The Higher Education Consortium for Student Affairs Certification promotes and advances student affairs and services in higher education by assessing and recognizing individual educators who demonstrate professional competencies, commit to ongoing learning and professional development, and comply with the code of ethics. The Consortium was collaboratively established by student affairs professional associations to manage Student Affairs Educator Certification.
Student Affairs Educator Certification includes seven credentials–the core student affairs educator certification and six specialty area certifications. The core certification serves as an important, independent credential as well as a required prerequisite for each specialty certification. All credentials were developed by subject matter expert practitioners and graduate faculty appointed by the Certification Consortium partner associations to benefit individual educators, institutions, professional associations, and the field.
Check out the videos below to learn more about various aspects of the new Student Affairs Educator Certification program and its development. (You can full the full-length informational video here.)
Defining Student Affairs Educator Certification
Certification is a voluntary credential for mid-level educators and above, in student affairs and services. Its primary purpose is lifelong learning. The main focus is on adherence to ethical practice and lifelong learning through continuing education from multiple sources.
Certification is not curriculum-based and no courses are required to become certified. The “curriculum” is one’s previous education and work experience. Certification is a formal way to demonstrate the value of what one has learned (post-degree) through ongoing work experience.
It is intended to recognize multiple access points and varying degrees at the masters, bachelors, and associate levels.
Certification is granted and maintained through the Higher Education Consortium for Student Affairs Certification. The Certification Consortium was founded by ACUHO-I, ACUI, AFA, ASCA, NACA, NASPA, and NIRSA. The Certification Consortium is its own 501(c)6 organization with articles of incorporation, bylaws, policies, procedures, and staff.
Role of Guiding Documents & Professional Competencies
Numerous student affairs foundational and guiding documents, and professional associations’ standards, ethics and competency statements, were incorporated into the foundation of certification development. Certification content is not a replacement for any association’s professional competencies but rather a complement to them.
The word “competency” is commonly used within certification to describe what student affairs educators need to be able to do, and/or know, to complete day-to-day tasks. The word is not a replacement of established professional competencies by any Associations.
Documents incorporated into certification development include:
- ACPA/NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators (2015)
- ACPA Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards
- ACUHO-I Core Curriculum
- ACUHO-I Standards and Ethical Principles
- ACUI Core Competencies
- AFA Code of Ethics
- AFA Core Competencies
- ASCA Ethical Principles and Practices in Student Conduct Administration
- Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS)
- Statement on Shared Ethical Principles (2006)
- Evans, N. J. & Reason, R.D. (2001). Guiding principles: A review and analysis of Student Affairs philosophical statements. Education Publications, 42(4), 359-377.
- Learning Reconsidered (2003)
- NACA Competencies for Campus Activities Professionals
- NACA Statement on Business Ethics and Standards
- NIRSA-Leaders in Collegiate Recreation Core Competencies
- NIRSA-Leaders in Collegiate Recreation Professional Member Code of Ethics
- NIRSA-Leaders in Collegiate Recreation Student Member Code of Ethics
- NODA Core Competencies
- NODA Statement of Ethical Standards
- Perspectives on Student Affairs (1987)
- Powerful Partnerships: A Shared - Responsibility for Learning (1998)
- Principles of Good Practice for Student Affairs (1997)
- Reasonable Expectations (1995)
- Standards of Professional Practice (1990)
- Student Personnel Point of View (1937)
- Student Personnel Point of View (1949)
- Task Force on the Future of Student Affairs (2010)
- Student Learning Imperative (1996)
How Certification Differs from a Certificate
At its core, certification is about lifelong learning. It is different from a certificate program, which measures learning outcomes associated with a specific course of study at one point in time. Certification assesses and recognizes current competencies and knowledge, acquired through work experience, professional development, and education. For those who completed graduate programs, that education is instrumental in their education and practice.
Outside of graduate programs, there are currently limited means to formally demonstrate how student affairs professionals have kept up with emerging trends and new knowledge in the field. We may attend conferences, institutes, and webinars, but there is no formal means to assess learning and demonstrate ongoing commitment to learning. Certification is designed to assess competencies and knowledge relevant to student affairs practice.
Student affairs work is complex and evolving. “On-the-job experience” informs much of how we learn to do our day-to-day jobs. We observe, read, and attend trainings about managing crisis situations, budgeting, facility management, developing and supporting people, and centering equity and inclusion. As careers progress, student affairs administrators are often tasked with additional responsibilities and oversight of functional areas for which they may have limited formal training. This is common at many small and community colleges and has increased with staffing adjustments during the pandemic. Certification is intended to allow student affairs educators to demonstrate competencies and knowledge in general and functional areas and continue to learn how to improve within them.
Certification is a voluntary credential for mid-level student affairs educators and above. It was developed to benefit individuals, institutions, and the larger student affairs and services profession.
Provides a formal means to demonstrate knowledge and commitment to ongoing learning and continuous education.
Supports movement into new functional areas and advancement into senior-level positions by demonstrating competencies and knowledge to manage multiple or new functional areas.
Signals credibility and integrity to external individuals who may not understand or value student affairs work.
Includes timely topics that may not have been addressed when one completed a formal degree program.
Provides accountability through ethical conduct standards.
Certification eligibility includes multiple potential pathways inclusive of master’s, bachelor’s, and associate’s degrees. This includes:
- a master’s degree in student affairs or a related field and five years of full-time work experience in student affairs and services roles (in this case, two years of part-time graduate assistant work would qualify as one full year of work experience),
- a bachelor’s or associate's degree and additional work experience. (Certification development is still in progress and our staff and volunteer leaders are working on fine tuning these eligibility requirements.)
Certification is intended for mid-level professionals and above. Many student affairs associations consider mid-level to be five years of work experience. Mid-level educators are the target audience both to recognize extended work experience in the profession and to supplement (not replace or compete with) masters-level graduate preparation programs.
Aligning & Supporting Graduate Programs
Certification is not created to replace or duplicate a graduate degree. The program is built with the intent of supplementing graduate programs. Graduate work provides a solid foundation to inform student affairs practice, however competency development and knowledge acquisition are ongoing throughout the entirety of one’s career.
Eligibility for certification will include five years of work experience, and we anticipate that many who pursue certification will already have earned a master’s degree in higher education or student affairs. Certification will assess what they learned on the job after graduate school, allowing student affairs educators to demonstrate competencies and knowledge gained, inform current practice, and support advancement.
Eligibility will include master’s degrees in student affairs and services in higher education, as well as other fields such as counseling, law, sports and health science, and others that are being determined.
Encouraging Participation & Representation
Encouraging participation of those underrepresented in student affairs and in functional areas is a necessary question at the core of certification as well as an ongoing process to interrogate and continually improve.
From certification's origin, diverse voices and minoritized individuals have been at the table to create content and in assessment development. The Consortium will continue to engage diverse identities and perspectives in volunteer leadership groups involved in certification development and assessments.
The certification application is under development and will include optional demographic questions to facilitate monitoring and assessing who is seeking certification. These data will allow the Consortium to understand who is engaged and to identify and address possible barriers to access.
Certification assessment involves ongoing psychometric analysis as required by the certification accrediting body (ANAB-ANSI National Accreditation Board). This analysis will include tracking performance on assessments across various identity groups. Recommendations for changes to each assessment will be considered by a group of volunteer leader subject matter experts within a respective certification area. The Certification Consortium commits to having diverse voices and identities within each group.
The Consortium can operate without external accreditation, but is seeking accreditation from ANAB to ensure oversight and third-party verification of stakeholder and demographic representation in all steps of development and maintenance.
Finally, the Consortium is developing a justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion standing committee to advise and recommend related improvements to certification programs.
Access & Cost
Access to certification will not be limited to only those with a graduate degree in higher education or student affairs. Certification creates new access points for experienced student affairs educators whose highest degree earned is a bachelor’s or associate’s degree or who have a graduate degree in a different field and provides a formal means for recognizing the competencies they have developed through their work experience. We anticipate that many of the administrators who will pursue certification work at community colleges and small colleges; providing access for these student affairs educators is a critical component of the certification program.
Certification development centers continually addressing equity issues. This includes establishing volunteer advisory groups to continuously evaluate and recommend ways to increase access to certification. It also involves financial support from partner associations and foundations in the form of scholarships and financial support to individuals seeking certification.
The Consortium is actively developing a pilot program in which individuals can apply at a significantly reduced rate. Participants of the pilot program who do not pass the assessment will be able to retake it at no additional cost. More details on the pilot program and how to apply will be shared in the coming months.
Cost considerations and equity in access are priorities in certification development.
The certification programs are still in development and we’re working to keep costs as low as possible to enhance access. The core certification will be under $400 and the specialty certification will be under half that amount. Costs cover certification development and maintenance.
We seek to honor educational degrees and work experience while minimizing barriers to access certifications. This includes a pricing model in line with existing student affairs association professional development programs that will cover expenses for certification development, staffing, and maintenance.
An Investment in Student Affairs Educators & the Field
The certification partner associations are contributing to certification development through significant volunteer time as well as financial resources. The program is being developed with adherence to established certification standards in order for the program to be accredited.
Certification development involves creating a new 501(c)(6) organization, including establishing its staffing and operations, engaging with volunteer leaders and external certification testing and measurement specialists to develop the program, identifying systems for accessible and secure test delivery and proctoring, and implementing user-friendly systems for continuing education tracking. The costs to develop certification are paid by the partner associations.
Certification fees support the development and maintenance of the program; they are not a tool to generate profit. It is projected it will take at least 10 years for the Consortium to be financially self-sustaining so that certification fees cover the costs to run the program. The priority for the Consortium is to provide valuable assets to the profession while maintaining its own financial stability over time.
Voluntary Nature of Certification
Certification is entirely voluntary. It has been created as a means to recognize the current competencies and knowledge of professionals and create additional access points for individuals in student affairs-adjacent fields, as well as those looking to transition between functional areas.
Certification is created to provide additional pathways for individuals to access employment opportunities. It is not intended to be a requirement for employment, nor a substitute for a master’s degree. Certification is only intended as one of several means for student affairs educators to demonstrate developed competencies and commitment to continuous learning and development in the field.
Code of Ethics
All certificants are expected to practice ethical behavior as defined by the Higher Education Consortium for Student Affairs Certification Code of Ethics. Developed by Certification Consortium representatives, student affairs educators and senior leaders, and graduate faculty members, the Code of Ethics identifies areas of conduct that Certified Student Affairs Educators should endeavor to pursue, as well as conduct that is not permitted. It is organized by ethical guiding principles, ethical goals, and ethical obligations.
The Code of Ethics is in final development and will be available on the website soon.
Passing the assessment is a one-time requirement to become certified. Certification maintenance does not require additional assessment. The assessment is a quantitative, criterion-referenced test. This type of assessment was selected to minimize subjectivity, as well as to be mindful of associated costs in order to support access.
The Certification assessment includes eight domains. The assessment result is pass or fail and will also indicate those areas in which an individual performed higher and lower. This is intended to help guide ongoing learning and greater intentionality in professional development. Individuals can use this information to design personalized professional development plans in areas that may need more attention and learning.
The certification content for both general and specialty areas include the same eight domains. An individual is not certified in any of the domains but rather in core student affairs educator certification and respective specialty areas that include all domains. Details on the development and validation of these domains is below in the "Background" section. The eight domains are:
- Foundations of the Profession
- Student Learning, Development, and Success
- Assessment and Evaluation
- Social Justice and Inclusion
- Talent Management
- Crisis and Risk Management
- Financial and Facilities Management
Beginning January 2022, over 115 practitioners and faculty members identified as Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) by ACUHO-I, ACUI, AFA, ASCA, NACA, NASPA, and NIRSA began assessment development for core and specialty areas. SME recruitment included invitations to association member groups such as functional area and identity-based groups. Creation of the assessment instrument is being facilitated by a psychometric testing and assessment expert firm.
Maintenance & Recertification
Once someone is certified, they maintain and recertify through continuing education and ethical practice. There is no retest to stay certified.
The Certification Consortium is currently developing the continuing education policies and procedures. Goals include recognizing high-quality professional development programs offered by a variety of organizations (certification partners, other associations, and professional development provided by institutions) to provide multiple access points for certificants. Continuing education credits will be available for programs delivered through in-person, live webinar, and pre-recorded online methods.
Certification maintenance includes engaging in approved continuing education activities. Approved activities meet expectations for program quality set by the Higher Education Consortium for Student Affairs Certification. Such activities include conferences, institutes, workshops, and educational webinars and other online learning programs. All certificants will be expected to recertify every five years. Recertification includes demonstration of continuing education activities. It does not include retaking certification assessments.
Credentials & Acronyms
Eligible individuals who successfully pass the assessment earn a certification credential and may use the designated acronym.
- CSAEd™ (Certified Student Affairs Educator)
- CSAEd-CA™ (Certified Student Affairs Educator with Campus Activities specialty)
- CSAEd-HRL™ (Certified Student Affairs Educator with Campus Housing & Residential Life specialty)
- CSAEd-CR™ (Certified Student Affairs Educator with Campus Recreation specialty)
- CSAEd-CU™ (Certified Student Affairs Educator with College Unions specialty)
- CSAEd-FS™ (Certified Student Affairs Educator with Fraternity & Sorority Life specialty)
- CSAEd-SC™ (Certified Student Affairs Educator with Student Conduct Administration specialty)
Background & Development
Surveys and Focus Groups
The topic of student affairs certification has been explored by various professional associations over several years. NASPA most recently engaged in conversations about certification in both 2013 and 2019. The latter process included a survey to 8,700 participants and generated over 2,420 usable responses. NASPA also sent wide-ranging invitations for focus groups to new and mid-level professionals, graduate faculty and VPSAs. Individuals had the opportunity to sign up for focus groups that applied to them. Additional focus groups were added due to high demand. Feedback was collected from 27 focus groups conducted in 2019 (nine with VPSAs, 12 with new and mid-level educators, and six with faculty).
Survey data and focus groups supported development of certification programs, and generated both positive impressions and critical questions to address. In July 2019, the NASPA Board of Directors reviewed and discussed the results and analyses from the survey and focus groups, and voted to approve the initial development of student affairs educator certification.
Content Development & Validation
From 2020/21, a Certification Advisory Task Force of 19 student affairs educators from four-year and two-year institutions consisting of directors, AVPs, and VPs; graduate program faculty; and association representatives from ACPA, ACUHO-I, ACUI, AFA, ASCA, NACA, NASPA, NODA, NIRSA worked to draft the initial certification content. The task force worked with Mickie Rops Consulting (MRC) to facilitate the process. MRC used various student affairs guiding, foundational, and competency documents to propose a framework for certification, which the task force then used to develop the practice profile (what student affairs educators do day-to-day and need to be able to do, and/or know, in order to complete those tasks).
Six specialty content development groups, totaling 45 individuals, were then established by their respective Association to further the Certification Advisory Task Force’s work in their functional areas. Each group developed a practice profile for the respective functional area in spring and summer 2021.
In summer 2021, the practice profile survey of the student affairs profession was sent to 29,750 members of ACUHO-I, ACUI, AFA, ASCA, NACA, NASPA, and NIRSA and generated 2,880 usable responses. The overall survey results supported the practice profile. Highlights included the following:
99% of competencies in the general practice analysis were rated as important or critically important by a majority of those who perform them. Some competencies were performed by fewer than 75% of student affairs educators. These competencies were examined closely by the task force groups in determining whether they should be retained in the practice profile or not.
Almost all respondents indicated the draft practice profile adequately covers the requirements for effective performance of a student affairs educator role.
Respondents reported experiencing moderate to significant changes in the practice profile over the past five years, and anticipate the same degree of change over the next five years. This highlights the need for recertification and review of the content every five years.
Respondents shared strong support for a minimum level of work experience to earn certification and for significant work experience to be needed in substitution for a graduate degree.
Respondents shared support to require compliance with a code of ethics and to require certificants to demonstrate continued professional education and work experience to re-certify--but not to retest for recertification.