Professional Associations vs Regulatory Colleges

There remains a great deal of confusion regarding the difference between professional associations and regulatory colleges. The terms are often used interchangeably, with regulatory colleges in particular simply being seen as a type of professional association. Indeed, while there are similarities between the two, they differ in terms of purpose, structure, and governance. 


The key difference between professional associations and regulatory colleges lies in their purpose. The main purpose of a regulatory college is to protect the public. This is done by licensing members and ensuring that they adhere to a certain set of professional and ethical standards. Take the example of dentistry: if a patient enters a dentist’s practice, they want to make sure that the person filling their teeth is fully qualified. Therefore, the dentist will have to be registered with their provincial regulatory college.

A professional association, on the other hand, exists to act in the best interest of its members. An association will attempt to promote its profession by lobbying policy makers, offering courses, job boards, and networking opportunities. Membership is also voluntary but encouraged. 

There are some cases, however, in which the professional association also acts as the regulatory college. In this case, they are known as professional regulatory associations. 

Key Differences

Below is a table outlining some of the differences between the two institutions:

Professional AssociationsRegulatory Colleges
Protects the interest of its membersProtects the interest of the public
Membership is voluntaryMembership is mandatory
Led by a board of directors, which normally does not include lay representationLed by a council, which always includes lay representation
Provide members with networking and job opportunities to aid them professionally  Develop standards of practice their members must adhere to
Lobbies policy makers, but is not normally under the auspices of the governmentRegularly liases with the government


Would you like to learn more about regulatory colleges and how they function? Visit our hub page to find all you need to know. 

Election Procedures

The major differences in election procedures between professional associations and regulatory colleges is their governance. Regulatory colleges are generally governed by a council, which includes both public and elected members. The elected members are normally divided by district, and voters only vote for a representative in their district. This requires separate ballots and a great deal of voter segmentation.

In general, a board of directors that run professional associations do not include public members. The members of the board are also not divided by region, meaning that every member can vote for any candidate.

However, the rest the election process is fairly similar. Both will need to announce nominations, create ballots, and deliver election materials to voters. In both cases, the entire process can be made much easier with online voting. Learn more by getting in touch with our election experts today.