Understanding Accreditation

When applying for colleges it is imperative that the institution and program are accredited. Accreditation is an external evaluation of higher education and is essentially quality control for institutions and programs. Accreditation is necessary:

  1. To ensure the quality of institutions and program to students and the public.
  2. For  institutions and programs to receive federal and state money
  3. To help employers evaluate employees credentials or when deciding to provide support for employees continued education. Credentials from an accredited institution means that the graduate has met widely accepted standards.
  4. To make transferring from one institution or program easier for students, as it indicates that the sending institution or program has met a certain level of quality.

Accrediting organizations are private organizations whose sole purpose is reviewing institutions and programs. These organizations in turn have been reviewed by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education.  

Institutions and programs have their accreditation evaluated every few years.  In order to become accredited the institution or program go through several processes:

  1. Self-study: a written summary of performance based on the accrediting organization’s standards (listed below).
  2. Peer review: conducted by faculty, administrators, and members of the public
  3. Site visit: performed by the accrediting organization with volunteer team members
  4. Judgement from the accrediting organization
  5. Periodic external reviews following the same process every few years (not longer than 10 years apart).

There are six standards accrediting organizations must meet: advance academic quality, demonstrate accountability, encourage purposeful change and needed improvement, employ fair and appropriate procedures in decision making, and continually reassess accreditation practices, and sustain fiscal stability. 

Types of Accreditation: 

  1. Regional: These organizations operate in six different regions and review entire institutions, which are typically degree-granting and nonprofit.  The six regional bodies are: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Higher Learning Commission (HLC), Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE) Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). 
  2. National: These organizations are nation-wide and review entire institutions which are degree-granting, non degree granting, for profit, and/or nonprofit. Some examples of national accrediting organizations are the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools Accreditation Commission (TRACS), American Library Association (ALA) Committee on Accreditation (CoA),  and The Council on Occupational Education (COE)
  3. Specialized: These organizations are nation-wide and review programs or single-purpose institutions. Examples include the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, American Bar Association, and National Architectural Accrediting Board.

An institution or program’s accreditation should be available on their website or you can search the CHEA database, which lists “more than 8,200 degree-granting and non-degree-granting institutions and more than 23,900….programs accredited by United States accrediting organizations that have been recognized either by CHEA or by the United States Department of Education (USDE) or both.”