Activity Professional Career Pathway

The Gerontology Program's Activity Professional Career Pathway offers a cutting edge training opportunity to learn the latest person-centered approaches to promoting healthy aging and enhancing the well-being of older adults at every physical and cognitive level.

The pathway includes three certificates meeting the National Certification Council of Activity Professionals educational standards for Activity Assistant, Activity Director, and Activity Consultant certifications. These standards can also be met through completion of the Gerontology 1-year Certificate and AAS Degree that include core activity professional training courses as restricted electives.

With the aging of the boomers and a projected increase in persons requiring long term care, the need for qualified professionals at these three levels is expected to grow at an unprecedented rate. Skilled professionals are needed to design and implement activity programs to enhance the physical, mental and psychosocial well-being of persons with disabilities and older adults, in long term care facilities as well as in community-based centers and programs promoting health and wellness.

Consumer demand driven by the boomer generation is also creating pressure to raise national standards for professionally designed programs that are holistic, person-appropriate, diversity respecting, extending across the later life span, and adapted for persons at all physical and cognitive functioning levels. Within long term care facilities, such programs must also be responsive to resident-directed culture in "culture-changed" or "person-centered" homes (see www.culturechangenow.com).

What Activity Professionals Do

Activity professionals plan, develop and deliver quality recreational and life-enriching programs for disabled and older adults in settings such as skilled-nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, residential care facilities, retirement communities, senior apartment complexes, senior centers, adult foster care homes, and adult day centers. Their training prepares them to work with diverse groups, representing a range of interests and abilities, and to meet state and CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) standards for assessment and documentation.

Rationale for the Certificates

These certificates are state-approved, short-term credentials that qualify students for specific jobs. All course work applies toward the one-year Certificate and AAS Degree in Gerontology, which in turn articulates with BA and MA programs. Certificate holders can thus pursue their professional development through continued education and advancement through a well-defined career pathway.

Through the Jobs to Careers in Community-Based Care Project, the Gerontology Program is collaborating with a number of community-based care facilities to promote work-based training for direct care providers that will earn them credentials recognized by the state's professional associations as Resident Assistants I and II (see the Oregon Health Care Association – www.ohca.com– and the Oregon Alliance of Senior and Health Services – www.oashs.org).

The Activity Assistant Certificate of Completion represents one potential next step for the Resident Assistant I or II credentialed workers to enhance their skills, employability and salary levels, while continuing to work with older adults in community-based care.

The Activity Director Certificate of Completion requires only an additional 12 credits (35 credits total), with only 11 additional credits needed for the one-year Certificate.

The one-year Certificate and AAS Degree prepare students for a variety of paraprofessional and professional jobs. Those embarked on the activity professional career pathway may want to focus their course work on fitness, health education, and other areas related to life enrichment and social services. This could mean combining the Gerontology Certificate or AAS Degree with a certificate or degree in Fitness Technology, Health Education, Art, Music, or other disciplines.

Through articulation agreements with Portland State University, Marylhurst, Eastern Oregon University and other colleges and universities, students can transfer the majority of their credits to enter bachelor level programs as juniors. The exact number of transferable credits would depend on the restricted electives selected and the requirements of the program to which the student is transferring. Students could concentrate in aging – and in some cases earn a minor or certificate in Gerontology – within a Bachelor of Arts or Sciences in social sciences, business, community health, health education, fitness, and many other programs. Students are advised to explore options and requirements with the receiving institution.

Upon completion of a BA or MA, students in the activity professional career pathway will have already completed required coursework for the Activity Consultant Certificate, except for a supervised internship as a consultant.

Career Changers and Enhancers

Students with prior certificates or degrees in other fields may consider earning activity professional certificates to enhance a current career or to facilitate a career change. Prior course work and work-based learning may qualify to meet or waive some requirements. The certificates combine well with other professional credentials in fitness, wellness, recreation or occupational therapy, health education, art or music. They can also stand alone to provide entry to a totally new field.

Common Job Titles for Activity Professionals

Activity professionals may work under a wide range of titles that continue to grow and transform as the changing nature of the aging population presents new challenges, and as facilities and programs adjust accordingly. The following represents a partial list:

Activity Assistant: Geriatric Activities Assistant, Arts and Recreation Specialist, Recreation Therapy Assistant, Life Enrichment Assistant, Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation Program Assistant

Activity Director: Geriatric Activities Director, Recreation Instructor, Recreational Therapist, Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation Director, Residential Program Director, Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, Activity Professional, Community Life Coordinator or Developer, Life Enrichment Specialist

Activity Consultant: Geriatric Activities Consultant, Wellness Consultant, Wellness Director, Community Life Developer, Therapeutic Recreation Director, Residential Program Manager, Life Enrichment Coordinator

Wage and Salary Range

This table indicates the high, low and median wages statewide for related occupational titles:

Related Occupational Title Entry (10th Percentile) Avg. (median) High (90th percentile)
Occupational Therapist Assistant $15.54 $19.44 $22.25
Recreational Therapist $10.27 $16.15 $28.16
Health Educator $13.93 $21.17 $33.40

(Oregon Wage Information under Publications in www.qualityinfo.org)

The NCCAP conducted a nationwide salary survey in 2005. The results, based on a 2% return rate, indicated that the average activity professionals has an associate's or bachelor's degree, 11-20 years experience in the field, is nationally certified as an ADC, works 33-40+ hours per week and earns between $11 and 19.75 an hour. This survey was based only on long term care facilities and reflects a wide range of state standards, job titles, and costs of living.

According to activity director trainers in Oregon, persons completing the current Activity Director Training course are receiving entry level salaries of about $15.00/hour with the title of Activity Director, and advance to $20.00 within 1-3 years of experience. Some facilities start non-certified, inexperienced activity assistants at between $10 and 12 per hour.

Consumer demand, combined with national and state governmental and professional efforts to raise quality care standards, together with the focused efforts of the National Certification Council of Activity Professionals, should result in higher salaries and benefits for certified workers in this field.

The Jobs to Careers in Community-Based Care project, which is funded by the Robert Woods Johnson and Hitachi Foundations, supports these Certificates as well as the standards and professional development they represent. Partners in this project include Portland Community College's Gerontology and Customized and Workplace Development programs, five long term care providers, the Oregon Health Care Association, the Oregon Alliance of Senior and Health Services, Work Systems, Inc., the Oregon Department of Seniors and Persons with Disabilities, the Oregon State Board of Nursing, Portland State University Institute on Aging, and others working together to raise the educational and training standards and quality care and service provision.

Next Steps

For more information and guidance on getting started on the Activity Professional Career Pathway, as well as for transcript evaluation and assessment of prior experience and training:

  • Contact Jan Abushakrah, Gerontology Program Director, 971-722-4077, jabushak@pcc.edu