Context of Accreditation in the United States of America

Some Important Functions of Accreditation

  1. Assess the quality of academic programs at institutions of higher education
  2. Create a culture of continuous improvement of academic quality at colleges and universities and stimulate a general raising of standards among educational institutions
  3. Involve faculty and staff comprehensively in institutional evaluation and planning
  4. Establish criteria for professional certification and licensure and for upgrading courses offering such preparation

Note: Accreditation does not provide automatic acceptance by an institution of credit earned at another institution, nor does it give assurance of acceptance of graduates by employers. Students should contact the receiving institution to help determine whether credits are transferrable. Acceptance of credit or graduates is always the prerogative of the receiving institution or employer. For these reasons, besides ascertaining the accredited status of an institution or program, students should take additional measures to determine, prior to enrollment, whether their educational goals will be met through attendance at a particular institution. Those measures should include inquiries to institutions to which transfer might be desired or to prospective employers, as well as any private or governmental entity responsible for licensing or certifying graduates to work in the field for which the educational program is intended.

Primary Accrediting Activities

  1. Standards: The agency, in collaboration with educational institutions and/or programs, establishes standards.
  2. Self-study: The institution or program seeking accreditation prepares an in-depth self-evaluation report that measures its performance against the standards established by the agency.
  3. On-site evaluation: A team of peers selected by the agency reviews the institution or program on-site to determine first-hand if the applicant meets the established standards.
  4. Decision and publication: Upon being satisfied that the applicant meets its standards, the agency grants accreditation or preaccreditation status and lists the institution or program in an official publication with other similarly accredited or preaccredited institutions or programs. Only public and private non-profit institutions can qualify to award federal student aid based on preaccreditation.
  5. Monitoring: The agency monitors each accredited institution or program throughout the period of accreditation granted to verify that it continues to meet the accreditor’s standards.
  6. Reevaluation: The agency periodically reevaluates each institution or program that it lists to ascertain whether continuation of its accredited or preaccredited status is warranted.

Types of Accreditation

There are two basic types of educational accreditation, one referred to as “institutional” and the other referred to as “specialized” or “programmatic.”

Institutional accreditation applies to an entire institution, indicating that each of an institution’s parts is contributing to the achievement of the institution’s objectives.

Specialized or programmatic accreditation normally applies to programs, departments, or schools that are parts of an institution. The accredited unit may be as large as a college or school within a university or as small as a curriculum within a discipline. Most of the specialized or programmatic agencies review units within an institution of higher education that is accredited by an institutional accrediting agency. However, certain agencies also accredit professional schools and other specialized or vocational institutions of higher education that are freestanding in their operations. Thus, a “specialized” or “programmatic” agency may also function in the capacity of an “institutional” agency. Some of these “institutions” are found within non-educational settings, such as hospitals.

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