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Credentialing: The Academic Approach to Leadership Development

An overview of the credentialing process for U.S. Army Engineer Regiment and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. 

By 1st. Lt. Shane Finnane, LEED GA, PMP, USA 

In a conference room filled with hundreds of hardened soldiers, credentialing and academia quickly became the focus. “At some point, every soldier leaves the Army,” said Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, Army Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), as he guided a dialogue about developing today’s warfighter mentally and preparing soldiers for the challenges of transitioning out of the military and into the civilian world.

In juxtaposition, the usual focus in the Army, and particularly in professional development seminars, is warrior tasks, battle drills, mission essential tasks (METs), and preparing for the physical challenges that service members face daily. Some of the men and women who raise their right hand to fight America’s wars and defend the freedom of its people view extracurricular learning as a hindrance to their development and progression in the Army. Others believe that developing themselves mentally outside of duty hours is a waste of time because of the limited time spent with their families due to military obligations.  Although these are a few of the many reasons that service member in the Army do not focus on academic self-development, the benefits and incentives that the Army and civilian organizations offer for achieving credentials far outweigh the costs. These benefits can improve a soldier’s technical and professional competence while preparing for life and work as a civilian.


Credentialing provides a cost effective and time efficient way to develop

academically and increase productivity in the military while also preparing for the

civilian work force. 



The monetary value tied to a college degree can be off-putting. The average cost in the United States is currently $22,775 per year in tuition and fees alone. Money and time are the biggest reasons many members of the Army do not aspire to obtain credentials and a higher education.

Comparing this cost to the annual income of a U.S. Army specialist with less than two years of service is a staggering indicator of the potential financial burden awaiting the servicemen and women who attend college. On the other hand, credentialing fees cost far less and can offer similar benefits. Testing fees range from just $200-$555 dollars with an additional cost for books, practice tests, and other resources needed to prepare for and pass most credentialing exams. For example, to take the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam there is a test fee of $555 and the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) costs $65.95, which makes the total expense $620.95. Once achieved, there are also sustainment fees that must be paid in order to maintain the credentials. Including fees, credentialing costs are minimal when compared to the cost of a college education.

In addition to the monetary cost, the time spent preparing for collegiate classes and exams is substantial. Soldiers would have to devote their off-duty hours to studying instead of spending that time with family or doing recreational activities. Although they would have to complete a number of continued educational hours to maintain their credentialed status, it is far less than time required receiving a college degree.

Credentialing provides a cost effective and time efficient way to develop academically and increase productivity in the military while also preparing for the civilian work force. There are many recognizable credentials within the civilian workforce, however Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credentials and the PMP credential are two that are highly regarded by the Army and the Army Corps of Engineers. 



LEED has three separate obtainable and maintainable credentials. There are no prerequisites necessary in order to obtain any LEED credentials. The lowest level credential is the LEED Green Associate (LEED GA) which focuses on a documented, up-to-date understanding of the most current green building principles and practices. This exam costs $200 for U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) members and $250 for non-members.

The next credential offered is the Accredited Professional exam (LEED AP) which focuses on advanced knowledge in green building as well as expertise in one of the five LEED rating systems. Taking this exam requires first attaining the LEED GA, and taking the specialty exam, which costs a minimum fee of $250 for members and $350 for non-members.

USGBC also offers a full examination which combines the LEED GA and specialty exams at a cost of $400 for members and $550 for non-members. The final credential offered is the LEED Fellow, which is a nominative credential received from other LEED Fellows for exemplary leadership, impactful commitment, service, and advocacy in green building and sustainability.

There are no costs incurred for becoming a LEED Fellow other than the time spent practicing green building. The preparation materials for these exams can vary from $150 to $400 depending on books and study materials utilized.  At most, to achieve the highest level of LEED would cost $950 as a member and $1,300 as a non-member. To maintain LEED credentials a GA must complete 15 continuing education hours while APs must complete a total of 30. There is also a fee of $85 to renew credentials upon completion of the continued education hours.





The Project Management Professional credential is a one of the many project management credentials offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Project management practitioners develop all of the credentials and certifications offered through PMI are to ensure the best practices of the profession.

The PMP credential is the most extensive of all of those offered by PMI. Unlike LEED, the PMP requires that all those that take the exam have an educational background, project management experience and project management education.

If the member has not completed the necessary 35 contact hours needed for eligibility, there are courses offered both online and in person starting at $350, but Soldiers can earn contact hours through Army Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL). After meeting the eligibility requirements there is an extensive process to take the exam. An application is required either online or by mail within 90 days. The exam fee varies based upon the type of exam taken and status as a member or non-member.

Once the exam has been paid for and scheduled, PMI selects 10% of all applications for a validation audit. Any application chosen for the audit process has 90 days to send in audit materials for processing that is completed in five to seven days. Upon successful completion of the audit, an eligibility period of one year begins. Applicants can take the exam up to three times during the first year of eligibility. After taking and passing the exam, the credential belongs to the applicant for a period of three years. Maintaining the credential requires that personnel earn and report 60 professional development units (PDU) within the three year cycle. After completing the necessary PDUs there is a required payment of $60 for PMI members and $150 for non-members. The cost is $620 at a minimum to take the exam as a non-member and prepare for the material covered in the exam. The overall cost of the exam may vary dependent upon the need for contact hours, preparation materials bought, and PMI membership status. The only other costs incurred are the renewal fees and the time it takes to study for and pass the exam, as well as the credentialing hours to maintain the credential. Both the PMP and LEED credentials cover different topics but have a similar theme at their core, efficiency. These credentials are important to the Army and civilian workforce because of the constant demand to improve the effectiveness and efficiency with which their organizations and products operate. These credentials are important to and incentivized by the Army, civilian sector, and civilian organizations alike because of the increased quality of work and production they create. 




The Army has created systems to pay for credentialing fees and identify soldiers that gain credentials to ensure that its leaders are developing themselves academically and technically outside the profession of arms. According to Army Directive 2015-12, Implementation Guidance for Credentialing Program and Career Skills Program (CSP), every soldier has a maximum of $800 allotted for credentialing examination fees and licensing fees. The credentials must pertain to the soldier’s current or previous duties. For members of the Corps of Engineers, any fee relating to LEED or PMI credentialing is reimbursable as long as the exam is passed and not paid for by another benefit program. The examination fees include any preparation materials such as books. Through the CSP program engineer soldiers would receive full reimbursement for the testing fees incurred from taking either the LEED or PMP examinations even as non-members of the organizations they apply to. The funds available for credentialing could also cover the materials necessary for preparation (i.e. books, notecards, etc.).

LEED credentials are becoming more important because the Army has an ambitious goal of achieving net zero energy, waste, or water at 25 installations by 2030. In order to attain this goal, the Army made the LEED rating system the standard for high-performance sustainable buildings. This makes LEED credentialing vital to the success of the Army’s goals. The Army has incentivized the credentialing process for the soldiers of the Engineer Corps in order to improve the efficiency of its organizations, and a credentialed soldier has added benefits while both serving in and transitioning out of the Army. 



The civilian workforce, now more than ever, focuses on self-development. Many organizations offer rewards for the work it takes to achieve credentials. The Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) is a civilian run organization devoted to the professional and technical development of military personnel and engineers. SAME has created the Credentialing Achievement Awards Program (CAAP) for Young Members (39 years old or younger) and NCOs to support those members that are obtaining credentials that strengthen their professionalism. The program will pay up to $200 to help fund exam sitting or registration fees for those that pass credentialing, certification, and licensing exams. The CAAP is applicable to both LEED and the PMP examinations. The only requirement is that the requestor be a member of SAME and have passed the credentialing exam. Many civilian organizations will pay for or support the payments needed to attain these credentials because of the expertise and efficiency that they can bring to an organization. Any LEED professional credential signifies leadership in the field and an active practice in green building while also underscoring the individual’s value offered to LEED project teams and sustainability-focused organizations. The PMP credential is a globally recognized and demanded credential that demonstrates to employers, clients and colleagues that a project manager possesses project management knowledge, experience and skills to bring projects to successful completion. Attaining the PMP credential can help make for an easier and more successful job search when transitioning out of the military. PMP credentials can also help assure job security within the civilian workforce because of the knowledge and credibility earned and demonstrated by passing the exam. The PMP can also increase earning potential by 20 percent as compared to non-certified peers. Many of the same benefits can come from LEED credentialing, but sustainability must be a key focus of the overall organization. 


Many civilian organizations will pay for or support the payments needed to attain these credentials because of the expertise and efficiency that they can bring to an organization. 



The incentives offered by the Army, civilian workforce, and other civilian organizations help encourage self-development, but ultimately they benefit the individual seeking credentials. The monetary reimbursements offered by the Army can cover the fees of credentials that would cost hundreds of dollars out of pocket. The credentials attained by utilizing the Army CSP can help increase efficiency and effectiveness while serving in the military. It can also make transitioning out of the military more efficient, “because every soldier leaves the Army”, any many civilian organizations seek the expertise and knowledge gained through credentialing. Soldiers, and specifically engineers, who are preparing to transition out of the service or are trying to increase their productivity while in the service, should strongly consider credentialing. The credentialing process is less expensive, less time consuming, and has many of the same benefits in both the military and civilian sector as a college education. Soldiers may believe that there is not enough time or money to focus on professional self-development while in the Army. However, the incentives offered and benefits of credentialing far outweigh the costs, it will make a transition from the service to civilian work force much easier, and may improve job security within the civilian workforce.


1st Lt. Shane Finnane, LEED GA, PMP, USA, is an Engineer Officer (MOS 12A), Fort Riley, Kan., and serves as the Executive Officer of the 41st Clearance Company, 4th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.