Is Archaeology a Legitimate Profession II:

Shortening the Educational Trail

Certification and Licensing

In the last blog, I emphasized the importance of licensing.  What I failed to clarify is that there is a distinction between certification and licensure.  By licensure, I mean governmental sanctioning of a particular set of minimum professional requirements.  Licensed professional archaeologists are legal; non-licensed are not.  By certification, I mean non-governmental sanctioning of a particular set of requirements.  States (or the federal government) license; organizations certify.

No state or federal agency responsible for licensing would create such requirements without the input and support of the professional organization(s) responsible for them.  Therefore, it would follow that creating certifications would precede licensing.  Which brings us to the issue of the RPA, the Register of Professional Archaeologists.  RPA does certify professional archaeologists and has recently created a category for Student and Early Career Archaeologists. Is this sufficient and are we re-inventing the wheel?  I think not.  Critically, RPA membership is voluntary and no one is required to ensure any archaeological work is led by an RPA-certified archaeologist.  If you look to an analogy in a place where there is licensing – Ontario, Canada – you can see that the standards are quite high and quite specific.  And mandatory.  Licensing brings teeth.

Perhaps, SAA, SHA, and other professional organizations could be more assertive on the need for professional archaeologists to belong to RPA, in addition to advocating for licensure.  If SAA, SHA, or other professional organizations are not aligned with the minimum requirements laid out by RPA, then it is incumbent on them to sit down together to work out a common and supportable national standard.  Perhaps membership in RPA could be added to the SAA’s Ethical standards, as it might be argued that belonging to a national certifying organization discourages bad actors, and upholds the other ethical standards.  In the meantime, certifications could more finely slice and dice requirements to create a step-wise pathway for full professional certification, something that RPA is beginning to do with emerging professionals and field schools.

A national focus has the advantage of efficiency.  The last thing the profession needs is somewhat common certifications that vary state by state.  And if anyone is paying attention, time to sort these things out is time we do not have.  The other advantage of national certification is that the state-by-state effort to create licensing can be done with focus.  I’m not a fan of ALEC, but good lord, they know how to get legislation passed.  If we can set up the necessary certifications, one office can write boilerplate legislation that can be presented (and passed) in each state.

How to get to an MA faster

For argument’s sake, let’s assume that we’ve all agreed upon some common national standard for minimum qualifications.  Let’s also assume it will look somewhat like the current landscape, adopting portions of the NPS qualifications and RPA standards.  In any version you might imagine, it’s going to require a boatload of education and a boatload of experience.  If you run the numbers, it’s something like 4 years of undergraduate education plus 2 years of graduate education plus 2 years of experience.  And that’s for the minimum requirements, organized to be maximally efficient.

Having someone commit 6 years of tuition costs toward a profession that doesn’t pay well to begin with is a big ask.  With respect to education, I do believe there are now opportunities to shorten that 6 years of schooling.  I suspect most current graduate programs are trying to play a zero-sum game with education, cramming more applied archaeology into the program at the expense of basic anthropology and archeology method and theory.  If you add LIDAR and GPR requirements, do you have to remove History of Anthropology or Ecological Theory?  There’s only so many credits in an Master’s program and each credit is dear.  To compound matters, fewer students entering Master’s programs have good grounding in anthropology, which they should have gotten as undergraduates, but didn’t.  If we believe that such grounding is important, from where is it going to come?

This can be ameliorated.  For what would typically be survey courses, i.e., those courses taught in a larger lecture hall, we could dispense with the luxury of formal in-person teaching, and emphasize MOOC (Massive Open On-line Courses) or web-based classes.  These classes would be free and available 24/7.  Students entering Master’s programs would be required to attain the knowledge from these classes before beginning Graduate School.  Attainment would be measured through testing.

These on-line classes are not bounded by the structure of a college course: 3 hours a week, 15 weeks in length.  They can take as long as they need- 20 hours, 5 hours, whatever.  They could be bundled into what would be awarded credit as a college course.  I can rattle off several MOOC classes that could be established: basics of stratigraphy; basics of chronology; basics of typology; anthropological archaeology.  You could take what is typically a Methods in Archaeology year-long course and break it down into its component parts and offer them as modules in a MOOC environment.  Assembled in various ways, they could become an equivalent college course with the same college credits.  Voila! One less course that has to be on most every graduate-level program requirement.  And so on.  This would leave precious class hours to dive into the advanced seminar classes that benefit graduate students the most.  National standards would dictate what the MOOC classes would be and what they would cover, and national testing would measure whether students knew the material or not.

I don’t know if universities would balk at outsourcing their foundational coursework, but if it is foundational and basic, why would they not?  Accepting community college credits is becoming much more common and necessary.  How is this different?  The current problem is that such courses do not currently exist in the Internet universe.  A quick survey of available MOOC classes shows a distinct lack of national common course offerings, and there’s virtually nothing relevant to the basics of an archaeological background.  This is a true opportunity for the SAA.  This is the organization that could assemble the needed pedagogues and craft a suite of introductory classes that would begin to prepare students to be professional archaeologists.  Some of the courses would be focused on CRM.  Necessarily, surveys of specific culture area would be needed.  All should be on-line and free to the public, but geared to the pre-professional.  SAA, you can do this. Will you?

No heel clicking here either.  Assuming such courses could be assembled, the harder lift will be to change how graduate schools treat education outside of their direct control.  Perhaps not all graduate programs, but most graduate programs would have to get on board to accept these courses as prerequisites for admission.  Think Advance Placement for the 22-year old.  Ultimately, this will take a serious rethinking of what constitutes professional education within the academy, a notoriously conservative institution.  And this would have to pass muster not only at the department level, but at the university college level, one university at a time.  Oh, and in an environment where archaeology and anthropology are on the chopping block at many schools, again because of the lack of understanding of their value to the society at large.

5-Year Integrated Programs

Some schools, such as Penn State, offer an integrated undergraduate/graduate anthropology degree in 5 years.  Requirements are high and selective and suggest this is not the norm.  If you could normalize this approach, though, you have the chance to frontload the program with MOOC courses and possibly reduce the total educational requirements to 4 years or less.  And this without surrendering any knowledge needs.  Having a national standard (or licensing) for education would make such programs more desirable and there would be a predictable and more affordable pathway to completion.

 Offering integrated degrees is a nudge and a nod toward more efficient education, but does not really address the issues of overall college costs, or, ensuring that the courses offered really are useful for a CRM career as currently practiced (or as anticipated to be practiced in the near future).  The larger problem for university graduate education is the overall indifference to educating students for a CRM career.  Until the academy understands and addresses this key weakness, all 5-year integrated programs will accomplish is pushing unemployable Mesoamericanists out the door faster.

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