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Thread: Planners without planning degrees

  1. #1

    Planners without planning degrees

    Does anyone have this problem?

    I work as a planner in rural Florida where office workers are often promoted to the planner 1 positions. Many are both able and inteligent and genuinely concerned about their community. However, and no matter how able, without being exposed to the concepts and ideas of planning they mostly dont really understand what planning is and can be. Their main aim often seems to be to find the most efficient way to facilitate applications for development.

    My concerns are twofold:
    1: The respect in which the planning profession is held in the area where i work is almost zero.
    2: There is nothing to prevent non pro-active planners from assuming advanced planning positions in rural areas.

    I believe that the AICP title should only be given to people with planning degrees as done in most other countries. Only this, i believe, may drag our profession up from its present position.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
    Feb 1998
    Greensburg, Kansas
    You may have a human resources rather than a planning issue here. I have been in communities with strong "promote from within" policies, and have seen your situation. Job descriptions is one solution. Rather than planner, the 10-year secretary could be made a "zoning administrator" or "development code officer". The true planning positions would and should then be reserved for planners--and duly noted in the descriptions.

    Items to keep in mind:
    Many small town/rural areas don't want pro-active planning;
    It is not easy to recruit and retain a planner able to work with small town/rural areas;
    How much of our jobs is planning vs. processing applications/grants?

    In my last 3 jobs, I have been the sole planner. I have had very competent zoning administrators.

  3. #3
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
    Apr 1996
    New Hampshire
    In a previous job, I was the first Planner I with a planning degree to ever hold the position. After I left, unable to attract a planner with a degree at the salary that was offered for several months, the position was given back to a non-planner who had held the position many years before. I think the biggest problem with Planner I positions is that they do not offer a reasonable salary that one who spent many years in school would be willing to settle for (I was, simply to relocate back to my home state, and took the position very up-front with the director that the position would serve as a stepping stone before I made the move to a better position).
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  4. #4
    I don't see anything wrong with a secretary becoming a planner. He/she has probably memorized every document that has come through the office and has intimate knowledge of how things work.

    Why shouldn't people be allowed to move up in the world like that? Once a secretary, always a secretary? Don't tell me that a flimsy piece of paper from a university separates us too...we already have other things pulling us apart...like race, gender and religion.

    I wonder why people feel so threatened by something like this? Insecurities? Embarrassment - any old person can do my job? Do we really think that we are the "legitimate planners", the "experts", just because we have that piece of paper? Knowledge comes from many places.

    Maybe the secretary can take some night classes in urban history and theory, to "catch up"? Would that be acceptable then? Or will he/she always be inferior because he/she was a secretary?

  5. #5
    Member Mary's avatar
    Aug 2001
    I know a number of very good planners who don't have degrees. Some of them better skilled than some of the planning educated people I know. One of them was a secretary/clerk and has just been officially moved to the job title of "assistant planner", which is what she had already been doing the previous few years. I myself went the school masters route but I certainly don't have any problem with people learning on the job and improving themselves. The trick is NOT for the person to have a degree. The trick is to make sure the person has the experience, knowledge, and philosophy to do a good job.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Tom R's avatar
    Jul 2002
    I have a MA in geography as do many other planners I know. Before there were "Planning" degrees there were architects, geographers and engineers. I think a mix of academic disciplines is healthy and saying only degreed planners should plan is very narrow minded.

  7. #7
    JH-I am in rural south Georgia. 25k is for someone with no experience-degree or not. I am currently in the process of hiring planners with experience (again, degree is not the first criteria) in any of the following areas: Land use, comprehensive planning, development ordinance administration, grant writing and/or transportation planning. Salary range for these positions (Planner II) is 28-47 DOE. I will probably hire in the 30-35 range. I have not had the time to post an advertisement here yet, but if you (or anyone else) are interested e-mail me at pforgey @ surfsouth.com.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Zoning Goddess's avatar
    Sep 1999
    400 miles from Orlando
    John, as a Planner in NW Florida myself - you have to have heard of the "Good Ole Boy" network. That's how a local planning director got their job here, without so much as a college degree. This person was childhood friends with the City Manager.

  9. #9
    I myself have a B.S. in Land Use Planning and Area Management, however, this degree is a mix of political science, public administration and environmental science, there are a lot of criss-crossing statements above, we would like to hire someone for a Transporation Planning position, but given our rural location and limited funding, this will never happen. That is why we must rely on the staff we have and develop knowledge and skills from within, its easy for a big city to hire someone and pay a competitive salary, unfortunately, the big cities are not where growth is happening, its in the rural areas where land can be developed.

  10. #10
    Speaking of such things, I have a B.A. in Urban & Public Policy, have taken a few master's courses in Urban Planning, and have worked for a county legislature for four years on regionalism issues - including planning, economic development, and regional tourism. What, if anything, does this qualify me for? I'd love to get that master's, but my current job doesn't afford me the time to do so. Any help would be appreciated!

  11. #11
    So for those of you who say it isn't important to have a degree/s, are you saying my 7 years of hard work in school do not mean anything and that it shouldn't be valued when posting a job description? I, too, agree that experience is important, but so is my education. Fine, if someone moves up on the ladder, they should be required to update their education. Because they are familiar with applications, processes, etc. is not enough. There are many other complex issues involved with planning, that say, a secretary might not be aware of. If that secretary moves up, fine, get that person some valuable courses that can help update the person on the issues. So, you can't get anyone to apply for the position of planner, transportation planner etc.? If that is the case, be willing to put the time, money and effort into educating that person, at least with a few courses. Sorry, but I would like to think I didn't waste my time in school!

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Aug 2001
    The Cheese State
    There is more than one way to earn the qualifications to be a good planner. A degree is one of them, and the route that I, too, chose to follow. But experience is as equally valid a route. There are many people with degrees who have no understanding of the complex issues involved in planning, just as there are non-degreed experts. It is one thing to say that an unqualified person (based on knowledge and ability) who is elevated to a planning job should be required to earn a degree. But I do not think that qualified persons without a degree should be required to get one in order to make those of us who put in seven years of school feel better.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  13. #13

    Apr 2004
    Philadelphia, PA
    I started my first planning job at $30K and thought I had just hit it big. However, once you get out of graduate school and get started on a real life, $30K just won't cut it. Paying back school loans, making car payments, house payments, etc. will eat up $30K a year in no time. Of course you're not going to get top-notch experienced professionals for $30K a year. You're going to get ambitious young fresh-from-school professionals who just want to do well at their first job. If you act like they are not worth the measly salary you want to pay them even though they just spent 6 or 7 years in school learning how to do the job you want to hire them for, of course they are not going to stick around. Luckily, I got a decent raise within 4 months of starting my job, or I would be practically living on the street. By the way, I too live in rural GA.

  14. #14
    The department in which I work has only within the last 5 or so years begun requiring a BA or beyond in planning. It is a city organization in which employees tend to stay, and promotions usually come from within. Two of those planners without planning degrees have been very excellent in the field, but they had two factors many do not: they have a degree in another field, and are constantly keeping to date and reading up on planning issues and law.

    I think any planner, degreed in the field or not, can be a bad planner, and lack of interest in keeping up to date on new information just makes it worse. But planners with no degree in the field, no degree at all, tend to be good at the one or two things they learned to do in their department, like rezoning case analyses - but try to get them to learn how to approach new issues and it's an uphill battle. With the academic background in the field, it seems planners are less afraid to jump in and try new arenas of their field. Less fear due to a deeper background and training. On the job doesn't always cut it.

  15. #15
    As the planning director of a regional planning agency (without a degree in planning or even a master's for that matter), I can say with certainty that part of the problem lies with planners with degrees. Freshly minted planners think they deserve 30k+ and aren't willing to "pay their dues". The vast majority are too good for a measly 25K. And if they do take it, they are looking for something else from day one. Additionally, someone from a big city university doesn't want to come to a rural area to work. So, we are stuck hiring people who either can do the job because of experience, or sometimes just want to do the job. Currently, two of my planners have MPA's and do the planning job just fine. Some of the worst planners we have had had degrees. You just can't tell what a person will be like in a job until they do it. Degree or not. And why am I the planning director? I have a degree in historic preservation and, when promoted, 8 years of hp planning experience. I knew the organization, the people and had general experience. And most importantly, took the headache for 31K!

  16. #16
    Cyburbian prana's avatar
    Aug 2001
    SERA Architects-Portland
    PF- I'm glad you wrote that. I'm trying to use my planning degree after 5 years of survey and engineering experience, but can't afford to leave. Making just above 50K/ year is hard to leave, even though it's not what I want to be doing.

    I am curios where you live? I'm in Phoenix, which is by all accounts, one of the least expensive cities in the country, and would be hard pressed to only make 25K and still support my wife and daughter. There are jobs currently open here that are requiring a master's and 2-3 years experience for 30K/ year that I can't get because my experience isn't with a municipality, not to mention a 45% paycut would be quite a shock to my family!

  17. #17

    Maybe the problem isn't with Planners coming out of school with degrees, maybe it's the planning field itself. When I graduated with my masters (which was in 1999), I went to the APA website and looked at average salaries of planners. This site tells you that yes, you should make at least 30K to start with when you come out of masters school, experience or not. This is information is incorrect for the most part. But every place I looked for this kind of information told me the same thing-having a Masters degree, you should be making over 30K. I don't know about you, but for six years of school, I do believe I'm worth that much money. I worked hard for my degree and most planners that are working already pretty much tell you that when you come out of school, you know nothing. So I ask, then why the degree? The irony about this is that if I didn't have my degree, I could be making the same amount of money if I was a Burger King manager. To me, that tells me something. I wanted to make more money than 25K that I could make from having my undergrad degree; thus more school. And now you're telling me to pay my dues? I am paying my dues, but I also am getting paid for this. I was lucky enough to get a job starting at 34K, but I also skipped the public sector of work and went straight to the private sector consulting world. While I may make more money than most do when they start out, I make it up in hours I work. We tend to work 50-70 hours a week in our firm. So family and life get put on the back burner. I urge you not to blame all of us "new kids" because we are told by our professors and by the American Planning Association that yes we can make that kind of money right out of school. Realism is a difficult thing to get and when you just get out of school, you don't even know what realism is in the planning world. You are taught by a bunch of insulated people that don't know what the planners of today are making and they are certainly making more than us.

  18. #18
    I didn't mean to make it sound like graduates are just greedy-you are right, there are lots of factors that make people think they deserve a decent salary. For the most part, I think they should get paid well too. My position is based on my experience trying to hire planners in a rural area. Most new graduates are young and want a variety of things to do other than watch cotton grow. Sure, we have "mule days" and the "rattle snake roundup", but that just doesn't attract a lot of professionals. Then you add to that the fact that I just can't pay well, not many planners with degrees are interested. However, just to compare with where you are currently-I could pay someone with your degree and experience $30-35k, and you wouldn't have to work much more than 40 hours a week (with comp time). Cost of living is low, high speed internet is available, and there are actually many things to do in the area. So where are all the planners?

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Aug 2001
    The Cheese State
    I can relate. After completing my masters I took a pay cut to work in the planning profession. Five years (and a different city) later, I earn double what I once did. It's the same as many other professions: expect to enter low, but if you take charge of your career you can advance. Others I know love what they are doing so much that the low pay doesn't seem to matter.

    Personally, the pay cut did not affect me much because of the difference in cost of living between the Chicago suburbs and Madison, Wisconsin. Paying $250 a month less for a larger apartment, utilities included, made up a lot of the difference. A salary of $30,000 may not seem like much in a large city, but it can go very far in smaller metropolitan and rural areas.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  20. #20
    If you think $30K evaporates quick in Georgia, try living on $30K here in New Jersey.

  21. #21
    Thank you plannerific and young planner for helping me say what I wanted to in my earlier messages and perhaps it didn't come out the way I wanted it to. I understand that you can hire people in smaller areas that don't have a planning degree--I understand that it is probably a necessity to do so. But, I would hope that you would be looking for someone with a degree in a related field. My personal opinion is, and this is based on my experience in rural Iowa and rural Minnesota, that students come out of school with their degrees expecting to make $25 to 30,000 because they know they have to start off with that wage. I made $25,000 myself when I came out of school and have worked my way up. I just think it is sad to hire someone just to hire a person to fill the position. I also take issue with the fact that someone has said "some of the worst planners we have had were planners." I guess some of the worst doctors I have had were doctors, and some of the worst engineers I have worked with were PE's, etc. That is a personal issue and not a professional issue. Some doctors just don't make good doctors, some chefs do not make good chefs. People that work in a rural area make that choice and they are, in turn, somewhat choosing to make less money. PF--it seems like you are making the choice to take the headache for 31K--it doesn't appear that anyone was twisting your arm. There are obviously trade off's that they get from being in a rural area. I choose not to work in a rural, but I started there. Again, I wasn't trying to make the point that you need a Planning degree to be a Planner, but it just rubs me the wrong way to see people without a degree in any similar type of field get these positions. I agree too that it is probably the profession itself that perpetuates things as well.

  22. #22
    I received a masters in urban planning and policy analysis in 1984. While obtaining my degree, I worked as a corrections officer and found myself with excellent seniority upon completion of my planning degree.

    I continued in corrections and never planned. I now want to put my planning degree to work for me and plan.

    Are there internships available so I can get some practical experience before applying for that first planning job?
    I will be moving to the state of Georgia soon.

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