CACUSS and NACADA Competency Framework Compared: Which Works Best for the Canadian Advising Professional?

By Paul Sileika posted 10-11-2017 18:14


style.jpgTrying to decide between two great options!

The 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. These include:

  • Institution specific history, mission, vision, values, and culture.
  • Curriculum, degree programs, and other academic requirements and options.
  • Institution specific policies, procedures, rules, and regulations
  • 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? Or is there a way to combine both? 
Leave your comments below if you are interested in engaging in a discussion on this exciting topic for advising in Canada!


1 comment



10-16-2017 07:54


Thanks for the blog post! Interms of your question, which set of competencies is better, for me it depends on what you are looking for out of them. For example someone who is new to advising, looking to get into advising, or is creating training specifically for advisors NACADA competencies seem to be the perfect fit. Where as people who have advising as part of their portfolio but not the sole function of their role, or are looking to work in different areas of SA,
CACUSS competencies may make more sense. With that being said I think it's an exciting time for us having so much choice and I would argue there is no wrong choice if you are using one (or both) of them.