USA: Higher Education Accreditation Bodies

Published On: 22 Jul 2009

 | Last Updated On: 20 Jun 2014

A system of accreditation is in place in the United States as a means of conducting nongovernmental, peer evaluation of educational institutions and programs. Private educational associations of regional or national scope have adopted criteria reflecting qualities of a sound educational program and have developed procedures for evaluating institutions and programs to determine whether or not they are operating at basic levels of quality.  There are two basic types of educational accreditation: (i) institutional and (ii) specialized or programmatic.

Institutional accreditation normally applies to an entire institution, indicating that all parts of an institution are contributing to the achievement of the institution's objectives, although not necessarily all at the same level of quality. The various commissions of regional and national accrediting agencies perform this type of accreditation.

Specialized or programmatic accreditation normally applies to programs, departments, and schools that are parts of an institution. The accredited unit may be as large as a college or school within a university or as small as a curriculum within a discipline. Most of the specialized or programmatic accrediting agencies review units within an institution of higher education that is accredited by one of the regional accrediting agencies. However, certain accrediting agencies also accredit professional schools and other specialized or vocational institutions of higher education that are freestanding in their operations.

The US Department of Education does not have the authority to accredit private or public elementary or secondary schools, and does not recognize accrediting bodies for the purpose of such accreditation. However, the US Department of Education does recognize accrediting bodies for the accreditation of institutions of higher (postsecondary) education.

The Accrediting Agency Evaluation Unit:

The Accrediting Agency Evaluation Unit was established within the Department of Education to deal with matters of accreditation. Located in the Office of Postsecondary Education, the Unit carries out the following major functions with respect to accreditation:

· Conducting a continuous review of standards, policies, procedures, and issues in the area of the Department of Education's interests and responsibilities relative to accreditation.

· Administering the process whereby accrediting agencies and State approval agencies secure initial and renewed recognition by the Secretary of Education.

· Serving as the Department's liaison with accrediting agencies and State approval agencies.

· Providing consultative services to institutions, associations, State agencies, other federal agencies, and Congress regarding accreditation.

· Interpreting and disseminating policies relating to accreditation in the case of all appropriate programs administered by the Department of Education.

· Conducting and stimulating appropriate research.

· Providing support for the Secretary's National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity.

National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity

The Committee advises the Secretary of Education on matters related to postsecondary (or higher education) accreditation and the eligibility and certification process that higher education institutions need to follow in order to participate in Federal student aid programs. Its primary function is to provide recommendations to the Secretary to ensure that the standards accrediting entities set for education/training institutions are sufficiently rigorous and effectively followed in their application. The Committee thus ensures that the certificate of accreditation has a high repute for quality of institutions and programs it accredits.

The Association to Advanced Collegiate Schools of Business

The Association to Advanced Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International was established in the year 1916 and started its accreditation function in 1919. This US accreditation body provides a thorough review process for evaluating business management schools worldwide. The AACSB international accreditation ensures that institutions not only achieve quality but also have a system in place for constant progress of their educational offerings. In 2003, AACSB members approved a set of revised standards that are pertinent to all business programs worldwide and promote excellence in management education globally.

Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is a nonprofit education corporation recognized by the United States Secretary of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation as an independent and autonomous national body that accredits institutions of higher education offering programs of study through the master's degree level. ACICS is incorporated in Virginia and operates from offices in Washington, DC. The scope of ACICS recognition by the Secretary is defined as accreditation of private postsecondary institutions offering programs that are designed to train and educate persons for careers or professions supported or constituted by business applications or doctrines, supervisory or management techniques, professional or paraprofessional applications, and other business-related applications.

The Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs

The Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) is a specialized accreditation association for business education supporting and rewarding excellence in teaching. ACBSP was set up in 1988 in Overland Park, Kansas, and in August 1992 it was acknowledged as a specialized accreditation agency for business education by the US Department of Education. This accreditation body recognizes the significance of scholarly research and investigation and considers that such activities aid in improving teaching. Institutions affiliated to ACBSP are encouraged to practice a logical mutually beneficial balance between research and teaching. In addition, ACBSP supports faculty involvement in the modern business world to augment the quality of classroom instruction. ACBSP aims to expand, promote, and recognize best practices that contribute to continuous improvement of business education and accredits qualified business programs.

Accreditation does not provide automatic acceptance by an institution of credits earned at another institution, nor does it give assurance of acceptance of graduates by employers. Acceptance of students or graduates is always the prerogative of the receiving institution or employer. For these reasons, besides ascertaining the accredited status of a school or program, students should inquire, prior to enrollment, about whether their educational goals will be met through attendance at a particular institution and, early in their college career, about what courses will satisfy professional licensure requirements.

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