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March 2009
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May 2009

Can Certificate Issuers Grant Learners a Designation?

I serve as the convener and technical lead on the ASTM E2659 standard. Early on, we recognized early on that the issue of granting designations was a problematic area since certificate issuers currently do grant the use of designations that could easily be confused with those of certifying agencies. The question became: should designations be completely restricted or was there a way to ensure only accurate and responsible use?  We ultimately determined that the latter approach was the appropriate path; following is the rationale.

Fully restricting certificate issuers from granting designation use seemed at first to be a reasonable path and was the original position considered.  However, we could not find sufficient justification for this restriction.  In our research we found that organizations grant designation acronyms for a variety of program types.  Certifying and licensing boards grant designations to certificants and licensees, respectively. Professional societies grant designations for certain categories of membership and types of honorees, such as Fellows and Diplomats.  Our brief online searches for “membership designation” and “fellow designation” alone yielded page after page of existing examples (hundreds, if not thousands), including many from reputable, well-established societies.  In addition, we found that companies use designations and associated acronyms to designate certain levels of employment.  And, organizations have long been conferring designations and associated acronyms for certificate programs; this is not a newly introduced concept.   As one prominent example, for the Institute for Organization Management (U.S. Chamber of Commerce), program graduates are issued the designation, “IOM.”

It became very clear that there is a long history of designations being used by a myriad of organizations for a multitude of reasons, and that designations were not a clear determinant of certified or licensed status, as has been asserted by NOCA representatives.   Given this and the recognized market value of a designation, we felt it inappropriate for a standard to restrict the competitiveness of certificate programs. However, it was clear that there needed to be measures taken to ensure appropriate use.
The problem occurs when certificate issuers use designation acronyms that state and/or imply an individual is certified or otherwise credentialed; this could clearly confuse the public so this is where the Standard Practice for Certificate Program focuses.  It is important to note that the standard does not encourage the use of designation acronyms, but they are allowed only under certain conditions that ensure differentiation from certification and licensure.  The standard's Section 7.1.2 addresses this:  

“A certificate issuer may grant a designation or designation acronym or both to certificate holders only under the condition that the designation and/or designation acronym granted shall not include the words “certified,” “certificated,” “licensed,” “registered,” or “accredited” or in any other way imply such statuses.”

Section further ensures accurate and responsible uses of designation acronyms:

“The certificate issuer shall not state or in any way imply that certificate holders are certified, licensed, accredited, or registered to engage in a specific occupation or profession.”

Section 5.1.2 provides even more assurance to the public by requiring that the issuer is an appropriate and qualified issuer of the certificate (so that a non-medical society would not issue a medical certificate, for example).

“The certificate issuer shall be an appropriate and qualified issuer of the certificate.”

Further, in our conversations with the existing certificate issuer community, we found that several certificate issuers that currently issue a designation acronym in the “Certified XYZ” format said while they would likely be unwilling to stop using a designation, they would likely be willing to change it to a format that would conform to the standard.  We concluded, then, that current certificate issuers would likely ignore a standard (since it is voluntary) that restricts the use of any designation.  A restriction stance, then, would simply result in a continuation of current certificate issuers in granting designations that state and/or imply certified status.  In contrast, the ASTM standard stance on designations would actually assist in ridding the marketplace of the confusing certificate designations that imply certification. 

Thus, we have found that allowing the use of designation acronyms with the appropriate safeguards increases the likelihood of broad adoption of the standard while at the same time prevents the use of those designations that would be confusing to the public and other stakeholders.  This is consistent with all aims of the standard.

ANSI Selects ASTM Standard for Certificate Program Accreditation

It's official.  The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has selected the ANSI/ASTM E2659-09 Standard Practice for Certificate Programs to use as the foundation for its accreditation program for certificate programs. 

ANSI conducted a thorough analysis before making their determination.  Speaking for ASTM, we developed a substantial backgrounder to accompany our presentation to the Accreditation Committee in February, including a side-by-side comparison of the ASTM International and NOCA standards, organizations, and standards development experience and capacity.  Then, we submitted a 22 page response to the Committee's questions (linked to their selection criteria) detailing, among other things, the degree to which the standard will increase training and education program overall quality, how the standard is evidence-based, aligned with education and training industry best practices, and was developed with broad participation by appropriate stakeholders.  There's no question the Accreditation Committee had significant information on which to base their decision.

Now that the standard has been selected, things will be moving quickly.  Here's where ANSI is on the program:

  • the accreditation committee is already in place (they made the standard determination),
  • assessors have been selected through an application process, nominating committe review and recommendation, phone interviews, and final approval by the accreditation committee,
  • the call for pilot testers will soon be issued,
  • the pilot tester selection criteria have been established and a selection committee is being appointed to review applications and recommend pilot testers to the accreditation committee, and
  • training has been scheduled for the accreditation committee, assessors and pilot testers.

As always, I'll post here as more updates are available, including a link to the official press release which should be released today or tomorrow.

Standard Practice for Certificate Programs Released!

It's been a long time in coming but I'm finally thrilled to announce that the new American National Standard for certificate programs has just been released by ASTM International.  The official announcement can be found here and the standard can be purchased here.  This standard will provide much-needed guidance to certificate issuers on how to develop a quality certificate program and to consumers on how to identify such a program. In addition, the standard will help organizations make informed judgments about whether to develop a certification or certificate program, and should they choose to develop a certificate program, provide guidance on how to do so.

I'll be following up with educational posts about the standard soon. In the mean time, if you have any questions about the standard or its use, feel free to contact me at 317-810-0013 or [email protected]