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Certificate Program or Certification?

I spent last week in DC training ANSI Certificate Accreditation Program assessors and accreditation committee members on application of the ASTM E2659-09 Standard Practice for Certificate Programs.   After that 2 1/2 day intensive training, we then conducted a 3 hour training webconference for the organizations that have been accepted into the pilot being conducted this summer.  It was an exhausting but exhilarating week!  The talent convened to implement this program is incredible (a press release will be issued soon outlining the individuals and organizations involved). 

We had so many rich discussions that I can't possibly summarize them all here, but I will try to highlight some of the more important points.  A critical element (in fact the foundation of the training) was in ensuring everyone was clear on the distinction between certification programs and certificate programs.  The American National Standard, of course, provides the needed clarification.  Here's the table I often use to show the distinctions:


So, one of the key distinctions is that in certification, you may verify education/training received elsewhere (as an eligibility requirement), but you are not providing required training; you are assessing current knowledge and/or skill.  In a certificate program, in contrast, you ARE providing the required training/education and then assessing for attainment of the intended learning outcomes of that training/education.  So, the focus of certification is on the verifying past education and experiences and assessing current knowledge and skill.  In certificate programs, the focus is on providing the needed learning and evaluating attainment of it.

Also important, unlike certification (and more like a degree program), a certificate program does not have ongoing requirements and therefore cannot be revoked.  Once you receive a certificate, it's yours forever; there are no continuing education or re-examination requirements to maintain it.  However, certificate issuers should assign a term of validity to the certificates in order to inform stakeholders of the currency and relevancy of any given certificate.   (Note, that if it is determined that the content of the certificate is unchanging, then the term may be indefinite.)  Consider, as an example the American Heart Association CPR certificate which has a term of validity of 2 years.  There are no ongoing requirements to "maintain" the certificate, and it is never officially revoked.  But if you want or need a valid certificate,  you need to successfully accomplish the training/assessment again.

I'll cover designations more thoroughly another time, but the key point here is that both certification and certificate programs can issue designations and associated acronyms.  It is important, however, that certificate issuers that confer them do not state or imply the individuals are certified or licensed.  Programs that make this implication will not be in conformance with the standard/accreditation requirements.

As always, feel free to contact me if you have specific questions about the certificate program standard.