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Certification for Student Affairs Professionals
January 12, 2012 - 6:38pm

It was announced this week that ACPA had appointed a Student Affairs "Credentialing Implementation Team." Included in the announcement was news that "the ACPA Governing Board unanimously approved the creation of a professional credentialing program, to consist of a Student Affairs Register and Specialized Skill Certification." ACPA has been intentionally working towards a Student Affairs credential since 2004. According to a 2005 "Preliminary Report [.doc]," Student Affairs Certification has been a topic of conversation for decades.  The report is a fascinating document. It was put together by a group of well-known practitioners. While I haven't read it in its entirety, I did notice a few things that made me pause to ponder. However, before I delve into those thoughts, let me mention a few other Student Affairs associations / functional areas that already have a certification program.

There are certification programs for academic advisors, enrollment management professionals, auxiliary services professionals, and housing officers. In addition to ACPA, another Student Affairs association that is exploring the possibility of credentialing is the Association of College Unions International (ACUI).

Certification in Student Affairs isn't a new topic, it's just a questionable one. When so many Student Affairs professionals already have a degree in higher education, one would think that a Student Affairs credential would be geared towards those who didn't make their way into the field via "the traditional path." However, as stated in the aforementioned report, it would seem that ACPA's planned certification would be geared towards everyone in the field. According to the report, "there is a lack of a consensus  of the skills and knowledge necessary for student affairs work."  Included in the report are two issues that are listed as being at the core of this lack of consensus:

1. "The lack of a consistent articulation of knowledge and skills necessary to enter the student affairs profession allows many people to enter the profession from a variety of disciplines and experiences, some of whom are uninformed of the historical values and theoretical grounding of student affairs work and untrained in the skills necessary to fulfill student affairs roles."

In 2010 ACPA and NASPA collaborated on the creation and publication of the "Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners." This appears to have been directly tied to the efforts to establish a Student Affairs credential. Of interest to many is whether or not NASPA will establish their own Student Affairs credentialing program. As the competency areas mature I wonder if/how technology will emerge as more of a thread.

2. "Even for those with formal education and degrees in student affairs graduate programs, there is no intentional structure of lifelong learning to maintain professional competence." 

The report mentions that the "preferred means of entering the student affairs profession is via a master's degree in college student affairs administration*."  I wonder what the response from Student Affairs graduate programs will be with regards to Student Affairs certification? Are we involved in a professional arms race of sorts? How many letters do we need after our names? And, unless I'm mistaken, I thought that our associations already provided voluntary opportunities for lifelong learning? Aren't our graduate programs instilling lifelong learning as a core facet of our profession?

The "chasm" between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs was articulated in a recent post by NASPA's Executive Director - Gwen Dungy. As evidenced by the comments on the post (and on other Student Affairs posts at Inside Higher Ed), Student Affairs is still engaged in a conversation about whether or not it is an actual profession. I think that a Student Affairs credential will potentially add value to the practitioner side of our profession. However, what about the scholarly aspects of Student Affairs? Are we moving further away from the academe? What about the CACUSS Identity Project? Will alternative forms of professional development be included as credible sources of lifelong learning materials?

Student Affairs seems headed for some major disruption. What are your thoughts on certification for Student Affairs professionals?


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*My EdM is in College Student Services Administration from Oregon State University. I'm powered by orange!



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