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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.

Professional certification is the voluntary process by which a non-governmental entity grants a time-limited recognition and use of a credential to an individual after verifying that he or she has met predetermined and standardized criteria.* ASHA's Certificate of Clinical Competence is a professional certification.

A certificate program is a training program on a specialized topic for which participants receive a certificate after completing the course and passing an assessment instrument.
Note: This is not to 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.

To clarify the distinction between certificate and certification a comparison chart has been provided below.**

Certificate Certification
Results from an educational process. Results from an assessment process.
For both newcomers and experienced professionals alike. Typically requires some amount of professional experience.
Awarded by educational program providers or institutions. Awarded by a third party, standard-setting organization.
Indicates completion of a course or series of courses with specific focus; is different than a degree granting program. Indicates mastery/competency as measured against a defensible set of standards, usually by application or exam.
Course content set a variety of ways (faculty committee, dean, instructor); occasionally through defensible analysis of topic area. Standards set through a defensible, industry-wide process (job analysis/role delineation) that results in an outline of required knowledge and skills.
Usually listed on a resume detailing education; may issue a document to hang on the wall. Typically results in a designation to use after one's name (CCC-SLP, CCC-A.); may result in a document to hang or to keep in a wallet.
Is the end result; demonstrates knowledge of course content at the end of a set period in time. Has ongoing requirements in order to maintain; holder must demonstrate he/she continues to meet requirements. For example, SLPs, audiologists, and other allied health professionals are required to complete annual CEUs to keep their certifications.
May provide the basis and gateway for achieving a degree. No relationship with attaining higher education or degree.

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).

*Reprinted by permission of the National Organization for Competency Assurance

**Adapted from University of Michigan's Certificate vs. Certification webpage; updated March 20, 2013

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