Contested Issues in Student Affairs (Part 2: Credentialing)

On March 8, Student Affairs Live (a component of Higher Ed Live) hosted a live-casting of Contested Issues in Students at the ACPA Annual Convention.  The session pitted 12 professionals, scholars, and scholar-professionals in the field against one another in six mini-debates on, as you probably guessed, contested issues in student affairs.  Audio of the episode is available.

Three of the topics that I wanted to touch on are Master’s Required; Credentialing; and, Faculty vs. Practitioners.  Understandably, my responses to these three are shaped by my personal experiences.  I am breaking these down into three separate posts so they are more digestible.  This is Part 2…

CREDENTIALING:  Yes!!  But I was hesitant at first.  I wrote a post back when the idea of credentialing as a field was first introduced (What I Hope Credentialing Means).  It sums up most of my current thoughts on the process and includes background information and links to other documents associated with the process at that time.

Why I am fully onboard now has everything to do with my current work environment.  I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of continuing education and professional development.  That is not always supported by my division.  A credentialing system would lead to making this process much easier in justifying why certain opportunities are necessary to my growth as a professional.  Especially if the system allows me to use language similar to accreditation.  That is the language that seems to resonate the most within my division.

With the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), one of the three areas for Student Affairs and Services is demonstrating there are qualified staff members working in our various offices.  Specifically, “The institution provides a sufficient number of qualified staff–with appropriate education or experience in the student affairs area–to accomplish the mission of the institution” (Principles of Accreditation, 2012, p. 31).  Now, there is no definition for “qualified staff” nor “appropriate education or experience” within the document provided by SACSCOC.  Therefore, this is somewhat determined by the institution based on the support documentation it provides, and the interpretation of the accreditation body.

So let’s take the guessing out of the above equation.  Let’s make credentialing a way of determining “qualified staff.”  This isn’t a far-fetched notion as it (credentialing) is used in lots of fields.  When the notion was first introduced by ACPA with the Credentialing Implementation Team, web-based technology was still relatively new for online webinars and presentations.  That is not the case anymore.  The ability to deliver high-quality, free professional development programming is easy.

My membership in ACPA provides me with live-streams from convention and webinars for free.  I get similar opportunities through my involvement in AFA.  Even OrgSync through its Learn Forward initiative provides free professional development.  This past year, I was able to register and view almost 20 free webinars, through different professional development organizations.  Even if I was not able to participate at the exact time of the webinar, I was able to view the presentation after the fact when it was more convenient for me.  I could even binge saved webinars during downtime in my work schedule.

These are ways we can easily achieve generalizable learning outcomes associated with professional development competencies.  ACPA/NASPA have generated (and amended) Professional Development Competencies that are broad enough to be applied to all functional areas in the field.  Requiring staff to meet the foundational level for the ten competencies and demonstrate that on a yearly basis should be relatively easy.

Creating different expectations for the positional hierarchy within the division around the competencies establishes clearer pathways of needed experiences for promotion.  A coordinator should be foundational in all 10.  An assistant director should demonstrate intermediate on multiple competencies.  An associate director should demonstrate intermediate on most competencies and perhaps advanced on a couple.  A director should demonstrate intermediate in all competencies and advanced in a few.  Obviously, this is an example, yet is a way to demonstrate how positions can be framed around professional competencies and create a more simplistic system to determine “qualified staff.”  Eventually, these can become functional area specific, and there are already professional development organizations moving in this direction.

Overall, credentialing has the potential to establish an easier way to engage in conversations about professional development plans, evaluation of staff, and establishing competency norms for positions within institutions.  It creates a common language for accreditation purposes and determining “qualified staff.”  If you don’t agree with Master’s Required, you should, at the very least, agree with Credentialing.  I say yes to credentialing and you should too.

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About Justin Sipes

Learner Input Strategic Achiever Analytical
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