Knowledge Strategies
Certificate Program Standard: Status Update

Standard for Certificate Programs

As I've referenced in a few earlier posts, both ASTM International and The National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA) were discussing collaboration on a standard for certificate programs.  Collaboration is now off the table and both groups are proceeding independently.  This has presented me with a professional and personal dilemma.  I'm a NOCA member, actually an active volunteer -- this year alone I'm chairing the seminars committee, serving as a reviewer for NOCA's certification handbook, I've helped formulate a knowledge strategy for the organization, and am in the process of co-designing the certification 101 and 201 workshops for the annual conference in November. I'll also be blogging the NOCA Leadership Forum on Sept. 10th.  It is not a stretch to say I am a NOCA supporter and advocate, and I will continue to be.

However, I am not in support of NOCA's standard for assessment-based certificates for several reasons. First, I believe there should be ONE national standard for certificate programs.  I believe it will be confusing to all stakeholders to have two independent American National Standards covering the same scope.  Having the two groups collaborate to develop one standard would have been the best scenario, but despite ASTM's numerous attempts at a collaborative arrangement, NOCA declined to partner, instead pursuing development of its own standard. 

Now, I should mention that years ago I encouraged NOCA to develop criteria for quality certificate programs.  My suggestion was to create a document for internal use with members to help distinguish between certification programs and certificate programs.  I still believe that education on certificate programs is very much needed in the certification community, and if the document were being created for this purpose, I would fully support it.  However, in the current situation we have U.S. stakeholders calling for standards and a third-party accreditation for certificate programs to help them distinguish quality programs from Internet sites churning out "certificates".  It is anticipated that stakeholders, including governmental agencies, will use accreditation to identify which certificates qualify personnel for its paid and volunteer workforces. 

This brings me to my second point.  I do not believe NOCA is the appropriate organization to develop a standard for certificates that will be used by U.S. governmental agencies, community colleges, associations and other non-profits, and the training community.  NOCA's core membership is made up of certifying bodies.  One of the key roles of a certificate standard is to distinguish certificate programs from certification.  I think having the standard generated from a certification professional society muddies the water.  To most, NOCA = certification.  ASTM, on the other hand, is a content-neutral third party (and a veteran setter of American National Standards) that has brought together the key stakeholders to develop the standard.

Third, I do not agree with NOCA's overall stance on certificates. A while back I had a conversation with a then NOCA board member who called certificate programs the "step-child" of certification, and said "Why would we ever want to encourage members to develop certificate programs?"  This, to me, illustrates the overall lack of understanding and appreciation of the role certificate programs can and do have.  I believe this second-class attitude towards certificate programs is so pervasive within the certification community that despite NOCA's attempt to develop a quality standard for certificates, I just don't think it can reasonably be achieved.  Too much effort is being expended on trying to ensure certificates are not "on par" with certification.  This, in my opinion, is an exercise in futility.  They are equals; each accomplishing unique purposes. Of course this second-class attitude is not an official NOCA position and it's certainly not shared by everyone; but it's a vibe clearly felt in conversations within the community.

In contrast, I attended an ASTM International meeting and immediately felt at ease with the conversation (with primarily training professionals) about what the quality attributes of a certificate program are.  The whole conversation just seemed different, upbeat, and felt right.  Following the meeting, I was asked to create the first draft of the standard document.  I agreed and had the opportunity to meet with several stakeholders in DC, including key representatives from several governmental agencies, community colleges, associations, and the training community.  The feedback I got affirmed my beliefs in what a quality certificate should be, and those are reflected in the current draft of the ASTM standard.  The current draft is only the starting point; however, and there are several key issues we must discuss to create a standard that works for all stakeholders.

If your organization plans to or currently offers certificate programs, or if you in any way would rely on a standard or accreditation program for certificate programs, I encourage you to join ASTM's subcommittee to provide feedback on the draft.  The more feedback we get, the better the standard will be. Of course, you can contact me to inquire about the standard and/or provide feedback.  And I'll be soliciting feedback on this blog over the next several weeks.  However, to have your voice and vote official, I encourage you to join the subcommittee.  It is open to everyone and you can join here.  The cost to join is $75.  Join the main committee E36 and the subcommittee E36.30.  Don't let the names of the committees distract you; these are the RIGHT committees.   

This is all my opinion and you should form your own. Perhaps follow both organization's efforts and judge for yourself which you'll support.   Having received a lot of questions, I felt I should make a public statement about why I have chosen to support ASTM International on this initiative.  While I do not support NOCA on this one particular initiative, I remain overall a supporter of and advocate for the organization.


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