The Pros & Cons of Certification Maintenance

We get letters

The issue of requiring AICP members to earn a specified number of hours
of continuing education credits (“mandatory continuing education,” for
short)
or be expelled from AICP continues to stir strong emotions.
Here we present unedited viewpoints from both sides of the aisle.
This page was prepared long before the 2007 AICP Commission
proposal for “Certification Maintenance” which is just
mandatory continuing education under a new name.

AICP’s Code of Professional Conduct already makes continuing education an ethical obligation for all AICP members. The debate is over whether AICP should set a specific number of hours of continuing education credits to be completed each year and expel AICP members who do not achieve that target. For the sake of keeping the verbiage to a minimum, we refer to that concept as “mandatory continuing education.”

In 2007 the AICP Commission voted to establish a mandatory continuing education requirement — they called it “Certification Maintenance,” perhaps thinking we’re too dense to notice it’s mandatory continuing education under another moniker. Shown below are letters we have received from AICP members about mandatory continuing education for AICP members.

For comments on the specific CM proposal that AICP considered, click here.

                                                                                                                

The candidates we supported in the 2002 AICP election (all of whom were elected) and 2004 election (all but one of whom was elected; she lost by 9 votes out of 807 cast) suggest that before spending a small fortune to administer a mandatory continuing education program, AICP would be more prudent to put the money and staff time into first establishing a solid “infrastructure” of affordable, high quality, continuing education opportunities at the local level as well as nationally (live, via telephone, on CD, via Internet, via video, in print). Absent any evidence that AICP members are not continuing their education (formally or informally outside a classroom), why would there be any need to make it mandatory (in the sense noted above)?

Table of Contents:
Problems with Proposed Mandatory Continuing Ed
Against, David Nearing
For mandatory, Jim Molenaar
Against, Dan Jacobs
For licensing, Augie Fragala, Jr.
Against, Earle Onque
Against, Joe Flynn, Jr.
Against, Robert Watkins
Against, Mark Edelman

We invite letters from people of all viewpoints.

We understand that it is pretty well established among educators that people who take courses voluntarily learn more than students forced to take the course. In addition, nobody has come forward with evidence that mandatory continuing education has improved the quality of practice in a profession nor improved the public’s perception of a profession. Lawyers in states with mandatory continuing education are disliked just as much as attorneys in states without it.

According to some recent emails sent by chapter presidents, their view is that a continuing education credits system is essential if you are to create demand for continuing education courses. If you erroneously assume there is no demand now, such a program certainly will increase demand, but at quite a financial cost for administration. But what if there is demand already?

At least two random sample surveys of AICP members taken in the last ten years show that AICP members overwhelmingly want high quality continuing education opportunities they can afford and get to easily. The same surveys show that 60 to 76 percent do not favor a continuing education credits system in which you would be expelled from AICP if you did not meet the regular minimum quota of credit hours.

APA/AICP has never made a concerted effort to provide consistently high quality, affordable, and accessible continuing education opportunities at the local level while maintaining essential offerings nationally — even though every scientific survey of AICP members shows they would flock to such opportunities, whether they be in-person classes or workshops, audio conferences, online courses, print media, or CD–ROMs. Why spend tens of thousands of dollars, or more, on an administrative system when the money could be better spent on staff and training at the local/chapter and section levels to actually provide those continuing education opportunities.

Click here to send us an email to with your ideas on mandatory continuing education. Unless you tell us otherwise, we will assume we have your permission to post your email here.

Robert Watkins, AICP, wrote:

I am against mandatory continuing education.

I am for improved educational activities. Actually, I have been to some excellent AICP seminars (whatever happened to those?). I attended an excellent seminar on management for planning directors led by Bruce McClendon. Local government planners need to listen to his advice on customer service if they really want to impact decisions at the local level. It would be interesting to hear how he has been doing as APA President.

I also went to a great AICP seminar on urban design where we did practice charettes with some hot-shot designers. The neo-traditional planning seminar led by Andres Duany was very provoking. Is APA still doing this kind of thing?

However, as a planner with 23 years experience, I am afraid I will be forced into courses and sessions with people who know much less than I. This is my general fear of continuing education.

I continue to do my own research on planning issues reading everything I can get my hands on concerning specific topics and attending interesting discussions and meetings whenever I can. I am afraid that a mandatory program will detract from my ability to do my own research. As a practicing planner, my time and energy aren't endless.

The local government I work for has an intensive, mandatory supervisory certification program that has just been initiated. Some of the classes have been very good, but I have also had to waste a great deal of time in useless classes.

I would like to avoid having to waste my time on a mandatory AICP continuing education program. Nobody I work for or with cares whether APA has certified my continuing education. They do care if I am continuing to learn. I would like to see APA provide a range of learning opportunities, seminars, chat-rooms, publications, PAS research that is web-based, etc.

Robert Watkins, AICP
Aurora, Colorado

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Favoring mandatory continuing education is Jack Molenaar in an email he sent to members of APA’s New Jersey chapter:

2002 brings us a very important election for APA and AICP seats. The AICP election is extremely important to the future of the organization and if the "AICP" will been anything except an increase in dues. Donald A. Krueckeberg FAICP, candidate for AICP Region 1, Daniel M. Lauber AICP, candidate for AICP President, and Frank Popper, candidate for APA Region 1 are arguing against mandatory continuing education/professional development. They think that you first have to have quality programs before you can make it mandatory. I believe this is called supply side thinking. If there is a demand, there will be more programs and if a program is bad, eventually no one will go to it (I think that is called letting the market determine quality). They will also have you believe that some sessions at conferences are really bad and you shouldn't get credit for it. While it is true that some sessions are fairly useless I would bet that we all could name a number of courses at our respective colleges we had that fall into that same category. Please correct me if I am wrong but a planner can learn OUTSIDE of the classroom! Planning is a broad field, we need to think outside of the box/classroom. Mandatory continuing education/professional development can work, and if implemented will create a demand for programs that now does not currently exist.
Jack E. Molenaar AICP/PP, Past President NJAPA, Current Vice Chairman of the Chapter President's Council

The very first letter we received was sent to Frank Popper, successful candidate for APA Region 1 in 2002, from Dan Jacobs, AICP, Director of Transportation for Staten Island, NY.

Dear Professor Popper:

I remember you quite well from Woodlawn when I was an Eagleton Fellow, though I never took your course there. I received your election notice and your endorsement convinced me to vote for your entire slate. The key factor in this decision was your statements concerning continuing education.

I feel that the narrowness of the CE program is stifling, given the broadness of the planning profession. As an example, I live and work on Staten Island which, not surprisingly, is surrounded by water. As a result, my boss was asking me to do a lot of ferry and port planning work. I decided to beef up my education by taking courses at the NY Maritime College. I now spend around 2 hours a week studying maritime policy issues (after work) at the Maritime College. But under the proposed AICP CE program, I would not get any credit for this true "continuing education", but I would get credit for going to a one-day chapter seminar on growth management.

Planning is a broad profession, but APA-sponsored events tend to concentrate on land use planning (which is fine). Some planners are watershed/water supply planners and others create local economic models. Why freeze them out of the CE program? I see it as an attempt to exclude planners who entered the profession from outside the formal planning schools: environmentalists, engineers, geographers, etc. The CE program should not be used as a "stick" to encourage participation at APA events, but as a means of ensuring that professionals have a life-long learning process. I think that the silly proposal of "certifying" different sub-areas (transportation, etc.) of AICP certification is intended to do the same thing. AICP certification should support the things that bind different kinds of planners together: a shared ethical responsibility, a shared history, and a shared professional purpose (if not a shared professional vision!). It should not be used to further balkanize us.

Many municipalities (like mine) won't pay for out-of-state conferences that require hotel and airfare. Such costs were acceptable when I was a consultant, but not now that I am a public official. Therefore the much heralded national conference is a non-starter for a public-sector planner like myself. This makes the local chapter conferences all the more relevant -- particularly here in the northeast where I can easily attend either NY or NJ's chapter conferences. This is why I was impressed with your slate's proposal that the local chapters be strengthened for the purpose of CE.

I definitely don't want to PAY AICP to keep track of my CE credits so they can kick me out when I don't meet them. Last year I took and passed my Canadian Institute of Planners exam, so that I can maintain my professional affiliation with fellow planners w/o APA. Should the CE program ever be implemented, I will immediately resign from the AICP and APA and fall back on my CIP membership.

Thank you for running to change the direction of the APA and AICP. I hope that you guys win. If you have any questions about this email, please feel free to call or email me. Good luck and best regards to Rutgers!
Daniel Jacobs, PP, AICP, Director of Transportation
Borough Hall, Room 12, 10 Richmond Terrace
Staten Island, NY 10301, (718) 816-2112

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New Point of View Received April 2004

Mandatory Continuing Education is a ridiculous idea. Unless the profession of Planning is licensed or registered there is no need to maintain any kind of currency with trendy thoughts and ideas promulgated by an elite handful of the profession's illuminati.

Without licensure, there really is no professional standard of education to uphold or maintain. If we had to have licenses to place AICP following our names, then perhaps, mandatory CE might make sense.

Attendance at seminars and workshops is adequate to maintain some relevancy concerning what is going on in planning. But, think about it, have you done anything really new in 10, 25 or 35 years? It all seems to me that we repackage the same concepts with trendy phrases like Smart Growth (Planning), Neo-traditional (neighborhood) planning, ad nauseum.

Mandatory continuing education? Get real.

Mr. Augie Fragala, Jr., AICP, Vice President, Powell, Fragala & Associates, Inc. 863/644–0951

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This letter was sent to candidate Don Krueckeberg in response to the letter he and candidate Frank Popper sent to AICP members in Region 1:

Hello Don,

Thank you for your note regarding your campaign for election.

I could not agree more with your position regarding continuing education. As you know I am also an architect and my late wife was a physician. She and I both were appalled by the shabbiness of so–called continuing education requirements and courses in our respective fields.

I do think that continuing to learn and grow is important but attending expensive so–called conferences in expensive and/or exotic locations does little to further that growth — particularly when you know more or as least as much as the person lecturing. Jim DeAngelis shared his comments to you via e-mail and I also agree with his observations. I wish you and Frank and the others every success.
Best wishes!
Earle T. Onque, AICP, AIA

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David C. Nearing, AICP, Director of Planning & Zoning for St. Cloud, FL writes:

My question is, where do they expect us to come up with the money for all of this continuing ed? Having been in the profession for over 16 years I have come to the same conclusion most of us have, we are not in this business for the money. Further, how many government agencies can budget money for all of the conferences and seminars we must attend to accumulate enough credits to qualify.

I am required to be a member of AICP to maintain my employment here. This places me at somewhat of a disadvantage in that, if I want to continue to work for St. Cloud, FL, I have to bow to the demand, and while a wonderful town, St. Cloud does not reap many of the financial benefits of Disney and the other attractions.

Another point is what was stated in one of the comments on your page, we can just go to the State and National conferences. Again, government agencies can not budget the kind of money to send all of their certified planners to the State, let alone the National conferences. Say that you just have to go to the conferences is saying, you can only have one or two certified planners working for your agency, so why bother joining the AICP. I often wonder if this continuing ed idea is just another way for APA/AICP to make money off of the planners who belong. My wife calls the high dues we pay, plus the potential to be required to attend the conferences and seminars they schedule as a "planners' tax."

I have pursued continuing education on my own. However, because I don't like the concept of being required to do continuing ed, I never applied for any certificates to prevent the appearance that I supported it. This is not to mention the fact that the certificates are only good for 3 years, or at least they use to. I don't always have the time to go to seminars, not to mention the budget, and many planners, if not most, are probably in the same situation. We do a lot of meetings, many at night to work with the citizenry. They need to remember, we have lives away from the office and the profession which require our attention as well.

David C. Nearing, AICP
Director of Planning & Zoning
St. Cloud, FL

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Joe Flynn, Jr., a former AICP Commissioner, planner, and a planning commissioner offers his views against making continuing education credits a requirement to remain in AICP, Sadly Joe passed away in 2006 after a courageous 4 1/2–year battle against cancer.

In all my years as a professional planner and serving as a planning commissioner, I have never heard of mandatory continuing education generating professional respect in any other profession. I have never met another professional who indicated that their profession’s mandatory continuing education (where it is applicable) made them professionally more respected – even lawyers! This is a fallacious argument, and someone needs to say it. I’ll do it.

I have done a bit of expert witnessing and never been questioned beyond my AICP and Michigan registration as to my professional qualifications. My proffered testimony has always been accepted, and usually without much cross-examination. I have never been asked to recite what continuing education I have undertaken in order to be qualified as an expert witness or to get a job.

I agree with having high quality continuing education available to our members. This has been an objective of the AICP Commission for over 15 years. And I believe most of the offerings are better than they used to be. But even as the availability and quality of continuing education improves, there are people who just can’t resist calling for establishing a costly mandatory continuing education credits system and the expensive bureaucracy needed to manage it.

I can almost hear the arguments now: “It’s no big deal to have mandatory CEU’s, the opportunities are readily available.… Mandatory CEU’s are no big deal, anyone who attends chapter and national conferences can get them” — and so on and so forth. The whole issue is fraught with land mines, such as, who decides what is an acceptable course for valid CEU’s? Would courses on eutorphication of bodies of waters be an acceptable course? Or how about offerings about the psychology of surveys, exotic metals and materials, organizational psychology, working with nonprofit groups, etc.? There are myriad subjects that planners may need to learn in some depth for particular projects with which they may be involved. To perform my job well, I have taken courses in all of the above subjects as well as such basic subjects such as real estate economics, urban economics, graphic control regulations, vehicular and pedestrian traffic control, and design kinetics. Any planner with any sense will continually educate himself, both formally and informally, if he wishes to be able to compete for jobs.

And what about such basic computer courses such as "How to use Microsoft Excel", or "Word" or "Access", etc.? A lot of “old timers” may need to learn how to use the computer applications. Where is the line drawn, and who draws it? And what about “in service” education common among physicians, nurses, and the myriad therapeutic professions? Would something like that be available only in the large planning organizations, and what would the smaller and even the one–person planning firms so common across the land do? I could go on ad nausea, but I think you get the point.

Click here to send us an email to with your ideas on mandatory continuing education. Unless you tell us otherwise, we will assume we have your permission to post your email here.

Those planners who feel a lack of respect for what they do, may find it worthwhile to attend a Dale Carnegie course or other occupational therapeutic venues until they learn to respect themselves and what they do. This respect thing is an “inside job,” and nothing extrinsic will mollify it. Planning just might not be their “calling.”

We should not be sucked in by the bogus argument that we need to make continuing education credits mandatory to create demand for continuing education. The demand is there right now. Instead of wasting time and money to force a mandatory continuing education credits program on us, AICP should be focusing on expanding quality and affordable continuing education offerings throughout the country. Actually providing the continuing education would seem to be the most prudent priority.
Joe Flynn, Jr., AICP
Blue Springs, Missouri
1941 – 2006

Mark Edelman sent this letter to the President of the Arizona Chapter of APA who feels that members strongly support establishing a mandatory continuing education credit program. He begged to differ with her.

Kelli -- I saw in the latest AzPA newsletter that you're seeking input from "ordinary" members regarding mandatory continuing education for AICP registration. I have to say that I'm in agreement with the message from Daniel Lauber that appears in your article. As you can see in my signature block below, I'm in private practice and have been since leaving the State of Arizona more than five years ago. Most of what is currently offered by APA/AzPA in the way of publications, local workshops and conferences, etc. is geared to public sector planners. There may be some aspect of those items that is germane to my work, but not enough to justify an absence from work and/or registration fees to my employer. My concern is that if I have to take continuing education credits to maintain my AICP, would I have to attend classes and workshops that would have little or no relevance to my work? If so, my participation would be unlikely. At present, I maintain my APA/AzPA membership to keep the AICP registration, since that's the only way I can quickly represent to other design/development professionals that my formal training is in planning. If AICP moves to mandatory continuing education, I'd have to think long and hard about whether or not to let my AICP registration and APA/AzPA membership lapse.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Best Regards --

Mark Edelman, AICP Senior Project Manager Richmond American Homes of Arizona, Inc. Phoenix West Division Land Acquisitions and Entitlements

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