Accreditation Process and Benefits of Accreditation

As online degree programs become more and more predominant in the world of higher education, students in the United States and all around the globe should know the facts about the accreditation process and the benefits of accreditation.

Accreditation has a direct impact on your education. Accreditation can even impact your professional future.

World Wide Learn strives to provide you with the information you need to know about how the accreditation process works and about the many benefits of receiving an education from a college or university with accreditation.

The Accreditation Process

In the United States, accreditation is a voluntary, non-governmental process of review. Elsewhere around the world the accreditation process is performed by government agencies and is often mandated by law.

By accepting accreditation status from a recognized accreditation organization, a college, university, or other institution agrees to uphold the quality standards set by the accreditation organization. The accredited college, university, or other institution also agrees to periodically submit to accreditation renewal review.

According to CHEA, "Accreditation is a process of external quality review used by higher education to scrutinize colleges, universities and higher education programs for quality assurance and quality improvement. Accreditation in the United States is more than 100 years old, emerging from concerns to protect public health and safety and to serve the public interest."

But what exactly is the process used by accreditation organizations "to scrutinize colleges, universities and higher education programs for quality assurance and quality improvement"? And how does this process work?

A college, university, or other institution seeking accreditation status must complete several primary steps in the accreditation process. Each of these primary steps is designated by the particular accreditation organization from which the institution is seeking accreditation status.

The college, university, or other institution must first prepare materials that demonstrate the institution's accomplishments and exhibit the level of quality of the areas of operation that are under scrutiny. Next, the college or university undergoes a peer review of the prepared materials. Finally, action is taken by the accreditation organization to determine whether accreditation will be granted to the institution.

Steps of the Accreditation Process
The following list discusses each step of the accreditation process:

  1. Preparation and self-examination:
    The college, university, or other institution seeking accreditation status prepares materials that effectively display the institution's accomplishments. The institution must also create a written report of its accomplishments according to the standards set by the accreditation organization.

  2. Peer review:
    Administrative and faculty peers conduct an intensive review of the prepared materials, written report, and the general workings of the college, university, or other institution seeking accreditation status. Teams of peer reviewers visit the institution. Most accreditation boards are populated by faculty and administrative peers in the field.

  3. Visit and examination:
    In addition to the visits made by the peer reviewers, most accreditation organizations also gather a visiting team that visits the college, university, or other institution seeking accreditation status. This team is often made up of peers and members of the public who volunteer their time because of a strong interest in the quality standards of higher education institutions.

  4. Judgment action made by accreditation organization:
    After the previous steps are completed, the accreditation organization calls upon their commission to review the steps and affirm or deny accreditation status for the college, university, or other institution under scrutiny.

  5. Continuous review:
    By accepting accreditation status, a college, university, or other institution agrees to undergo a review on a rotating basis every few years or sometimes every ten years. An institution is usually required to go through all the steps of the accreditation process each time it is reviewed. The purpose of the continuous review is to ensure that the accredited institution continues to maintain the required accreditation standards.

Accreditation organizations are held accountable for the colleges, universities, and other institutions to which they grant accreditation status. They know that students, families, faculty, administrators, state government, and the federal government rely on them to thoroughly review an institution's workings before granting accreditation. Accreditation organizations also perform periodic quality reviews of themselves to ensure that they are effectively able to handle the requirements of their job.

The Benefits of Accreditation

Now that you know the steps of the accreditation process and how the overall process works, you should also know about the benefits of the accreditation process and how those benefits apply to you.

Benefits of Accreditation Quality education

As you now know, accreditation is the tool used in the United States and around the world, to monitor, assess, and evaluate the standards and quality of the education a student receives at a college, university, or other institution of higher learning. Because of the process of accreditation, new students, returning students, and families of students can trust that the education they are paying for is valuable and worth their time, money, and effort.

Accreditation status indicates that a college, university, institution, or program meets the standards of quality set by the accreditation organization, in terms of faculty, curriculum, administration, libraries, financial well-being, and student services.

While a student who attends an accredited college, university, or other institution of higher learning can be assured that he or she will receive a quality education, students should remember that a college or university's accreditation does not automatically guarantee a student's academic success. It is, of course, up to the individual student to make the most of the education he or she receives! But if a larger than average number of students attending a college or university are not successful and do not demonstrate a high level of educational performance, an accreditation organization may need to step in to examine the effectiveness of the institution and evaluate what aspects of the institution need to be improved.

Aside from the promise of overall quality educational opportunities, an institution's accreditation status provides students with many other benefits as well.

Benefits of Accreditation Financial aid opportunities

The federal government relies on accreditation organizations to establish quality assurance of institutions by awarding appropriate types of accreditation status after a successful review of the institution's characteristics. Students are only able to obtain federal financial assistance if the institution they are attending has achieved appropriate accreditation status from an accreditation organization recognized by the USDE.

Students who want or need to get federal (and sometimes state) loans or grants should be sure to enroll at a college or university that has accreditation recognized by the USDE.

In the United States, the USDE and CHEA review accreditation organizations to make sure that they are using effective accrediting practices. The USDE must keep watch to make sure that all federal student financial aid funds are being used for effective and worthwhile academic institutions and programs that are giving students the quality education they deserve.

The USDE is concerned with factors such as a college or university's standards of student admission and practices of student recruitment, financial well-being, and student learning achievement outcomes.

Federal (and often state) financial aid is available only to students who enroll at a college, university, or other institution of higher learning that has been accredited by an accreditation organization that has been reviewed and approved by the USDE.

Benefits of Accreditation Credit transfer

At some point in their education, many students wish to transfer to a new college or university. Most often, these students wish to transfer the course credits they have already accumulated to the new college or university so that they will not have to repeat similar courses, spending unnecessary time and money. Accreditation is an important factor when a college or university is deciding whether to accept transfer credit from a student's previous school. Most colleges and universities will not accept transferred course credits from an institution that has not earned appropriate accreditation status from an accreditation organization.

Benefits of Accreditation Success in the workplace

Most employers prefer to hire job applicants who have gained their education from a college or university with the appropriate accreditation status. Many employers also look to see that employees have been educated at an appropriately accredited institution when making decisions about business promotions, company advancements, and whether to provide tuition coverage or assistance for employees who wish or need to further their education. It is also common for states to require that a college, university, or program be accredited when allowing students to acquire state professional licensure.

Accreditation Definitions

"Accreditation is a system for recognizing educational institutions and professional programs for a level of performance, integrity and quality that entitles them to the confidence of the educational community and the public"
- American Dental Association

"Accreditation is a means of self-regulation and peer review adopted by the educational community. The accrediting process is intended to strengthen and sustain the quality and integrity of higher education, making it worthy of public confidence"
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education

"Accreditation is a voluntary process in which educational institutions submit their programs and credentials to regional evaluating organizations. These groups' approval guarantees that certain minimum standards are met by all accredited institutions"
- Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education

"Accreditation is the process whereby a structured programme of learning or training enables participants to claim nationally respected certification which recognises their achievements. A key element of this process is the external scrutiny of the learning both in the development and delivery phases of the programme. In this way the quality of the procedures and outcomes of the programme can be assured for all involved"
- Open College Network, Kent & Medway

"Accreditation is the process used in U.S. education to ensure that schools, postsecondary institutions, and other education providers meet, and maintain, minimum standards of quality and integrity regarding academics, administration, and related services. It is a voluntary process based on the principle of academic self-governance. In international terms, accreditation by a recognized accrediting authority is accepted as the U.S. equivalent of other countries' ministerial recognition of institutions belonging to the national education system"
- U.S. Network for Education Information

"Accreditation in higher education is a collegial process of self-review and peer review for improvement of academic quality and public accountability of institutions and programs"
- Council for Higher Education Accreditation

"Accreditation means that an institution meets certain specific standards, and is likely to continue doing so. There is no time limit on accreditation, but an accredited school is subject to an intensive review at least every ten years"
- Library Connections, Robert E. Kennedy Library, California Polytechnic State University

"Accreditation . . . aids institutions in developing and sustaining effective educational programs and assures the educational community, the general public, and other organizations that an accredited institution has met high standards of quality and effectiveness"
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges