Will the American Institute of Certified Planners Live By the Principles it Promotes?

The continuing education program of the American Planning Association's American Institute of Certified Planners has stirred much controversy amongst members, educators and officials. Many agree the system's flaws need to be addressed. But where is the public discussion?
Photo: Leonardo Vazquez

The American Institute of Certified Planners proclaims itself the judge of quality planning in the United States. For this reason, it created and manages a controversial mandatory continuing education program, Certification Maintenance (CM). Later this month, the AICP Commission will discuss the program's design, which is opposed by hundreds of planners. Will AICP practice the sound planning principles it preaches?

Last month, a group of planning educators who provide professional development to planners argued on Planetizen that the CM program, as it is designed, will deprive planners of affordable opportunities for lifelong learning. The group's essay argues that CM is predatory, confiscatory and unfair and is a conflict of interest for AICP. An accompanying petition offered reasonable strategies to reform the program. (Full disclosure: I am one of the authors of the essay.)

More than 600 people, as well as representatives of several planning organizations, signed the petition. (These include Planners Network, the APA's New York Metro Chapter, and a vice president of the New Mexico chapter.) Several offered their own comments. Most complained about the unfair costs the program puts on educational providers and planners. But several saw a bigger issue: how AICP and its parent organization, the American Planning Association, govern themselves and their programs.

Seeking Public Discussion

If hundreds of people in your community raised reasonable concerns about a planning program you developed, how would you respond? Perhaps you might call a community meeting, or ask community elected officials to reach out to community leaders. The AICP Code of Ethics encourages us to be sensitive to the concerns of others and to provide opportunities for their meaningful involvement in planning. What did AICP leadership and staff do? Write defensive letters that mostly ignored the comments made in the Planetizen essay and petition.

For more information, read "AICP's Continuing Education Program Needs to be Fixed" and sign the online petition.

The AICP Commission will meet from 8 a.m. to 10:35 a.m. Saturday, April 26, at Bally's Hotel, Skyview 4 Room, 26th Floor in Las Vegas. Anyone attending the APA National conference is welcome to attend the meeting.

Though several petitioners and the New York Metro Chapter asked the AICP Commission to hold open dialogues on the issue, the AICP has ignored those requests. What's more, the Commission has allocated less than an hour for discussion and action among AICP Commissioners at its upcoming meeting during the APA National conference. (That is not much time for a group that meets publicly only twice a year.) It appears that if AICP members are engaged, it will be after decisions are made.

"I am shocked and saddened by the 'if you don't like it, get lost' elitist attitude of our supposedly enlightened AICP leaders," wrote one petition signer who is a longtime APA/AICP member. He also said, "for an organization that supposedly prides itself on dialogue, meaningful input, and fairness of decisions to pull a stunt like AICP has is disgraceful and I submit that it violates at the very least the spirit of the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, Item A. 4) (a planner must strive to give citizens an opportunity for meaningful impact on the development of plans and programs)."

A staff report has been completed and shared with AICP Commissioners. But no part of the report is being shared with AICP members before the meeting. (FYI: AICP Code A.1.d.: "We shall provide timely, adequate, clear, and accurate information on planning issues to all affected persons and to governmental decision makers.") As a former member of the AICP Examination Review Committee who has had many confidential conversations with current and former APA and AICP leaders, I can confirm that this pattern of secrecy is not unusual for the organization. I don't know whether this is about hiding unpleasant facts, or about an overzealous focus on order and efficiency. No matter what the intent is, the effect is a command-and-control, secretive style of governance. That style of leadership was typical for a 1950s urban renewal agency. But is it appropriate for a 21st century membership organization?

The Guise of Engagement

Just as disturbing is that AICP seems to make no distinction between sales pitches and dialogues. AICP leaders and staff claim that they have "engaged" more than 700 educational providers. But what they call engagement we would call promotion and public relations. Even if AICP consulted with a tiny number of continuing education providers, they couldn't represent the diversity of interests in the field. Since the program was passed last April, there has never been an open forum for AICP members and continuing education providers to discuss the Certification Maintenance program.

AICP took one good step in December 2006, when it unveiled the concept of the Certification Maintenance program and gave APA and AICP members a month to share their comments. Many planners – including the essay authors – supported mandatory continuing education in principle. But AICP developed its onerous and unfair fee structure without real input from the continuing education providers who would be forced to pay the CM fees (and likely pass them on to their customers.)

It's not that they didn't know. There have been quiet complaints by AICP members, educational providers and at least one APA chapter for a year. For months, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning has been lobbying for improvements.

The APA's New York Metro Chapter, which represents 1,200 in New York City and its suburbs, is so concerned about the way AICP is handling the CM program that it took the rare and courageous step of writing an open letter to AICP leadership. The letter says, in part:

"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."

Leonardo Vazquez, AICP/PP is an Instructor at Rutgers University's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and Director of its Professional Development Institute. He is a founder of The Leading Institute, which promotes models of collaborative leadership and management in planning and community development.



I chose to let my APA membership and AICP run out !

I respect your willingness to fight for reform. Good luck in your efforts with the APA, my feeling is that the memebers of the committee are our of touch with acting planners needs and budget.

I have always had a problem with the way APA treated me and how the APA is run. AICP certification was at the top of list of 'things that are broken' at APA. Therefore, since the APA couldn't stay relevant I chose to let my APA membership and AICP certification run out.

Good riddance! I am saving a lot money and I can now focus on unencumbered professional development efforts!


Hopeful for Future, But Disappointed with Current CM Program

I don't know the politics of APA. On the value of AICP Certification Maintenance itself, I guess I am somewhere in the middle. On one hand, I may disagree with those who want absolutely no requirement because I can understand having a continuing education requirement in order to maintain the certification. As technology changes and new developments occur in planning, it is important for professionals to keep up. What I strongly dislike is the way that APA has implemented the Certification Maintenance Program with little flexibility and restricted training opportunities because of the way providers have to be approved.

The process of having to have every training program approved by APA seems very unwieldy and redundant. With so many training opportunities in planning and its subfields such as zoning/land use planning, housing/community development, environmental planning, urban design, etc.; it just seems that many beneficial opportunities will be excluded because they have not been approved by APA. More disconcerting is that it seems to me that college credits from regionally accredited colleges and universities should just generally be accepted without the college having to have to pay APA a fee to offer the course as part of the CM program. The same consideration should apply to colleges, universities, and other training providers who offer Continuing Education Units that are approved by the International Association for Continuing Education & Training. The only review that college credits and CEU credits should go through is a fairly limited to assuring the course title and/or submit matter.

Some examples of online training opportunities I have been considering that have no current value under the CM Program include:
1. Community-Based Development CEU Certificate from Colorado State University
2. Housing Studies Graduate Certificate, University of Minnesota
3. Facilities Management and Planning Graduate Certificate, Ohio State University
4. City/County Planning and Plan Implementation non-credit continuing education course, University of Missouri
5. Continuing education Certificate in Geographic Information Systems, Louisiana Tech University

All the courses I identified above are sponsored by regionally accredited universities. Whether it is for academic or CEU credit, you would think such leading universities offer credible training opportunities, but the APA plan current requires all training providers approved under the CM to pay homage to APA with the designated fees. This is a disservice to educational institutions and to us planning professionals who are intelligent enough to know what type of training is necessary for us to remain proficient in our specialty areas within the field of planning.

I already have some gripes with the APA/AICP. I think the dues are excessive. It would seem that more overall revenue could be brought in to support APA with lower dues but more people. I don't understand why APA does not pursue a policy of an expanded and more diverse membership that lower dues would allow. You have fewer people paying larger dues trying to support the organization now. I know several people who dropped out of the APA because of the dues structure (We are not stock brokers!!!). The annual membership fees are like an extra month mortgage payment or rent each year. With the way CM has been implemented, I am persuaded to agree with those who suggest that there might be disconnect with the APA Administration from the general membership in the sense that the central organization seems to look at moneymaking schemes to support the administration as opposed to it being a membership organization to support the membership.

This is a disturbing read...

As a soon to graduate new student, who is looking forward to the APA conference in Vegas, this is a very disturbing article. One of the aspects of planning that most excites me is the need for ongoing learning. However, I hope that is a constructive rather than just a procedural process. I am certainly going to look into this issue and see how I can participate in this ongoing dialog. I hope members of the AICP commission see that young planners are being exposed to this issue.

CM Here Due to Pure Politics

Simply establishing AICP's CM program was a textbook example of bad, possibly unethical planning. The current commission which is responsible for it had no rational basis for the CM program.

The current AICP Commission had no evidence that there's a wave of incompetence among AICP members -- if there was then mandatory continuing education may very well be justifiable.

The Commission had no evidence that we were not keeping up with current practices on our own.

It had no evidence that mandatory continuing education programs actually improve the quality of professional practice.

It had no evidence that mandatory continuing education requirements would improve the public's view of planners or improve the view of planners held by membrs of our allied professions. (You can find a detailed discussion of all this at http://www.apawatchdog.org with viewpoints from all sides posted online.)

The Commission had no such evidence because it doesn't exist! If the Commission were to follow sound planning principles and practices -- and indeed follow its own Code of Professional Responsibility -- it never would have imposed this unwarranted, costly, and burdensome CM program on its members.

The only reason we have CM is pure politics! Circumstances produced an election in 2006 with only supporters of CM nominated and on the ballot. That gave the CM proponents the votes they needed to pass CM. If you look at the 2006 and 2008 elections, you could conclude that if a potential candidate opposed CM, she couldn't even get nominated for the Commission.

In fact the only candidate on the ballot the last 4 years to oppose CM, Charles Wunder in Region 4, had to run by petition because the nominating committee for whatever reasons (and I am sure they were honorable reasons -- do not read any sarcasm into that, none is intended) chose to run two virtually indistinguishable candidates who support CM, the most controversial and divisive issue AICP has ever faced (nothing wrong with divisive issues if handled sensitively and with respect, which was not the case with CM).

Once they realized they had the votes, CM was rammed through in a matter of months. The Commission and its staff would not let us members see any of the 1,000+ comments the CM proposal received -- in fact we couldn't even get a count of how many comments supported the proposal and how many opposed it.

APA Executive Director Paul Farmer has mischaracterized CM opponents as a "few malcontents." (Hmm, let's see, AICP's own survey showed that 27% of its membership would quit if CM were imposed -- over a quarter of the membership sure is a "few malcontents." And that doesn't count those of us didn't threaten to quit, but who find no justification for the CM requirement.)

CM is here only due to AICP politics. Its proponents could produce no sound evidence of any need for it. They are ideologues who cannot be swayed by logic, reasoning, and good common sense. So I suppose that it's no surprise that the folks who acted in that manner would produce a CM system that operates in a manner that is so objectionable to so many.

Since politics brought us CM, politics is the only way it will be changed or eliminated. Candidates who oppose CM and/or the way it has been implemented must come forward and submit themselves to the AICP nominating committee. And they should be prepared to run by petition, because I doubt if the AICP establishment that has total control of AICP will change its stripes and reintroduce genuine democracy into AICP.

What a shame to see a once great organization whose leadership reflected many points of view and paid attention to its members become so draconian and anti-sound planning in the way it performs.

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

> But where is the public

> But where is the public discussion?

There has been vigorous discussion and debate regarding CM ... but much of it is in a certain online venue that is rarely acknowledged or visited by certain urban pundits or those in academia.

Paul Farmer needs to step down

Paul Farmer needs to step down. His autocratic manner is not what is needed our leadership at this time. We need someone who can listen to the entire range of the membership and not just his/her inner circle, and then work to build consensus on this issue (and many others- our inability to tackle squarely the issues of race and the lack of diversity in the organization comes to mind). It's time for new leadership.


I have been a professional planner for the past decade and I finally opted to pursue AICP certification this year. I was aware of the CM controversy, knew it was actively being debated, and have chose to continue to pursue certification in hopes that these issues will be resolved in an open and inclusive manner that meets the interest of APA membership and the furthering of sound planning practices.

My optimism is waning.

Aside from the CM issue, I have found the AICP administration to be a seemingly incompetant organization who treat prospective candidates with a level of disdain.

Elitist, pompous, self-serving, and out of touch. Those four little letters following many planners names have little to do with their planning acumen, insight, and effectiveness. This was my impression that kept me from pursuing AICP certification for so many years.

Eventually, I decided the AICP mark did provide some level of credibility. The breadth of information and ethical commitment of AICP certification is impressive. And I support an obligation of life long learning in order to advance our profession.

Unfortunately, the AICP application process has only reaffirmed my original beliefs. And the APA/AICP leadership response to the recent CM press only seems to continue to do so.

I dealt with lost paperwork, missed deadlines, late announcements, and unresponsiveness. Each time I questioned why they had yet to process my materials (of which I supplied 2 copies, certified mail) after some 2 months, I simply received a response stating that if my materials were not received by the deadline, I would be ineligible. My frustration was palatable and reasonable; especially considering the amount of money that I stood to be out if in fact I was deemed ineligible to test as a result of an inept administrative AICP staff.

Granted, there was a huge rush. This is a membership organization. And they probably were receiving hundreds of calls and emails similar to my own. And eventually, it was all sorted out.

But what struck me most was simply the lack of any concern or interest on their part to do what was right or any acknowledgement that, as a member, my concerns were valid and legitimate. Rather, I was met with defensiveness and a superiority that seemed indignant to the fact that they could have made a mistake.

From what I continue to read about this CM issue, this is a pattern with the current APA/AICP leadership.

I hope it changes.

It's gone

Under the current system, I will almost certainly lose my certification (local gov't budgets are taking a beating). Maybe that's what they want: only the academics and planners having never been in the trenches.

Bungled opportunity

I'm choosing no AICP, for numerous reasons. The newly-emergent main reason is that if your workload and/or department budget doesn't afford the time away/fees, then your money is wasted.

There's enough hassle in this profession without having to jump through hoops to get 4 letters after your name, and some of these new criteria set fire to the hoops.


Good luck changing the rules in two years. Hopefully someone will listen to the folk on the ground.



CM program does not cover enough of the planning profession

Being in the specialized GIS world of the planning profession, I find to be most frustrating that the ESRI (ArcGIS) founder Jack Dangermond will be a keynote speaker at the national conference, yet I can't get credit for any ESRI courses or conferences. In fact, I have yet to find anything that is relevent to my area of work. I've been in the planning profession for over 20 years and AICP member since 1993. There is no point for me to take seminars and courses in topics not relevent to my work in order to meet the AICP requirement.

A good step by AICP

This afternoon, AICP sent an email to continuing education providers asking them to comment on some proposed changes to the CM program. The changes provide a menu of fees, from the current $50 per hour rate to a $2,000 flat rate for nonprofit university providers. Providers have up to Friday to respond. Although I think the proposed changes do not address all the problems with the CM program, it appears to me that AICP has responded to the concerns voiced by the 600+ petitioners who supported the Campaign for Fair Fees.

Letting providers know about proposed changes that affect them and inviting them to comment is a good step toward more openness and collaboration.


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

Open dialogue AICP CM

Pattsi Petrie, PhD, AICP

I have already written comments in conjunction with the original petition on node 29996 so these are just to underline and emphasize what many have eloguently said. The most egregious aspect of this whole process is the "worse practice" of planning--that is the lack of open dialogue and transparency plus no incremental implementation. This is specifically noted in this recent posting stating when the AICP commission will be discussing this topic pre-conference. This is the first public announcement of which I am aware. Obviously, the lead time is insufficient for those who might wish to have input during the meeting to change travel plans.

Nonetheless for those of you who will be attending the meeting, I trust that there will be encouragement of the commission to get input from each and every APA chapter and division, besides the two chapters that have already done so, to expand the requested input beyond just the academic institutions that are presently offering such programs, and maybe even a stratified random survey of the AICP membership using as a basis for the questions the issues being brought up through this truncated conversation. Such a survey would reach the population that does not read Planetizen, which in itself is a skewed population. It might be worth discussing a moritorium until the dust settles. Open dialogue is always more powerful than keeping the "cards held close to the chest."

This is a great case study as to how not to do something.

Pattsi Petrie

This is such a tiring

This is such a tiring discussion not because of us but because of the monolith that is AICP/APA. I reluctently submitted AICP application materials in Dec, a full 2-months before the deadline, hoping that the headstart and rolling admissions would allow me more time to catchup on the studying and topics that I haven't seen since grad school. After the 6 week period AICP states you will get an answer in lapsed, I emailed numerous times and never got a response. Finally, I slammed APA and AICP to personal emails and got a response. The response was this, we're not doing rolling admissions this year, all applications will be reviewed after the Feb. 5th deadline. I responded that a) that's a joke for those that "planned" and submitted early; b) that an organization for a profession that supposedly is based on communication did not notify ANYONE about this or respond to my emails until 9 weeks after my application was submitted is a joke and that c) maybe AICP should get out of the certification business.

Listen, I've avoided APA and AICP like the plague for many reason, including the constant "selling" of their materials ($40 for 42-page PAS report) and the belief that all fees go to salaried APA employees and their "selling" arm. AICP is as bad or worse and I never had any intention of getting this certification and am only doing it because I was asked as a requirement of my job if I could qualify and get it.

I've never personally put any stock in an organization that self-certifies it's members. Where's the credibility?

My preference would be to actually have a state certification from state department's of education, a la professional engineers for credibility reasons. I'm hoping that's the way of the future and we can do away with AICP altogther.

Ask yourselves this, those that are members: what are you getting beside a stupid acronym and maybe a bump in salary?

And you know what? When the losers from the Congress for New Urbanism started having members slap CNU after their names and condones it, it really speaks to how meaningless an acronym that is and how close AICP is to irrelevance. And by the way, the rumor is CNU wants to start certifying their members.

Can you certify a belief system and personal taste?


As I read Mr. Vazquez's two posts on the process his institution has had to go through for certification of CM approved classes, it strikes me that the APA is acting illegally...certainly unethically and contrary to its own rules and codes of ethics.

I submit that we AICP members have nothing to do with this illegal and unethical process. Forget the CM program and keep using the AICP designation. If AICP wants to sue all of us in order to force us to stop using our AICP designations I think that would be a fitting outcome. If the situation changes then we change this position.

I for one refuse to participate in this illegal and unethical process.

Stumbling, bumbling, fumble

Oh dear, it looks like AICP messed-up and turned a perfectly reasonable notion that members supported--continuing education--and created an administrative nightmare. Most unfortunately it is also a common and telling criticism of the planning profession in the US. How sad.

All APA/ACIP has to do is significantly relax or abandon the CM registration fees and process and all will be well again. Geez, all APA/AICP would have to do is ask members to list how many hours of particular continuing education programs or courses they participated in. The members would do it quickly every year, for free, and presumably as competently as the membership. It's a little insulting that APA/AICP thinks they know what continuing eduction program is best for every every member.

It is not reasonable for an organization that has great difficulty in substanatively defining itself and has no licensing requirements can then go about levying a fair fee and certifying relevant courses and programs. The planning profession isn't, and shouldn't be, like architecture, law, or medicine. Come on ... AICP membership doesn't have any economic or particular professional value or status. Quit pretending otherwise.

I guess you can call the whole mess "just deserts" or another tragic irony--planners screwing-up their own plans--but how sad that such an embattled profession has to waste so much time and energy battling itself in the name of making the profession better. And this is one of my favorite planning problems: do very little and the program can implement itself.

Tye Simpson, AICP
Santa Barbara, CA

Why do I need my AICP certification?

I really wanted to support the organization by joining and becoming AICP. Am I a very active member? Not really. But I do believe in the principles of good planning and want to learn all I can to be better at what I do. I have a family and my time and financial resources are limited. I have to make choices in life......and I choose not to continue my AICP membership. This required certification nonsense is above and beyond what should be expected of me. I go to lots of continuing education classes, lunches and seminars to further my knowledge on the subject of planning. Very few of them are "official" CMs, so they do nothing for helping me with the AICP requirements. I must take vacation time from work to attend webinars and must attend a few out of town seminars in order to get the required credits. This is silly, and completely unreasonable. I believe my vacation time belongs to my family, not to AICP. Can I continue to learn about planning principals on my own, as I always have? Yes. Do I get higher pay from my employer because I am AICP certified? No. Do I get more respect from my peers because I have the AICP letters behind my name? No. What does AICP mean in the real world? All it means is that I passed an exam and pay annual dues to an organization. Everyone knows that it means nothing more, and I am no better a planner than the next guy, just because I have AICP behind my name.

I am also a registered landscape architect. That designation has much more value than AICP ever could because the examination process is much more technical and relevant to any skills I may have. My continuing education requirements to maintain the LA license are much more appropriate because they allow a diverse opportunity for learning. Why can't AICP follow a similar program? (I am not suggesting that being a landscape architect is more important than being a planner, only that the licensure requirements for landscape architects are more meaningful than the arbitrary exam to become AICP).

So unless AICP changes the CR quickly, you can say goodbye to my membership and my annual dues. I didn't really need you anyway. I think you will see many of my peers do the same. We support your principles, but are not committed enough to you to deal with the hassles you are causing us.

AICP = Taxation without representation

AICP = Taxation without representation


AICP Convention in Vegas!

Why on earth did the Admin of AICP decide that we should go spend our money in Vegas?

And now, Bill Fulton posts about how great Vegas is?

Is APA/AICP membership worth it?

Ever since I was encourage to become a student member of APA, I have had a schizophrenic relationship with our most prominent professional organization. As a young graduate student in the mid-90s, APA seemed far to conservative for my taste; to willing to play both sides of important planning issues. So I became a member of Planners Network. They were right on the issues if socially and politically dysfunctional.

When I finally started working for government--10 years into my career--I decided the professional relationships APA membership offered were worth it. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they'd come a long way in supporting citizen-led planning, as well as more sustainable development patterns. Working in a large but rural county, I was happy to read about the larger world of planning in the magazine too.

Then I decided to pursue AICP membership. I was immediately reminded how utterly incompetent APA/AICP is in regards to customer service. Let's not forget this is a membership organization; APA exists first and foremost to serve the needs of it members. Unfortunately, my experience suggests they want my dues, fees, and purchases but don't want to deliver much in return (unless I pay for that too.)

The hardest part was realizing how meaningless the designation is now that I have it. I understand that testing for professional competency on a national scale is very difficult. But the way to pass the AICP exam is not learn important concepts or wrestle with important questions about the field. The way to pass is to answer multiple-choice questions the way the test authors want them answered. How can you ask a multiple-choice question about management style? Or a true or false question about the best way to engage citizens in planning (something I know a lot about). To pass the exam I had to check my brain (along with my intellectual and professional curiosity) at the door.

Now we have CM. As many others have stated I support it in principle. And I certainly support the notion of having to learn about stuff I don't do everyday. But this is not continuing education. This is an enormous incentive for me to ask my employer to send me to APA conferences where I can rack up CM credits.

I'm looking at a promotion to a non-planning department. It is possible my new supervisor will not pay for my membership much less conferences. Is it worth it for me to pay out of my own pocket? Right now I can't see that it is.

Eric Stoller, AICP

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