Certificate, Certification, Credential, and Designation: What's the difference?
What is a professional development certificate program?
A certificate program is a training program on a specialized topic for which participants receive a certificate after completing the course and passing an assessment instrument (project, paper, exam, presentation, etc).
Note: This is not to be confused with the commonly used "certificate of attendance" given at the completion of many continuing education courses to validate attendance.
At the UW Tacoma PDC, professional development certificate programs are usually a cluster of courses (consisting of at least 60 hours of instruction) that provide knowledge and training in a specific competency. Many confer the knowledge base needed to successfully pass certification exams. At the UWT PDC, these courses in most certificate programs can be taken in any order but must be taken within two years from the start date of the first course.
Completion of a certificate demonstrates:
• commitment to master a specific body of knowledge or set of skills
• breadth and depth of skill and understanding that comes from planned learning
• dedication to professional advancement
Certified Public Manager® (granted upon program completion)
What is the Difference Between Professional Certification and a Certificate Program?
Organizations that develop certificate programs often incorrectly call them certification programs. Be an informed consumer and educate yourself about the important differences.
Professional certification is the voluntary process by which a non-governmental entity grants an often time-limited recognition and use of a credential to an individual after verifying that he or she has met predetermined and standardized criteria.* This means that true certification is issued by a third-party organization with an established body of knowledge (ASQ, SHRM, PMI, NCPMC, etc.). There is often an exam and/or significant project outside of coursework and continuing education requirements.
The chart below further clarifies the distinction between certificate and certification.**
Results from an educational process
Results from an assessment process
For both newcomers and experienced professionals alike
Typically requires some amount of professional experience
Awarded by educational program providers or institutions
Awarded by a third party, standard-setting organization
Indicates completion of a course or series of courses with specific focus; is different than a degree-granting program
Indicates mastery/competency as measured against a defensible set of standards, usually by application or exam
Course content set a variety of ways (faculty committee, dean, instructor); occasionally through defensible analysis of topic area
Standards set through a defensible, industry-wide process (job analysis/role delineation) that results in an outline of required knowledge and skills
Usually listed on a resume detailing education; may issue a document to hang on the wall
Typically results in a designation to use after one's name (CCC-SLP, CCC-A.); may result in a document to hang or to keep in a wallet
Is the end result; demonstrates knowledge of course content at the end of a set period in time
Has ongoing requirements in order to maintain; holder must demonstrate he/she continues to meet requirements. For example, SLPs, audiologists, and other allied health professionals are required to complete annual CEUs to keep their certifications
May provide the basis and gateway for achieving a degree
No relationship with attaining higher education or degree
The terms certification and credentials and designation are also often confused or used incorrectly.
• Credentials attest to someone's knowledge or authority. Credentials can be a degree earned, e.g., MS or Ph.D.
• Certification is a process that results in credentials, e.g. CCC-SLP.
• A designation simply refers to the letters someone uses after their name (MD, Ph.D., CCC-A).
* National Organization for Competency Assurance
** Adapted from University of Michigan's Certificate vs. Certification webpage; updated March 20, 2013