Buros-Nebraska Series on Measurement and Testing


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Licensure Testing: Purposes, Procedures, and Practices, ed. James C. Impara (Lincoln, NE: Buros Institute of Mental Measurements, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1995).


Copyright © 1995 by Buros Institute of Mental Measurements. Digital Edition copyright © 2012 Buros Center for Testing.


When most individuals hear the terms license and licensure, their first reaction is that these are easily understood and relatively simple words. Everyone knows what these terms mean. Or do they?

What is licensure? It is a multifaceted, complex governmental system of regulation with the stated purpose being public protection. According to Webster's dictionary (Guralnik, 1976), a license is defined as "a formal permission to do something: esp., authorization by law to do some specified thing (license to marry, practice medicine, hunt, etc.)." The term Licensure is then defined to mean "the act or practice of granting licenses, as to practice a profession." Unfortunately, the dictionary definitions encompass a myriad of activities for which the terms license or licensure may be applicable and only serve to further complicate what is meant by these related terms.

Licensure confers upon a licensee the legal authority to practice an occupation or profession I. In 1952, The Council of State Governments defined licensing as:
the granting by some competent authority of a right or permission to carry on a business or do an act which would otherwise be illegal. The essential elements of licensing involve the stipulation of circumstances under which permission to perform an otherwise prohibited activity may be granted-largely a legislative function; and the actual granting of the permission in specific cases- generally an administrative responsibility. (p. 5)

Later, Shimberg and Roederer (1994) rephrased the above definition of professional licensure.

Licensing is a process by which an agency of government grants permission to an individual to engage in a given occupation upon finding that the applicant has attained the minimal degree of competency required to ensure that the public health, safety, and welfare will be reasonably well protected. (p. 1)

Occupational and professional licensure is an activity reserved to each state by the federal constitution; the exercising of a state's inherent police power. Licensure is designed to protect citizens from mental, physical, or economic harm that could be caused by practitioners who may not be sufficiently competent to enter the profession.

Whether licensure is viewed as a privilege or a right, it is to be granted only to individuals who demonstrate to the satisfaction of a state that they possess, at the time of initial licensure, the requisite minimal level of knowledge, skills, and abilities determined necessary to practice competently. Malcolm Parsons (1952) emphasized that permission is the essential element of licensure and that such permission "may be granted or denied, renewed or refused to be renewed, withdrawn temporarily through suspension, or withdrawn altogether through revocation" (p. 4). A license is not unconditionally granted to an individual, but usually for only a finite period of time and can be removed or limited by a state for a number of reasons.

Paradoxically, although freedom is a cornerstone of the Constitution of the United States, licensure imposes considerable restrictions upon an individual's freedom to pursue certain career choices. Once a profession has been legislatively mandated to be licensed, it is illegal for an individual to practice that profession or use a specific title without first obtaining the necessary license. Additionally, in order to obtain a license, an individual must have been successful at meeting a variety of requirements.