a profession,” dropped to 33 percent, while 67 percent reported they did not believe advising was a profession. See Table 15. The second pre-test question yielded only a slight majority of respondents who believed academic advising should become a profession. Note: When the second question, “Should academic advising become a profession?” was asked during the pre-test phase, it included the following possible responses: “Yes, No, Not Sure.” During the post-test phase, because of the expected learning that would take place, the response choices were, “Yes, No, No but more career opportunities need to be provided.” With this new option, instead of selecting “No,” most participants indicated they would like access to career opportunities.

Table 15. Summary of Clicker Data: Is academic advising a profession? (Post-test)
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
Yes 18.92 (7) 30.43 (7) 31.82 (7) 58.14 (25) 33.33 (5) 23.4 (11) 33.155 (62)
No 81.08 (30) 69.57 (16) 68.18 (15) 41.86 (18) 66.67 (10) 76.6 (36) 66.845 (125)
Totals 100 (37) 100 (23) 100 (22) 100 (43) 100 (15) 100 (47) 100 (187)

 

Table 16. Summary of Clicker Data: Should academic advising become a profession? (Post-test)
ANSWER REGION TOTAL, %: (RESPONSE COUNT)
Region 2 5 7 8 9 10 Region Totals
Yes 41.67 (20) 59.09 (13) 73.9 (17) 83.33 (25) 40 (6) 41.67 (20) 54.301 (101)
No 14.58 (7) 4.55 (1) 0 3.33 (1) 20 (3) 14.58 (7) 10.215 (19)
No, but career opportunities
need to be provided
43.75 (21) 36.36 (8) 26.09 (6) 13.33 (4) 40 (6) 43.75 (21) 35.484 (66)
Totals 100 (48) 100 (22) 100 (23) 100 (30) 100 (15) 100 (48) 100 (186)

Discussion

How does the term “profession” relate to the occupation of advising?

First, this discussion section examines participant responses to questions about advising as an occupation, in comparison to the definition of professions. When asked if they thought academic advising warranted a long, tertiary education, respondents had to decide what advising was and what the occupation should be like, and then decide if that warranted a long-tertiary education. Making this decision was perhaps the crux of the research and the focus of many discussions. What is advising, what should it be, and what are the ramifications? Forty-six percent of respondents to a NACADA survey (2000) indicated that advising should or does include higher-level skills such as research, assessment, curriculum decision, and publication. This research found a slightly higher agreement with the NACADA finding with sixty-six percent of respondents agreeing. These skills are generally obtained through a long-tertiary education, yet only fifty-six percent of respondents agreed that advising warranted a long-tertiary education (Lynch & Stucky, 2000, p. 18). Because a long-tertiary education is overwhelmingly the standard for successful engagement in the activities outlined above, and more than 70 percent of attendees had a master’s or doctoral degree, it seems contradictory that respondents felt this level of education was unnecessary for the advising occupation. A simple explanation for this view may be that attendees believed advising is or should be mostly prescriptive or should not involve higher-level skills or theories. However, participant’s comments made during and after the presentation indicated they felt academic advising as practiced by many advisers does not fully utilize their skills and knowledge. If so, supervisors may not be using employees to their full potentials, positions or institutions may not allow advisers to engage in these higher-level activities, or the format of the occupation may not embrace these skills. Currently, many advisers face time constraints and cannot practice in ways that utilize the skills they would like to bring to the occupation. Though additional research is needed to understand why this conflicting opinion exists, further investigation may not be possible until those who practice adopt a clearer definition of the occupation of advising.

Next, participants indicated their level of agreement with a list of prescriptive advising tasks. Respondents clearly considered these responsibilities appropriate components of the occupation. All of the tasks listed can be performed through on-the-job training and require no background training in a specific discipline. Furthermore, there is no theoretical or extensive education required to complete these tasks to a satisfactory level. It is clear that advisers expect or desire to perform higher-level job responsibilities more consistent with a tertiary education but also consider many “prescriptive” tasks to be part of an adviser’s responsibilities. Furthermore, as these duties become part of the academic adviser’s role, participants believe an education above and beyond a bachelor’s degree is needed to prepare a practitioner for such duties. While more than 65 percent of respondents believe a master’s degree is appropriate, 20 percent indicated a doctoral degree or professional certification should be necessary.

When asked to indicate the degree to which they agree that advisers provide a necessary public service—one of the four tenets of recognized professions—89 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed advisers provide this to a vulnerable population. Participants agreed higher education students are vulnerable, considering that less than one-third of Americans have earned bachelor’s degrees (Lumina Foundation, 2012); income potential is significantly higher with a bachelor’s degree than without; employees with bachelor’s degrees are more employable (BLS, 2014); attaining an education is costly, time consuming, and in many ways prohibitive (College Board, 2015). This is particularly true when evaluating retention, especially for those who are less prepared for college. Data from the 2013 U.S. Census Bureau show that 16.8 percent of those who begin and complete some college leave with no degree, and these students not only deal with the failure of not completing but also have often incurred a large debt and made many life changes to enter higher education (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). In essence, if they do not finish, students may be more vulnerable upon leaving higher education than they were before starting. In addition, the increasing complexity and volume of outcomes, goals, procedures, policies, cultures, and geographies of a campus are difficult to navigate for many and are often overwhelming to many. Finally, because traditionally aged college students are at a developmental crossroads—assuming new responsibilities such as fiscal accountability, realizing their personality style, and individuating—they are particularly susceptible to the consequences of attaining or attempting to attain higher education.

By asking participants if they would be willing to forgo typical workday norms, researchers tried to gauge advisers’ response to a workday schedule consistent with most recognized professions. Participants were fairly split when answering; the overall response was 56 percent in the affirmative. Twenty-five percent of respondents indicated they “maybe” would be willing to forgo workday norms. During the discussion, some participants said that they needed more information and assurances before they could agree; they wanted to know their compensation, value, and perceived status would increase to an acceptable level before accepting a change in expectations for their job.

Lastly, advisers responded to a question about standardization of advising-related tasks. Forty-six percent of respondents reported academic advising should be consistent nationally, and 43 percent felt standards should be determined within each institution. If standards, practices, education, and training, among other things, are not consistent nationally, many goals for the occupation, including professionalization are impossible. If standards for the job are local to each institution, then most likely pay scale, requirements, tasks, and every other aspect of the occupation will also be local to each institution. It is the opinion of the researchers that this result would keep advising as an ill-defined, poorly compensated, overburdened, and misunderstood occupation.

Is academic advising a profession?

When asked during pre-testing if academic advising should become a profession, respondents agreed they did want academic advising to become a profession. However, after discussion about what would be involved in moving advising to a profession, respondents took a more cautious approach. The majority voted that advising should not move fully to a profession but further advancement opportunities should be available. Nearly ninety percent of respondents believed the current status of advising is not desirable and something should change, whether that meant moving toward a profession or making other opportunities available. This percentage is obtained by adding the “Yes” and “No, but more career opportunities need to be provided,” region totals from Table 16 when asked the question, “Should academic advising become a profession?”

Responses to the pre/post-test question “Is academic advising a profession?” indicated respondents were unfamiliar with the definition of “profession” and were confused about the use of the word, particularly the historical and sociological usage. Although participants verbally agreed advising is not a profession according to the historical and sociological definition, many advisers expressed an unwillingness to relinquish the term. Some advisers admitted answering yes to the post-test question “Is academic advising a profession?” even though it did not fit the definition. On the whole, advisers appreciated the discussion and the education regarding the term and quickly began to make distinctions regarding occupational status.

Limitations

While findings are supported by the data of the study, the researchers recognize the study does have limitations. Only academic advisers who are invested in NACADA and attended a regional conference contributed to the data pool, which limits the generalizability of the findings to all academic advisers. Participants self-selected to attend the concurrent conference presentation during which data were collected. Researchers did not require attendees to answer every question of the study, leading to different total responses for each research question.

Clicker technology may have limited the responses and contributed to fluctuation in the total number of responses. This technology was unable to indicate if a response failure occurred. Given the nature of the clicker technology, respondents may not have been able to verify their responses. Participants were forced to select from multiple-choice answers and did not have the time to write in a response. Other reasons for fluctuation in total responses include abstinence from responding or simply insufficient time to answer a question.

Lastly, the fact that discussion was allowed after clicker questions were asked and tallied could have impacted how individuals chose to answer a question. Though the discussions may have better informed participants and allowed responses more reflective of the individual’s opinion, group influence may also have altered or affected individual responses, and the anticipation of group discussion could have made individuals nervous about an answer.

Implications for Policy

Determining a minimum education level for entry-level as well as experienced advisers would affect human resources policies in higher education. Finite occupational structures and requirements for each qualification level of academic advising would transparently and straightforwardly inform those who hire advisers and those who aspire to be advisers. Hiring policies would be more consistent across local, state, and national forums and entering and excelling in the field would not be a mysterious or happenstance process.

Policies reflecting minimum levels of education/training could greatly impact the occupation, and a number of models could inform the development of requirements and manner of implementation. Standardizing minimum education criteria could also correlate with standardizing the knowledge base required before one begins to advise students. Some institutions already require advisers to attend a series of training workshops and/or complete a certificate program.

Implications for Practice

Perhaps the most apparent implication of this study would be the creation of standards for academic advisers across campuses nationwide. This development would not only strongly impact the practitioner but would have consequences for students as well. For advisers and advisees, the direction of the occupation would help to articulate the expectations of the profession whether receiving or providing its expertise.

An important second implication is the creation of a direction for academic advising practitioners. More clearly defining the role, status, and occupation of academic advising may reveal a clearer direction or goal for its practitioners, a defined path for those wishing to enter the occupation, and a route for advancement. This may not only improve the caliber of those entering the occupation but could greatly enhance the retention and expertise of the professionals within it.

Implications for Future Research

As the occupation of academic advising faces more inquiry about its direction, the findings above point to a few specific areas that should be considered for future research. First, further inquiry should address the career opportunities that should be created or might exist for the field of academic advising. Second, research is needed to determine what administrators and managers consider is the day-to-day role of academic advisers. And lastly, given a mandate to move away from the status quo of academic advising, further research must address the education or training required for the occupation of academic advising. While advisers may choose not to pursue professionalization, it is clear advisers would like to pursue a path that recognizes and supports characteristics found in professions: appropriate compensation, recognition, advisor specific training, education, and increased levels of autonomy and scope of responsibilities.

Conclusion

Through the use of survey and pre/post-test experiment methodology, researchers obtained the opinions of advisers regarding the current state of the occupation of advising and how it relates to recognized professions. Findings indicated a desire to move the occupation away from the status quo. A few ways in which the advising occupation has developed since its inception include the creation of graduate programs dedicated to training entry-level academic advisers and the increasing incidence of academic advising as a search term in the ERIC (Education Resources Information Center) database. How far the occupation should move may fall somewhere between becoming a recognized profession and having defined educational and career advancement opportunities available. Advisers appear to be interested and engaged in the topic and are willing and ready to explore future directions for the occupation.

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The authors thank Dr. Sharon Aiken-Wisniewski of the University of Utah for her energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, and support. Dr. Aiken-Wisniewski has been a terrific guide and mentor. Currently, she is assistant vice president for Academic Affairs and Undergraduate Studies and associate dean of University College.

About the Author(s)

Joshua M. Larson, University of Utah

Joshua M. Larson, M.A., is a program manager and academic advisor for the athletic training education program at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah. He can be reached at joshua.larson@health.utah.edu.

Jason P. Barkemeyer, University of Utah

Jason P. Barkemeyer, M.Ed., is an academic advising coordinator in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah. He can be reached at jason.barkemeyer@utah.edu.

Anna C. Johnson, University of Utah

Anna C. Johnson, M.Ed., is an academic advising coordinator in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah. She can be reached at anna.johnson@business.utah.edu.

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