Professional Certification vs. Certificate Program

Certificate programs are a growing segment of the continuing education marketplace. These programs generally recognize a relatively narrow scope of specialized knowledge used in performing duties or tasks required by a certain profession or occupation.

Issues to Think About When Considering a Certificate Program

For Attendees For CE Providers
  • What new skills do I need to acquire? Will the certificate program lead to the acquisition of those skills?
  • What will I be able to do as a result of engaging in the program and earning the certificate?
  • How will earning this certificate benefit me and my clients/patients?
  • Is the program content validated by experts?
  • How will my new skills and knowledge be assessed in order to earn the certificate?
  • What organizations recognize the certificate?
  • What will I be able to do that I can't do now as a result of earning the certificate?
  • Is there an educational need for the program?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What skills and knowledge will participants acquire that they cannot acquire in other programs?
  • How will the program content be validated by experts?
  • How will you assess learning to award the certificate?
  • What organizations recognize the certificate?
  • How will you communicate the value and acceptance of the certificate?

Difference Between Professional Certification and a Certificate Program

Often organizations that develop certificate programs incorrectly call them certification programs. Be an informed consumer and educate yourself about the important differences.

A certification  program is designed to test the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform a particular job, and, upon successfully passing a certification exam, to represent a declaration of a particular individual’s professional competence. In some professions, certification is a requirement for employment or practice. (Institute for Credentialing Excellence)

ASHA's Certificate of Clinical Competence is a professional certification.

An assessment-based certificate program is an educational or training program that is used to teach learning objectives and assess whether those objectives were achieved by the student. (Institute for Credentialing Excellence)

Certification and assessment-based certificate programs should not be confused with the commonly used "certificate of attendance" given at the completion of many continuing education courses to validate attendance.

If you participate in a course or series of courses that result in achievement of a certificate and the course or courses are registered for ASHA CEUs, please remember that ASHA does not endorse course content, specific products, clinical procedures, or certificate programs.

The Institute for Credentialing Excellence offers further information on the differences between assessment-based certificate programs and certification programs.

The terms certification and credentials and designation are also often confused or used incorrectly.

  • Credentials attest to someone's knowledge or authority. Credentials can be a degree earned, e.g., MS or PhD.
  • Certification is a process that results in credentials, e.g. CCC-SLP.
  • A designation simply refers to the letters someone uses after their name (MD, PhD, CCC-A).

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