First published as a NACADA Blog October 2011
Laying the foundation for advisor certification: An open letter to NACADA Emerging Leader Janice Williams
At the 2009 NACADA conference in San Antonio I was privileged to be paired with Janice Williams, academic advisor in the School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, as her mentor in the NACADA Emerging Leader program. What transpired was an amazing two year journey getting to know Janice and supporting her growth within our profession. As we brought our formal mentorship to a close at the 2011 NACADA conference in Denver, Janice asked an important question: “why don’t we have certification for academic advisors?”
The journey toward advisor certification
A 2002-2003 NACADA task force lead by Virginia Gordon, a shining light in the generation who brought academic advising to the forefront in the academy, studied that very question. I was fortunate to be the NACADA Executive Office liaison assigned to research for the group. In my research I discover the National Organization for Competency Assurance, now known as the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE), who designates three levels of professional credentials, the most coveted of which is certification. The credential levels are:
Level 1: Workshop completion (sometimes known as "seat time") certificates are awarded when participants complete a workshop. Participants receive a certificate based upon attendance without completing a test measuring acquired knowledge. This certificate cannot be revoked and there is no formal credential designation (letters behind the recipient’s name). A prime example of a Level 1 certificate is the certificate awarded participants who complete the NACADA Summer Institute.
Level 2: Curriculum-based certificates are awarded based upon proof of the acquisition of essential knowledge within a curriculum designated by an association, agency, or college/university. To be eligible for curriculum-based certificates a series of courses or workshops are delivered based upon delineated knowledge and participants must pass tests showing they know the material presented. Those who pass the various assessments are issued a certificate that cannot be revoked. A current example of a Level 2, curriculum-based certificate, within academic advising can be found in the Kansas State University Graduate Certificate in Academic Advising. This graduate program was established as a direct result of the efforts of 2002-2003 NACADA certification task force and boasts more than 250 advisors who have earned graduate certificates in academic advising.
Level 3: Professional Certification (not a certificate) is the credential awarded to individuals who demonstrate knowledge and can apply skills learned within a field. Level 3 certification has eligibility requirements, formal third party skills assessments, and recipients must meet ongoing requirements (CEU's) to maintain their certification. Certification can be revoked if recipients fail to maintain competency or fail to complete renewal requirements. Since certification is the highest level of professionalism, agencies granting certification must be certified by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence who demands that certifying entities demonstrate compliance with set accreditation standards that includes a certifying board separate from the professional association (i.e., NACADA could not issue certification).
To receive initial certification, individuals must complete a prescribed field of study (often a masters degree in the subject area), demonstrate that they have acquired applicable knowledge (pass a test in the field) and document that they can apply learned knowledge to working with clients/students (provide session videos, evaluations, and/or letters of recommendation from the practicing professionals). Continuing education units (CEUs) are required to maintain the certification credential. Example: National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC).
Where is academic advising on the certification credential scale?
Research done by the 2003 NACADA certification task force found that the costs of determining standards and setting up an independent certifying board (including office, staff, and constructing valid and reliable tests) would be more than $1000 per certification applicant, a daunting amount for most academic advisors. Even if money wasn’t an issue, task force research found that academic advising lacked one vital prerequisite to certification: the establishment of a rich and vibrant curriculum that can be readily studied at various institutions.
In short before advisors can earn certification, advising must be a distinct discipline within the academy. Are we there yet? No.
What must we accomplish before advising can become a discipline worthy of credentialing?
First, advising must have an acknowledged curriculum built upon accepted theories and a broad and deep research base. NACADA research grants, begun in the 1980s, continue to help today’s practitioner scholars study what works in advising students. When we share the results of our research findings in the NACADA Journal and other scholarly publications we strengthen the foundation set during the latter part of the 20th century to move our profession closer to becoming a true discipline worthy of study at multiple institutions.
Next, we must delineate advising approaches that can serve as the practice based portion within a curriculum. Some of today’s best practitioner scholars currently are drafting a book (to be jointly published by NACADA and Jossey-Bass in 2013) detailing various approaches advisors use to help students succeed. Building upon our research foundation and tapping into the theories that inform our practice, these twenty authors are documenting strategies within the approaches advisors use to increase student success (certainly one of the components needed if we are to prove we can apply our knowledge to successfully advise students).
The efforts our past leaders laid the needed foundation for our current and future practitioner scholars to build a curriculum within a discipline that can studied and, more importantly, practiced by advisors. The research and writings we do today strengthen this foundation. Only time will tell if advising indeed will become a true discipline with the vibrant and dynamic curriculum needed for certification.
Janice, it is up to you and the other leaders emerging within our field, to take the foundation laid by Virginia Gordon’s generation, and strengthened by today’s leaders, to make academic advising a true discipline worthy of certification. You and your colleagues are shining lights in this new generation of advising scholar practitioners. I, for one, have total faith that you are up to the challenge!
NACADA Assistant Director, Resources & Services