Background & Development

Surveys and Focus Groups

The topic of student affairs certification has been explored by various professional associations over several years. Of these associations, 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 recertify--but not to retest for recertification.

An Investment in Student Affairs Educators & the Field

The certification founding partner associations contributed to certification development through significant volunteer time as well as financial resources. The program was developed with adherence to established certification standards in order for the program to be accredited.

Certification development involved 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 were paid by the partner associations.

Certification fees support the development and ongoing 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.

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)