Should your professional planning staff have AICP certification?

In my discussions with other professional planners there seems to be mixed feelings about the planning certification as well as the professional education.

The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) is the professional certification component of the American Planning Association (APA). Once education and experience requirements are met, eligible planners can take the certification exam to obtain the AICP credential. The exam is an online test and is offered twice a year. Once the certification is obtained, planners are required continue their professional development and training by completing 32 credit hours per year.

Some planners do not believe the credential is necessary in order to be a successful planner. Moreover, my discussions with some planners working in urban cities have revealed a frustration with the APA because it allows individuals who do not have a professional degree in planning to become certified planners. Also complicating the issue is the disparity that exists between black and white certified planners; the rate of black planners with the AICP certification is significantly lower than their white counterparts. One young planner that I talked to was told by one of her professors that she did not need the certification as long as she had an advanced degree in planning. All of these issues beg the question of the true value of the certification. Michigan State University Extension recommends that its land use and planning staff maintain credentials consistent with their areas of expertise.

So, can planners be successful without the credential? The answer is a resounding yes! However, like all professional credentialing efforts, it is the credentials that add additional legitimacy to the profession by establishing a baseline of knowledge and skill within that profession. A brief review of director-level planning positions on the APA website will show that more and more communities are including a preference for the credential for executive-level staff. The real question is a simple one: if you or your community had the opportunity to hire planning staff and you had two candidates with similar skills and educational backgrounds and the only significant difference was that one was certified and one was not, which would you hire?

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