Understanding Accreditation in Education

Although every accreditation agency is going to have its own accreditation process which may vary slightly from one to the next, the standards for how a program is accredited remain generally similar.

The accreditation process begins when a school or program voluntarily requests that their program be accredited. Before applying for accreditation, the program or institution must generally meet certain prerequisites, which include, among other things, having had at least one graduate from their institution or program. 

Once they have met the prerequisites and submitted their request to an accreditation agency, the institution or program will be required to complete a self evaluation of their program or university. This self evaluation will require different departments and administrators to fill out assessments of their school or program's academic standards and graduation criteria. In some cases, though not all, this evaluation may include input from current students enrolled in the program of study. 

This self-documentation is not meant as a final say on the quality of the education provided. Instead, it is used as a standard for the accreditation agency to determine if the institution meets certain basic qualifying criteria to warrant further evaluation. 

If the self evaluation is deemed to meet the basic qualifying criteria, then a generally a committee of accreditation board reviewers is created to visit the institution. During the campus visit, the committee will spend time evaluating the curriculum, education standards, the faculty and student projects, and the administrative support available. They will typically conduct interviews of the staff and faculty as well as interviews of the general student body in order to determine that all standards are being met. 

Following the campus visit, the evaluation committee will submit a written report of their findings, including all the faults discovered to the institution. The college or program is then given the chance to correct or contend with any of the findings of the committee before the final report is submitted to the entire agency review board for a vote. 

Periodic Re-accreditation

Every few years, the institution or program in question will be required to submit to a re-accreditation in order to maintain their status as an accredited institution or program. This program is much simpler and generally involves the formal assessment through an on-campus visit of a single or couple of accreditation agency members. They will then submit a final report both to the agency and to the school. 

Failure to Meet Standards

If a school fails to meet the necessary standards during the accreditation process or during any subsequent re-accreditation reports, then the school will be subject to further investigation which could result in the loss of accreditation. Before a school loses their accreditation entirely, the institution is generally given an opportunity to correct any problems that the accreditation board discovers. If they are unable to fix the problems after a reasonable amount of time, then the board may decide to revoke the accreditation.

If a school's accreditation is revoked, then they will be required to go through the process of accreditation again from the beginning. 

Information on this page form the Department of Education and ABET.