In 2003, American Council on Exercise® was granted accreditation by the National Commission
for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)for all four of its primary certification programs.
ACE is one of a few select certifying organizations in the fitness industry whose
programs have been accredited by the NCCA.
Accreditation and Standards FAQ
What Every Fitness Professional Needs to Know About the Accreditation of Certification Programs
The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) recently
recommended that club owners only hire personal trainers with certifications
from agencies accredited through the National Commission for Certifying
Agencies (NCCA) or an equivalent accrediting organization. Currently, the
American Council on Exercise is one of only a handful of certifying agencies
accredited by the NCCA. Since IHRSA's recommendation, there have been many
questions within our industry regarding education, training, certification, accreditation
and licensure. In this two-part series, we respond to some of your most
frequently asked questions about accreditation to help clarify some of these
Download the article
FAQs on Education, Certification, Accreditation and Licensure
As you know, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) continues to lead efforts
to protect the public from unqualified fitness professionals and is accredited
by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Since IHRSA's
recommendation that club owners only hire personal trainers with certifications
from agencies accredited through NCCA or an equivalent accrediting
organization, there have been many questions within our industry in regard to
education, trainin, certification, accreditation and licensure.
the Institute for Credentialing Excellence's press release on the FTC
warning consumers against diploma mills.
We have put together a list of frequently asked questions (also available in a
downloadable PDF format) to help clarify some of these issues.
1) What is the difference between education, certification (credentialing) and continuing education?
- Teaches foundational knowledge and skills and measures the cognitive retention of the student.
- Many fields require that education be completed in the form of a degree as a pre-requisite for the professional credential.
Measures, in a standardized and unbiased manner, the ability of the candidate
to apply the knowledge and skills in the role of a professional.
Passing a certification establishes that the individual is minimally competent
to work unsupervised in a given field or profession.
Certification does not mean that an individual knows everything required to be
considered an expert in a given field.
Keeps the professional current by updating their knowledge base and teaching
them new skills.
Frequently is associated with the development of a specialty.
May also be based on a specific modality or tool.
Assumes that the individual participating possesses all of the foundational
knowledge required of the minimally competent professional.
Generally does not meet the threshold for credible certification for exam
content, structure and administration.
2) Are all certifications really certifications?
In the fitness industry the term certification has been incorrectly applied to
many continuing education courses based on the definition of certification.
Most courses provide either foundational education or continuing education
3) If a course isn't really a certification, why should a professional take
Just because a course is a foundational education or continuing education
course does not make it less valuable to the fitness professional than a
certification, merely that a certificate of completion or specialty certificate
would be a more appropriate designation.
4) Why accreditation?
Accreditation of certification organizations is a topic of much discussion in
the fitness industry which has its roots in the recommendation from the
International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) Board of
Directors to its membership on qualifications for personal trainers.
The IHRSA Board's Resolution:
"Whereas, given the increasing importance personal training plays in
health, fitness and sports clubs, IHRSA recommends that, as of January 1, 2006,
member clubs hire personal trainers who hold at least one current certification
from a certifying organization/agency that has obtained third-party
accreditation of its certification procedures and protocols from an
independent, experienced, and nationally recognized accrediting body."
"Furthermore, given the twenty-six year history of the National Organization for
Competency Assurance (NOCA) in establishing quality standards for certifying
agencies, IHRSA has identified the National Commission for Certifying Agencies
(NCCA), the accreditation body of NOCA, as being an acceptable accrediting
organization. Other equivalent accrediting organizations may be recognized as
well, as they come to IHRSA's attention."
5) What does the NCCA look for when accrediting certification
The NCCA evaluates the processes and systems used by an organization to
identify professional role and scope of practice, develop exam content, and
provide proper exam administration and scoring to ensure the following:
That the examination process is fair and unbiased
That the examination accurately measures the minimal competence of the
candidate for the profession
That the public is protected from unqualified or ineffective practitioners
That the organization has the means to support its professionals
6) Are there other accrediting organizations that are
"equivalent" to NCCA?
The only other organization for possible consideration as a credible
accreditation organization for certifying agencies is
ANSI based on their long history of setting well-recognized and widely
accepted industrial and workplace safety and quality standards.
Information on Accreditation of Certification Programs:
Certification is usually a voluntary process instituted by a nongovernmental
agency in which individuals are recognized for acquired knowledge and skill. It
requires assessment, including testing, and an evaluation of education and/or
experience. In some instances, individuals who seek certification may already
hold a license. Also, certification may be non-voluntary for some professions
(i.e., required by the profession) and may be considered the equivalent of a
license to practice (e.g., EMTs, nurses, athletic trainers, occupational
Licensure refers to a mandatory governmental requirement that restricts the
practice in a particular profession. It also requires assessment, including
testing, and an evaluation of education and/or experience. Licensure implies
both practice protection and title protection, in that only individuals who
hold a license are permitted to practice and to use a particular title.
NCCA is an independent nongovernmental agency that accredits professional
certifications in a variety of professions. NCCA reviews the certification
organization's procedures, protocols and operations and determines if the
certification properly discriminates between those who are qualified and those
who are not qualified to be awarded the respective credential. The following is
a sample of the 21 standards that a certification organization must comply with
to be awarded NCCA accreditation:
- Conduct certification activities in a manner that upholds standards for
competent practice in a profession, occupation, role, or skill.
- Include individuals from the certified population on the certification board or
governing committee of the certification program.
- Establish, publish, apply, and periodically review key certification policies
and procedures concerning existing and prospective certificants.
- Employ assessment instruments that are derived from the job/practice analysis
and that are consistent with generally accepted psychometric principles.
- Develop and adhere to appropriate, standardized, and secure procedures for the
development and administration of the assessment instruments.
- Set the cut score consistent with the purpose of the credential and the
established standard of competence for the profession, occupation, role, or
- Award certification only after the knowledge and/or skill of individual
applicants have been evaluated and determined to be acceptable.
- Establish and apply policies and procedures for secure retention of assessment
results and scores of all candidates.
- Demonstrate that its recertification requirements measure or enhance the
continued competence of certificants.
*Note that the NCCA accredits certification programs and NOT education programs.
Therefore, to avoid conflicts of interest between certification and education
functions, the NCCA requires that the certification agency must NOT also be
responsible for accreditation of educational or training programs or courses of
study leading to the certification (see
complete list of National Commission For Certifying Agencies Accredited
7) What will the adoption of the NCCA accreditation standard mean to me as
a fitness professional?
- Accreditation of a credentialing organization by the NCCA is the standard for a
large majority of well-respected allied health care professionals and others
professions (e.g., nursing, nutrition, athletic training, etc.).
- By earning an NCCA-accredited certification, fitness professionals demonstrate
that they are qualified to take a legitimate place on the healthcare continuum
based on what is usual and customary for healthcare and other professionals
which is critical for developing an appropriate level of professional
recognition which should also positively impact compensation levels for fitness
- For education providers in the fitness industry it means selecting the aspect
(education, credentialing or continuing education) that best fits the
organizational and business structure of their organization. It does not mean
that there are not opportunities for growth or that they do not provide an
essential and valuable service to the fitness industry.
Certification is the "hardware" of the fitness business, education is
8) Does NCCA Accreditation mean ACE-certified Professionals have to re-sit for the ACE Exam?
The issue of accreditation for certification organizations by the National
Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) is one that has generated a
significant amount of coverage and discussion within the fitness industry
press, and among education providers and the fitness professionals that we
collectively serve. The concept of "grandfathering" of an
organization's fitness professionals following accreditation has become one of
the key issues among those discussions.
Because the American Council on Exercise has always utilized an appropriate and
NCCA-recognized process to develop and administer its certification
examinations, all ACE professionals regardless of when they earned their ACE
certification (even if it was earned prior to our NCCA accreditation date of
August 2003) are not required to re-sit for certification.
9) Do we need a national board exam for fitness professionals?
The current proposal for a national board exam is based on the false assumption
that there are no credible national standards for fitness certification today
and that a national board exam is the precursor to licensure for fitness
professionals. In fact, NCCA accreditation is the recognized standard for
professional credentialing and licensing exam organization in the allied
healthcare and other skilled professional fields. Any new credentialing
organization would still need to earn NCCA accreditation which would take a
minimum of two years following the introduction of their testing instrument
10) Is licensure coming to the fitness industry?
The call for licensure is typically driven by two factors:
- Failure of an industry to provide for significant self-regulation.
- A significant risk to public health that requires government intervention. The
determination that licensure is required is made through a process called a
"sunrise review" that determines the qualifications, skills and
knowledge required to work in the proposed licensed profession, and if there
are any existing recognized certification standards in the field (usually an
NCCA-accredited organization or organizations). Currently, only Louisiana (with
its licensure for Clinical Exercise Physiologists) has legislation regarding
licensure and the fitness industry.
11) Would licensure be beneficial for fitness professionals?
Licensure does not necessarily ensure that the fitness professional will see an
increase in compensation or professional recognition. The suggestion that a
national board and/or licensure is the key to creating relationships with the
medical community and lead to possible insurance reimbursement for fitness
professionals is greatly exaggerated. In fact, there may be unintended
consequences associated with pro-actively pursuing licensure. Some of the
unintended consequences of pursuing licensure could include:
- A limitation of the scope of practice via legislation by well-meaning
legislators influenced by lobbyists from various interested parties.
- Additional and unnecessary expenses associated with licensure.
- Alerting the public and the government to a purported "risk" of
working with qualified fitness professionals that does not exist.