Frequently Asked Questions
Why does the accreditation system work?
The postsecondary accreditation system is low cost, efficient, and effective. It is a time-honored system recognized for generating results and demanding accountability in postsecondary education. Proposed alternatives to accreditation—such as putting government in charge of quality control or eliminating peer-review—could raise more problems than they would solve, remove protections against government intrusion, and add additional costs that would be passed on to students and taxpayers.
What does regional accreditation do?
Regional accreditation helps ensure that students attending roughly 3,000 accredited colleges and universities in the United States get the best education possible. Though a collaborative process with what is known as "the Triad", accreditors work with state agencies and the U.S. Department of Education to monitor postsecondary quality. The public can feel confident that the colleges and universities C-RAC members accredit are stable and deliver high-quality student outcomes.
In the past, each C-RAC member was responsible for accrediting institutions in a designated group of states, or region. However, in 2019, the U.S. Department of Education advanced a negotiated rule making that designates all regional accreditors "institutional" accreditors. When the new rules go into effect in July 2020, accreditors will be allowed to approve institutions from outside their traditional regional boundaries, if they so choose.
Who does the evaluative work of accreditation?
Rather than the federal government directly overseeing institutional quality, accreditation is a peer-review process led by those with expertise in postsecondary quality and accountability.
What is the peer review process?
C-RAC members embrace a rigorous peer-review process that helps ensure fiscal and educational integrity. Accreditors rely on experts in higher education, business, and management to analyze institutional performance using sophisticated tools and reliable data. Members of the public serve on every decision-making body. Regional accreditors employ roughly 170 staff and manage the work of an additional 4,000 highly trained professional volunteers to assess the quality of all aspects of institutions, from teaching and learning to governance, management, and finance.
How are institutions held accountable?
C-RAC members challenge institutions to improve and to take action, should they fail to meet designated quality standards. Each accrediting commission has a unique process in place to demand improvement, beginning with putting institutions on notice for improvement, conducting ongoing monitoring and engagement, and, when necessary, removing accreditation status and cutting off the institutions' access to federal financial aid. The first priority, however, is to help institutions that fail to meet standards produce better results for their students and thus avoid the need for a sanction or greater penalty.
How does accreditation account for such diverse institutions?
America is best served by a higher education system that supports all types of students at all types of institutions. Careful judgment, along with the right mix of applied metrics that focus on multiple measures, is required to truly assess the quality of any institution. Ultimately, a thorough job of accreditation requires evaluating institutions in keeping with their distinctive missions and their current status of development; often this means some will require more attention than others during the accreditation process.