What Are Continuing Education Units or CEUs?

NIST Office of Weights and Measures Receives Important 'Continuing Education' Accreditation
Instructors José Torres and Phil Wright perform measurements during a dry run of the new Fundamentals of Metrology course being offered by the NIST Office of Weights and Measures.

National Institute of Technology (NIST)/Flickr.com

CEU stands for Continuing Education Unit. A CEU is a unit of credit equal to 10 hours of participation in an accredited program designed for professionals with certificates or licenses to practice various professions.

Doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers, CPAs, real estate agents, financial advisers, and other such professionals are required to participate in continuing education programs for a certain number of hours every year in order to keep their certificates, or licenses to practice, current. The annual number of CEUs required varies by state and profession.

Who Establishes the Standards?

Sara Meier, executive director of IACET (International Association for Continuing Education & Training), explains the history of the CEU:
"IACET grew out of a national task force on [continuing education and training] commissioned by the Department of Education in 1968. The task force developed the CEU and determined universal guidelines for continuing education and training. In 2006, IACET became an ANSI Standard Developing Organization (SDO) and in 2007 the IACET criteria and guidelines for the CEU became an ANSI/IACET Standard."

What Is ANSI?

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is the official U.S. representative to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Their job is to strengthen the U.S. marketplace by ensuring the health and safety of consumers and the protection of the environment.

What Does IACET Do?

IACET is the caretaker of the CEU. Its job is to communicate the standards and assist organizations in creating and administering the programs that provide professionals with continuing education opportunities. Education providers want to start here to ensure that their programs meet the proper criteria for becoming accredited.

The Unit of Measure

According to the IACET: One Continuing Education Unit (CEU) is defined as 10 contact hours (1 hour = 60 minutes) of participation in an organized continuing education experience under responsible sponsorship, capable direction, and qualified instruction. The primary purpose of the CEU is to provide a permanent record of the individuals who have completed one or more non-credit educational experiences.

When CEUs are approved by the IACET, you can be sure the program you chose complies with internationally recognized standards.

Who Can Award Official CEUs?

Colleges, universities, or any association, company, or organization that is willing and able to meet the ANSI/IACET standards established for a particular industry may be accredited to award official CEUs. The Standards can be purchased at IACET.

Professional Requirements

Certain professions require that practitioners earn a specific number of CEUs per year to ensure that they are up-to-date with current practices in their field. Proof of credits earned is necessary in order to renew a license to practice. The number of credits required varies by industry and state.

Generally, certificates are issued as proof that a practitioner has completed the required continuing education units. Many professionals display these certificates on their office walls.

Continuing Education Opportunities

Many professions organize national conferences to provide members with an opportunity to meet, network and learn. Trade shows are a major part of these conferences, helping professionals to be aware of the many products and services that are new and innovative, and that support their profession.

Many colleges and universities offer continuing education courses. Be sure to inquire about whether or not your local school is accredited to offer official CEUs in your specific field.

Continuing education credits can also be earned online. Again, be careful. Make sure the organization providing the training is approved by the IACET before you invest any time or money.

Fake Certificates

If you're reading this, chances are good that you're a true professional. Sadly, there are scams and con artists out there. Don't unknowingly fall for a fake certificate, and don't buy one.

If you suspect that something fishy is going on, report it to the board that governs your professional field, and help stop scams that hurt everyone.

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Your Citation
Peterson, Deb. "What Are Continuing Education Units or CEUs?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-are-continuing-education-units-ceus-31529. Peterson, Deb. (2020, August 28). What Are Continuing Education Units or CEUs? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-are-continuing-education-units-ceus-31529 Peterson, Deb. "What Are Continuing Education Units or CEUs?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-are-continuing-education-units-ceus-31529 (accessed May 29, 2023).