Accreditation ensures higher education institutions are delivering quality academic programs and support services to students. But just who accredits colleges and universities?
We asked Dr. Joseph Hoey, vice provost of academic services at National University, about the organizations behind college accreditation.
Who Accredits Colleges?
You could say accrediting organizations are the quality control department for higher education. In fact, these independent, private, nongovernmental groups were specifically created to assess, measure, and monitor outcomes and performance of colleges and universities.
According to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), there are 19 approved accrediting bodies in the United States. For example, National University, headquartered in California, is accredited by The Accrediting Commission of Schools/Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). One of six regional agencies, WASC handles schools in California, Hawaii, and Guam, as well as international institutions around the world.
Other regional accrediting organizations include the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
While Hoey says regional accreditation is “the gold standard,” certain accredited colleges — such as faith-based or career-focused schools — may be accredited by a national organization. An example of a national accreditor would be the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.
Online degree programs can also be included in a college or university’s accreditation review process. Hoey adds that accredited online degrees typically mirror the academic quality, resources, and services of a school’s on-campus offerings.
Specialty and Programmatic Accreditation
Colleges and universities themselves can be accredited by regional or national bodies, but individual programs may also receive accreditation. Hoey explains this type of accreditation is important, especially in science and technology fields, to ensure degree programs meet the current needs and standards of the profession.
According to CHEA, there are more than 60 programmatic accrediting bodies in the U.S., including the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. These and other specialty accreditors ensure specific degree programs meet standards.
For example, ABET’s website explains: “Graduates from an ABET-accredited program have a solid educational foundation and are capable of leading the way in innovation, emerging technologies, and in anticipating the welfare and safety needs of the public.” An example of an ABET-accredited program is National University’s bachelor of science in computer science degree.
Another specialty accreditor is the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Its mission states the organization “contributes to the improvement of the public’s health” and that it “ensures the quality and integrity of baccalaureate, graduate, and residency programs in nursing.”
National’s bachelor of science in nursing program is CCNE-accredited. Hoey explains this is important to the school because accreditation helps ensure assessment and problem-solving standards “are unified across nursing schools and the industry.”
Other programmatic accrediting bodies include National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, the Council on Education for Public Health, Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs, and Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology.
Typically, these specialty accreditations are only given to programs offered at already accredited colleges. So you could say choosing a major in an accredited program is extra quality assurance!
Keeping Up With Accreditation
Becoming an accredited college is a lengthy, intensive process involving peer reviews, site visits, and lots of paperwork. But earning this designation is not the end-all-be-all. Once a college school is accredited, it must continue to uphold its status. This means maintaining quality programs, retaining qualified faculty members, and keeping satisfactory graduation, employment, and repayment rates.
Each accrediting body has its own system and schedule, but most schools will at some point be re-evaluated; five to seven years is a common time frame between reviews. And, in a system of checks and balances, it’s only right to hold accreditors to high standards as well. According to Hoey, government organizations oversee accrediting bodies.
Learning More: Who Accredits Colleges and Programs I’m Interested In?
To find out which organization accredits any of the institutions or individual academic programs you may be interested in, including accredited online degrees, simply search the schools’ websites for “accreditation.” If there’s not a dedicated accreditation page (like this one at National University), you can also typically find this information on a “rankings,” “about,” or “fast facts”-type page.
Further, you can check out the accrediting body itself. On its website, CHEA offers a full list of accrediting organizations recognized by CHEA and the Department of Education.