AICP's Continuing Education Program Needs To Be Fixed

The new continuing education program set up by the American Planning Association's American Institute of Certified Planners is an unfair system that will prevent AICP-certified planners from getting affordable, high-quality education.

This essay is written on behalf of a growing number of planning education providers who are being harmed by the American Institute of Certified Planners' Certification Maintenance (CM) program.

If you'd like APA/AICP to hear your voice and make these changes to its continuing education system, sign this online petition

We consider the CM program to be predatory, confiscatory, unfair and inequitable. In this essay, we address each allegation. We offer an alternative that has proven to be non-predatory, non-confiscatory, fair, and equitable – and which facilitates the expansion of in-depth professional education opportunities.

We agree that planners should be current with planning knowledge. But the CM program undermines this goal. The CM program unfairly increases costs to non-AICP members, reduces the number of in-depth courses available for AICP members to take for credit, and leads to an overall dumbing-down of professional education opportunities for planners.

As background, the CM program was approved by the AICP Commission on April 13, 2007. Here's how it works.

  1. All AICP members must earn 32 CM-approved "credits" (contact hours) of continuing education every two years with 1.5 credits in planning law and another 1.5 credits in planning ethics.
  2. Continuing education providers must have their courses certified by American Planning Association/AICP staff. Providers pay an annual $95 registration fee plus $50 per CM credit.
  3. Providers cannot charge AICP members separate fees to cover CM costs.

The CM program was designed substantially without input from the very organizations that provide the largest share of high-quality, in-depth professional planning education courses nationally. What we have seen from APA/AICP is a pattern of behaviors indicating they have little apparent desire to engage constructively with those organizations.

Moreover, there is a clear conflict of interest because the people who are responsible for increasing the revenue of APA/AICP through the CM program are also making decisions about their "competitors." Many of those competitors are non-profit, university-based outreach education programs.


The CM program prices many in-depth courses and their providers out of existence in favor of APA/AICP's own courses and, especially, short conference sessions. Since conferences are a major source of revenue for APA the effect of this scheme is predatory.

Here's the problem. Most planning education providers are self-supporting and operate literally hand-to-mouth from course revenues. Because planners are not as wealthy as lawyers or doctors, we have to keep our costs down which makes our margins thin. We rely on net revenue to pay some bills and develop new courses.

While the $50 per credit fee is negligible when applied to a short APA conference session attracting hundreds, it is significant when applied to a 2-day, 14-hour in-depth course. That cost would be $700 and is onerous especially when enrollments are capped (to assure quality) and where most participants are mostly not AICP members anyway. We can't raise fees to cover CM costs because they are already as high as planners, citizens, and nonprofits can afford. We can't cut costs to pay the fees because that would reduce quality.

Technically, we can choose not to certify courses. Practically, we have no choice. A growing number of organizations will send their staff, including non-AICP members, only to CM-approved programs. This is a recipe for predation.

For instance, the Planning Academy at Virginia Tech is canceling many of its planning education courses because it cannot afford to pay the CM fees, but without CM approval some organizations won't support staff to attend them. The Planning Academy may shut down as a consequence. This is a predatory outcome of the CM program.

Who benefits by shutting down providers? APA/AICP. Attendance at national and state conferences will surely increase because AICP members can log the CM credits they need by sitting in on conference sessions. Those sessions tend to be passive listening sessions, not the high-quality, in-depth professional education experiences one would expect the CM program to encourage.

Bottom line: If a pricing scheme by a regulator curtails or even shuts down competitors with the result that its own operations are expanded common sense would suggest that predation occurs.


The CM program confiscates net revenues of providers. Consider the following examples.

Rutgers' Bloustein Online Continuing Education Program and The Leading Institute calculates it would have to pay roughly $28,000 annually to have all of its courses certified by APA/AICP. The fee to certify one class -- $700 -- represents around 27% of the operating costs of a typical BOCEP class. Clearly, the CM program will reduce many of Rutgers' offerings and could threaten its survival.

The Planning Academy at Virginia Tech runs short courses with capped enrollments that operate on tight margins. The CM fees, however, absorb about one- to two-thirds of the net revenue of courses and actually increase the odds that courses will lose money.

To reach planners, commissioners and citizens, Ohio State offers its courses for a price as low possible. Yet, for its continuing education program in planning and its certificate program, CM fees would run $14,000 annually, a figure equal to its entire net revenue from last year.

Planetizen estimated that it would cost $9,600 a year if all of its online courses were in the CM program. (That's almost three times as much as the American Institute of Architects would charge.)

In effect, APA/AICP pockets much of the hard-earned net revenue generated by university educational outreach providers who incur all the costs to create and deliver courses and take all the financial risks. As a "tax" that can approach (or exceed) 100% of the net revenue, CM fees are nothing less than confiscatory.


The CM program is unfair in how it operates. For one thing, its staff not only approves our courses but their own as well. This raises the appearance of -- and perhaps the temptation for -- conflict of interest.

The CM program may also "churn" fees, which is an unfair practice. For example, the Michigan chapter of the APA created a CM-approved 5-hour DVD of conference sessions to assist members in distant parts of the state. Although they paid CM fees to certify the DVD content initially, they have learned they must pay another $1,000 annually to make the DVDs available four times a year. This is called churning as it costs APA/AICP nothing to reapprove the same material.

We have been told by an APA official that because of staff, legal, overhead and other costs, it is possible that the CM program could lose money. If so, APA/AICP has two solutions: raise CM fees even more or use dues and other own-source revenue to cover losses. Both give APA/AICP an unfair advantage over providers.

The first solution is unfair because providers can't afford the current pricing scheme anyway. APA/AICP points out that it pays the same fees to its CM program as we do, but this is like a landlord paying herself rent on the house she owns. In fact, APA/AICP has every incentive to inflate financial losses and cover them through higher CM fees; doing so further cements APA/AICP's predation of the professional planning education market unfairly.

In the second respect, unlike APA/AICP, self-sufficient providers like us have no alternative sources of revenue to cover losses. APA/AICP has an unfair resource advantage.

The CM program is unfairly hard on planning schools that want to offer graduate courses for CM credit. Ohio State learned, for example, that the fee for a 3-credit hour graduate course would be $2,250 ($50 per hour times 45 contact hours) which is unworkable. Despite months of delay waiting for resolution from APA/AICP, Ohio State has received none. In the meantime, universities are not offering graduate courses for CM credit. This is unfair to those planners who seek graduate credit to help meet CM requirements.

Finally, the pricing scheme is unfair when considering APA/AICP's likely costs. It does not take much more time to process a 2-credit conference session than it takes to process an in-depth 14-credit course. The 2-credit conference session costs $100 in CM fees but the in-depth 14-credit course costs $700. So, the in-depth course heavily subsidizes the conference session.

AICP officials argue that the CM program will increase registration and the new revenue will cover higher costs. But they won't guarantee this. More problematic is that this reasoning does not work for courses that are capped to assure quality. It also does not work for courses that are offered for free or for registration fees set to cover just costs such as printing and catering -- unless of course we increase registration fees to cover CM costs which means everyone pays for AICP members' benefit unfairly.


We worry lastly about the equity implications of the CM scheme. After all, while the costs are incurred by everyone the benefits are enjoyed only by AICP members.

Consider that the CM program may violate the spirit if not the letter of AICP's own Code of Ethics:

1. f) We shall seek social justice by working to expand choice and opportunity for all persons, recognizing a special responsibility to plan for the needs of the disadvantaged and to promote racial and economic integration.

Consider also that AICP members average $5,000+ more income than non-AICP members, according to APA. So, while the CM program helps AICP members earn more money, the cost of their income benefits are borne by lower-earning non-AICP members. And we're supposed to be a profession advancing equity?


In review, the current CM program will:

  1. Reduce the number of high-quality, in-depth professional continuing education courses in planning.
  2. Dumb-down planning education overall by placing more emphasis on short, cursory conference sessions than on high-quality, in-depth professional planning education courses.
  3. Make AICP members free riders so they can earn more money at everyone else's expense.
  4. Put APA/AICP's own interests at an unfair administrative advantage relative to everyone else providing planning education.

A Proven Alternative

For years, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has run a model continuing education program. It charges annual fees ranging from $650 to professional nonprofit organizations – such as university outreach programs like ours -- to $3,300 for private-sector providers, such as Planetizen.

Let's do the math for university outreach providers. For 200 credits offered annually, APA/AICP would charge $10,000 a year. AIA would charge only $650.

AIA's approach stimulates the provision of literally thousands of high-quality, in-depth professional education resources for its members. In contrast, the CM pricing scheme stifles planning education. Providers are already reducing the number of high-quality, in-depth courses. Some are shutting down their planning education operations and more are sure to follow.


The providers of professional continuing education support the goals of Certification Maintenance; we just want a program that is non-predatory, non-confiscatory, fair, and equitable. We propose that the AICP Commission adopt the following policies.

  1. Like the AIA, the CM program must certify providers, not individual courses, with a pricing scheme similar to AIA's proven program. After all, if AIA's program-based certification is good enough for architects to maintain state licensure it ought to be good enough for AICP members.
  2. APA/AICP needs to treat all approved providers equally in terms of promotion, access to resources, and customer service.
  3. APA/AICP must create an oversight board for the CM program composed substantially of continuing education providers to ensure fairness and equity.
  4. The financial changes recommended need to be retroactive to September 2007. Any overpayments made by continuing education providers must be returned to them in the form of credits or refunds.

Arthur C. Nelson Ph.D., FAICP
Director, Metropolitan Institute
Editor, /Housing Policy Debate
Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Leonardo Vázquez, M.Pl, M.P.A., AICP, PP
Director, Professional Development Institute
Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy
Rutgers University

Jennifer Evans-Cowley, PhD, AICP
Associate Professor and Planning Education at a Distance Program Director
City and Regional Planning
Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture
The Ohio State University

Chris Steins

If you'd like APA/AICP to hear your voice and make these changes to its continuing education system, sign this online petition.

Graham Billingsley, President of AICP, and Monica Groh, Manager of Professional Development and AICP for the American Planning Association, have issued formal responses to this op-ed. Read AICP Responses to 'AICP's Continuing Education Program Needs To Be Fixed'.



AICP's Self-serving, "Certification"

I have taken two multi-day courses formerly certified for AICP "continuing professional development" (CPD) credits that were advertised as such - offered by Virginia Tech and by the National Transit Institute. Both were taken AFTER the AICP Board adopted its ill-conceived Certification Maintenance (CM) regime (late April, 2007 and February, 2008).

Because of AICP's self-serving reluctance to grandfather courses formerly granted AICP CPD credits, I feel I have been ripped-off by AICP when I reasonably thought - based on the representations of the reputable providers - that the courses would be granted certification maintenance credits. (The courses provided valuable information for my own professional development - but the time was wasted in the sense that value that could have been ADDED had AICP been reasonable and fair in its policies was lost to me and to the providers.)

From where I sit it appears that AICP has stonewalled the efforts of both providers to obtain CM credit for the courses. This is an unconscionable RIP-OFF of the AICP membership and these extremely high quality providers! But for the self-serving, unfair posture of the AICP, I should be more than half-way toward my required credits. As such, I have gained nothing except for an increasing sense of frustration and dismay at this opaque "Institute" that seems to have lost sight of the public interest and the interest of its members in its efforts to pad its own bottom line.

I will vote AGAINST any candidate for APA/AICP office that does not PLEDGE to reform this asinine pocket-lining scheme.

Robert Torzynski, AICP (for now)
Rochester, New York

Losing Membership for APA / AICP

In the past, I have taken issue with some of the conditions and requirements APA holds its members and AICPs to, not to mention the unusually high and bundled fees for such little services and professional development.

For my career, both APA membership and AICP certification are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Also, I believe the members service functions including the annual conferences are not as useful as they could be. I believe that APA should look to their membership, and ask how they can better serve the profession.

And now this AICP CM issue might just be the straw that breaks the camels back in terms of my further involvement.

All this at a time when this Country needs its Planning Professionals to be front and center in the debates on how to fix our communities.

J. Price, Washington, DC

Onerous Continuing Education

Now that the continuing education program has been implemented, I am finding out how onerous it is. I fully agree that the AICP Continuing Education Program as currently implemented is an unfair system that will prevent AICP certified planners from obtaining continuing education credits and needs to be fixed.

Here is my tale of woe. I recently received an email from NOAA for a course on "Coastal Community Planning & Development Training". Based on the theme of this course, it should qualify for continuing education. However, to get this training registered you have to become a provider and pay a $95 registration fee. The problem is that NOAA is a marine research agency not a planning agency. This means that:

1. NOAA, as a marine research agency, would have little incentive to pay $95 or expend staff resources to get a one-shot training program certified for maybe one or two planners out of an attendance of XXX persons. Furthermore, why would NOAA pay a registration fee for non-employees???? (NOAA has not obligation to provide a benefit to non-employees.)

2. Many Federal/State/in-house training courses that I have attended, because of my job, are primarily instituted by engineers, geologists, biologists and are designed for persons in the "hard" sciences. Courses such as the NOAA course I am referencing above may only attract one or two planners. Again economics come into play. Why would a course provider pay a registration fee to benefit only one or two participants out of the XXX persons that may be attending?????

3. My planning work has been principally in natural resource planning. I assume that there are many other planners who are also involved in natural resource planning. The current approach to obtaining continuing education credits appears to "lock-out" planners involved in natural resoure planning.

As I noted in point #2, many of the training courses that I have attended are created by persons in the "hard" sciences. The organizers of these courses unfortunately will have little interest or energy in getting these courses AICP approved. Let's face it, its out of their interest area.

Furthermore, a funding request to pay for registration would probably be denied since the focus of these courses is towards disciplines other than planning. For example, why would the US Corps of Engineers pay $95 so that I could attend a wetland delineation course where I am the only planner???? Additionally, I am not even an employee of the Corps. Again, there would be little incentive for the Corps to pay the registration for a non-employee.

These courses are very valuable to planners and should be eligible for continuing education credits. I hope that the AICP will re-think its policy on how to get courses certified for continuing education credits.

Since I intitially wrote the post, I was provided with NOAA's webpage on the Coastal Community Planning & Development Training course. I reiterate the post of PAYTONC that this current approach for continuing education credits is "a defeat for multidisciplinary learning".

A defeat for multidisciplinary learning

Roughly one-third of the audience at my employer's conferences and events are planners; another third are architects, and many other disciplines (landscape architects, developers, engineers, public officials, and others) fill the remaining third of seats. These programs provide these professionals with an opportunity to interact with and learn from others who also play an important role in shaping the built environment. The per-credit fee that we must pay for AICP CM is a cost that we're currently eating -- but if it doesn't actually result in more planners attending (and thus paying, and so far it hasn't), we'll have to pass those fees along in the form of higher registration fees for everyone.

APA can claim that AICP CM, as an individual budget line item, might lose money -- but judging from my many conversations with AICPs, it will earn them much more money from National Planning Conference registrations.

APA's AICP CM program

As a member who has long criticized the AICP for its rather meaningless examination and continuing membership only by virtue of continuing payment of membership fees, I have supported the concept of continuing education for AICP members.

However, the way the program is structured and the fees that must be paid by providers ON TOP OF the membership fees, which are scaled by income, makes it very clear that this is just another moneymaking scheme for APA.

I have known for quite some time that APA's focus is on creating as large a revenue stream as possible, in contrast to other professional groups, which strive to provide their services to the greatest number by keeping fees as low as possible.

While I support the CM program in concept, APA should either adminster the program out of the existing AICP membership fees or do so by charging a flat fee to providers. One of the most important providers in northern California has decided not to pay the fees, putting nearby APA members in a bind--and making attendance at APA's sometimes-good-sometimes-so-so conferences nearly mandatory in order to garner adequate credits. I would much prefer having a broader selection of courses: sorry, APA, but there are things you do well and things you don't.

Finally, I'd note that for those who think APA isn't shaking them down for cash, the membership fees spiral upward rapidly, based upon income. I receive no more benefit as a member today than I did 10 years ago, yet my membership fees have nearly doubled because of my rising income. In that same time, my other memberships have increased 20 percent and 5 percent. I'd be curious to know how much my membership benefits actually cost APA . . .


I am another planner whose field is outside APA's traditional land-use City-planner member. I agree with the idea of continuing educaiton, but I disapprove strongly of the anti-competitive tactics of APA.

A good CM program would allow me to substitute somethign relvant for, say, the update on planning law. Most of that material does not apply to anything I do.

I have signed the petition and am in the ranks of potnetial AICP drop-outs unless this mess gets resolved in the next year.

APA is wrong and needs to change this NOW

As an AICP member, I agree that the continuing education program needs immediate and retroactive reform. APA is not helping, much less leading, the planning profession. Setting up a system whereby members have to go to APA conferences (as a practical matter) to stay certified does appear to be anti-competitive in effect. Setting up an unduly burdensome process for other providers of planning education is clearly anti-competitive.

If this system is not changed, I will be an EX-AICP member soon.

This is only the last of a long string of APA actions that make me wonder why I am in this organization. I don't need the certification, I don't do land-use city "planning" aka zoning casework, and I know of at least 2 other organizations more relevant to my field. I have watched APA extract money while not enforcing the AICP rules, I have watched people retain AICP (as long as they pay) despite egregiously unethical behavior, and I have watched APA make decisions based only on money. As an example of the last, the selection of Las Vegas, surely one of the worst examples of planning in this country, for the annual meeting can have no other rationale.

I've signed the petition; let's see if APA responds.

A Virginia Example

As a past-president for Virginia I share many of the same concerns, particularly about the fees charged for each credit-hour - an example, in Virginia, the VAPA co-exists peacefully with 3 other planning related organizations, the Rural Planning Caucus (RPC), the Citizen Planning Education Association of Virginia (CPEAV) and the Virginia Association of Zoning Officials (VAZO)-- all of whom are run by volunteers and offer their members professional development specific to their needs that VAPA can not since it has to be all things to all planners -- those organizations are on tight budgets, not affiliated in any way with the APA and will most likely not be able to afford the registration and per hour fee charged by the APA on a regular basis. So AICP members such as myself, participating in a CPEAV graduate seminar will potentially not receive any credit towards CM. So in a time of increasingly tight public agency budgets where am I going to have to spend my continuing ed money? At an APA conference - or buying an APA CD and the other worthwhile organizations lose my participation (which, ok, they might not complain about to much:))

Liz Via, AICP, Director, Community Development
Manassas, Virginia

Comments from former AICP Commissioner

I fought long and to no avail to prevent this type of continuing education program from happening. I could tell that it would cause hardship for small counties and towns in paying for overpriced CE programs. I could see that being AICP might be a negative in a hiring process because of the cost. The problems for universities in offering courses was obvious as the article so well points out. Besides, as others have commented, many other organizations provide excellent CE and they aren't going to pay the costs for one or two AICP folks. For me it would EPA or AWRA.
I kept the program at bay for a number of years, but as we now see, the forces for it were stronger. Sorry for all of us.

Margot W Garcia

Yes to CM, no to the way it's being done

We have a diverse profession, and it makes no sense to make it as difficult as possible for allied professions to certify their courses for planners. Do you think a regional ITE event is going to pay out of the nose to certify their conference sessions for a few planners when the bulk of the attendees are engineers who don't have a governing organization charging hundreds of dollars to certify their courses? Of course not.

The AIA system may hold promise, but could still be prohibitive for one-time ad hoc conferences. The bottom line is that I do not see the fees currently charged by APA as justified. There is no way that it would cost as much as the income generated by the program for a database-based system. This is just a money maker for APA and an attempt to increase use of APA products like the national conference.

Along the same lines, I think it is ridiculous for the Planetizen to send us to a petition page with a required donation. I understand that this donation is to go run the petition website, but this fee should be paid for by the organization requesting the petition (Planetizen), not those who sign it. What kind of results will you get with a petition system like this?

Pay attention to who you vote for in the APA/AICP elections this year!

UPDATE: Apparently the donation on the petition page is not required. I had closed the window after I "signed" the petition when I had no choice but to pick a dollar amount, which I took as the only way submit the "signature". My apologies to Planetizen for not getting this correct, though the ipetitions website is confusing.

I am also soon to be ex AICP

I agree with all of the comments so far and I will most likely not be renewing my AICP/APA membership in the next year. The CE requirements are enormous and with county revenues down our training budgets have been stripped. This means no funds for the conferences that seem to be the only way to get the credits. 32 CEU units? Outrageous! That is multiple courses and very high expense that our organization will not be paying for. My certification is a good to have, but not a requirement for my position or future positions.

Good luck to the membership team in the next few years. I can see the membership dropping like a rock.

Another soon-to-be-ex

I submitted similar comments to AICP during both public input rounds, to no avail. I'm a transportation planner and APA training/conference isn't specific enough for me. So TRB, APTA and APBP (pedestrian and bicycle professionals) are supposed to pay these outrageous amounts to APA? That is completely unreasonable. If APA/AICP doesn't recognize that not all planners are alike, they will certainly be losing a lot of members--including me.

AICP Certification Maintenance Requirements

It's so disheartening to realize that the profession you've committed yourself to for over 30 years is represented by a bunch of decision-makers whose prime motivation is NOT the furtherance of the profession, but ACTUALLY increasing its revenue. I didn't realize that APA/AICP was aspiring to be a PRIVATE SECTOR organization! It's clear that the CM requirements were developed by people who are:
* Perennial APA conference attendees - apparently without resource constraints in their schedule and trip planning.
* Not private sector practitioners
* Not government sector planning professionals

If the individuals responsible for the new rules were part of any of these groups, they would know:

* Not everyone works for an employer that can afford to spend thousands of dollars on conference registrations, hotel rooms, and per diem for MULTIPLE individuals who are professional planners within their organization.

* The current economic climate in the U.S. as a whole and in many states and local communities is clear - EVERYONE is short on resources. The first thing to go in tight economic times is training and professional development. Private firms will have a hard enough time to meet the requirements. Governmental agencies at ALL LEVELS will really struggle with this financially.

* For some fields of planning, APA/AICP has become virtually irrelevant. This includes all of the specialty areas in transportation planning. Over the years, APA/AICP has successfully abdicated its responsibility to the transportation planning professionals to such groups as the Institute of Transportation Engineers (think about this one!); the American Public Transit Association; and the Transportation Research Board. APA conference programs on transportation are about 20 years behind the times.

Unfortunately, for those of us working as professional planners, many of our employers have adopted AICP certification as a requirement or preferred qualification for our jobs. SO APA/AICP has successfully placed all of us right in the middle of a rock and a hard place. AICP Certification is an important credential to earn, you just have to pay bunches of money to keep it! Kudos to APA/AICP for their strategic thinking!

Jamie Cochran, (currently AICP, but who knows for how long?)

Focus on the Planning Practice - Not on Revenue Generation

APA/AICP needs to focus on furthering the interests of the professional practice of planning and leave the revenue generation schemes to the private sector (who is much more adept at it).

AICP needs to get with the program and realize that APA is irrelevant for the transportation planning profession (due to its own actions) and MAKE SURE TRB, ITE, AND APTA conferences and events are eligible for CM credits - no questions asked or costs incurred.

No Response From AICP... No Shock...

It doesn't shock me that there hasn't been a response from APA/AICP yet on this matter. Anything having to do with CM has generally been ignored.

APA/AICP need to really listen to the comments made in this article, the comments, and the comments on the petition. There are lots of people that are in fields that are not completely dominated by planners, and those people seem to be the hardest hit by this. Planning is an applied field, and we all know that, so why is it so difficult and expensive for something that is good for architects, engineers, and others to use for their certifications?

I personally would like to see blanket approvals for anything that is already being used for a close certification, such as for the Professional Transportation Planner certification (I imagine that there are dozens more like this that I don't know about). I also think that there should be blanket exceptions for Universities, since they are generally non-profit and their mission is research and learning. For the rest, the fees should be reasonable (perhaps even less for non-profit organizations). Honestly, if APA/AICP continues on this track, they will lose more money in lost member dues than they will gain with their outlandish and onerous approval fee and process.

APA/AICP need to respect us- we studied our butts off for that exam, and not a lot of people seem to be against the concept of certification maintenance. The can do that by fixing the process, fees, and communication (well, lack thereof).

For the rest of us, I think we need to hold off on paying any membership dues or other fees to APA/AICP until this is cleared up to a point we think it is acceptable.

AICP: Argh! I Can't Pay

I work for an agency that is reluctant to find any continuing education, much less the annual fees for APA membership and AICP certification, so program cost is critical.

Along with so many other planners who have signed the petition, my salary is far below the national average (as determined by the annual APA salary surveys) for a planner with my title, responsibilities and level of experience. I simply cannot afford to pay for continuing education or national conferences out of my own pocket.

There is a very real possibility that many planners, myself included, will lose their AICP certification; not due to some ethics violation, but because they just can't afford it.


Not much more to add to this fiasco other than how irrelevant AICP has become as it continues, lead by APA, to lose sight of its intended goals.

And how much credibility does AICP have really? It's a certification given by a private organization to its own members. It's certainly not in the same high esteem as a P.E. or other professional license. It comes with no accountability or professional responsibility or risk. And no, the Code of Ethics is just another joke.

Bottomline is, until states, through their education departments, started licensing or ceritfying planners as a an outside third party entity, AICP is nothing more than a means for AICP to ensure its people maintain their jobs.

I know four people at a local company who are testing in May. Not a single one wants to, not a single on sees any benefit and not a single one cares. It's become an unfortunate right of passage for planners to embark on to further disenfracnhise them.

And it's breed the self-certification mentality. Have you seen the people who are members of the Congress for New Urbanism using CNU after their names? And there is talk of a certification from CNU to members. Talk about a joke. Maybe AICP won't look so bad when these people start certifying themselves (can you certify someone who belives in a theory?).

APA & AICP Responds

I am posting a link to the two responses from APA and the President of AICP that I received via email this morning from our APA Chapter President.

I looked for these documents on the APA website before posting them on the Kansas Chapter's site. If anyone has a link please post. Discussion of this topic is also occuring at

APA responses:

Christopher W. Dunn, AICP

Planning & Zoning Department
Leavenworth County Kansas
County Courthouse, Suite 030
300 Walnut
Leavenworth, KS 66048

PS: We restrict the ability to post on our chapter forums to KS-APA members.

CM and Ethics

A few Bay Area planners did a poll in 2005 of city "customers" that came to the counter asking for assistance. These customers were lawyers, architects, engineers, developers, sign permit processors, and regular property owners all coming to seek some kind of service from our planning department. Only one person (architect) knew what AICP meant. I would like to see APA educate the world as to what AICP means before they start requiring certification. Additionally, most planners we surveyed didn't know what FAICP stood for.

Additionally, I am just short a few credits for my second master's degree (in city planning. My first MA was in environmental management). Additionally, I received a Professional Degree in Real Estate Development and have taken 8 classes in environmental subjects (ground water hydrology, etc). All of these classes required homework, papers, exams, etc. I did them all at night school after working as a planner during the day. I get no credit for these classes in the CM program. What is maddening is that if I fly to Las Vegas and take the transportation seminar modules, I can, in 2-3 days, have my 32 required cm classes complete. No exams, papers, etc. And yet the APA is trying to get everyone to believe that by my taking the APA seminars I am, in their words, "enhancing the credibility of the planning profession". Clearly my taking the 32 cm hour 2 day seminars in Las Vegas enhances no one's reputation. This is education?

To me the real ethical dilemma is the cost. If I go to Las Vegas and take the transportation classes it will cost about $3000 (all-in costs). I am on the Board of a PTo for a public school in San Francisco. The school gets close to the highest test scores in the state and yet the children are among the poorest in the city. The students would like to have Berkeley's famous MARE (marine science) classes at their school but this would cost the school $3000. So, I can help 255 wonderful children get a magnificent science program in their school, or I can fly to Las Vegas and take a quick and dirty seminar just so that I can say I am AICP--a title that no one seems to know anything about. There is an ethical imperative that I take the $3000 and give it to the school. I can't afford to do both.

APA seems to be about self-aggrandizement. I really believe that APA needs to rethink what they are doing before it loses its way-and its members.

Ask the Candidates For a Position Statement

The APA sent me an email that "As a member of the American Planning Association, you have the opportunity to vote in the 2008 APA/AICP Election."

I would encourage everyone to contact the candidates and ask them to disclose their position on the current AICP registration process and to place their position on the APA website. The position statements, as currently worded, don't disclose who would be in favor of revisiting the AICP registration rules. I would like to vote for the candidates who will commit to resolving this issue.

AICP Agenda Request to Reform Certification Management Structure

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

This is what I sent the American Institute of Certified Planners Commission on March 21, 2008. I urge all readers to contact individual AICP Commissioners with their own views on this matter.

The signatures and comments to the petition can be viewed at:


Dear AICP Commission Members:

We (on behalf of Jennifer Evans-Cowley, AICP, of Ohio State University, Arthur C. Nelson, FAICP, of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Leonardo Vazquez, AICP/PP of Rutgers, Chris Steins, of Planetizen, and Stuart Meck, FAICP/PP, past APA president and of Rutgers University) are requesting that the AICP Commission include as a discussion item at its April 26, 2008, meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, the following petition that is based on an op-ed that they [Evans-Cowley, Nelson, Steins, and Vazquez] published in Planetizen on March 6, 2008 (link: ).

We, the undersigned, request that the leadership of the American Planning Association (APA) and the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) revise the structure of the its newly adopted AICP Certification Maintenance program so that it treats all continuing education providers fairly and fosters a diverse array of learning opportunities for its members.

We support the goals of Certification Maintenance and want to make it fairer for everyone involved. To this end, we propose that the AICP Commission adopt the following policies.

1. AICP must charge Certification Maintenance fees to programs, not individual courses. A program should be defined as a set of courses similar in subject matter or course delivery. This is what the AIA [American Institute of Architects] already does so we recommend that APA/AICP embrace this fair, equitable, and proven approach.

2. AICP needs to treat all approved continuing education providers equally in terms of promotion, access to resources, and customer service.

3. AICP must review and decide on applications for CM approval by providers within two weeks of receipt of the applications.

4. These changes need to be retroactive to September 2007. Any overpayments made by continuing education providers (under the new calculations) must be returned to them in the form of credits or refunds.

We have attached the names and comments of some 546 APA and AICP members who signed the petition. Please note that, with few exceptions, all support the concept of mandatory continuing education. The question is how the certification maintenance program can be designed so that it is affordable, accessible, and relevant to all AICP members at all stages in their careers.

We ask that AICP post all agenda materials, including staff reports and communications, in connection with this request on the APA website at least three weeks in advance of the meeting so that all AICP members (and others) have a chance to review them before the Commission meeting. We look forward to working with you in good faith on the resolution of this issue.

cc: Chapter Presidents; Professional Development Officers; Division Chairs

Attachment: Petition with names and comments

Pattsi Petrie, PhD, AICP I,

Pattsi Petrie, PhD, AICP

I, too, concur with what has been written and posted on PLANETZEN along with the many comments and issues raised by the petition signers. The reason for adding to the discussion has to do with the under playing of importance of being able to offer economical and good quality educational opportunities to the "citizen planners," who actually have the vote on planning decisions. This does not mean "keeping professional planners credentials current" is not important, but rarely does this sub population have the final vote. The economical arguments made by the authors of the paper and the petition signers probably increase many fold for the citizen planner. Community budget restrictions preclude these individuals having many if any educational opportunities.

So I encourage the ACSP task force focusing on this dialogue with APA/AICP to work toward a plan that will enable reaching the "citizen planner." Further based on the PAB criteria, I would go so far to argue that the PAB accredited schools are probably in the best position to offer high quality educational programs, so the "fox is not watching the hen house." Right now the trump card is economics, not quality. Since I am pushing the envelop, I would argue that it is in the best interest of the national organization to fund such programs within the PAB accredited schools, which are interested in fulfilling this PAB criteria.

It is most intriguing how these populations of researchers and planners could have created a CM program that has caused so many issues upon implementation. When I was chair of the AICP Continuing Education Task Force and the many years spent discussing this topic, it was very clear that looking at the research about putting in place a continuing education program for a profession was not given much credence nor how adults learn. This certainly was not in "best educational and planning practice." Some of the petition signers have written comments about the quality of programs and how little is actually learned related to educational format and time and money expended.

I am encouraged by the number who have stepped forward to express their concerns and the willingness of the organizations involved to continue the dialogue. On the other hand, it is worrisome that so many felt it necessary to sign the petition anonymously.

One last comment directed toward the replies from AICP. A question that needs addressing has to do with exactly what organizations/agencies have paid the determined amount so programs will be certified for CM credit--are these cost recovery or revenue generating. Since the example of the Charrette Institute was given, I imagine these are entitites that charge huge sums of money for the programs. This is also a self selecting mechanism as to who can afford any of these.

Continuing What Education?

My comments may be a bit off-topic but hopefully of interest in this discussion. As the holder of a M.S. in Planning with 20 years of experience as a planning practitioner and member of the AICP, in the past two decades I have encountered very few practicing planners with degrees in planning and only a few more who had taken courses in planning history, theory or methods.

Would not mandatory education requirements be much more effective if a priority was placed on requiring a planning degree for those who wish to become an AICP member in the first place? Such an approach would help ensure that the AICP membership has a more sound foundation upon which to engage in continuing eduation activities, whether they be mandated or not.

Chris Steins's picture

AICP Certification Maintenance - New York Metro Chapter Comments

The following letter was prepared by the New York Metro Chapter of the American Planning Association, and was provided to Planetizen.

March 27, 2008

Mr. Graham Billingsley, President, AICP
Ms. Sue Schwartz, Past President, AICP
Mr. Paul Farmer, President, APA
American Planning Association
122 S. Michigan Street
Chicago, IL 60603

Re: AICP Certification Maintenance - Comments of New York Metro Chapter

Dear Graham, Sue and Paul:

I am writing to transmit the concerns of the Executive Committee of the New York Metro Chapter about the adopted Certification Maintenance Program (CM). These concerns were expressed in a unanimous resolution passed by the Executive Committee on March 17, 2008. The resolution and this letter reflect our own experience with the requirements and the administrative implementation of the program, as well as member comment on the operations of the program so far.

While most NY Metro Chapter members support some form of mandatory certification maintenance, there is an overwhelming and growing number that opposes the format approved by the AICP Commission. We understand that the program’s administrators have indicated that some fine tuning to the program over time might be considered. However, we strongly advise that the AICP Commission act quickly to take a step back from the implementation of the current program and that it evaluate the carefully considered comments about the impacts of implementation on both members and CM providers. There is every reason for concern that the program, as currently outlined and administered, will create harm to AICP and its members.

Please note that the Chapter has registered detailed objections on several prior occasions (see our letter to you dated March 20, 2007). Despite our objections to the program, the Chapter has become an approved provider, obtained CM approvals for four events so far this year and has gained experience attempting to make the program work. We want to make this program work but our experience has only heightened our concerns.

We agree with the concerns expressed in the Planetizen editorial. This article presents a number of reasonable alternatives based on the experiences of other CM and continuing education programs. We believe that these concerns and resulting petitions should be discussed openly at AICP and APA in an appropriate forum as soon as possible.

Further, our own experience and feedback from our members in the last months raises at least two additional concerns:

One concern has to do with the requirement by which educational providers must register with National APA/AICP in order to become qualified CM providers. This fails to recognize the fact that these organizations currently provide a service to planners by providing courses and workshops that meet the diverse educational needs of Chapter members. In particular, the fee structure and other rules are forcing a reduction in the number of quality professional offerings to our members. NY Metro has had many experiences with our long-time collaborative organizations in the last months in which they want to offer AICP CM credits but cannot do so because they are not accepted providers. We have sent you a list of these organizations, and we have asked them to apply to you for acceptance; but this is an unwieldy and unfortunate requirement. These third-party educational providers should be encouraged to continue offering programs to planners rather than being asked to incur a financial and administrative burden. The New York Metro Chapter believes that requiring National APA registration and approval sends the wrong message to these important educational providers/partners and may ultimately act as a disincentive to their continued collaboration and participation with our chapter. We recommend that the Commission not require that “Other Providers” meet the currently onerous requirements. This should be reviewed as quickly as possible.

At the same time, we have also observed that there is a serious issue concerning the quality of APA CM programs. For instance, we recently sponsored the APA web cast on "Design Guidelines for Small Towns and Rural Communities." In addition to the poor quality of the recording, the
AICP Certification Maintenance program content was very basic and presented simple planning principles. On the other hand, we have learned that the Long Island Planning Federation sponsors a series of courses that have been turned down for credits. A quick review of the manual used for these sessions reveals far more sophistication and depth than the APA CM-certified web cast event. Yet, any AICP members taking this Long Island seminar will earn nothing toward CM, even though the program was approved for Code Enforcement Officers continuing education credits, and attorney CLE credits. You may review the manual designed for this program online at:

A second concern is about the costs that members will incur in order to keep up their AICP membership under the current CM requirements. As noted in the Planetizen editorial, provider costs will have to be passed down to the members in registration fees, etc. In addition, most employers, particularly in the government sector, do not reimburse staff for conference fees or costs of continuing education credits; they do not provide bonuses, pay increases or other monetary reimbursements to members of AICP; they do not allow attendance at these events during work hours or pay for membership fees in professional organizations. These costs are all borne by the individual planners, and under the current CM plan, many planners expect that the cost of maintaining AICP membership will be too financially burdensome to bear, particularly for the many planners who do not have these fees offset by their employer. We are concerned that the effect of the new structure will be to reduce diversity in a profession already hard-pressed to meet society's standards in this regard. As the economic penalties of maintaining certification take hold, those remaining with the AICP after their names will be increasingly those with the luxury of time and money to obtain CM credits—a more exclusive club and fewer competitors with whom they have to share the profession.

NY Metro takes pride in the quality of its educational offerings and in the scope and diversity of its collaborations with major organizations in the city and region. We want to continue to serve all our members in the most effective and cost-efficient way possible.

It seems only prudent that AICP take a step back, be more responsive to objections and criticism, and revise its program before more damage is done to the profession.

Thank you for your careful consideration of this matter.


Ethel Sheffer, AICP
New York Metro Chapter

Cc: Anna Breinich, Region One AICP representative
Cc: David Woods, Region One APA representative

A challenge to AICP credentialing

Pattsi Petrie, PhD, AICP

Note: The following comments do not diminish my many arguments as to the importance of urban planners keeping their credentials current or the responsibility to provide affordable educational means for "citizen planners" to learn more about urban planning and associated issues.

Last weekend during a conversation with two experimental economists, I was giving the history behind the AICP CM program, why it is important, the many concerns expressed by all of the public and nonpublic comments, my years of working on the subject, and the costs to take the exam, maintain membership, and now costs to maintain certification. Without missing a beat, both individuals said, almost simultaneously, why continue such membership and/or take the exam in the first place?

I continued to explain, according to the longitudinal salary data, that those individuals who have AICP after their names, on average, have higher salaries. Again without missing a beat and almost simultaneously, they said this does not prove a relationship between salary and AICP credentials. It may just be that those people who "hustle" to take the exam are the same people who "hustle" on the job and therefore would have a higher salary.

Both economists came up with an experiment design that they challenged APA to run. So in the spirit of adding another dimension to this fruitful public discussion about AICP and certification, I am passing along the experiment.

For the AICP certification, APA should announce that of those that apply to take the AICP exam at a specific exam date, some will be able to take it for free. Suppose 100 people apply to take the exam, randomly chose 40 to be able to take it for free. The remaining 60 would have to pay. Some will and some won't. So, you will have three groups (take exam for free, take exam for registration fee, don't take exam). You want to compare the take-exam-for-free group with the don't-take-exam group. This last group has shown itself motivated to get the certificate, yet did not take the exam. The former group has also shown itself motivated to get the certificate and pays for it. You need to follow both groups and see how well they do in the market. If there is a significant difference in salaries, then it is due to the certification (or the process of studying for the exam). If there is no difference, then the difference that AICP claims is due to motivation (more motivated people get the certificate, and they would make higher salaries even if the certificate did not exist).

If it turns out that having the AICP credential is just not that significant, then this may not be the appropriate mechanism through which continuing education ought to be shaped and controlled.

Leave it to the economists to challenge the urban planners.

Pattsi Petrie

Chris Steins's picture

AICP Certification Maintenance: Comments by Hawai'i Chapter

The following letter was prepared by the Hawai'i Chapter of the American Planning Association, and was provided to Planetizen.

Recommended Modifications to the AICP Certification Maintenance Program, Hawaii Chapter, April 21, 2008 (PDF, 2.5 MB)

Updates on Certification Maintenance

I created a blog to provide updates on the Certification Maintenance issue and also to provide more space for members of the movement to share their ideas. You can find it at

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

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 $245

Essential Readings in Urban Planning

Planning on taking the AICP* Exam? Register for Planetizen's AICP * Exam Preparation Course to save $25.

Get the "Green Bible" of planning books

Understand the complexities of planning at the local level while preparing for the AICP* exam.
Melissa and Doug Town Blocks Wooden Play Set

Block play meets role play

New! Town block set from Melissa and Doug Toys