licensure vs. registration

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    Chris Whitted

    Ah, the subtleties of alphabet soup. We’ve already got a wonderful discussion thread on ASLA vs RLA, but…

    Is RLA appropriate as a signature suffix for all registered OR licensed landscape architects?

    Is there any distinction between registration and licensure other than word choice for our profession? Because there often is for other professions. Chad touched on this in the aforementioned thread in that he said he doesn’t ever use RLA, but rather some sort of state abbreviation and then his specific license number. As far as I can recall, I’ve only seen someone use RLA, never LLA, despite the language varying for different states. For example, if you look at the stamps for New York or Georgia they are Registered Landscape Architects; but in California or Colorado you are a Licensed Landscape Architect. I’m not aware of any jurisdiction that uses both terms (which would imply at least there a specific difference exists), so are they completely interchangeable and we just use R/Registered because it rolls off the tongue a little easier?

    Julia Lent

    Chris – I cover licensure issues on staff for ASLA. The short answer is that there is really no difference in usage between registered & licensed. Sometimes the term ‘certified’ has been used, too, but I don’t believe any are currently doing that. The following is adapted from a piece I wrote for LAND Online a few years back that goes into more info than you would ever want to know on this subject:

    Landscape architects are regulated by a patchwork of 49 different state licensure laws that have been enacted and amended and upgraded for over 50 years. As a result, no two laws are identical and there are many variations to the way the profession is regulated in each state. The most important distinction is between a title act (only regulating who may use the title ‘landscape architect’ but not restricting the practice of the profession by any layperson) and the practice act (restricting both the practice of landscape architecture and the use of the title ‘landscape architect’ to those who meet the minimum eligibility requirements). The only remaining Title Act states are Maine, Massachusetts, Illinois & Wisconsin.

    Historically, many professions have used the term registered, licensed or certified as a means to highlight their credentials and continue to do so today. Registered nurses and certified public accountants are two prominent examples of licensed professions that still retain their traditional titles in common usage.

    For landscape architects and other design professionals, the interchangeable use of the three terms can be confusing. Add on the layers of state and local customs, and the patchwork of licensure gets even more complicated, especially for practitioners who work in multiple jurisdictions. The context of your situation will impact which terminology you choose.

    Local practice: Both architects and landscape architects often refer to registration rather than licensure, even in states with a practice act. Even the Rs in CLARB and NCARB stand for Registration, and many state boards refer to registration rather than licensure. If you are already advocating changes for your law or regulations, you may want to suggest changes to use licensure terminology; however, if the state uses registration for other professions, it is probably best to stick with the status quo.

    National events: When participating in conferences or other venues with landscape architects from around the country, be aware that the terms are used interchangeably. Use the term licensure if your home state has a practice act. This will reinforce the need for licensure and the impact that landscape architecture has on the public health, safety and welfare.

    Legislators: It is important to reinforce licensure terminology with legislators and other stakeholders, but also to do so in the context of your state’s local customs. If advocating for the profession, licensure is appropriate, but if referring to the local regulatory board, of course you will continue to use the customary terminology. This is probably the most critical moment for understanding the difference between your local tradition and the three levels of professional regulation.

    Landscape architects are not alone in the complex, contradictory world of professional licensing. Many others grapple with the same concerns in their practice. It is important for landscape architects to understand not only what the law does – licensing (practice act) or certification (title act) – but also the terminology used in their state in order to appropriately represent their professional credentials.


    Dont architects use ‘RA’ as well as AIA interchangeably with lic…I mean..registration?

    Jason T. Radice

    They are not interchagable. Obviously, AIA means you are a full member of AIA. You must be registered/licensed to be a full member of AIA. Non licensed architects use ‘Associate AIA’. If you are registered, but not a member of AIA, then you use RA.

    It’s tricky with LA’s because you did not used to have to be licensed to use the full ASLA designation, only a full member. That merely required graduation from an accredited LA program and the payment of dues. This has changed in recent years to “Graduate from an accredited landscape architecture program or a program recognized by the Society and/or is state licensed to practice landscape architecture AND has three or more years of professional experience.”

    I use both RLA and ASLA because the change has not been in effect long enough.

    Chris Whitted

    Thanks for the in-depth reply! I think I actually recall reading your original article, but a few different web searches still had me coming up empty.

    Chris Whitted

    As far as I can tell the bylaws (as currently available on the ASLA site) don’t specifically address licensure with use of ASLA designations (meaning in the privilege section). It’s only covered in the membership type section, where licensure is one of four ways to be a Full Member. The additional requirement is having professional practice experience, which does not equate to being licensed. That was the crux of most of the discussion in the RLA/ASLA thread – the fact that you can legitimately use the ASLA designation without being licensed.

    Keven Graham

    I believe Chris you are correct. ASLA does not require licensure to use the designation. ASLA signifies years of professional experience and membership in the professional organization. It would be very difficult to require licensure due to the very different laws in each state from practice act to title act to no licensure not that very long ago. Thus, this is why you see some LA’s use both to signify member and registration. Architects it is my understanding have pretty cross the board licensure in all states and there is national association administered CEU’s. Planners can only use AICP once certified by exam, although some do use APA as well.

    To further complicate things, here in Illinois we recently upgraded our act, now in rules and administration so being worked out, we changed language to licensed instead of registered at the direction of the state. So now our question is do we continue to use RLA?

    Chris Whitted

    And that is the primary reason I started the thread, because I’m from a state that has started out under ‘license’ and quite recently. As Julia stated, for now it appears to be semantics. Or that it’s simply going to be the term we’ve adopted to represent either.

    Our state’s board rules happen to address that using RLA (in full or abbreviated) to imply you are licensed in the state if you are not is a legal violation. But the only two official titles are Landscape Architect or Licensed Landscape Architect, with no abbreviations explicit or suggested.

    Engineers are licensed, but I can’t recall seeing one ever use anything other than P.E. Which I’ve heard explained as Practicing, Practical, and Professional – consistent in abbreviation, but not in full title or reconciling to the legislative act language. 🙂 EIT (in training) is another fairly common one that I’ve seen some adoption of for our profession (LAIT) though not as widespread as I might expect.

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