Why Does Program Accreditation Matter?

Accreditation programs in the U.S. ensure high academic standards and promote the improvement of education quality. Educational institutions and programs that successfully complete the certification process ensure students, parents and the public that there are accountability reviews, instructional services and student support. The seal of approval from accrediting bodies enables programs and institutions to develop robust, diverse and flexible academic offerings.

Accrediting Basics

The accrediting process refers to the formal system of reviewing community colleges, state universities, trade schools and technical institutions. The goal is to judge their educational quality and how well they serve both students and the community. The positive result of this process is the awarded title of accredited status. These formal reviews are conducted by nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that have close ties to the higher education community. The highest level accrediting bodies are approved by the U.S. Department of Education, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Accrediting Organizations

Some accrediting organizations only review state, regional and national colleges and universities. Regional accrediting commissions include the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and the Accrediting Commission for Schools Western Association of Schools (WASC). Other accrediting bodies focus on specific programs, such as law, engineering and health. For example, the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training only approves educational programs and the Association for Biblical Higher Education only approves Christian programs and schools.

The Benefits

A school’s accredited status means that students and the public can expect promises to be fulfilled and obligations are met. An accredited status means that students will have confidence that their degrees have value. Program approval ensures the public that the educational institution or program is credible and reliable. An accredited status from a regional body is one of the most important factors in obtaining employment at the best corporations and organizations. It’s also important when applying for student aid and credit transfers. Accredited status helps with student mobility because out-of-state students will feel comfortable transferring and applying to programs.

The Goal of Accrediting Programs

There are approximately 80 approved organizations that accredit over 7,000 institutions and 19,000 programs across the country. All accrediting organizations must create, maintain and use documented standards that assure that programs and institutions meet guidelines and requirements of quality. The most common standards focus on key academic areas like faculty qualifications, student support services, finance transparency, facility quality, curricula development and student performance outcomes. Accrediting organizations rely on self-reviews and internal audits that require the organization to assess themselves. After this is completed, the accrediting body will send a representative to verify the standards, inspect the facility, review documentation and interview staff and students. Accrediting reviews are repeated once every three to ten years. The results are often posted on the educational organization’s website for the public to download and read.

Certain professional organizations approve, but do not accredit programs, such as the American Bar Association approving law programs and the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology approving engineering degrees. Accrediting organizations themselves are subject to formal reviews through external auditors from recognized organizations. You can learn more information about this at the U.S. Department of Education’s website here.

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