who knew credentialing was such a dirty word?

I wasn’t able to partake in the #sachat discussion on credentialing in student affairs this afternoon, but I did read through all of the tweets generated by such a hot (and current) topic.  [You can now view the conversation transcript here].

As I scrolled through the discussion, it became quite clear that there is not one simple definition of “credential” or how and where it fits in to the student affairs field.  I thought a dictionary definition of credential might help to clarify the conversation.


1. Usually, credentials. Evidence of authority, status, rights, entitlement to privileges, or the like, usually in written form: Only those with the proper credentials are admitted.

2. Anything that provides the basis for confidence, belief, credit, etc.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this definition helps us to get any closer to a broad, student affairs focused definition.  For many professions, there is a set path to said career.  In order to become a lawyer, one must obtain an undergraduate degree, be successful in the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), complete a law degree and an apprenticeship (articling), take the bar admission course, and then of course, pass the licensing exam (better known as the bar exam). Doctors and teachers have similar concrete paths.

However, there are many routes to obtaining a position in student affairs.  In the USA, attending graduate school (in a student affairs focused program) and completing a graduate internship appears to be common.  In Canada, most student affairs practitioners enter the profession after obtaining an undergraduate degree (often in an unrelated field of study).  As we increasingly look south of the border for comparisons sake, more entry and mid-level positions are requiring candidates to have a graduate degree in a related field.  This has encouraged many Canadian student affairs practitioners to return to the classroom to obtain a graduate degree.  Luckily, more Canadian institutions are catching on to this, and are offering more specialised graduate programs for professionals.  As student affairs and student services continue to grow on a global scale, the path to a career in this field is becoming more and more diverse.

Earlier this month, the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) released information about its newly appointed Credentialing Implementation Team.  Who would have known that this would spur such rich, lively, and sometimes contentious conversation?  Many in the field took to Twitter and their blogs to share their thoughts about credentialing in student affairs.  With there being so many avenues to enter the field, how does a credentialing program serve a wide scope of professionals? What purpose does this type of program serve?  Is this simply another way to alienate those who wish to partake in such an opportunity but do not have the financial resources (personal or institutional) to do so from those who do?  Will we see job descriptions requiring candidates to have a specific credential from a professional association?  In an effort to respond to the growing concerns throughout the field, Dr. Heidi Levine, ACPA President shared this message on her blog: Statement on the ACPA Student Affairs Credential Program.

Right now, there seem to be more questions than answers.  While the discussion about this topic is diverse, and tends to be rooted in individual experience, bias and allegiance, it is fantastic to see so many contributors to the conversation.

Here’s my take:

Student affairs is an incredibly competitive field.  We are among some of the most educated individuals in the country (probably the world) and come to the table with such diverse job-related experience.  We know that any given job receives hundreds of applications and that we must find a way to stand out from the crowd.  Because of this, there is a certain level of onus on the individual to supplement their own learning and development, to prove to be a worthy candidate.  This need not be expensive, as there are many ways to remain current on trends and challenges in the field. [Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on my top-ten “PD for free” ideas].

Unless student affairs goes the way of the law profession, I see taking part in a credentialing program after working in the field for a number of years.  ACUHO-I offers two certificate programs, each focused on a specific area of housing. While these programs are completely open (to those in housing and outside of the field), I see them being most beneficial to those who foresees a long-term career in housing/student affairs, and to those who have mastered the basic skill set for a housing professional (although I know we could argue what such a basic skill set consists of).

ACUHO-I, ACPA/NASPA and CAS all provide exceptional documents on professional standards and competencies.  If you are not familiar with these documents, I suggest you read through them.  As assessment continues to be an important part of our field, it is crucial for departments to understand the importance of such standards and competencies.

For me, the most memorable tweet from the #sachat discussion came from Joe Ginese: “If your position doesn’t require you to keep learning, I fear #studentaffairs is in trouble (starting with your institution).”

If departments or institutions do not value the learning of its employees, then how can it support the learning of its students?

While it is up to you to stay current on trends and continue developing professionally, I think it is also the responsibility of the department and institution to contribute to your professional development.  If you find yourself working in a place that does not support this, or does not have the financial resources to fully support this, you need to take control of your own development.  Think outside of the box and utilize your resources.

So, is credentialing important? Absolutely! I think it can be a great professional development tool and help to further develop the skills and knowledge required to move-up in the field.  But we cannot forget the importance of experience.  After all, you can read all the student development theory you like, but until you can see it in your work and put it into practice, what use is it?

What is your take on the credentialing conversation? Share your thoughts here, or continue the conversation on Twitter!

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