Beyond Professional Preparation Programs: The Role of Professional Associations in Ensuring a High Quality Workforce

Article excerpt

Professional associations have an obligation to ensure the quality of professional preparation and practice, to provide continuing professional education, and to recognize those practitioners who take steps to improve their knowledge and practice. To date, no student affairs association has fully operationalized or embraced these ideas. The future of our profession rests on the willingness of those who lead these associations to do more in this crucial area.

Creamer, Janosik, Winston, and Kuk (2001) asserted that quality professional practice in student affairs rests on the knowledge, skills, values, ethics, and character of its practitioners. These attributes are generally associated with formal educational preparation for practice in the field. To many, professional education is synonymous with the preparation necessary to enter a given field or occupation (Smutz, Crowe, & Lindsay, 1986). Creamer et al. (2001) suggested, and many agree, that most professionals in student affairs should hold an earned masters and/or doctoral degree from an established and reputable college or university and that most generalists should hold degrees in student affairs, higher education, counseling, or other fields that specifically address the work they are called upon to perform. Despite some resistance to this quality assurance standard, large numbers of practitioners and employers have embraced it. As an example, in a recent survey of 2,331 professionals belonging to a national student affairs association, 88% indicated they held such a credential. The overwhelming majority of those reporting an advanced degree did so in student affairs, higher education, or counseling (Janosik & Carpenter, 2005). This respondent group represented 34.4% of the sample in the study.

Professional preparation should not stop once the degree is earned. The need for professional development of those who have entered the field without the knowledge or skills provided by such preparation is more paramount. A case for continuing professional education for student affairs practitioners has been made for many years by many people, with a mounting urgency and vigor (Carpenter, 1998; Creamer & Claar, 1995; Creamer & Woodard, 1992; Creamer et al., 2001; Creamer et al., 1992; Janosik, 2002). Smutz, Crowe, and Lindsay (1986) argued that continuing learning is an obligatory part of the professional's role. Staying current is a professional necessity, yet for student affair professionals there is no organized way to do so. One could argue that the responsibility of remaining current is that of the individual professional, but the reality is that other professions typically are more prescriptive or at least more facilitative (Carpenter, 2001).

Professional development should be an intentional process, no less important to understand and pursue diligendy than our best work with students. Excellent practice depends upon constant preparation. Professionals must learn, do, and contribute throughout their careers (Carpenter, 2003). The use of informal activities, however, such as reading journals, consulting with colleagues, and attending conferences is no longer sufficient to meet the learning needs of today's professional because of the "explosion of knowledge, technology, and public attitudes toward professional competency" (Carpenter, 1998, p. 160). In an era when knowledge grows at a remarkable rate and the half-life of what we know is increasingly short (Moore, 1995), the need for more formal systems seem clear; however, the response to the calls for "assessment of professional competencies and needs, continuing professional education, and recognition and reporting systems" (Creamer et al., 1992, p.3) has been woefully inadequate. The purpose of this paper is to identify the role of professional associations in this process, review several recent attempts to create more formal systems of continuing professional education, and recommend a new course of action for these organizations. …