An Introduction to Accreditation: What is it and Why is it Important?

Accreditation in the United States is a voluntary process by which institutions of higher learning submit to a series of tests administered by peer reviewed non-governmental organizations which prove that a school or program meets a pre-determined set of criteria. Basically, accreditation is a way for schools to prove that they provide a basic level of education that all other schools with the same level of accreditation also meet. In many cases, accreditation is also used by post-secondary institutions as a means by which they will accept or reject transfer credit across multiple institutions. 

Types of Accreditation

There are a few different types of accreditation that an institution can receive. Each type of accreditation has its own benefits and most institutions seek to receive as many types of accreditation as possible in order to increase the reputation of its institution and programs. 

  • Institutional Accreditation: Institutional accreditation is the broadest form of accreditation and it generally involves the assessment of the college as a whole. Under scrutiny in this type of accreditation is the overall academic quality of the institution including faculty-student ratios, credit standards and requirements, general education requirements, and assessment criteria. The point of this accreditation is to provide a standard excellence of education across all institutions of higher education.
  • Specialized Accreditation: Specialized accreditation is focused on the assessment of a particular program within an institution. Unlike institutional accreditation, specialized accreditation uses more specific criteria in determining its accreditation status. This criteria is specific to the program in question. For example, a business school accreditation might include standards of business practice while an engineering program might focus on the math requirements of a particular program. In most cases, specialized accreditation is sought by schools with programs that are separate from the main college, such as many business or law schools, but other programs that fall under the main academic programs may also seek specialized accreditation. 

Accreditation Institutions

In the United States, accreditation is a process carried out by non-governmental institutions. The Department of Education often works very closely with accreditation agencies to determine standards of education but does not provide the actual accreditation themselves. They are also required to post a list of all accredited institutions. 

Accreditation is generally provided on the institutional level by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). This organization works with the government and other accreditation agencies to physical provide the accreditation to a school or program. Specialized Accreditation is offered by numerous agencies which usually specialize in the accreditation of specific types of programs. For example, The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) provides accreditation for specialized programs in applied science and engineering. Other accreditation agencies exist for other types of specialized programs.