Stand by...

You're about to be redirected to

June 30, 2005


Well, since the beginning of June I've been out of the country for 9 days, generally traveling around for another 5, facilitating task force work, preparing and making presentations and trying to reconnect with my family, so I haven't had much of a chance to respond to Jeff De Cagna's recent post about the EMSAL (Executive Masters of Science in Association Leadership). I've been slowly working on this post for a few days now, so I suppose I'll let her fly now:

First, let me state for the record that I believe we need a masters program for association professionals. Not because the CAE is necessarily deficient. But because in order for association professionals to elevate their stature in their own industry, they must understand and implement a body of knowledge beyond the CAE. In my mind, I equate the CAE to an undergraduate degree and the EMSAL to a graduate degree (which it would be, in fact). I offer constructive criticism of Jeff's assumptions and assertions only to help him and everyone in the association community to evaluate and refine this idea.

On the topic of Executive Masters programs in general, Jeff writes...

I'm not precisely sure to whom Ben refers when he writes about the "many people" who join him in questioning the legitimacy of executive masters programs.
Try a Google search for "buy an MBA" and you'll see some of the others who have taken the time to air similar suspicions on the Internet.

And on the same topic...

For the companies who send students to them, it is a significant financial investment. Neither these learners nor their employers can afford to simply "purchase papers." They are interested in real learning that will broaden perspectives and develop better performance on the job.
If there is research to back this up, I'd like to see it. I suspect that many executive masters students are simply trying to pad their resumes and advance their careers at the expense of their employers. This issue could completely undermine the EMSAL. It cannot simply be ignored. How can this be addressed?

On the topic of the CAE exam, Jeff writes...

But since Ben brings it up, let me express my view that, in this context, passing a "psychometrically valid" multiple choice examination does not really establish a graduate's competence, merely his or her ability to recall and regurgitate the knowledge learned in preparation for the exam.
I can understand why those who haven't taken the exam might believe this -- but it is a misconception. Completely inaccurate. The CAE exam requires its candidates to apply many different and competing concepts to complex, real-life, nuanced scenarios and select the most appropriate answer. In many cases, the "right" answer isn't offered, and you have to select the least of four evils. In truth, the questions quite accurately reflect common predicaments that association professionals encounter. Straight definition questions are the exception, not the rule on the CAE exam. The exam isn't perfect, but it's far better than it is made out to be in the statement above. And frankly, any other final examination method would have its own drawbacks.

In respect to real-world experience, Jeff writes...

Genuine competence is established only through actual practice, which is precisely why new doctors must first serve as interns and residents, new architects must first serve in an apprentice-type role and even new attorneys typically do not fly solo on complex cases straight out of law school. They may have explicit knowledge that can be tested, but they do not yet possess the tacit knowledge that leads to effective real-world judgment.
No argument from me here. Indeed, you need up to 7 years of association experience before you meet just one of the eligibility requirements to sit for the CAE exam. This is one of the longer experience requirements I'm aware of. For example, you need no experience to take the bar exam and become a lawyer. You need just one year on the job to fulfill the experience requirement to earn a CPA license. I think one should be required to complete the CAE before becoming eligible for an EMSAL.

And finally, on the issue of continuing education...

In my experience, the truly committed learner does not require an external "mandate" to continue his or her own professional development. The pursuit of learning is an intrinsically motivated quest for understanding and insight, not the accumulation of CEUs.
Personal experience is indisputable, but to project this experience on to the population at large is pollyannish. Not every person who enters the EMSAL would be a "truly committed learner." In my view, the CAE should remain part of the association professional's academic journey, and the CEUs should remain part of the CAE program.

Another issue that has only been addressed tangentially is the overlap between existing masters programs (MBA, MPA, etc.) and what the EMSAL might eventually become. I think a viable option for attaining something like an EMSAL for our would be to take an MPA or MBA and add a concentration in association leadership.

Let's continue this conversation; I do hope more people will chime in with their opinions and ideas.


David Gammel said...

> MBA and add a concentration in association
> leadership.

I think that is the way to go, personally. You get a degree that is applicable elsewhere if you decide 10 years later to switch careers (and who doesn't do that these days?) along with a set of courses that help you contextualize the 'generic' learning into the association experience.

Jeff De Cagna said...


Thanks for your posting. I appreciate the fact that we are continuing our conversation about this very important subject, and I want to offer a few thoughts regarding your perspectives:

+We agree that the association community needs a master's level learning experience. I'm not prepared to refer to the CAE as "deficient" but I think the EMSAL and the CAE are apples and oranges anyway. The CAE is a professional designation and not a form of academic preparation. The EMSAL that I have proposed would be the functional equivalent of the MBA but should not be confused with that degree. I strenuously disagree with your view (echoed by David's comment) about simply grafting a concentration in association leadership onto an MBA. That is a serious mistake, because if there is anything deficient in this conversation, it is the MBA degree. On this point, which I made in my previous posting, there is broad and growing agreement. Besides, I firmly believe the challenging work of the association leader deserves a stronger, better and more specialized degree.

+Ben, I think you should look more closely at what actually comes up when you click on the "Google search" link you posted. The top two search results refer to a blog posting about a Dutch business school that is allowing people to bid on a spot in the school's MBA program, provided they meet entrance requirements. In effect, the school is putting the spot up for auction, allowing the marketplace to set the price. I see nothing wrong with that, as long as they ensure that the ultimate recipient of the opportunity is fully qualified to accept it.

The third search result is an essay written in 2003 by a then-student at that fly-by-night MBA operation Cambridge University (UK) about the reasons why he pursued the degree. Sure, the paid search results on the right show a listing for a degree mill. I'm not saying that bogus degrees don't exist. But I'm not talking about a fraudulent degree and if you think I am, you may want to take another look at what I've written on this subject. I'm proposing a rigorous executive master of science that would be based with an established university, not a no-name operation. My goal in this effort is to strengthen our organizations, not weaken them. I would hope at least that much would be clear by now.

+With all due respect, suspecting "that many executive masters students are simply trying to pad their resumes and advance their careers at the expense of their employers" doesn't constitute the kind of evidence you've implied I should provide to support my contrary view. (I would also note that you don't make the same explicit assumption about the motivations of association professionals who pursue the CAE. Why is that?) People pursue graduate education for many reasons, including reasons of personal advancement. So long as the integrity of the program is ensured and the participants meet the program's requirements, I'm willing to bet that organizations in our community will consider supporting their employees' efforts in a manner consistent with the associations' stated policies and practices.

+Ben, I concede that you know much more about the CAE exam than I do so I will not belabor here the points we've already made on this issue. I cannot agree, however, with the view that the CAE should be a prerequisite for pursuing the EMSAL. Absolutely not. As I've already said, the CAE is a form of professional recognition that is about establishing only baseline competence. While it is a worthwhile pathway for professional development, it is not at all equivalent to a bachelor's degree, and should be kept completely separate from the academic pathway. The idea is to provide association leaders with more and different options for learning, depending on what energizes them.

+I am rarely described as a "Pollyanna" under any circumstances and I don't think the description is accurate here. In referring to my experience, I am not talking only about myself, nor am I projecting my experience on "the population at large" as you suggest. I know quite literally hundreds of people who I would describe as "truly committed learners," and drawing on this vast sample, I have a clear picture of what drives them to learn and you can be sure that it is neither "mandates" nor "credits." While I am not saying that everyone who might choose to pursue the EMSAL will fit this description, completing this degree program will take a considerable sustained commitment on the part of its students regardless of their mindsets or motivations.

At some point, I think it will be more productive for us to shift this discussion away from a point-counterpoint and toward a more difficult yet important conversation: how do we persuade the powers that be in the association world that the EMSAL idea has merit even though previous master's level programs have failed? I would very much like to read some discussion on this point. Ben, thanks again for keeping the conversation going. I really appreciate it!

Ben said...

Thanks for commenting, guys. I'll post more on this topic when the spirit moves me.

Emad Rahim said...

Union Institute & University offer a MA and PHD in assoication Management. The program works with ASAE for development of the program and content.

Ben said...

Emad, thanks for commenting. I first became aware of their program when I noticed that one of the authors in the Winter 2005 edition of the Journal of Association Leadership was a doctoral candidate in Association Management at Union Institute & University. By now he has graduated.