Regional accreditation serves as the gold standard for college and university quality assessment. Nearly every large public and private not-for-profit institution of higher education seeks accreditation from a regional body that oversees its area. This page not only introduces the six major regional agencies responsible for accreditation, but discusses the importance of maintaining quality standards for the benefit of the students, faculty and the community.
|Middle States Commission on Higher Education||Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands|
|New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education||Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont|
|North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission||Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming|
|Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities||Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington|
|Western Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Colleges||California, Hawaii|
|Southern Association of Colleges and Schools||Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia|
The Middle States Commission on Higher Educational Accreditation (MSCHE) is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education as a regional authority for accrediting institutions of higher learning in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to its stated mission, the MSCHE endeavors to increase public confidence in schools from these states by enforcing quality assurance. Founded in 1919, the MSCHE was originally part of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. It became an independent corporation in 2013.
The standards for affiliation with the MSCHE are set out in the Commission’s “Characteristics of Excellence”. These fourteen standards are divided into two subsections: Institutional Context; and Educational Effectiveness. Institutional Context includes standards that measure the purpose, organization and assets of the institution (such as its mission and goals), resources, leadership, governance, and administration. Educational Effectiveness examines the core components and indicators of excellence in the school’s academic programs, such as faculty, student admissions and retention, and educational offerings.
There are four phases to becoming a MSCHE-accredited school. In phase one, representatives of the prospective institution review the Commission’s requirements and expectations, analyze how the institution complies with MSCHE standards, and meet with a Commission vice president to consult on their status. The institution makes any necessary changes to their practices and educational programs at this time. If approved, the institution will move on to phase two in which an Application Assessment Team visits the school and prepares a report. The institution then responds to the report and the Commission determines whether to advance the institution to “candidate status”. During phase three, the school submits additional documentation, completes a self-study and hosts visits from the Commission to monitor progress. If all requirements are met, accreditation is granted in phase four.
Accreditation by the MSCHE is based on an institution’s strong organizational foundation and high-caliber offerings. The Commission ensures student success and satisfaction by holding its members to a number of core values, such as effective teaching and responsiveness to change. MSCHE accreditation indicates that a member school is a self-regulating and reliable institution.
MSCHE Online Program Accreditation
MSCHE accreditation includes distance education programs at its member schools. Online programs are evaluated according to the Commission’s Educational Effectiveness standards, particularly Standard 13. To be approved by the Commission, an online program must be consistent with learning objectives and outcomes of comparable coursework delivered by traditional, in-classroom methods.
The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) is the oldest regional accreditor in the United States. It enjoys a broad scope, overseeing the quality and standards for all levels of education within its jurisdiction. The NEASC serves Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, as well as American/international programs located in more than 67 countries. Through the accreditation process, NEASC member schools have proven both their value to their students and the ability to uphold established educational criteria.
The NEASC employs eleven objective standards utilized to evaluate prospective institutions for accreditation. These standards look to the institution’s mission and purpose, and how the institution carries them out through planning and leadership. Academic programs are examined to ensure that they follow the school’s mission and goals, and are coherent and comprehensive in their design and delivery. Faculty, library and information services, as well as other resources, must be proven sufficient to support the education of all students. The institution must also show that it provides accurate and honest information to the public and exhibit fairness in its practices.
The Commission on Institutions of Higher Education is the accreditation agency for all schools within NEASC’s jurisdiction. It consists of faculty and administrators from affiliated schools as well as members of the public. Accreditation by the Commission requires the completion of several items: Self-study, in which the institution analyzes and reflects on their performance. The self-study portion lasts 12-18 months and is offered in regular review cycles; Peer review, where peers from other schools visit and report on the institution seeking accreditation; and Follow-up, during which the institution is expected to make suggested changes to align with the standards. If accreditation is denied by the Commission, an institution may appeal to a special committee. Once a school becomes accredited, it designated a member of the NEASC and is subject to review every ten years.
Accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges is evidence of a school’s compliance with a set of standards agreed upon by institutions of higher education in the states it serves. Students applying to NEASC-accredited schools have a measurable basis for trusting in the quality of the school’s educational programs, the strength of its resources, the integrity of its administration and its outlook for the future.
NEASC Online Program Accreditation
Based on its Requirements for Affiliation, the NEASC includes online schools and programs seeking accreditation. NEASC standards specifically mention distance learning programs and require that member institutions maintain the resources necessary to support them. Schools applying for accreditation of their online programs must present evidence proving that students acquire knowledge on the same level as those in traditional programs and that the online programs are aligned with the school’s mission and values.
The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCACS) was founded in 1895 to promote academic excellence and enhance methods and delivery of education. The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association is the independent corporation responsible for accrediting degree-granting postsecondary institutions of higher education in the North Central region of the U.S.
The NCACS employs its Criteria for Accreditation to determine the capability of an educational institution to fulfill its mission and uphold standardized values and practices. These criteria require that a school act ethically and responsibly in its relationships with students and the public. Degree programs offered by member schools must be challenging and integrate best practices and diverse learning modules to deliver coursework. Faculty, staff, and institutional support must be sufficient to give students a well-rounded and robust educational experience. Additionally, a school must present evidence of its effectiveness and initiatives to improve student performance and evaluate its programs.
Before beginning the accreditation process, a prospective institution must show that it meets the NCACS’s eligibility requirements through a series of interviews and reports. Throughout the accreditation process, a prospective institution can become affiliated with the Commission in one of two ways: as a candidate with limited-term affiliation; or as an accredited school. Candidacy is considered a state of pre-accreditation that allows the school to be supported by the NCACS while it develops the qualities needed to become an accredited institution. To become a candidate, the school must complete a self-study and submit a report along with other documentation that provides an overall view of the school. The school is also evaluated on-site by a group of peer reviewers to determine whether it can realistically become accredited within four years. After two years, the institution is again evaluated on-site to measure its progress.
The prospective institution can apply for initial accreditation after four years. Accreditation is granted through a process of additional self-study and on-site review, followed by a hearing and final decision by the Commission’s Board of Trustees.
The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and School employs a lengthy and thorough process of evaluation and analysis to determine whether a school can offer students what they need to succeed. Member institutions have the distinction of adhering to guidelines that bolster student confidence and define excellence in higher education.
NCACS Online Program Accreditation
In 2009, the Higher Learning Commission developed its Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education to address the specific needs of students enrolled in online programs. The nine hallmarks of quality outlined in these Guidelines direct teams from the NCACS, as well as institutions seeking accreditation, on how online programs must perform to provide an adequate educational experience. For example, evaluation and planning of distance learning must be integrated with the institution’s overall evaluation and planning, and the curriculum must be comparable to traditional educational programs.
As the region’s accrediting agency and non-profit organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) serves seven states: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. The role of the NWCCU is to develop standards and criteria for the voluntary accreditation of postsecondary institutions of higher education within these states.
Five standards facilitate the evaluation of institutions of higher education in their journey toward becoming an accredited school through the NWCCU. Standard one (mission) explores core themes and expectations of the school to determine whether its purpose is clear and logical, and is integrated into all aspects of the institution. Standard two (resources and capacity) examines the strength of the school’s leadership, faculty, educational programs, student support, and finances. Standard three (planning and implementation) ensures that the school is putting consistent thought into its mission, values, and future direction. Standard four (effectiveness and improvement) looks at the ways the school assesses itself for potential areas of growth and change. Standard five (mission fulfillment, adaptation, and sustainability) examines how the school monitors its progress and implements necessary changes.
To be considered eligible for the accreditation process, a school must meet certain requirements set by the NWCCU. These include the basics of having a solid foundation, such as independent operations, a governing board, and institutional integrity. When an institution applies to become an accredited school, it submits a response to each requirement along with information about its finances, curriculum and other elements. If eligible, the school completes a self-evaluation in which it documents its effectiveness and resources. This part of the accreditation process is the most important and the institution is encouraged to view it as a long-term project. Candidacy is granted within approximately one to three years to schools whose self-evaluation meets the standards set by the Commission. The school must also agree to submit further documentation and host an on-site visit. Initial accreditation is granted upon a comprehensive review of the self-study, evaluation reports and statements submitted by the school. Additional reports must be submitted by members every five years to keep their accreditation status.
Schools that are accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities have demonstrated that they practice an acceptable model of higher education. These institutions are consistently monitored and tested by the Commission to protect against lapses in performance. Their reputation in the eyes of their peers is enhanced when they become an accredited school. Students can have confidence in the quality and integrity of the school allowing them to focus on whether the school’s programs and other offerings are best for them.
NWCCU Online Program Accreditation
In its evaluation criteria, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities considers the quality and integrity of online schools and programs as it would for education delivered by traditional methods. This includes adequate resources and support for students, technologies that facilitate learning objectives, well-rounded and relevant coursework, and high-caliber faculty with appropriate credentials.
New York’s institutions of higher education must become authorized to operate in the state through the New York State Board of Regents. The Regents are responsible for approving colleges, universities and individual programs of study in the state, as well as running a voluntary accreditation program for state schools. The Board of Regents is part of the New York State Education Department and consists of 17 members elected by the State Legislature for five-year terms. Originally established in 1784, the Board of Regents is the oldest, continuous state education organization in the U.S. There are currently 24 institutions of higher education accredited by the Board.
The standards of quality established by the New York Board of Regents determine a school’s eligibility for accreditation. The Board looks for a clear and well-communicated institutional mission. The school must have a means of assessing student achievement, including graduation and job placement rates. Programs and study should offer appropriate levels of credit and hold learning objectives that are on a level with comparable institutions so as to facilitate transfer of credit. Faculty must be competent, have the credentials needed to deliver course instruction, and must be evaluated regularly. The school must also show adequate facilities, equipment, supplies, and library resources for its student body. Further standards cover the evaluation of the administration, the admissions process, support services, and how the school handles student complaints.
The time period to obtain degree-granting authority from the Board of Regents is typically one year to eighteen months from the date of application. The first step toward accreditation is to submit the application, which will serve as documentation for a preliminary review by the accreditation staff. The school consults the Office of Higher Education on how to complete a self-study report that describes the school’s adherence to the accreditation standards and prepares for a site visit from the assigned accredited team. During the visit, the Board of Regents collects information on faculty, administrators, students, facilities, and resources. Following the site visit, the team submits a report and provides preliminary recommendations to the institution, to which the school may to respond with further information. Next, copies of the final report are sent to the institution and the Board of Regents. All documentation, including the self-study and other supporting evidence, is reviewed in making the accreditation decision. Accreditation lasts for ten years, at which point the institution comes up for renewal.
The New York State Board of Regents is the official authority for all institutions of higher education in New York and, therefore, takes much responsibility for the continued improvement of the colleges and universities it governs. The public is well-served by the Board’s established procedures, regulations, and requirements, which are carried out with consideration of students and others who have an investment in member schools.
NY State Board of Regents Online Program Accreditation
Key quality assurance standards are enforced for any New York college or university seeking approval of its online programs. Distance learning must be part of an already established degree curriculum and subject to all standards and regulations that traditional programs must adhere to. The Board of Regents also grants approval to institutions in other states that offer online programs and wish to enroll students from New York State.
Accreditation of nursing education programs in the state of New York falls under the jurisdiction of the Professional Education Program review unit of the Office of the Professions of the New York State Education Department. The Office of Professions regulates the approval and accreditation of training programs in 50 professions, generally in medical or medically related fields, from acupuncture to speech-language pathology. In addition to accrediting programs and institutions in nursing, the Office of Professions oversees licensure of nursing professionals.
To become an accredited nursing school, an institution must meet the standards for accreditation set by the New York State Education Department. These are the same standards, set by the New York Board of Regents, that are required of all institutions of higher education offering associate’s through doctoral degree programs. An accredited nursing program must have a defined mission and objectives and be able to provide evidence that the goals of the institution are validated by student success rates. Additionally, nursing programs should offer courses of study that are relevant to the realities of professional practice and compare favorably to the offerings of other accredited nursing schools. Faculty members are expected to possess appropriate field experience and expertise in the specific areas that they teach.
Institutions seeking accreditation for nursing programs through the Office of Professions submit an application that is reviewed by accreditation staff members. The staff members then provide guidance to the institution regarding self-study. The institution prepares a self-study report that includes lengthy documentation of the school’s organizations, practices and educational offerings. Completing this report is one of the most important steps in the accreditation process and the one in which the school has the most input. After reviewing the self-study report and noting areas that require improvement, the Office of Professions facilitates a site visit to the school. A site visit report is then generated by the accrediting staff and combined with other documentation. This resulting final report is reviewed to determine whether or not accreditation is granted.
New York nursing programs accredited through the New York State Education Department can be trusted for the validity of their coursework and the stability of their organization and resources. These schools have been deemed credible by the authoritative accrediting body of the state of New York and, therefore, meet all expectations of an institution of higher education within the state.
New York State Accreditation for Online Nursing Programs
Distance education programs in nursing are reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the Board of Regents and the Office of Professions. In order to be considered for approval, an online nursing program must be part of an already registered New York state degree program. Accredited online nursing programs must adhere to stated standards regardless of their method of delivery and are expected to be as comprehensive in subject matter as a comparable traditional program.
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education is a branch of the Oklahoma State Department of Education and is authorized by the state to grant accreditation to institutions of higher education. Created in 1941, the Oklahoma State Regents determine academic standards for the 24 colleges and universities in the state and for any private educational institutions seeking accreditation. Its regulatory power as an accrediting organization gives the State Regents the ability to monitor and guide the quality of higher education in Oklahoma.
The Eligibility Requirements defined by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Universities form the basis for the Standards of Educational Quality used by the State Regents in granting accreditation. Standard one looks at the school’s educational mission and objectives to determine whether they are appropriate to higher education, and sets realistic goals. Standard two covers the governance and administration of the school, examining the strengths and weaknesses of the leadership. Standard three assesses the school’s educational programs to ensure that they are consistent with the school’s mission and have built-in measures for evaluating their effectiveness. Standard four deals with the qualifications and performance of faculty. Standard five verifies that the school has adequate library and information resources. Further standards evaluate the institution’s facilities, finances, future planning initiatives and treatment of students.
Institutions that are already nationally or regionally accredited can seek special permission to become associated with the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Institutions seeking accreditation for the first time must submit an initial application and attend a brief meeting to discuss the Standards of Educational Quality set by the Regents. The institution completes a self-study report which serves as the foundation for the Regents’ evaluation team to determine the school’s accreditation status. This self-study acts as a narrative, telling the full story of the institution’s mission, practices, procedures, organization, students, and personnel with respect to the Standards of Educational Quality. An on-site evaluation is held next, which involves a two to three-day visit from State Regents representatives. The representatives speak with and observe students, as well as administration and faculty members, to gather further information. After completion of the self-study and site visit, the evaluation team prepares a comprehensive report and submits its recommendation on whether or not to grant accreditation. The school is given an opportunity to respond before the Regents make their final decision.
The top priority of the Oklahoma State Regents accreditation process is to protect students as consumers and as active participants in the educational system. Every aspect of a college or university that has been awarded accreditation by the State Regents has been thoroughly tested for credibility in all areas of its operations. With accreditation comes the assurance that a school is not merely a diploma mill but offers high-quality, merit-bearing degree programs.
Oklahoma State Department of Education Online Program Accreditation
Policies and standards on distance education are defined by the Oklahoma State Regents and outlined in the Academic Affairs Procedures Handbook. Institutions must request initial approval to offer online programs. Subsequent program proposals from the institution must also be approved. Online programs based both inside and outside the state are expected to deliver the same quality of education as similar traditional programs.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education is the authority on approving institutions to operate as a degree-granting college, university, or seminary in the state. Since 1834, it has been providing services for accountability and quality regulation in Pennsylvania’s academic institutions at all levels of education. With regard to higher education, its mission is to ensure that colleges and universities adequately prepare students of all ages in their chosen field of study. In addition to approving the operation of postsecondary schools, the PDE has full authority for accrediting public vocational education schools for career and technical training. This gives them public recognition for adhering to set standards that can transfer between institutions. Approval and accreditation are two separate procedures, but both give institutions credibility.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education has many systems in place to ensure the quality of degree-granting colleges, universities, and seminaries in the state. Staff members evaluate schools for approval to operate based on a strict rubric that examines the essential qualities of the institution and their programs, such as its faculty, resources, and finances. Accreditation of public postsecondary vocational education follows a set of standards that covers the organization of the school’s administration, structure of the curriculum, and the school’s mission and objectives, among other considerations.
Before applying to become a degree-granting institution, a school must meet minimum qualifications, including a faculty of at least eight members who are dedicated full-time to instruction. Applicants seeking accreditation for the first time must submit an application with comprehensive information about how the school holds up to the regulations set by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Staff members of the Department of Education may hold a conference call with the school, or may visit the site if there is further information needed that can’t be gathered by other means. The PDE composes a full report and then if all requirements are met, passes the information on to the Secretary of Education. The Pennsylvania Secretary of Education has the sole authority to grant or deny approval of an institution. Accreditation of public postsecondary vocational education involves a self-study by the school of compliance with regulations and standards, and an on-site evaluation and a written report from the assessment team, and is approved by the Pennsylvania State Board for Vocational Education.
Institutions seeking approval to offer credit-bearing degree programs or to start new programs must go through the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Without applying for approval, these schools cannot operate in the state. Students applying to an approved school can be assured that the programs offered are legitimate, and are protected by the Department of Education from the risk of working toward a fake or inadequate degree. Accreditation of a vocational school by the Pennsylvania State Board for Vocational Education is a mark of distinction and compliance with established expectations for student success that are recognized by other higher education institutions.
Pennsylvania Department of Education Online Program Accreditation
Online programs being evaluated for approval by the Pennsylvania Department of Education are subject to approval methods that uphold the same standards that are applied to traditional programs. Institutions of higher education outside the state of Pennsylvania must get approval for their distance education programs through the PDE in order to offer them to Pennsylvania residents.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is a regional accrediting body with a Commission on Colleges that oversees the accreditation of higher education institutions primarily in the Southern United States. Areas under its jurisdiction include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. A number of Latin American and other international schools also fall under SACS administration. The goal of the Southern Association is to promote effectiveness in higher education and develop a basis for continuing improvement.
The Association’s Principles of Accreditation detail the Comprehensive Standards that are required for becoming an SACS-accredited school. The Commission on Colleges looks for a solid mission statement, a stable governing board and administration, and the means by which an institution holds itself accountable for educational effectiveness and enhancement of its programs. The school’s curriculum and course offerings should be consistent with its mission and exhibit good educational practices. Faculty must be qualified and able to fulfill institution expectations. Resources, including finances, the library and the physical campus, must be accessible and sufficient for the education of all enrolled students.
The Core Requirements, as defined by the SACS, detail the general qualities a school must have in order to be considered for accreditation. Reviews by the Commission are carried out in consideration of candidacy, and in regard to initial applications for membership and accreditation, reaffirmation or continuation of accreditation, and other special circumstances. All of these processes follow a similar trajectory that involves self-evaluation and peer review. A school seeking initial accreditation must send a representative to attend a pre-accreditation workshop and complete an application that the Commission will use to review the school’s compliance with the Core Requirements. After approval of the application, a Candidacy Committee visits to school to gather more information. These steps can take 12-18 months or longer. After candidacy is granted, further documentation is requested to ensure continued adherence to SACS requirements and standards. The Accreditation Committee also visits the institution for a full on-site evaluation. The resulting report and recommendations from the Committee are brought to the Board of Trustees, whose members determine whether to grant accreditation.
The Commission on Colleges employs a rigorous process to determine which institutions of higher education have the qualifications to receive accreditation. When a school has been accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, students can rest assured that its programs, faculty, and resources have been approved by an organization with an investment in high-quality education.
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Online Program Accreditation
The Commission on Colleges evaluates distance education with specific guidelines for online programs. The mission of the school should be reflected in its online programs and the curriculum appropriate for higher education. Support services such as access to library resources and instructional technologies must be available to distance students. Overall, the Commission upholds the same standards for online education as it does for traditional programs, but with additional requirements specific to online delivery.
There are two affiliated organizations in the Western Association of Schools and Colleges that handle the accreditation of postsecondary institutions. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges handles the accreditation of two-year public and private postsecondary schools that award associate’s degrees, while the Senior College and University Commission oversees the evaluation of colleges and universities offering four-year and advanced degrees. Formed in 1962, the Western Association Senior College and University Commission is a non-profit corporation that serves California, Hawaii, Guam, the Pacific Basin, and some international schools.
As an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission keeps its standards for evaluating schools current with the needs of modern students to maintain its own credibility. The four large-scale standards of the WASC expect that the institution has defined their purpose and educational objectives; achieves these objectives through teaching, learning, and scholarship; develops resources and organizational structure that ensure quality and sustainability; and implements quality assurance measures to keep the institution on track. There are many components to each of the standards that look at specific aspects of each. For example, for student learning and success, the student requirements for the programs must be clearly communicated.
The three stages of accreditation by the WASC Senior College and University Commission are eligibility, candidacy, and initial accreditation. Generally, institutions begin by consulting with the WASC to determine their eligibility, and then filling out paperwork that addresses the Eligibility Criteria, such as offering degree programs of that are in recognized fields of study. Once a school is deemed eligible, they can then apply for candidacy by sending in a letter of intent and two reviews that provide information about the school’s practices and alignment with the Standards. Site visits from WASC representatives as well as reviews of documentation by special committees are then performed. A similar process is followed for initial accreditation, with further scheduled visits and review. Initial accreditation gains the institution membership with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Regular evaluation in subsequent years will determine whether the school remains a continuing member. Institutions that are already accredited by another agency can opt for a slightly different path to accreditation while still following the eligibility and accreditation standards.
The formal procedures established by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges for assessing the merits of postsecondary colleges and universities bring a sense of reliability to the accredited members. The primary purpose of the Senior College and University Commission is to maintain an honest and thorough means of recognizing schools that are notable for delivering a quality educational experience. When considering these schools for their own education, students can look to the Commission for assurance of the school’s value.
Western Association of Schools and Colleges Online Program Accreditation
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has a specific policy for approving degree programs that are offered primarily through distance education. Each online program is reviewed on a case-by-case basis with the standards applied to the evaluation.