The AICP Certification Maintenance Program: Good Steps In The Wrong Direction

Though the program has good intentions, APA's proposal for mandatory continuing education could just encourage more planners to attend the National Planning Conference than to actually get more training.

Editor's Note: Following this article, read a response from AICP President Sue Schwartz.

Leo VasquezFor planners to be taken as seriously as engineers or architects, our clients have to feel comfortable that we are competent, knowledgeable and current. The American Planning Association is taking a big step in this direction by requiring mandatory continuing education for certified planners. Unfortunately, APA is headed in the wrong direction.

The proposed Certification Maintenance program requires that planners get at least 48 credits of continuing education every two years to maintain their AICP status. That's not a bad idea. But the way the APA is structuring the program is wrong on many counts. It will hinder fair competition, and most importantly, will fail to meet the goal of ensuring that AICP planners are more knowledgeable and current.

Under the Certification Maintenance program, at least half of the eligible credits have to come from APA or APA-sponsored programs. This means programs that APA produces itself or has a strong hand in producing. The rest can come from programs that are "registered" by APA. A quarter of the credits can come from "self-study" -- which means reading books. AICP planners are not required to show that they've actually learned anything. They only need to prove that they showed up. Under the program, an AICP member can get 48 credits simply by going to the national conference every other year and "reading books".

APA, which unveiled the proposal on December 9, will take comments until January 9. The Board of Directors is likely to vote on the proposal at its meeting in April.

How the Certification Maintenance program will weaken fair competition, which can reduce the quality of training for planners

APA is only one of dozens of institutions that offer training to planners. Clearly, this requirement will force professionals to choose an APA program over a competitor's program. This will undermine free and fair competition and put APA in a monopoly role. Without the threat of fair competition, APA will have no incentive to reduce fees or improve quality.

The American Institute of Architects charges between $650 and $3,300 annually to training organizations and businesses that want to offer AIA continuing education credits. (AIA member firms that offer education to their own employees pay $300.) The application is more time-consuming than applying for a loan. This adds significant costs to educational organizations, which are then passed on to their customers. If APA charges the same kind of fees, we would expect that training organizations would have to increase their fees, or reduce their ability to serve their own clients.

You can't get credits for teaching or mentoring. Yet, experts in adult learning say that teaching is the absolute best way to learn a subject. When you're learning, you are likely to remember only 10% of what you someone tells you. But if you teach what you've just learned, you will probably remember at least 90%.

APA can address this problem simply by removing the requirement that half of the credits come from APA programs.

How the Certification Maintenance program creates a strong potential for conflict of interest

Imagine that the largest developer in your community is the sole member of your planning and zoning board -- and that there are no regulations about how the person approves permits. Would you expect that developer to make fair and impartial decisions on applications brought by his competitors? Or do you think that developer will make the best decisions for his own bottom line? No matter how honest the developer is, every decision he makes will carry the odor of a conflict of interest.

That's the situation APA is in. It wants to be the sole arbitrator of quality in continuing education for planning, as well as a leading provider in the market. I'm not saying that anyone in APA is acting unethically, but this system means that you'll never know.

It took seven months for the APA to make my training program, Bloustein Online Continuing Education Program (BOCEP), eligible for continuing education credits. And it took that long for BOCEP to get space in the APA's continuing education website. Only after I had complained several times did the staff act on my request. Why did it take so long? Was it simply that the staff of a multi-million dollar organization couldn't get around to it? Or was it that the staff and leadership were not inclined to act on a program that might take away business from the APA's CD-ROM and video training series? I don't know.

Every time the APA rejects a continuing education provider, or takes a long time to accept a provider, the question will remain: Did they make a fair and impartial assessment, or are they trying to keep out competition?

APA can address this issue by joining with other organizations, such as Planners Network and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, in creating an independent review board that will judge the quality of a training program.

How the Certification Maintenance program will likely fail to achieve its goal of making planners more knowledgeable and current

The APA national conference is fun. It provides great networking. You can get inspired by hearing so many success stories. But we all know that very few people who attend it are actually learning a lot there. As someone who has presented and attended at most of the APA National Conferences since 2000, I know that most participants do not attend any sessions from start to finish. During sessions, you're likely to see almost as many people networking in the hallways as you are watching the panel discussions in the room. And how much are you really learning from panelists who are spending their 10 minutes of talk time telling success stories or giving pep talks? Have you ever been to a session where they tested your knowledge afterwards?

As Keith Ferrazzi says in his influential book, Never Eat Alone, "I don't often find the content of conferences particularly useful. I read a lot. I think about these subjects constantly and talk to a lot of people. By the time I get to a conference, I know the substance of what's going to be said."

Yet, under the Certification Maintenance program, the National Conference is worth 36 credits -- 75% of the required number.

So the only thing a planner has to do to maintain AICP certification is to read a few books and show up to a conference. What that proves is that the planner knows how to read and show up.

Of course you can learn at a conference, or anywhere else. But if you're the type of person who, in a conference, sits in the back of the room checking email, or schmoozing in the halls, it wouldn't matter if you had Burnham, Olmsted and Jacobs in the front of the room. You wouldn't learn anything.

A better way to meet the goals of the Certification Maintenance program

The best way that APA can meet the goals of the continuing education program is having planners take a re-certification test every eight to 10 years. The new test would focus on planning trends, current socioeconomic issues and recent changes in relevant laws. Only those who passed the initial American Institute of Certified Planners examination would be eligible to take the re-certification test.

As a member of the AICP committee that oversees the AICP exam, I think this approach is reasonable to planners, staff and the volunteers who prepare the examination. The AICP Examination Review Committee writes and reviews the questions for the exam and makes recommendations about the topics it covers. We already write questions on current topics, so it's very easy for us to come up with more questions. The administrative parts of the exam -- registration, management, and getting results -- are straightforward for both the exam-taker and AICP staff. So the staff can easily work on the re-certification exam at the same time they're working on the original exam.

Passing the re-certification exam would confirm that the planner is competent, knowledgeable and current. It wouldn't matter where and from whom they got their knowledge. And it will encourage participants to pay more attention at conferences and workshops.

I know that most professionals would rather not take tests. But if the AICP designation is going to be meaningful to our colleagues, our clients, and the communities we serve, we need to have an impartial and clear way to demonstrate that we are competent, knowledgeable and current.

Leonardo Vazquez, AICP/PP is a member of the faculty and the Director of the Professional Development Institute at Rutgers University's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. He was a founder and creator of two innovative continuing education initiatives for planning professionals: Bloustein Online Continuing Education Program and The Leading Institute. He is the Chair of the the American Planning Association's Latinos and Planning Division and has been a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners Examination Review Committee since 2004. He has served in various leadership and advisory roles in the American Planning Association since 1998.

You can read the full text of the Certification Maintenance proposal at:
http://www.planning.org/certification/maintenance.htm

Response from AICP President Sue Schwartz

Sue SchwartzI would like to thank Leo Vazquez for his January 2, 2007 editorial concerning the proposal for Certification Maintenance for AICP members. This proposal has generated a good deal of discussion and at this stage that is exactly what the AICP Commission is looking for (as of January 3rd we already have received around 1,000 responses). For AICP members who haven't already done so, I would like to encourage you to read the proposal and give us your comments, questions you have, etc.

http://www.planning.org/certification/maintenance.htm

The last day for feedback for this first comment period is January 9th.

The AICP Commission will be meeting at the end of January to review the proposal in light of the comments received. We anticipate having a revised draft for review by the AICP membership by late February and strongly invite your comments again. We hope to have a final proposal for the Commission to vote on at our meeting in Philadelphia in April 2007.

Thank you all for your interest in excellence in the profession.

Sue Schwartz, FAICP
AICP President

Comments

Comments

APA Greed

Finally, someone else that is critical of the APA's practices!

I know there are many great people with good intentions that work for the APA, but I often question the organization's motives. In fact, I thought of creating a website and organization to rival the APA a few years ago but decided to go in a different route. Thankfully, Planetizen is serving that role quite well now. Part of the reason I wanted to create the site was the exuberant prices that the APA charges for most everything. I realize that they need money to function as a successful organization, but this article highlights another example of where I question their motives. I have considered attaining my AICP certification for a while now, and the biggest reason I haven't is because I'm not sure if I would like to be affiliated with the APA. I think there are many many changes that need to happen in the planning profession and I feel if I speak out about them, I might lose my certification. And hence, money down the drain. I've also questioned why once you passed the AICP, you just pay your yearly fee to keep certification and that's it. It kind of makes me wonder what the intent is - to have well-educated and well-rounded planners, or a grand scheme to keep people paying extra each year for this certification. I know that the salary survey they released a few months ago showed that those with AICP certification made considerably more money, but did the study take into account that those with AICP certification are likely to have more years work experience and are also more likely to seek out positions of power since they went through the trouble of passing the exam?

I commend you for bringing these issues to light, Mr. Vazquez. I certainly hope we are successful in changing the proposed guidelines for continuing education requirements.

A few other comments I wanted to make about the APA: I've been very frustrated that at recent conferences they've been having keynote speakers that effectively promote sprawl (or say it's inevitable). The fact is, sprawl exists because the only real mode of transportation considered in the community design is the automobile. When, on average, 30% of citizens in a community do not have direct access to an automobile, sprawl land use types and lack of multi-modal transportation options should be made illegal. How dare they invite speakers that do not consider the needs of all members of the community? In my mind, it goes against the very ethics that the AICP Code of Ethics promotes.

Also, some of their "plan of the year" awards, after implementation, have turned out to be some of the worst sprawl I have ever witnessed in my life.

There are many great things about the APA, but it's time to see some changes.

Eric Fredericks
Executive Director, Walkable Neighborhoods
http://walkableneighborhoods.com

Just a quick clarification

Dear Mr. Fredericks,

Thanks for your kind words. I would like to clarify that I'm criticizing only the proposal, and not all of APA. While I, like most members, have my disagreements with APA, I think it's a great institution and one I'm proud to be a member of. Many of the APA leaders and staff members I've worked with -- and continue to as Chair of Latinos and Planning -- have been very responsive and supportive. They include APA/AICP Executive Director Paul Farmer; AICP Director Rudayna Abdo; and Susan Turner, who manages matters involving the divisions.

My concern primarily is with improving the quality of continuing education to promote better planning practice. I worry that the proposal, as it stands will work against that goal. That's why I wrote this essay, even at the risk at upsetting colleagues in the APA.

Leo

Director, Professional Development Institute
Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Point Well Taken

I certainly understand your point. I wanted to add my few cents on the APA while I was on the subject. I knew that you were only critical of the changes. I was willing to take it a step further.

I also want to say that I don't hate the APA. I love their magazines and journals, their website is an excellent resource, and I've worked with great APA leaders and members. I'm probably guessing that you've worked with James Rojas, who is one of the most talented planners in the profession.

I let my frustrations show that sometimes I feel planners are a bit too accepting of our profession as it is. I have often wondered if Burnham, Olmstead, Jacobs, and others would be supportive of the way the profession has progressed. When a large percentage of planners I encounter seem to either not care or not acknowledge serious issues like climate change, it worries me. The information you provided is just another example of ways that I see our profession taking steps backward.

AICP Certification

Good comments, I too believe that this is just a ploy to raise attendance at the National Conference. In reviewing the proposal, I found it would be nearly impossible for one to obtain the necessary credits in Washington State (I am not aware of any non-APA conference in the State that have been sanctioned). I found the amount of CEU's required to be exceedingly high when compared to other professions. Hopefully our comments won't fall on deaf ears . . .

John P. Vodopich, AICP
Community Development Director
City of Gig Harbor, WA

AICP?

AICP Certification Maintenance

Good points from all previous posters.

The issues I have regarding AICP certification maintenance are:

1) Baseline. I know of some planners with a Bachelor's degree who thought that getting an AICP on top of the BA would be as good in terms of professional advancement as getting a Master's degree. I also know people with 2 Master's degrees and several professional certificates in planning related fields that also have an AICP. So, why would the second person be held to the same certification maintenance standards as the first person? It seems as if AICP discounts those people who have already spent a lifetime of learning.

2) What is AICP? I don't believe that the APA has done a good job educating the public about what AICP means. I did a 2 day survey in 2006 where I asked all the customers that I came in contact with what they thought AICP stood for. My survey included lawyers, architects, sign permit specialists, citizens, and developers. Only one person knew what it meant or stood for. When I explained what it meant to one person she said "you mean you are a financial planner?". There are too many kinds of "certified planners" these days apparently. In order for AICP to have value people need to know what it is. After AICP has some 'standing' as a professional designation, then maybe we can worry about how that standing can be enhanced (through education, etc). APA has let us all down by not creating any value to the AICP designation.

3) FAICP. What the devil is this? Now that hoards of planners have the AICP designation there is a rush to get the FAICP suffix attached to one's name in order to distinguish one's self from all of those AICP commoners. Or so it seems. I am not sure what FAICP means, and when I recently read the list of people who had been given FAICP I didn't know many of them though a few had apparently worked at a city near me and yet I had never heard of them. I hate to sound jaded, but my take was many of the people given FAICP's were simply active in APA activities, not necessarily people who had achieve eminence in the field. But going back to my second point, what difference does it make? If people don't know what AICP is they certainly won't be able to figure out what FAICP means.

4) APA focus. APA's idea of essentially requiring classes through APA or through attendance at the national APA conference as a way of meeting certification maintenance is a terrible idea. The words "throw the bums out" comes to mind if this is what our elected APA/AICP representatives come up and then adopt.

Philip Millenbah (double secret AICP)

Like a driver's license

I agree with your criticism of the certification maintenance proposal, and I have expressed similar criticisms to the review committee. I know first-hand that APA relies heavily on the money it makes at the national conference each year, and it is always looking for ways to encourage attendance. However, encouraging greater attendance at conferences should not be the goal of the certification maintenance program. As you stated, it should be outcome-based and not simply "pay your dues and show up."

AICP should be like getting a driver's license. It is a priviledge to drive, but that does not mean the DMV should issue a driver's license and then assume a person is safe to drive when they are 95 years old. We should retest people every so often to be sure they are competent enough to be trusted behind the wheel of a car. Likewise, AICP should retest its members to be sure they are competent and that they are representing the best of the planning profession. Otherwise, the certification itself will be devalued over time.

Darcy G. Kremin, AICP
Director Elect, Northern Section, California Chapter of the APA

More on heading the wrong direction

I'm not as enthusiastic about retesting as Leo, but I wholeheartely agree with the rest of his comments.

It's bad enough that we may now all have to line up like those poor architects and beg for credit (how humiliating!), but the self-serving bureaucratic nature of this proposal is a real insult, coming as it does from our own professional organization.

Turning recertification into a profit center for APA is simply unethical. Charging a fee for AICP membership, or recertification, is unavoidable; but forcing members to attend APA-sponsored training will LOWER the quality of continuing education, not only by reducing choices for those facing recertification, but by harming the financial feasibility of non-APA training sessions.

For me personally, the APA proposal would be no problem; I attend enough conferences and training sessions to easily qualify even with the onerous APA requirement.

I'd rather pay more dues if AICP needs more money. Why spend a fortune to attend training other than what is most important to each of us, just because APA will end up with some small cut of the registration fees?

APA, please rethink this proposal!

Bill Spikowski, AICP
Spikowski Planning Associates
Fort Myers, Florida

Certification Maintenance: A Solution in Search of a Problem

Is there any evidence of rampant incompetence among AICP members?

Where's the evidence that AICP members are failing to keep their ethical obligation to educate themselves and keep current on planning practice, theory, and law?

Of course, there isn't any such evidence. The new AICP Commission's proposal and Professor Vazquez's approach are solutions in search of a problem.

While some may suggest that this proposal is designed to increase chapter (especially) and national APA revenue by forcing AICPers to pay for training they may not need or want -- but would have to get under this unwarranted Certification Maintenance proposal -- I think that the proponents of this ill-advised and ill-conceived proposal have their own agenda that is no doubt very heartfelt and sincere. But it's based on false premises rather than on the reality of hard facts.

For what I hope is an insightful, thoughtful, and factual examination of all that is wrong with this specific proposal and with the whole concept, please visit http://www.apawatchdog.org

I strongly suspect that most AICP members recognize the fallacy of mandatory continuing education like the Commission proposes.

Just about every time there's been a contest for an AICP Commission seat between a proponent of mandatory continuing education and an opponent of it, the opponent has won (one exception I can think of where the proponent won by 9 votes out of 807 cast). The truncated 2006 election included only candidates supporting mandatory continuing education, giving the Commission a majority in support of it. They've put forth a very transparent and ill-conceived proposal that fails to achieve any of its claimed goals while greatly increasing costs to members.

As a vocal opponent of mandatory continuing education, I was elected AICP President twice with landslide proportion majorities. (I couldn't get everything I wanted while President, but with the collaboration of a really superb group of Commissioners the second term) we did manage to produce what I'm told are a lot of solid, effective programs and policies). We need to develop new common-sense, responsible leadership in this organization to return control of it to the ordinary ol' planner. I hope that instead of just complaining about APA/AICP, folks here will take action to make the organization more effective at promoting sound, inclusionary, rational, and genuinely ethical planning practices.

Daniel Lauber, AICP
AICP President 2003-2005, 1992, 1994
APA President 1985-1986

Commission's Self-Serving, Discriminatory Approach

I've commented to the commission on the proposal, and I would encourage other planners to do the same, unless they want to see this poorly conceived plan rammed through.

My main concern is that meeting the commission's proposed requirements will be extremely expensive for rank and file members, unless they are fortunate enough to work for an institution/agency/firm that pays for their attendence at the national conference.

The proposal gives a "free ride" to the affluent, and everyone else gets the shaft. The planner that's making 40 grand a year, who can't afford to go the national conference on his own time and his own dime gets burned.

It seems that the hidden agenda is to pump up the conference attendence and force members to pay even more for "certified" training. If it ain't broke, don't fix it! Dump this ivory tower proposal.

A member of AICP since 1998
Rochester, NY

Alot of what is said is true

Alot of what is said is true and as a planner, I for one have always viewed APA very skeptically and I've refused to join. The main reason is money. They seem all about membership and money, all under the guise of professionalism. And I find AICP to be a great idea, but very poorly administered and membership too easy attained. It's almost laughable to consider AICP anything more than money generation for APA. Come on, a masters and two years experience? Basically, some 24 year old with a masters and 2 years experience in some far away planning department rubber stamping site plans and reviewing code is eligible. AIA and PE are very strenuous certifications and AICP can't even be considered in the same realm. And this new idea of continuing ed only speaks more to my distain for APA and their money' hungry ways.

Lastly, APA's platforms and stances aren't where think they need to be.

Sorry to you AICP's out there. I'm not discounting you because you seem veyr professional and experienced, I just feel you're experience is diminished by AICP's standards.

Re: Alot (sic) of what is said is true

1. PE certification requires a four-year undergraduate degree in engineering and two tests (one of which you can take as soon as you graduate from your undergrad program). Certainly you can argue that the four year EIT apprenticeship program is what makes this certification "very strenuous" and/or more strenuous than AICP certification. However, the undergraduate degree plus four years of experience criterion is similar to AICP's criteria of accredited four-year degree plus three years or non-accredited four-year degree plus four years of professional experience.

2. In order to even QUALIFY for the AICP exam you must acquire letters of proof of professional experience from employers that must meet ALL of four criteria set by the organization, one of which is "influencing public decision-making." In my book "rubber stamping...and reviewing code" does not meet that definition. The committee has been quite strict about this portion of the qualification process.

3. The pass rate of the AICP exam is far below that of many state's Bar exams, an exam commonly said to be the most strenuous of professional examinations. The overall pass rate, across all states, is usually around 80%.

3a. Data indicate that the highest percentage of "passers" are those with four or fewer years of experience. This statistic alone indicates the need for continuing education for planners. But it also indicates that those with less experience have more current knowledge and are therefore perhaps more prepared.

4. Clearly planners need refreshers in planning theory and practice given that as time goes by, pass rates reduce somewhat. Planners like you also obviously need remedial work in spelling, grammar and punctuation, as well.

-Concerned planner at an engineering firm

To AICP cert, or not to AICP cert... that is the question!

As a planner still young in my career, I find this fuss over the importance of the AICP disconcerting as it indicates to me that even practicing planners (as opposed to academic planners) seem to suffer from a considerable identity crisis. Or perhaps it’s more of an insecurity problem. Unfortunately, because I find the whole debate over the significance of planning as a legitimate profession rather distasteful, I've begun to question just how important AICP certification is, to me. While I have not made a final determination whether I will become AICP certified, internal debates like this one have me leaning further away from the AICP. I know what my job is, how important it is, and the role I play in my local community. Whether my business card has AICP on it or not, I’ll keep doing my job as a planner whether other people appreciate it, understand it, or not.

I'm still somewhat young and perhaps naïve enough to believe that in this career, I can advance by displaying a high degree of skill and even talent rather than displaying what acronyms are on my business card. Don’t get me wrong, I am not so naïve to think that AICP status has no meaning at all and I do realize that not having it may be a detriment in certain markets. But as one person has already pointed out, most people don’t even know what AICP means. In fact, the people who care most what AICP means are other AICP members.

The reality is, though, that unlike being a lawyer where in most states you can’t practice law without being a member of the bar association, or being an engineer or architect where you are strictly legally limited if you do not have appropriate certifications, planning is a profession full of non-certified individuals. How many states have laws that say you must be AICP certified to be a planning director. Come to think of it, I’ve seen very few job descriptions for planning directors that say it’s mandatory. Preferable? Yes. Mandatory? Not as much as the AICP would have you believe. In fact, the latest salary survey on the APA website states that only 51%, barely more that half of all planners are AICP certified. Is this because only 51% of all planners met the criteria to take the test? Is it because the other 49% couldn’t pass the test? Or, is it possible that the AICP simply isn’t as important to everyone as the AICP wishes it was. My guess is the last one.

Unfortunately, there is no proof that being an AICP certified planner means that you are smarter, more educated, more knowledgeable, or even a better planner than someone who is not AICP certified. It only means that you’ve met a minimum standard. A high minimum, some might argue, but a minimum standard nonetheless. It also means that you’ve proven that you know the lingo and the dogma. Not that all AICP planners agree on everything, mind you, but by getting AICP certified you’ve jumped through enough hoops to be a part of the club. Frankly, it means you are a more institutionalized (or dare I say, more bureaucratized) planner. The real question is, what is this institution and what benefits does it have? Will being a part of it really help me somehow, or perhaps more significantly, will not being a part of it hurt me somehow?

I think the answer to that last question depends a lot on your career goals (and where you live). So far, in observing the planning scene around me, I haven’t seen or felt the emphasis or urgency to join AICP ASAP. Of course, I am perhaps one of the fortunate few to work in a city that values individuals and their demonstrated talents and abilities over arbitrary institutions and institutional protocol. However, AICP's current proposal suggest that those who aren’t willing to jump through the AICP hoops are somehow inferior planners. In that sense, the AICP seems to be an elitist organization that says that AICP planners are better (or real) while non-AICP planners are inferior. It's as though being AICP certified somehow legitimizes you as a planner and thus they will lobby for you, and protect you and society. Protection from what, they don’t say. But it appears that the AICP sometimes forgets that planning is about making better communities rather than making planners so important that communities can’t live without them. In that sense, the AICP planners also seem rather narcissistic. I may be crazy, but I’m guessing that even if the AICP disappeared forever from society, that planning as we know it would still take place, and planners would still be doing the work. Either way, it is an unfortunate although apparently inescapable irony that elitism and narcissism abound just as prevalently in organizations that purport to be strong advocates for community and equality. You may call my observation sophomoric, if you must. Just don’t try and say that it ain’t so.

Yet in a final twist of irony and perhaps hypocrisy, I confess, I may still get AICP certified someday. Unfortunately, even if I do, like so many others I’m not sure I’ll know what it really means.

AICP Certification Maintenance Proposal Is Seriously Flawed

Stuart Meck, FAICP/PP
Center for Government Services
Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

I sent this letter to the AICP Commission on January 9, 2007.

******************

Center for Government Services

Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy

33 Livingston Avenue · Suite 200 · New Brunswick · New Jersey
08901-1979

Phone: 732/932-3640 · FAX: 732/932-3586

January 9, 2007

The Commission

American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP)

1776 Massachusetts Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20036

RE: Comments on proposed "certification maintenance" program

Dear Commissioners:

I am commenting on the "certification maintenance" program proposed by AICP. As I understand this program, AICP members will be required to take at least 48 credits of eligible professional development activities in a two-year period. Of that amount, half of the eligible credits must come from the American Planning Association (APA) or APA-sponsored programs. The other half may come from other registered educational providers; APA or AICP intends to establish a program to register providers for a fee to be determined. A self-study component is included, and it may count for up to 12 hours.

I direct the Center for Government Services (CGS), a unit of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, which maintains an accredited graduate program in planning. The Center, which is 56 years old, provides training and continuing education to government officials in New Jersey, and conference support to the New Jersey Chapter of the American Planning Association, as a service function of the Bloustein School. Our Center runs some 850 courses a year, including training for planning and zoning board members (now mandated by state law) and zoning enforcement officials. Our planning instructors are AICP members or attorneys. Most of our courses are aimed at positions in New Jersey government that require some type of certification or license to hold.

Within CGS is the Professional Development Institute (PDI), which manages a variety of national training programs aimed at professional planners and community development specialists. The best known of these is the Bloustein Online Continuing Education Program (BOCEP), which offers online training to a national audience on a broad variety of planning topics, including urban design, placemaking, planning law and legal issues, community development, economic development, smart growth, sustainable development, and leadership and management. In addition, PDI includes The Leading Institute, which offers leadership development programs for planning and community development professionals.

As it is presently structured, the proposal is not about the altruistic goal of ensuring affordable, accessible training to professional planners, presumably so they can do their jobs better, but is instead about attempting to raise substantial amounts of revenue for APA and AICP and kill off all competition.

Our Center's programs directly compete with those offered by the APA and AICP. As proposed, the certification maintenance program is predatory, and would cause serious economic harm to CGS, and other local government institutes in the U.S. and graduate planning programs and other providers that offer similar training. AICP must modify this proposal to correct the substantial problems with it, or face legal challenge to it.

(1) The AICP proposal contains a "tying arrangement," which is a prohibited activity under federal antitrust laws (the Sherman and Clayton Acts). A tying arrangement is the conditioning of the sale of a desired good or service (here, certification of professional planners) to the purchase of a second good or service (here, the provision of training programs available only through APA or AICP).

By threatening to withhold the desired service (continuation of professional certification), the vendor (in this case APA or AICP) hopes to coerce the sale of less desired services (training), which of course can be provided by other vendors. See "What constitutes separate and distinct products or services for purposes of determining whether tying arrangement violates § 1 of Sherman Act (15 U.S.C.A. § 1) or § 3 of Clayton Act (15 U.S.C.A. § 14)," 46 ALR Fed 516.

By any standard, a tying arrangement is an unethical business practice.

AICP has a monopoly in the U.S. on certification of professional planners, and now intends to use that monopoly to punish independent for- profit or not-for-profit providers of continuing education for professional planners. The fact that AICP proposes to allow planners to obtain a portion of the training either through self-study or other "registered" providers does not eliminate the tying arrangement. There are numerous providers of training for professional planners who can offer equal or even superior service to the APA's expensive training. For example, planning academics, including my colleagues at the Bloustein School, routinely attend the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning conference, a low-cost, high quality event.

This proposal would remove all incentive for AICP members to purchase the mandated training from sources other than APA because of how the program is structured.

The problem of private professional accrediting organizations operating in a predatory, anticompetitive manner has been widely recognized. Ostensibly, certification is aimed at providing helpful information to purchasers of planning services by establishing threshold standards for professional competence and knowledge.
However, when the requirement of certification is linked to a training program that only the accrediting body will offer and recognize, then that limits options of professional planners in the market place to purchase training at a reasonable cost. Clark C. Havighurst and
Peter M. Brody, "Accrediting and the Sherman Act," 57 Law and Contemporary Problems 199 (1994).

Lest AICP Commissioners think that somehow the Commission would be exempt from an antitrust challenge by either an individual professional planner or an affected competitor, I can assure you it would not. See, for example, Bogus v. American Speech and Hearing Ass'n, 582 F.2d 277 (1978) (holding where the association expressly conditioned the award of the certificate of clinical competence on the purchase of a tied product, membership in the association, and where plaintiff legitimately and reasonably believed the certificate was desirable and unique when she applied for it and paid membership fees, the plaintiff had standing to challenge the legality of the rule). Indeed, in an antitrust challenge, successful plaintiffs, which can include individual planners, may obtain treble damages from the guilty firm or organization.

If the Commission retains the requirement that half (or any portion) of any required training may only be provided by APA or through APA-sponsored programs, I will be forced to take appropriate action, including requests to the Rutgers general counsel, the New Jersey attorney general, and the New Jersey public advocate to consider initiating legal action against AICP because of the damage it would do to the Center for Government Services. In addition, I will contact the antitrust division of the U.S. Justice Department to determine whether they will investigate and take similar action against AICP.

(2) The number of hours of continuing education—48 over two years--is simply too high and does not equate with any standard I have been able to find or take into account the preferences expressed by AICP members as part of the Commission's 2005 Continuing Education Survey.

The Canadian Institute of Planners has a self-reporting system with 18 suggested "learning units" per year. The Royal Town Planning Institute does not have a specified minimum, but allows members great flexibility in designing their own professional development programs.

New Jersey mandates continuing education for certain municipal government positions (excluding licensed professional planners). Here are some typical requirements: certified tax assessors—30 credit hours over 3 years; certified public works managers—20 credit hours over three years; registered public purchasing specialists—15 credit hours over three years; uniform construction code subcode official—20 credit hours over three years.

In addition, according to the American Institute of Architects website, the following are typical mandatory continuing education requirements for architects in the states that require them.

* Florida—20 hours every two years
* Illinois—24 hours every two years
* New Jersey--24 hours every two years
* New York—36 hours every three years
* Oregon—12 hours annually
* Oklahoma—24 hours every two years
* South Carolina—12 hours every year

Surprisingly, a number of states where you might expect mandatory continuing education for architects—California, Pennsylvania, and Washington—do not have them at all. Thus, the norm for architects appears to be around 10 to 12 hours per year in the states that mandate continuing education.

AICP members, according to the 2005 survey posted on the Commission's website, express preferences that are similar to these figures. A majority of all members (58%) choose the least demanding option
presented: less than 16 hours per year. Another 24% of all respondents selected 16 or more hours per year, followed by 10% selecting 40 or more hours every 2 years. More demanding options were selected by fewer than 5% each. Mandatory continuing education opponents were virtually unanimous in wishing such a requirement (if adopted) to be as undemanding as possible — 88% said less than 16 hours per year.

On the basis of the above, I favor a standard of 20 to 24 hours of continuing education over a two year period.

(3) AICP must ensure that the topics treated as continuing education must be flexible enough so that they will be useful to members in different positions and at different phases in their professional careers.

It is not clear to me what topics will constitute "continuing education," but I would urge that it be defined very broadly. For example, would a course offered by the Bloustein School's public policy program in multivariate statistics be acceptable? How about a course on real estate finance or personnel performance appraisal or city planning history? As AICP members move into different areas, continuing education needs change, and they may not be satisfied by yet another course in planning law. The Royal Town Planning
Institute's continuing education program offers a good example of a broad view of "education."

(4) AICP must clean up its own internal administration of the continuing education program, and detail the mechanism and standards by which it will recognize and register providers like the Center for Government Services and the costs such a system will entail. It must hold itself to the same training standard that it holds independent providers. This must be done before any so-called certification maintenance program moves forward.

My colleague at Rutgers, Leo Vazquez, AICP/PP, a faculty member who oversees the Professional Development Institute, recounted his experience with the AICP staff in a January 2, 2007, column on the Planetizen website:

"It took seven months for the APA to make my training program, Bloustein Online Continuing Education Program (BOCEP), eligible for continuing education credits. And it took that long for BOCEP to get space in the APA's continuing education website. Only after I had complained several times did the staff act on my request. Why did it take so long? Was it simply that the staff of a multi-million dollar organization couldn't get around to it? Or was it that the staff and leadership were not inclined to act on a program that might take away business from the APA's CD-ROM and video training series? I don't know."

This conduct is simply unacceptable and it reflects thorny problems that only the Commission can correct. The Commission must act to ensure that approved providers of training have timely access to APA's website and other publications unimpeded by internal footdragging for whatever private bureaucratic reasons. For a good example of how another organization handles this, I suggest that the Commission members themselves examine the website of the American Institute of Architects, and arrange a presentation by the AIA staff.

The Commission must clarify how the proposed provider registration is to operate and ensure that providers are only charged the actual costs of the administration, and not padded costs intended to stifle competition. Based on our experience at CGS, a provider registration would incorporate:

* Title of the course
* Instructor vitae
* Specific learning objectives as related to planning content
areas
* Course syllabus
* List of required texts, if any
* Cost, location, and frequency

This type of review should not be time-consuming or costly, and should be able to be handled electronically and quickly. APA and AICP must be prepared to assemble a manual for potential registered providers and a mechanism to ensure that providers retain records of training for verification. The standards for training and records retention must be applied equally to both APA/AICP programs and those of outside providers. Finally, there must be a mechanism set in place to resolve disputes over the approval or nonapproval of courses, and provide recourse to AICP members who believe that what was promised in training was not provided.

(5) The Commission must be transparent in conducting its business, rather than secretive. I have communicated with several of you my concern that the Commission has failed to post its agendas and minutes and other information on its website so that its members, after logging on, could access them. AICP President Sue Schwartz, FAICP, agreed with me that this is a problem, but I have seen nothing subsequently to lift the black shroud that surrounds AICP business (and APA business as well).

AICP Commissioners must also post their telephone numbers, email, and addresses on the website so that members can communicate with them directly, and this information must be kept up to date. The Commission must also correspond directly with members about important AICP business, such as this, and not rely on indirect, intermediate means like Interact, intended for the general APA membership. If APA can repeatedly send me emails directly about junkets to China it is trying to peddle, the AICP can certainly contact me directly about its internal business.

The Next Steps

From what I can tell, AICP developed this proposal in secret after there were sufficient votes on the Commission to ram the idea through.
That is not the way complex programs that affect the professional development and welfare of 15,000 professional planners should be initiated. AICP must table this proposal at this time and begin an open collaborative process with chapters, divisions, planning educators, and various providers of continuing education.

Information about the experimental program conducted by several chapters a few years ago must be made available to all AICP members, along with any other internal reports and studies. The Commission must set aside considerable time to listen to its members in an open hearing in Philadelphia, and must not hide away in executive sessions or retreats, concealed from public view and criticism.

I support continuing education, but there is no rush to put a flawed proposal into effect, and there is plenty of time to do it right.

Sincerely,

Stuart Meck, FAICP/PP

Director and Faculty Fellow

Former APA President, 1989-91

Former AICP Commissioner, 1985-1988

cc: Carlos Rodriques, AICP/PP, New Jersey APA Chapter President

Brent Barnes, AICP/PP, President, Chapter Presidents Council

Stuart Meck-Comments

Mr. Meck, that is an interesting letter you wrote to the AICP Commission but to me it sounded slightly self-serving as it appears that you are a competitor with the APA's proposed AICP certification process. Your letter sounded more like a lobbyist threatening legal action against a competitor of your client then someone who is trying to discuss the substantive issues of the AICP certification process. But you raised some good points and am glad you weighed in on the issue.

I would also like to add that AICP is not a professional certification process as no state I am aware of (perhaps NJ and MI) have a "profession" called planners--at least not ones regulated by the state. This is simply APA's internal certification process for the AICP desingation they created. I know quite a few cities that won't let planners put AICP behind their name on their city busines card because it is not a professional designation.

As others have pointed out, AICP has a long way to go toward making AICP mean something. I suggest the APA start with that concept instead of recertifying their own meaningless designation.

I am tempted to work with others to create a new organization to certify planners as the APA seems to completely have lost their way on this issue. It sounds like Mr.Meck is in a great position to create a new certification process through his school-and wish he would consider doing so.

Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $199
Planetizen Courses image ad

Planetizen Courses

Advance your career with subscription-based online courses tailored to the urban planning professional.
Starting at $14.95 a month
Red necktie with map of Boston

Tie one on to celebrate your city

Choose from over 20 styles of neckties imprinted with detailed city or transit maps.
$44.95
Book cover of Unsprawl

Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places

Explore visionary, controversial and ultimately successful strategies for building people-centered places.
Starting at $12.95