Friday, January 18, 2013

Higher Education Accreditation

If you're enrolled in a degree or certificate program, it is good to review accreditation. In very basic terms, there are two kinds of accreditation: "institutional" and "programmatic." If you're in a four-year liberal arts degree program, it is very likely that the accreditation has been granted to the institution, of which your degree program is a part. If you're in a certificate program or obtaining career or vocational education, it is probable that your accreditation falls into the "programmatic" area. If you’re involved in online education, your school may have both institutional and programmatic accreditation, depending on the agencies that have made the accreditation recommendations.

If you're working on a degree, chances are, your school has regional accreditation, which is considered by many to be the gold standard. At the same time, many excellent distance education programs are accredited through the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) because of their special knowledge and experience with education delivered at a distance.

If you're pursuing a career or vocational degree or certificate, your school may be accredited by ACCSC (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges - Further, if you're enrolled in a profession or specific career, your school will most likely have program accreditation. An example is NCATE, the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education ( Alternatively, you may be enrolled in a college that has accreditation from the State in which it is located.

Keep in mind that in order for a college or university to receive a license to operate an institution of higher learning, they must go through a rigorous process which includes a detailed review of curriculum, lesson plans, institutional health, and records.

Accreditation is important for you as a student because if you obtain a degree or certificate from a non-accredited institution, you may need to provide extensive documentation about what you studied, the nature of the instruction, and the credentials of your instructor (or, if self-paced, self-guided independent study, then at least some of the assessments that you took).

What is an accrediting agency and what does it do?

According to the U.S. Department of Education (

"Accrediting agencies, which are private educational associations of regional or national scope, develop evaluation criteria and conduct peer evaluations to assess whether or not those criteria are met. Institutions and/or programs that request an agency's evaluation and that meet an agency's criteria are then "accredited" by that agency." (

Basically speaking, accreditation is a quality control issue for postsecondary education. The accrediting body follows a set of policies and procedures which are designed to assure the public that the institutions of higher education are offering programs of high quality and integrity.

The U. S. Department of Education does not accredit institutions, nor does it recognize accrediting bodies. However, the U.S. Secretary of Education is required by law to publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies, a printable view is available here: Accrediting agencies must

a) Define their geographic scope. The geographic scope of accreditation can be for a state, a region of the United States, or The United States (in total).

b) Show experience in granting accreditation or pre-accreditation in specific programs, degrees, certificates, or institutions.

c) Show experience in conducting accrediting activities for at least two years prior to seeking accreditation.

d) Demonstrate that its standards, policies, procedures, and decisions to with respect to accreditation have been accepted by educators and educational institutions.

e) Be accepted by peers in the same fields in which the body is seeking accreditation; employers, practitioners, and licensing bodies in the vocation or licensing field.

Is all accreditation the same?

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education recognize a number of different types of accrediting agencies, which have been published in the following list:

Most people do not realize that there are four different types of accrediting agencies:

a) Has voluntary membership of institutions of higher education, and the accreditation allows the institutions to participate in the Higher Education Act (HEA) programs (including financial aid);

b) Has voluntary membership of institutions of higher education, and the accreditation allows the institutions to participate in the non-Higher Education Act (HEA) programs;

c) Has voluntary membership of individuals in the profession of the programs, or "has as its principal purpose the accrediting of programs within institutions that are accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency; ("

d) Is a State agency that has as its principle purpose the accrediting of institutions of higher education and higher education programs.

The types of accrediting bodies can be categorized in other ways as well:

Regional Accrediting Organizations (the "gold standard")
National Career-Related Accrediting Organizations
National Faith-Based Accrediting Organizations
Programmatic Accrediting Organizations

How does one keep from having a proliferation of accrediting agencies?

In the U.S., the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) has been formed by a group of 3,000 academic institutions which advocate for self-regulation with respect to academic quality. Currently, they recognize 60 accrediting organizations. One of their main goals is to eliminate degree mills and accreditation mills, and to assure that the accreditation process is at all times coherent, uniformly applied, and aligned with high-quality standards.

What does the Department of Education say about accreditation?

For a full description of the functions of accreditation and the procedure that is followed by accrediting agencies, you may visit the Department of Education's website:

To summarize, here are a few highlights:

Accreditation Functions:

Identification of acceptable schools
Transfer credit determination
Facilitate investment decisions
Protect against external pressure
Continuous improvement
Faculty and staff involvement in evaluation and planning
Criteria for professional certification and licensure
Helping determine eligibility for Federal assistance

Accrediting Procedure:

Establish standards
Engage in self-study
On-site evaluation by external team
Publication of status
Monitoring the accredited institution(s) / program(s)
Periodic re-evaluation

The Future

Accreditation has been challenged by technology and the need to be able to evaluate distance education programs as delivery mechanisms, technology, and the ability to interact synchronously and asynchonously evolve.

Also in transition are assessment techniques and the ability to determine if learning outcomes have been achieved.

It's an exciting time, and there is no doubt that we will start to see a need for additional accrediting agencies that specialize in elearning / mlearning.


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