What Is Accreditation?
Accreditation is a process of external review used by the higher education community to assure quality and spur ongoing improvement. Accrediting commissions are private, nonprofit organizations whose members are the colleges and universities themselves. The commissions and visiting teams are made up of volunteers, and one of every seven commissioners is a distinguished member of the public.
It’s an unusual set-up as accountability systems go, but it has worked for more than 100 years because it relies on the rigorous process of peer review, not governmental monitoring, to define and evaluate whether institutions meet high standards. Self-regulation preserves the autonomy and diversity of higher education, two unique characteristics of our higher education system that contribute to its high quality.
Types of Accreditation
Regional—accredits entire colleges and universities, the majority of them degree-granting and not
for-profit, within a designated region of the United States. Most nonprofit institutions are regionally accredited.
National—accredits entire colleges and universities anywhere in the country, most of which have a single focus, such as career or trade schools, and are often for-profit.
Specialized/Programmatic—accredits programs, departments, or schools within a college or university.
How Does Accreditation Work?
The regional accreditation process varies in length, depending upon the accrediting agency’s parameters. It requires that institutions conduct a comprehensive, extended self-study to assess:
• the appropriateness of its mission and its strategic planning;
• the level of student achievement;
• the quality of its educational practices intended to sustain learning and teaching, including: academic and student support programs and services; faculty, administrative, and staff qualifications; and governance; and
• the financial stability of the institution.