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Changes to AICP Certification Maintenance Program a Positive Step Forward

Leonardo Vázquez, AICP/PP, applauds recent changes to the AICP Certification Maintenance Program that reduce costs and improve access.
September 8, 2008, 5am PDT | Leonardo Vazquez, AICP/PP
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The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) took a positive step this summer in making continuing education more affordable and accessible to planners – it lowered the fees that continuing education providers would have to pay to make their courses eligible for Certification Maintenance credit. For some organizations, like Rutgers University's Professional Development Institute, this could mean potential savings of tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Under the old fee structure, continuing education providers -- this includes universities, nonprofit organizations, firms that offer in-house training programs, and private sector educators such as Planetizen -- had to pay $50 per credit per program. That adds up fast. A multi-day conference with many sessions would be charged thousands of dollars (each session would be charged individually.) The Bloustein Online Continuing Education Program, whose courses merit 14 credits each, paid $700 per course. If PDI had submitted all of its programmed courses for credit, we would have paid more than $20,000. If we had to pay this kind of money every year, we would have been forced to shut down.

Under the new system, universities, government organizations, nonprofit organizations, and APA division and chapters have an array of pricing options. For example, a government or university training center could still pay $50 per credit. Or it could pay $1,900 and offer an unlimited number of courses (Online courses would be charged an additional $50 each.) Nonprofit organizations would have a sliding scale of fees tied to their budget size. Unfortunately, private sector educators, such as Planetizen or ESRI, get no discount.

The AICP Commissioners approved the changes in June after considering them at their meeting at the APA national conference. The new fee structure will be implemented in the fall.


The change in fee structures benefits planners in several ways:

• Some continuing education providers are going to pass along the costs of certification to their customers. (They're not supposed to, but you know some will.) This may still happen, but the costs would be a lot less than they would be under the old fee structure.

• Providers who absorbed the costs themselves would have cut costs somewhere else – most likely by cutting back programming and services. In fact, some continuing education providers reported that they would have gone out of business if AICP had not changed its fee structure.

• More providers will offer more programming for CM credit. Under the old system, some providers that cater to audiences other than planners – such as environmental organizations – were not offering their courses for credit. The costs were so high, and the number of AICP planners they served were so low, that it didn't make financial sense to accredit the courses. Of course, planners are free to take any continuing education courses they want. But with the pressure to get 32 credits over two years, AICP planners are likely to avoid courses that do not help them maintain their certification. In our most recent study of continuing education preferences by planners, 89% of 73 respondents said that it was "very important" or "somewhat important" that their courses be recognized for continuing education credit by their professional organization. The most common question we receive about our online continuing education courses are about AICP credits.

Listening to Criticism

A group of continuing education providers and more than 680 other planners have strongly criticized the AICP CM Program fee schedule and challenged its leaders. (See "AICP's Continuing Education Program Needs to Be Fixed" and Will the American Institute of Certified Planners Live by the Principles it Promotes?")

I think the AICP Commission -- and in particularly AICP Commission President Graham Billingsley -- should be commended for listening to these concerns and those of APA chapters and divisions who also raised their voices.

By offering a range of fees, the AICP Commission is being more equitable to organizations that may offer only a few programs a year. This will make it easier for smaller continuing education providers to compete with the big players in the field.

The leaders of those chapters and divisions should also be commended for having the courage to publicly critique and criticize the CM program. The New York Metro Chapter took the lead, followed by the Hawaii chapter and the Planning and Law Division. The Planners Network Steering Committee also joined in a petition. (I apologize if I've forgotten any chapter or division that also spoke up.)

Moving Forward

Changing the fee structure is a good step. But it shouldn't stop there. Other ways to improve the program should include:

• Rewarding performance, not just participation. AICP members who demonstrate their learning – for example, by passing an exam – should get more CM credits than those who just "show up."

• Creating an independent oversight board that includes AICP planners and continuing education providers. AICP is acting as both a competitor to other providers and a judge of their work. Without an independent review board, every decision the AICP Commission makes about CM will raise the question: "Are they doing what's in the best interest of the planning field, or of AICP?"

• Providing sliding scale rates for small private-sector educators, such as Planetizen.

• Treating face-to-face activities and distance learning equally. Decisions about fees and accreditation should be based on educational content, not the medium.

• Allowing planning schools that are already accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board to self-certify their own courses. This would reduce AICP staff costs for the CM program.

• Giving independent continuing education providers the same opportunities to voice their concerns as are given APA divisions and chapters. AICP staff have held several conference calls to listen to division and chapter leaders. But AICP has never done the same for independent providers, or invited them to join these calls.

Although the AICP Commission hasn't gone as far as we would have liked, the changes will further the mission of the Certification Maintenance program while minimizing the burden on planners. There's still much work to be done. By collaborating as partners, the AICP Commission, continuing education providers and professional planners can develop a CM program that is fair, financially sound, and helps AICP members be the most knowledgeable planners in the field.

For more information on the new fees, please visit the APA website.

Leonardo Vázquez is an Instructor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. He is a licensed and credentialed planner who specializes in community development, economic development, management and alliance building. He also has expertise in strategic communications and nonprofit management. He is the principal author of "Lagging Behind: Ethnic Diversity in the Planning Profession in the APA New York Metro Chapter Area", and several other reports on diversity in the profession.
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