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Educational program accreditation

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Accreditation is a process by which a facility's services and operations are examined by a third-party accrediting agency to determine if applicable standards are met. Should the facility meet the accrediting agency's standards, the facility receives accredited status from the accrediting agency.

In the United States, the term is most often used with reference to schools and hospitals. Accreditation of these institutions is performed by private nonprofit membership associations known as accreditors. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversees accrediting agencies and provides guidelines as well as resources and relevant data. [3] In contrast, in many other countries the authority to operate an educational institution is at the discretion of the central government, typically through a Ministry of Education (MOE). In these countries, the MOE may provide functions similar to those of accreditation body, depending on resources and government interests.

Accreditation in the United States

When discussing accreditation in the United States, it is important that the concept of accreditation not be confused with the authority to operate. The authority to operate a school in the U.S. is granted by each of the states individually. As the U.S. is a federal republic, the authority of the U.S. Department of Education does not extend to authorizing schools to operate, to enroll students, or to award degrees. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education is not responsible for accreditation of institutions.

In the United States the accreditation of schools has long been established as a peer review process coordinated by accreditation commissions and the members, and predating the U.S. Department of Education by many decades. As the U.S. Department of Education officially states [1], it does not accredit schools. Instead, accreditation commissions are formed, funded, and operated by their members to create an academic community that is self-regulating.

With the advent of the U.S. Department of Education and under the terms of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, the U.S. Secretary of Education is required by law to publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies that the Secretary determines to be reliable authorities as to the quality of education or training provided by the institutions of higher education and the higher education programs they accredit. The federal government makes no distinction between accreditation bodies, giving all equal standing. There is no similar federal government list of recognized accreditation agencies for primary and secondary schools. There is wide variation among the individual states in the requirements applied to non-public primary and secondary schools.[2]

Regional accreditors

There are six regional accreditors. They include among their membership nearly all elementary schools, junior high schools, middle schools, high schools, community colleges, public universities, and private universities.

National accreditors

There are 52 recognized national accrediting bodies.[3] The national accreditors include a variety of religious, professional, and vocational accreditors, and get their name from their common policy of accrediting schools nationwide or even worldwide. Requirements for accreditation vary from each national accreditor according to the specialty.

In general terms, the national accreditors may be divided into those that accredit academic programs leading to a degree, those that accredit vocational programs leading to preparation for a career, and those that offer specialized and professional accreditation as an add-on to other accreditation.

The major national accreditors for academic programs include the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) for nationally accredited distant learning institutions, and the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools.

Accreditation bodies for institutions that focus on developing career-oriented skills include the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology(ACCSCT), Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training, and Council on Occupational Education.

Of the specialized and professional accreditors, the more visible include the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation, the American Bar Association (whose accreditation is a prerequisite to sitting for the bar exam in all states except California), the Association of American Medical Colleges for medical schools, The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business for business schools, the American Veterinary Medical Association for schools of veterinary medicine, and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology for engineering schools.

Religious schools may seek regional accreditation or a secular national accreditation, or they have the option of four different specialized agencies, which include Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools (AARTS), Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS), Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), and Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS). These groups specialize in accrediting theological and religious schools including seminaries and graduate schools of theology, as well as "normal" universities, which teach from a religious viewpoint and may require students and/or faculty to subscribe to a Statement of Faith.

The remainder of the accrediting organizations are formed by groups of professional, vocational, or trade schools whose programs are industry/profession specific and at times can require technical oversight not provided by the broader accrediting organizations (i.e. the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation, the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education).

Regional v. National Accreditation

Regionally accredited schools are predominantly academically oriented, non-profit institutions.[4][5] Nationally accredited schools are predominantly for-profit and offer vocational, career or technical programs.[4][5] Many regionally accredited schools will not accept nationally accredited schools' credits for transfer.[6][7][4][5]

Unaccredited institutions

Despite the widely recognized benefits and accountability of accreditation, some institutions choose, for various reasons, not to participate in an accreditation process. According to the United States Department of Education, it is possible for postsecondary educational institutions and programs to elect not to seek accreditation but nevertheless provide a quality postsecondary education. [8] Yet, other unaccredited schools simply award degrees and diploma without merit for a price.

Some religious schools claim that accreditation could interfere with their mission or philosophy even though organizations do exist specifically to accredit religious institutions without compromising their doctrinal statements.[9] Some states, such as California, allow exemption from accreditation for religious schools. Thus, occasionally diploma mills operate as religious universities to avoid laws against diploma mills.[10] Meanwhile institutions, such as Strassford University, claim "none of the recognized regional accrediting organizations accept as members institutions that are not dedicated to traditional education," and thus, Strassford does not "desire" traditional accreditation.[11] The Strassford University is listed by the Oregon State Office of Degree Authorization as part of a diploma mill operation.[12] Furthermore, other schools simply do not have the means or organizational structure to meet accreditation standards and others, like San Diego Christian College, have had their accreditation status revoked after failing to meet minimum requirements.

An ongoing problem within higher education accreditation is the existence of diploma mills and accreditation mills. These organizations exist to grant apparent degrees without course work to give a willing buyer a degree for money. Sometimes both the buyer and seller know this or a potential student is not aware of the fraud. In some cases a diploma mills and/or its "accreditor" is unrecognized and exists only at a post office box or Web page owned by the proprietor of the school.

Accreditation of certification bodies

Organizations which certify third parties against many official standards are themselves formally accredited by the standards bodies, hence they are sometimes known as "accredited certification bodies".[4] The accreditation process ensures that their certification practices are acceptable i.e. they are competent to test and certify third parties, behave ethically, employ suitable quality assurance and other measures etc.

Examples include accredited test laboratories and certification specialists that are permitted to issue official certificates of compliance with physical, chemical, forensic, quality, security or other standards.[5]

Without accreditation, anyone would be able to issue certificates and bad practices or incompetence might discredit the certification process as a whole. The flip side, of course, is that accreditation and formal processes incur additional costs.

Legal considerations

In the United States, unaccredited degrees may not be acceptable for civil service or other employment; criminal penalties sometimes apply should such a degree be presented in lieu of one from an accredited school. The use of such degrees are restricted in Oregon, New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, North Dakota, Nevada and Washington where improper usage can result in misdemeanor charges punishable by fines. For instance, the state of Washington passed a bill in March 2006 "prohibiting false or misleading college degrees."[6]. The state senate "unanimously amended and approved a bill that would make issuing or using a false degree a class C felony, a crime of fraud that could warrant five years in prison and a $10,000 fine" [7]. Oregon has a procedure in which unaccredited schools can apply for authorization from the state, which maintains a list of approved and exempt unaccredited schools which are permitted there. An Oregonian wishing to use an unaccredited degree not approved by the state must make it clear that the school is not accredited.[8]

Some state laws allow authorities to shut down large illegal operations of unaccredited schools or diploma mills. In November 2005, a group of operators in Seattle was caught running several diploma mills. The group was indicted after a Secret Service investigation.[13] In 1998, Tyndale Theological Seminary was fined $173,000 for issuing degrees as a seminary without a license.[9]

Accreditation outside the U.S.

In much of the world, institutions of higher education are authorized to operate by the government, typically through a Ministry of Education (MOE). The MOE is responsible for ensuring the institutions meet government standards, so in a sense the government serves as an accreditation body, too. For example, in Australia, higher education providers generally need approval of the federal or state governments (or a non-government body to whom this power has been delegated), or an Act of Parliament, depending on the nature of the institution.


Accreditation is compulsory for all universities in India except those created through an act of Parliament. Without accreditation, "It is emphasized that these fake institutions have no legal entity to call themselves as University/Vishwvidyalaya and to award ‘degree’ which are not treated as valid for academic/employment purposes."[10]. The University Grants Commission Act 1956 explains,

"the right of conferring or granting degrees shall be exercised only by a University established or incorporated by or under a Central Act, or a State Act, or an Institution deemed to be University or an institution specially empowered by an Act of the Parliament to confer or grant degrees. Thus, any institution which has not been created by an enactment of Parliament or a State Legislature or has not been granted the status of a Deemed to be University, is not entitled to award a degree." [11]

Accreditation for higher learning is overseen by autonomous institutions established by the University Grants Commission[12]:


Legitimate higher education qualifications in Ireland are placed on, or formally aligned, with the National Framework of Qualifcations. This framework was established by the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland in accordance with the Qualifcations (Education and Training) Act (1999). It is illegal under the Univeristies Act (1997) for any body offering higher education services to use the term "university" without the permission of the Minister for Education and Science. It is likewise illegal under the Institutes of Technologies Acts (1992-2006)to use the term "institute of technology" or "regional technology college" without permission.


Accreditation by the National Accreditation Board (Lembaga Akreditasi Negara) [13], a statutory body created through an act of Parliament, is required for certificates, diplomas and degrees granted by private higher educational institutions (defined as institutions providing tertiary or post-secondary education) under the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996 and the Lembaga Akreditasi Negara Act 1996.

Prior to the enactment of these legislations, no specific framework for accreditation existed and institutions only required a valid registration status from the Ministry of Education of Malaysia.

Accreditation is granted to individual academic programmes rather than to institutions and three courses are required for all academic programmes in order to be eligible for accreditation consideration; Bahasa Melayu (Malay Language), Malaysian Studies, and Islamic Studies or Moral Studies (the former being compulsory for Muslims and the latter for non-Muslims).


In Russia accreditation/ national recognition is directly overseen by the Education Ministry of Russia.[14] Since 1981, Russia has followed the UNESCO international regulations to ensure Russian institutions and international institutions meet high quality standards. It is illegal for a school to operate without government approval.

South Korea

It is illegal to falsely claim a degree in South Korea if it does not meet accredited approval. For example, in March of 2006 prosecutors in Seoul "broken up a crime ring selling bogus music diplomas from Russia, which helped many land university jobs and seats in orchestras."[15] People who falsely used these degrees were criminally charged.

United Kingdom

In the UK it is illegal to offer a qualification that is or might seem to be UK degree unless the body offering it is on a statutory list maintained by the Department for Education and Skills.[14] Prosecutions under the Education Reform Act are rare, as many of the bodies on the internet are based outside UK jurisdiction.[How to reference and link to summary or text] It is also worth noting in this context that the Business Names Act 1985 made it an offence for any business in the UK to use the word "university" in its name without the formal approval of the Privy Council.[15]

Prosecutions under other legislation do occur. In 2004 Thames Valley College in London was prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act for offering degrees from the 'University of North America', a limited liability company set up by themselves in the US with no academic staff and no premises other than a mail forwarding service.[16]

See also


  1. U.S. Department of Education, Accreditation in the United States
  2. U.S. Department of Education, State Regulation of Private Schools, June 2000.
  3. Accreditation Search from the United States Department of Education
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Types of Accreditation, Education USA website
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 What is the Difference Between Regional and National Accreditation, Yahoo! Education website
  6. Demanding Credit, Inside Higher Education website, dated Oct. 19, 2005 by Scott Jaschik
  7. Tussling Over Transfer of Credit, Inside Higher Education website, February 26, 2007 by Doug Lederman
  8. United States Department of Education. Diploma Mills and Accreditation (accessed 15 Sept 2006)
  9. Christian Liberty Academy School System. (n.d) What Is CLASS - Accreditation
  10. Butler, D. (n.d.) Ivory Tower Rip Offs - How Online Degree Mills Work. (Originally printed on
  11. Strassford University
  12. Oregon State Office of Degree Authorization
  13. Stephen Phillips A stress-free PhD? A snap at $250 The Higher Education Supplement 25 November 2005
  14. The Education Reform Act 1988, section 214 (Unrecognised degrees) [1]
  15. Evidence given by Charles Clarke, then Secretary of State for Education and Skills MP, to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education and Skills, 7 July 2004 [2]
  16. Alex Thompson, 2004. College fined £1,000. East End Life 29/11/04, Tower Hamlets Council. Google cache

External links

Accreditation resources

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