Continuing professional education, or CPE, credit is a term referring to the points professionals receive for participating in specialized training in IT and other fields. CPE credits are based on hours of study and count toward certification programs that enable professionals to maintain or update their credentials.
The purpose of these requirements is to ensure that professionals continue learning and remain current with developments in their industries. Continuing education and certification are crucial for helping employees and their companies be more competitive by adding to the skillsets they can offer.
Alternative terms include CEU (continuing education units) or CEC (continuing education credits).
Who needs CPE credits?
As a stepping-stone to receiving certificates, CPE credits are important for IT and other professionals. These qualifications are available across the spectrum of IT fields to those with skills ranging from entry-level to more advanced senior levels, and from established disciplines to emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and data science.
Certifications and credentials that can help those looking to begin an IT career include:
- CompTIA A+ Technician
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
- CompTIA Network+
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)
- Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate
Many of these certifications count as continuing education units, which is how CompTIA describes its A+ certification, for example. Many IT fields -- particularly those related to cloud computing and information security -- require professionals to undergo training regularly. Generally, professionals need a certain number of credit hours to obtain a specific certification and a certain number to maintain their certification -- although the number required depends on the IT field in which a professional works.
According to a study from Global Knowledge, 87% of IT professionals have at least one certification. Four in 10 certified IT professionals received their latest certification in the last six months, while a similar number were already working on their next certification at the time of the survey.
One main benefit for certified IT professionals is higher salaries. Professionals with cloud computing and cybersecurity certifications have the highest IT salaries in the United States and Canada, according to Global Knowledge.
Another benefit of certification is improved job performance. According to Global Knowledge, "After training to achieve an IT certification, over half of IT professionals said the quality of their work has improved, while one-third find their work more engaging post-certification. Another 15% say they now make fewer errors."
How to earn CPE credits
Industry associations, colleges, vocational schools and private companies provide training for CPE credits. Before beginning training, professionals should research the organization that will be providing the credits and make sure that those credits can count toward their required professional education. How strict standards are will vary within different IT fields.
Organizations involved in continuing education programs for IT-related jobs include CompTIA, the Project Management Institute, (ISC)2 (International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium), and ISACA (Information Systems Audit and Control Association), among others. These organizations often team up with colleges, trade schools and companies to help professionals earn CPE credit hours. For example, (ISC)² partners with security organizations and technology innovators for this purpose.
What qualifies as CPE?
The type of continuing education provided and how it is conducted usually determines the number of CPE credits that are awarded. CPE includes programs such as training workshops, conferences, in-person and online classes as well as webinars. Serving on industry boards, self-study, submitting an article in the field, and volunteer work (such as mentoring a student) may also help professionals rack up CPE credits. To get CPE credits toward the (ISC)2 qualification, for example, professionals might do some combination of this as well as gain points for getting an MBA or inviting an industry professional to speak at an event.
In some IT fields, professionals can accumulate CPE credits by taking online quizzes. For example, according to Information Security magazine, security pros can take quizzes in a variety of information security fields, including identity and access management (IAM), information security management (ISM), AI security risks, and network security, to test their knowledge and earn CPE credit hours.
CPE programs vary in length, although some are relatively short and may be focused on a general refresher of professional competencies or an overview of a new technology, practice or skill. Additionally, some IT certification programs allow a certain portion of the candidate's CPE units to come from other fields.
How do professionals know if their training qualifies for CPE credits? Professionals can use applications such as CompTIA's CEU (continuing education unit) assessment tool before submitting their training activity for CEUs. This tool helps determine if the continuing education activity meets program requirements for certification renewal. It looks for the completion date, documentation and content.
CPE credit requirements vary by certification. For example, IT pros with ISACA certifications, such as CISA, CISM, CGEIT or CRISC, are required to obtain 120 CPE credits every three years, with a minimum of 20 per year. As an IT governance association, ISACA organizes conferences, seminars, workshops, chapter programs or meetings for professionals to earn CPE units. ISACA also accepts CPE courses or activities conducted by other organizations. CPE training is organized at certain companies, online CPE training is conducted by an education provider or attendance at workshops will earn participants CPE credits to renew their ISACA certification.
On the other hand, (ISC)2 certification requires that professionals renew it every three years so that cybersecurity or IT security professionals can keep themselves up to date. To do this, individuals must continue their professional education.
(ISC)2 classifies CPE credits in two levels.
Group A CPE credits include:
- Reading a magazine, book or white paper.
- Publishing a book, white paper or article.
- Attending a conference.
- Taking an educational course, seminar or presentation, preparing for a presentation or teaching information related to information security.
- Performing a unique work-related project that is not a part of an individual's normal duties.
- Self-study related to research for a project, preparing for a certification examination.
- Volunteering for government agencies, the public sector and other charitable organizations.
- Taking a higher academic course.
Group B credits include:
- Attending a conference, educational course, seminar or presentation.
- Preparing for a presentation or teaching information related to professional development.
- Self-study related to research for a project or preparing for a certification examination; and taking a higher academic course.
Some certifications are more difficult than others. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification -- which covers multiple aspects of information security like security and risk management, IAM and security operations -- could take months or years to achieve.
Certification can be expensive, although the cost varies. Some employers pay for CPE credits. Additionally, organizations may also provide some coverage for the cost of classes. For instance, the SANS Institute's GIAC (Global Information Assurance Certification) program, which is focused on a standards-based approach to training security professionals, offers a work-study program that provides teaching credits that can be redeemed for a reduced rate on classes.