Obtaining quality education has always been important for students. Accreditation is a key factor in evaluating the quality of education provided by higher education institutions, educational programs, and the like. While it is not required for schools to gain accreditation to be considered a fully functional educational facility, many benefits come with accreditation.
Accreditation helps hold the school accountable and can also assist with receiving funding, making continuous improvements, and more. Learn about what accreditation is, why it is so important, and how professors and other faculty members can get involved in the process.
What Is Accreditation?
When a college or other educational institute wants to be confirmed and recognized for providing the highest quality of service and operational standards, obtaining accreditation is imperative.
To receive accreditation, the educational institutes and programs must meet the strict requirements assessed by nongovernmental accrediting agencies. Entities including the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the United States Department of Education recognize these requirements.
These entities have determined the foundation for which these requirements derive to evaluate quality. This includes assessing the quality of teaching and coursework, determining the qualifications of the teaching faculty, and more. According to the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), educational institutions must:
- Comply with rigorous standards
- Devise and implement a Campus Effectiveness Plan
- Receive an annual review of retention rates, financial stability, and placement
- Accommodate both unannounced and announced site visits
If the institute has met all the requirements, it can receive accreditation for a range of three to six years.
It is important to note that colleges and other educational institutes do not need evaluation to see if they meet accreditation requirements to become operational. However, there is a wide range of benefits of accreditation in higher education that's not available to educational institutes not possessing the recognition.
Benefits of Accreditation
Educational institutes and programs with accreditation are more highly regarded compared to those that do not have it. For this reason, students choosing an accredited establishment provides a wide range of advantages compared to the latter. Accreditation:
- Creates goals for the institute to commit to continuous self-improvement
- Includes staff, faculty, students, graduates, and advisory boards in evaluation and planning
- Assists with determining whether the institute meets or exceeds the minimum quality standards for education
- Ensures accountability of schools and degree programs
- Provides a self-regulatory alternative for state oversight functions
- Opens opportunities for federal and state funding
Types of Accreditation
Many different kinds of educational institutes and programs can receive accreditation, including but not limited to:
- Public colleges
- Private colleges
- For-profit colleges
- Nonprofit colleges
- Faith-based colleges
- Distance learning colleges
- Law schools
- Medical schools
As there are various educational institutes and programs, three different kinds of accreditation organizations conduct quality reviews and assessments and ensure accountability. The institutes fall underneath whichever category fits best. Below are the several types of accreditation organizations and what they each provide:
1. Regional Accreditation Organizations
These organizations accredit postsecondary institutions within specific regions of the United States. This accreditation type covers an educational institute as a whole, meaning the quality of each individual program, college, university, or educational institute is not guaranteed.
While some areas may well exceed the quality requirements for accreditation, others may not. It is important that students, parents, and other relevant parties research programs and educational institutes within this accreditation category on a deeper level to determine the quality of individual programs.
Groups of traditional higher education institutes in specific regions across the country created the six main regional accrediting organizations. Today, these organizations are the most commonly used accreditors for public and nonprofit higher education institutes within the United States.
2. National Accreditation Organizations
National accreditation organizations also grant accreditation to institutes as a whole. However, they operate on a nationwide scale as opposed to regional, and also serve institutions that were not initially founded as colleges.
These organizations fall into two different categories: faith-based and career-focused. Faith-based, also known as doctrinally based, accreditors make up only a small fraction of national organizations, while career-focused accreditors make up the vast majority.
3. Specialized/Professional Accrediting Organizations
Operating all across the United States, these accrediting organizations focus on specific aspects of a program, department, or college's academic field of study. Their function includes evaluating specialized areas such as engineering, nursing, law, education, and many other fields.
State-regulated professions that depend on state or national board licensing often require their single-purpose programs and institutes to receive accreditation from specialized/professional accrediting organizations.
Accreditation Process Steps for Higher Education
The accreditation process educational institutes must undergo can break down into four main steps. Each step is as important as the last and relies heavily on information provided by both the educational institute's faculty members and members of the accrediting organization. Below is more information about each step to help you gain a better understanding of accreditation from start to finish.
1. Peer Review
Once the appropriate accreditation agency has received the necessary paperwork from a college requesting accreditation, peer review begins. This process is when administrative and faculty peers must perform a thorough review of all prepared materials, including the written report and the daily operations of the institution applying for accreditation. They can do this analysis consistently throughout the year and focus on areas such as the curriculum, student attendance, graduation ratings, and many other important factors.
2. Visitation and Evaluation
After the accreditor finalizes the peer review, it will send a team of professionals to visit the institution. These professionals generally consist of volunteer peers and members of the public. Their task is to evaluate the quality of the institute and ensure it is either meeting or exceeding the minimum requirements for quality education standards.
Faculty members of the institute seeking accreditation may also request to participate in the meeting when the organization members visit. Doing so can help the accreditor gain better insight by communicating directly with professors who experience the school's workings firsthand.
3. Final Decision
The members of the accreditation organization will submit the information they collected during their visit. The commission will review and carefully consider the information provided to them. Based on this information, the commission will either confirm or deny accreditation.
4. Follow-Up Reviews
If the educational institute receives accreditation, it must uphold its quality standards. It must also undergo continuous accreditation renewal reviews to ensure it meets high academic standards. There may also be random visits, either announced or unannounced, by members of the accreditor organization to help ensure the school is adhering to the required guidelines.
What Professors Need to Know About Accreditation
When it comes to peer review, the information from professors and other faculty members plays a critical part in understanding and implementing quality educational standards. The professors' expertise combined with observations on the daily operations of an educational institute can help make all the difference for accreditation. Learn more about what professors may do and what is required of them in the accreditation process.
Participate in the Self-Study Process
Accreditation first begins with an in-depth self-study of the educational institution seeking accreditation. Professors and other faculty members who participate in self-review provide opportunities for examining the institute's overall performance and areas that could use improvement.
Professors should actively and carefully evaluate the quality of student academic performance, student retention, graduation ratings, quality of academic advising, and other key factors of a sophisticated education. Analyzing these issues can help them identify what's working and what needs to change.
Create a Faculty Community
A faculty body can drive the necessary factors to help along the accreditation process. Working together as a whole can make a big improvement in productivity and help everyone come up with consistent and accurate information to collect and report.
For instance, awareness of timelines is important for accreditation. Professors and faculty members need to be aware of relevant activities, events, and deadlines they must meet, and they must be able to stick to them. Professors can keep track of these things by sharing memos and posting announcements to easily sharable websites that all faculty members can access.
Ultimately, the faculty community can assist professors in working as a team on behalf of the educational institute to help it reach standard levels of academic quality. Additionally, being present during visitation and evaluation provides opportunities for further involvement in the process.
Attend Annual Accreditor Meetings
Faculty members can become familiar with the accreditation process by attending annual accreditor meetings. Meetings can provide helpful information that professors can implement at their educational institutions. These gatherings also enable educators to interact with accreditors to discuss important components of fostering good education, which offers valuable insights.
Administration members and professors can then apply these insights within their schools to help identify strengths and weaknesses within the institutes and their programs, paving the way to finding effective solutions.
Actively Find Improvements
The involvement of faculty members is a crucial component to maintaining and improving education standards. As these individuals are most familiar with the core functions of the institute, they have firsthand experience with its operations. Professors can provide the most valuable insight into the workings of their educational institutes and should actively work to find possible solutions for any shortcomings.
Educators should be at the forefront of providing recommendations for advancements in teaching, research, principles of academic freedom and shared governance, and more.
How to Know If a College Has Accreditation
Although the government does not provide accreditation to educational institutes or programs, the government does mandate that accreditation statuses should be public and easily accessible on governmental websites.
The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education has created a database specifically to help any interested parties determine the accreditation status of an educational institute. By searching for a certain college or program, you can see whether it is accredited.
Keep an Eye out for Red Flags
Sometimes, dishonest institutes can appear as if they have accreditation when they do not. When evaluating educational institutes to see if they have accreditation, be aware of phrases such as "diploma mills" and "accreditation mills."
The U.S. Department of Education provides a list of accrediting agencies on its website. The department has certified the accreditors listed, confirming their trustworthiness. Upon evaluating educational institutes, all interested parties, such as parents and students, should only become involved with schools accredited through one of the organizations on the department's list.
If the institute claims to have accreditation through any other organization, this is a huge warning sign that their claims are fraudulent, and individuals should avoid the school.
If you have any remaining questions on higher education accreditation, we can answer them below. Explore our most frequently asked questions on the ins-and-outs of the process:
Is One Type of Accreditation Better Than Another?
Regional accrediting bodies have existed for longer than national accreditors and are more commonplace, which generally makes them more authoritative. Plus, credits from regionally accredited colleges are usually more readily transferrable, whereas credits from nationally accredited schools might only transfer to other nationally accredited institutions. These factors are essential to keep in mind for students and parents, but also for college administrations that may be seeking one accreditation type over another.
Is the Accreditation Process Different for Online Colleges?
The accreditation process steps are the same for both online and in-person colleges. An online college must still apply for accreditation, submit the necessary documents, and undergo a formal evaluation by the accrediting body before it can receive accreditation.
How Long Does It Generally Take to Become Accredited?
According to the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), it usually takes 1.5 to 2 years for a college to gain accreditation. However, numerous variables can affect the length of the process, such as how efficient the requesting school is with submitting all the necessary paperwork on time. The timeline might also vary depending on the accrediting body your school is applying under, as the institution may have specific durations for various parts of the process.
For example, when applying to the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE), you can expect the process to take 2 to 4 years. A school can also take up to five years if needed to complete the process when requesting accreditation from IACBE.
Request a Demo From Watermark Today
Collecting information to prepare for accreditation can be an involved process. That is why Watermark provides software to help make it as easy as possible. With our award-winning data collection software, you can:
- Import CVs
- Make real-time updates
- Review data when needed
- Pre-set alerts and timelines
When you implement Watermark software, you can expect:
- Easy response options for students
- Instant insights without extra data entry
- Software that works with your existing technology
- The inclusion of student voices in faculty development
- Simple administration of institutional surveys
Preparing for accreditation doesn't have to be difficult. With Watermark, you can gather information from students, record your own data, and review data from other faculty members to see how well your educational institute performs. Request a free demo from Watermark today to see how we can help you get more involved in providing quality education.
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