Recommended reading: promotion and training.
The Certificate of Proficiency (COP), at the time also called the "Cadet Diploma", was introduced along with the 1949 cadet program. It was the highest achievement cadets could earn from 1949-64, and cadets who earned it had completed the cadet program.
In the 1949 Civil Air Patrol Manual the cadet training program was described as an "almost three year course" which was based on the Instructor's Manual's curriculum and class schedules. Cadets did not have to wait three years to attempt the COP exam. From 1949-52 regulations state that cadets had to pass one lengthy national test based off the Aviation Study Manual, complete two encampments, and have a minimum membership of 18 months to earn the COP. It is difficult to determine if the two encampment requirement was actually enforced, and to pin down exact dates, but regulations published after 1952 state that cadets only had to attend one encampment. The test for the COP was typically taken at an encampment. The first COP was awarded in 1950.
From 1949-57 the COP did not confer advanced grade. For instance, a C/Sgt could have the COP, while a C/Capt did not. Their grade was only due to the position they held at their squadron. It did not matter that the C/Capt did not have the COP since from 1949-57 it wasn't a required part of the training program.
In 1953 the Air Force gave cadets with the COP preferred status in the Air Force Aviation Cadet program, and waived the requirement of two years of college.
Initially, the number of cadets who achieved the COP was not a National priority. By the mid-1950s, it became the yardstick of success of the cadet program, and goals were set for each wing.
A new cadet program was released in 1957 which broke the training down into smaller steps, or achievements, each with an exam, instead of awarding the COP based on one test from one large book. Completion of each achievement made cadets eligible for one promotion in grade, but it did not guarantee promotion.
The COP became a step in the training program, with achievements possible after the COP. If the cadet had completed one encampment and achievement 6, then he was awarded the COP. To complete achievement 6 cadets had to pass exams on 7 (6 from 1957-59) aviation education courses, complete the other goals in each achievement, and have attended a minimum of 48 meetings. Recommended reading is the 1959 Cadet Log Book. (The difference between the 1957 and 1959 log book is Aviation Education was required for all achievements in 1959.) CAP incentivized the COP by offering attractive National Special Activities and required the COP to attend. (The COP was not required for Special Activities prior to 1957.)
Cadets had to achieve the COP to be promoted to any officer grade, but it still did not guarantee promotion within CAP. However, if the cadet enlisted in the Air Force, he was allowed the advanced paygrade of E-2, or as it was called then, Airman Third Class (one stripe).
When the new cadet program was introduced in January 1964, cadets received the Mitchell Award and the COP until full implementation of the program in July 1964.
I am unsure what exactly cadets were given from 1950-53 to recognize the COP. From 1954-56 cadets only received a certificate signed by the Air Force Chief of Staff and the National Commander of CAP. The COP ribbon was introduced in 1956.
Table of contents from the Aviation Study Manual.
Cadets who earned the COP from January through July 1964 received the COP and Billy Mitchell Award.
Paul Turner, FL Wing, 1962
CERTIFICATE OF PROFICIENCY