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Student Affairs Educator Certification

Supporting the Profession Professional Standards Division AVP or "Number Two" Mid-Level Senior Level VP for Student Affairs

NASPA, in partnership with ACUHO-I, ACUI, AFA, ASCA, NACA, and NIRSA, lead the development of Student Affairs Educator Certifiation. Please visit the Higher Education Consortium for Student Affairs Certification website for full details on Core and Specialty certifications and visit this page in the near future for information on NASPA resource supporting certification.

Certification Background

Student affairs educator certification offers exciting promise for both individual student affairs educators and the larger profession! The content here provides background information and updates about the development process for student affairs educator certification.

The topic of student affairs certification has been explored by various professional associations over several years. NASPA engaged in conversations about certification in both 2013 and 2019. The latter process included a survey to 8,700 participants, and 27 focus groups consisting of early career professionals and mid-level educators, vice presidents for student affairs, and graduate faculty. Several positive impressions and critical questions were raised about the potential for student affairs certification through this inquiry. 

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. A task force was established to advise the certification development process. Dr. Laura Osteen, NASPA Professional Standards Division Director, was appointed to chair the task force, which consisted of student affairs administrators and educators, graduate preparation faculty, and professional association representatives from ACPA, ACUHO-I, ACUI, AFA, ASCA, NACA, NASPA, NIRSA, and NODA.

A sub-group of the task force was also established to develop a code of ethics for certification. This group, chaired by Dr. Keegan Nichols, NASPA Professional Standards Division, also consisted of student affairs administrators and educators, graduate preparation faculty, and professional association representatives.

Over 115 subject matter experts appointed by ACUHO-I, ACUI, AFA, ASCA, NACA, NASPA, and NIRSA worked with a psychometrician to develop the core and speciality area certification assessments, and determine passing score for each.

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What is certification?

Certification is a voluntary process through which an organization grants recognition to an individual after verifying they have met certain, minimum requirements. To become certified, an individual must meet eligibility requirements and pass an assessment. Eligibility requirements generally include a minimum amount or level of training/education and years of work experience. Certification usually has ongoing requirements (such as continuing professional development) and a recertification process that need to be met over a designated period for the individual to maintain certification.

Certification is different from a certificate. A certificate program is also voluntary, and is a recognition of an individual’s learning of a designated content area, at a particular moment in time, by an organization. The individual must meet minimum criteria, including participation in a training or education program, and demonstrate comprehension of the program’s learning outcomes via passing an assessment. There are usually no ongoing requirements to maintain a certificate.

A quick way to understand the difference between certification and certificate is that certification focuses on verifying experiences and education obtained elsewhere, and assessing current knowledge and skills; a certificate focuses on educating individuals on intended learning outcomes and then assessing their attainment.

Source: Certification Simplified: A primer for staff and volunteer leaders.


What is the purpose of Student Affairs Educator Certification?

Certification is designed to benefit individual educators at the mid-level and above, higher education institutions, and the larger student affairs and services profession. The work performed by student affairs educators is essential–as well as rewarding and challenging. Low pay, burnout, and high turnover are all common issues. There have traditionally been limited means for educators to demonstrate their competencies and knowledge growth through ongoing work experience, and to then formally exhibit this growth in pursuit of lifelong learning and professional advancement. Certification offers a robust set of credentials to demonstrate this growth!

Benefits for Individual Educators

  • Rigorous way to demonstrate ongoing learning, competencies, and knowledge including within multiple functional areas

  • Supports advancement into senior-level leadership positions

  • Increases advancement potential to positions managing multiple functional areas

  • Supports transitions between functional areas

  • Provides a means of demonstrating learning and growth after attaining a master’s degree while providing a pathway into the profession for individuals whose highest degree earned is a baccalaureate or an associate’s degree

  • Offers areas of focus to inform ongoing learning and professional development plans

Benefits for Institutions and to the Profession

  • Includes timely and important topics within the profession that may not have been covered at the time one completed a master’s degree

  • Adds further credibility and integrity to the work of student affairs and services

  • Further establishes standards of knowledge, skills, and experiences

  • Provides accountability through ethical conduct standards and related processes

  • Requires continuous, ongoing learning for recertification

  • Reduces risk of errors, accidents, and legal liability

Benefits for Professional Associations

  • Requires entities providing continuing education for professional development to clearly define learning outcomes, focus areas, and include experienced presenters

  • Encourages further intention for educators in seeking professional development opportunities

  • Creates opportunities for further training and education programs tied to certifications


Who is eligible for certification?
  • Mid-level student affairs educators and above.

  • Both educators with a master’s degree and five years of work experience in student affairs/services in higher education, as well as those whose highest degree earned is an associate's or bachelor's degree with minimum of several years of work experience in student affairs/services in higher education.

  • Eligibility requirements are the same for both core and speciality student affairs educator certifications. The core certification is a prerequisite for all specialties.

How is certification related to a graduate degree?

The certification development process regarded (and continues to regard) a master’s degree as an established, critical foundation for student affairs educators. Certification is available as a voluntary “next step” for eligible mid-level educators and above, who are seeking a formal credential to demonstrate their ongoing knowledge and competencies. Certification complements a master’s degree without being an alternative to it.

Is Certification voluntary?

Yes. Certification is entirely voluntary.

What student affairs areas does certification cover?

Certification includes both core and specialty areas. Core certification includes the competencies and tasks of student affairs educators (mid-level and above) regardless of functional area. In addition to core student affairs education, individuals may seek specialty certification in the areas of campus activities, campus housing and residential life, campus recreation, college unions, fraternity and sorority life, and student conduct administration.

What is a practice analysis?

The practice analysis is a survey to test the practice profile developed by the certification task force and specialty area groups. It is intended to identify the essential tasks and competencies of student affairs educators--generally as well as within the six specialty areas. The practice anaylsis survey was administered in July and August 2021 to approximately 28,000 individual members of ACUI, ACUHO-I, AFA, ASCA, NACA, NASPA, and NIRSA, and received 2,880 useable responses. The results of the practice analysis provide the blueprints for certification assessment development. A practice analysis re-occurs approximately every five years to update certification content.

Who was involved in developing certification?

Visit the Higher Education Consortium for Student Affairs Certification website for a list of many of the student affairs educators who graciously volunteered their time and talents to develop certification content and exams.

A task force of student affairs educators, graduate faculty, and professional association representatives and staff were appointed by participating associations. The task force developed general student affairs educator certification content in the form of a practice profile-a draft of the tasks, competencies, knowledge, skills, and abilities of student affairs educators. 

Specialty area groups were then convened for the areas of campus activities, campus housing and residential life, campus recreation, college unions, fraternity and sorority life, and student conduct administration. Group members were appointed by the respective specialty area association. Each group identified and built additional content for their respective functional area upon the foundational practice profile for general student affairs educator certification. This content was validated by the practice analysis survey.

The practice analysis survey results provide the blueprint for core and specialty area assessments. These assessments were developed by subject matter experts in student affairs/services, including in functional areas, with the guidance of a psychometrician (testing and measurement specialist).


What is the code of ethics?

It is an expected practice of certification programs to include an ethics statement. A Code of Ethics Development Committee (CEDC) was convened as part of the certification development process. Members included student affairs educators, graduate faculty, and professional association representatives. The code of ethics development process includes review of existing professional student affairs ethics statements. The code of ethics focuses on the student affairs profession and not any unique functional area or association. Certified individuals agree to adhere to the code of ethics as a requirement for maintaining their certification.

Which organization grants certifications?

A new organization was established to manage core and specialty area certifications--the Higher Education Consortium for Student Affairs Certification. This Certification Consortium has formal relationships with the student affairs associations that collaborated to develop certification content, while also functioning as its own independent, 501(c)6 organization. The Certification Consortium  provides tools and resources for potential certificants. However, it does provide professional development.

The Certification Consortium has its own governance structure, leadership, staff, and processes.

Where can I get additional resources?

The NASPA publication, Supervised Practice, is a great resource for student affairs educators looking to learn more about professional competencies. This book explores how to create the conditions necessary for supervised practice and the graduate academic curriculum to be a seamless learning experience.