From AICP President Daniel Lauber
AICP Membership Requirements
At 25 years of age, AICP is now a mature, secure organization that needs to look carefully at its threshold requirements to apply for membership. It seems only fair that I should explain the whys and wherefores of why these recommendations have been made.
AICP has come a long way since its creation 25 years ago. Back then experience requirements to take the AICP exam were set very low to facilitate rapid growth in the number of AICP members. Those minimal experience requirements, coupled with 25 years of promoting the AICP credential have worked — aided by a shift in the general culture to use credentials as shorthand for determining professional competency rather than examining an individual's actual work. More than half of APA's professional planner members have earned their AICP credential.
During those 25 years, we've often heard the question, "What does AICP membership really mean?" It certainly means that we agree to adhere to the AICP Code of Professional Conduct. And it certainly means that we commit ourselves under that Code to keep current on planning practices through whatever means of continuing education or professional development works best for each of us. And without a doubt, it means we demonstrated on a test that we possess at least a minimum knowledge of planning practices, principles, theory, and history — a core body of knowledge, if you will — that should equip us to perform our jobs competently.
But in every professional organization's development there comes a time to step back and reevaluate its threshold membership requirements.
Last January, I asked the AICP Membership Committee to look at increasing the length of time planners must practice before they can take the AICP Exam. I've always felt a bit uneasy about allowing a planner with only two years professional experience to become an AICP member. (For the record, I took the exam for the first and only time after seven years of professional practice.) Few planners have really matured professionally in just two years on the job.
The current eligibility requirements to take the AICP exam are:
Two years professional planning experience for APA members with a graduate degree in planning from an accredited program
Three years professional planning experience for APA members with a bachelor's degree in planning from an accredited program
Four years professional planning experience for APA members with any other graduate or undergraduate college degree
Eight years professional planning experience for APA members with no college degree
I'll be perfectly candid. The experience requirements for AICP seem inexcusably low. As little as two years of professional experience really seems insufficient time to be awarded the AICP credential — if the credential is to really mean much of anything. The low threshold level leads to planners taking the AICP exam who still have more "book learning" in their heads than the practical, on-the-job education that really reflects the credibility and capability of a professional planner. These low eligibility requirements lead to planners taking the AICP long before they have matured in the profession.
I fear that this low threshold approach to new members actually diminishes the value of the AICP credential. I strongly suspect that the AICP credential will garner more respect from members of related professions and the general public if:
The AICP designation means that AICP members actually practice the sound, ethical, inclusionary, and discrimination-free planning APA/AICP have long advocated — an effort that your current AICP Commission in cooperation with the APA Board continues to advance, but one that will take many, many years to fully implement.
APA/AICP proactively promotes professional planning through savvy advertising and public relations where APA/AICP isn't afraid to take positions on controversial issues and isn't afraid to mix it up with those who attack planning. In other words we display some guts and spunk — an approach that I think APA will fully pursue, but one that rests beyond AICP's delegated scope.
AICP requires more professional experience before you can become an AICP member — something within AICP's scope and that AICP can act on by itself.
While researching my Government Job Finder and other Job Finder books, I've found that most credentialing organizations require more professional experience than AICP before someone can apply for membership. I suspect that the length of experience required should be based largely on how long it takes a professional to develop the on-the-job skills needed to be considered worthy of a professional credential like AICP — and for the credential to signify something besides you're good at test-taking. I concluded that just two to four years is probably not an adequate amount of time.
We live in an era where the public and many government officials are ready to simply accept a credential like AICP or PE without carefully looking at an individual's actual professional accomplishments. So far most in the planning profession has avoided accepting this mythology (or "foma" as Kurt Vonnegut would call it). But accepting the reality of how the world works today, can we really continue to allow so little professional experience of our newest AICP members?
So last January I asked the AICP Membership Committee to explore these possibilities of requiring more professional planning experience before an APA member can take the AICP Exam, and to identify the financial consequences to AICP of any new experience requirements it recommended.
The committee looked carefully at the age and experience cohorts within the APA professional planner membership. It presented a carefully reasoned report that took into account financial consequences of various alternatives and recommended shorter threshold periods than I had initially proffered. Given the constraints under which AICP operates, I understand the committee's rationale and fully support its recommendations to increase the practice requirements by just one or two years, depending on type of planning education. The shortest recommended length of professional practice to be eligible to take the AICP Exam — for graduates of accredited master's programs in planning — would be increased to three years, the same requirement for taking the New Jersey exam for a planner license.
Now we need your input before we finalize the draft bylaw amendment.
Click here to read the proposed bylaws changes.
Two separate AICP Committees have examined this question and approved moving these changes along. But we need to hear from you now — before the Bylaws Committee proposes specific amendments to the AICP Bylaws to implement these changes (and once it does, all APA members get another opportunity to comment before the Commission votes). We realize that just as in the real world, an abstract discussion of this question would generate little input, but that a more concrete proposal would stimulate APA members to share their views more readily.
Whatever changes the Commission decides to make — if any — after receiving your input, could not go into effect before 2006.
The entire Commission wants to hear your views on whether or not we should increase the number of years of professional experience as outlined in the first article on this page and if the proposed minimum years of practice are reasonable.
The entire Commission looks forward to hearing from you soon. We would really appreciate if you could put your comments in writing so your exact thoughts can be shared, unedited, with the entire Commission. Please e-mail our staff at AICP (AICP@planning.org) or write to the AICP Commissioners at: AICP, 1776 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036.
In addition, please do not hesitate to share your thoughts on our discussion forum so we can have an open, give-and-take discussion: http://apa.forumflash.com
We look forward to hearing from you prior to leaving on October 19 for the AICP Commission's fall meeting in Portland, Oregon. Thanks so much for your time and thoughtfulness.