Educational accreditation

Educational accreditation

Educational accreditation is a type of quality assurance process under which services and operations of an educational institution or program are evaluated by an external body to determine if applicable standards are met. Should standards be met, accredited status is granted by the agency.

In most countries in the world, the function of educational accreditation is conducted by a government organization, such as a ministry of education. In the United States, however, the quality assurance process is independent of government and performed by private membership associations. [Dr. Marjorie Peace Lenn, [ Global Trends in Quality Assurance in Higher Education] , "World Education News & Reviews", v. 5, no. 2, Spring 1992, pages 1 and 21]

Educational 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 an educational entity in the U.S. is granted by each of the states individually. The U.S. is a federal republic, and the federal government possesses only specific limited powers, with all others reserved to the states (pursuant to the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution). Therefore, 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 (USDE) is not responsible for accreditation of institutions, nor is the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), [ [ CHEA website] ] a non-governmental organization, both recognize reputable accrediting agencies for institutions of higher education and provide guidelines as well as resources and relevant data.

In the United States, educational accreditation has long been established as a peer review process coordinated by accreditation commissions and the members. The federal government began to take a limited role in accreditation in 1952 with reauthorization of the GI Bill for Korean War veterans. The original GI Bill legislation had stimulated establishment of new colleges and universities, including some of dubious quality, creating a perceived need for a federal quality review process for higher education institutions. Instead, the 1952 legislation designated the existing peer review process as the basis for measuring institutional quality; GI Bill eligibility was limited to students enrolled at accredited institutions included on a list of federally recognized accredited institutions published by the U.S. Commissioner of Education. [ [ Recognition of Accreditation Organizations: A Comparison of Policy & Practice of Voluntary Accreditation and The United States Department of Education] , CHEA, January 1998.]

Over time federal recognition criteria became more elaborate and the government assumed an increasing role in the process, but the process still relies on private accreditation organizations. As the U.S. Department of Education officially states [U.S. Department of Education, [ Accreditation in the United States] ] , 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. [U.S. Department of Education, [ State Regulation of Private Schools] , June 2000.] [College Review Journal, [ Complete List of National Accrediting Agencies] .]

Regional accreditors

There are six regional accreditors. They accredit (and therefore include among their membership) nearly all elementary schools, junior high schools, middle schools, high schools, and public and private institutions of higher education that are academic in nature.

National accreditors

There are 52 recognized national accrediting bodies. [ Accreditation Search] from the United States Department of Education] National accreditors 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 accredit post-secondary programs that are vocational, technical and career in nature. Some of these programs offer degrees and some only certificates.

Five of these bodies are listed by the Department of Education as general in nature and national in scope. These are [ [ 'Accreditation in the United States'] , United States Department of Education website]
* Distance Education and Training Council (DETC)
* Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools(ACICS)
* Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology(ACCSCT)
* Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training(ACCET)
* Council on Occupational Education(COE)

Specialized and professional accreditors

Specialized and professional accreditors can attain legitimacy through U.S. Department of Education recognition, CHEA membership, or membership in the Association of Professional and Specialized Accreditors. [ [ Accreditation and Quality Assurance] , U.S. Department of Education fact sheet, accessed August 6, 2008] 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 the vast majority of states, with the most notable exception being 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 accreditors

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 broader-scope universities that 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 versus national accreditation

Regionally accredited schools are predominantly academically oriented, non-profit institutions. Nationally accredited schools are predominantly for-profit and offer vocational, career or technical programs. Every college has the right to set standards and refuse to accept transfer credits. However, if a student has gone to a nationally accredited school it may be particularly difficult to transfer credits (or even credit for a degree earned) if he or she then applies to a regionally accredited college. Some regionally accredited colleges have general policies against accepting any credits from nationally accredited schools, others are reluctant to because regional schools feel that national schools academic standards are lower than their own or they are unfamiliar with the particular school. The student who is planning to transfer to a regionally accredited school after studying at a nationally accredited one should ensure that they will be able to transfer the credits before attending the nationally accredited school. [ "Demanding Credit", Inside Higher Education website, dated Oct. 19, 2005 by Scott Jaschik] ] [ "Tussling Over Transfer of Credit", Inside Higher Education website, February 26, 2007 by Doug Lederman] ] [ "Types of Accreditation", Education USA website] ] [ "What is the Difference Between Regional and National Accreditation", Yahoo! Education website] ] There have been lawsuits regarding nationally accredited schools who led prospective students to believe that they would have no problem transferring their credits to regionally accredited schools, most notably Florida Metropolitan University and Crown College, Tacoma, Washington. [ "Student Takes on College and Wins", Seattle Times, February 24, 2006 by Emily Heffter and Nick Perry] ] [ [ "Bad Education" Orlando Weekly, April 14, 2005, by Jeffrey C. Billman] ] [ "A Battle Over Standards At For-Profit Colleges", Wall Street Journal, October 3, 2005 by John Hechinger] ] The U.S. Department of Education has stated, however, that its criteria for recognition of accreditors "do not differentiate between types of accreditingagencies, so the recognition granted to all types of accrediting agencies — regional,institutional, specialized, and programmatic — is identical." However the same letter states that "the specific scope of recognition varies according to the type of agency recognized." [ [ Carol Griffiths, US Department of Education Office of Post Secondary Education, letter dated August 30, 2007] ]

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. [United States Department of Education. [ Diploma Mills and Accreditation] (accessed 15 Sept 2006)] 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. [Christian Liberty Academy School System. (n.d) [ What Is CLASS - Accreditation] ] 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. [Butler, D. (n.d.) [ Ivory Tower Rip Offs - How Online Degree Mills Work] . (Originally printed on] 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. [ [ Strassford University] ] The Strassford University is listed by the Oregon State Office of Degree Authorization as part of a diploma mill operation. [ [ Oregon State Office of Degree Authorization] ] Furthermore, other schools simply do not have the means or organizational structure to meet accreditation standards and others 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 academic 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 website owned by the proprietor of the school.

The use of unaccredited degree titles is legally restricted or illegal in some jurisdictions. [U.S. Department of Education, [ Diploma Mills and Accreditation] ] Jurisdictions that have restricted or made illegal the use of credentials from unaccredited schools include Oregon Oregon Office of Degree Authorization:] , Michigan [] , Maine [ [ Maine Higher Education - Non-Accredited Schools ] ] , North Dakota [ State mulls online learning] by the Associated Press, "Billings Gazette", January 30, 2005] New Jersey, Washington [ [ Higher Education Coordinating Board ] ] , Nevada, Illinois, Indiana, and Texas. [ [ Institutions Whose Degrees are Illegal to Use in Texas] ] . Many other states are also considering restrictions on unaccredited degree use in order to help prevent fraud. [ [ Is Oregon the only state that disallows use of unaccredited degrees?] Oregon Office of Degree Authorization]

Legal considerations

In the United States, unaccredited degrees may not be acceptable for financial aid, 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." [] 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." [ [ Fake diploma could land you in jail ] ] 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. [ [ Office of Degree Authorization ] ]

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. [Stephen Phillips [ A stress-free PhD? A snap at $250] "The Higher Education Supplement" 25 November 2005]

Educational 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.


In Canada most universities are operated by the provincial governments for their respective provinces. There is no institutional accreditation in Canada so membership in the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada along with the provincial charter is considered "de facto" accreditation. []


An accreditation system has been introduced while introducing a bachelor/master schema for higher education in Germany. Within the so-called Bologna process a foundation was set up by the education ministers of the states of Germany to offer a central, unified accreditation process.


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 ‘degrees’ which are not treated as valid for academic/employment purposes." [] 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." []

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


Legitimate higher education qualifications in Ireland are placed on, or formally aligned, with the National Framework of Qualifications. This framework was established by the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland in accordance with the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act (1999). It is illegal under the Universities 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.


The Council for Higher Education is, by a 1958 law, [ (Hebrew)] the only institution qualified to accredit universities and colleges in Israel. The council acts as a reviewer of the activity of the academic centers in Israel and sets terms and requirements for every degree given.


Accreditation was done by the Lembaga Akreditasi Negara ( _en. National Accreditation Board), a statutory body created through an act of Parliament, for certificates, diplomas and degree courses provided by private higher educational institutions (defined as institutions providing tertiary or post-secondary education) until 2007 when the body was replaced with the Malaysian Qualifications Agency.

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

Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium)

The Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) is a binational organization formed by treaty in 2003 to independently ensure the quality of higher education in the Netherlands and Flanders by assessing and accrediting programs. As a result of separate legislation in the two jurisdictions, accreditation policies and procedures differ between the two countries. [ [ Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders] official website]


The Portuguese "Agência de Acreditação" (state-managed Accreditation Agency) for higher education is, since 2007, responsible for the publication of the national ranking of higher education institutions and degrees.

Within the Bologna process a state agency was set up by the Portuguese Government to offer central and regulated accreditation. Previously, Portugal had used a system of professional accreditation and degree recognition by sector, with a number of associations, Unions and Professional Orders ("Ordens Profissionais"): the Ordem dos Médicos (for medical doctors), the Ordem dos Engenheiros (for engineers), and the Ordem dos Advogados (for lawyers).

The Sindicato dos Engenheiros Técnicos (for technical engineers), was created as the professional association of technical engineers, who were not full chartered engineers, having as mandatory qualification a simple short-cycle 3-year bachelor degree ("bacharelato") awarded by the Portuguese polytechnical institutes and now discontinued since the mid-2000s.

The Associação de Técnicos de Contas (for accounting technicians), the Câmara de Revisores Oficiais de Contas (for financial auditors), and the Sindicato dos Enfermeiros (for nurses) are examples of organizations which were oriented towards professions that at least until the 1990s did not demand to its associates any sort of academic degree.

Some organizations (starting as Associations or Unions) were upgraded later into "Ordens" like, for example, the Ordem dos Farmacêuticos (for pharmacists), the Ordem dos Arquitectos (for architects), the Ordem dos Biólogos (for biologists), the Ordem dos Economistas (for economists), the Ordem dos Enfermeiros (for nurses), and the Ordem dos Revisores Oficiais de Contas (for financial auditors). In addition, the state through the ministry for higher education, has usually been the central highest accreditation entity, and thus it is illegal to award degrees without government approval.

For many years, there were state-accredited institutions, both public and private, awarding unaccredited degrees by the "Ordens". This dubious situation changed in the mid-2000s with the deep reorganization imposed by the Bologna process implementation in Portugal, the creation of the new central state-managed Accreditation Agency and the foundation of many regulated new "Ordens" covering dozens of professions until then unregulated by this type of professional organization.

In 1999, over 15,000 students enrolled in Portuguese higher learning institutions and newly graduates in the fields of engineering and architecture, were enrolled or were awarded a degree in a non-accredited course. Those students and graduates with no official recognition were not admitted to any "Ordem" and were unable to develop professional activity in their presumed field of expertise (e.g. architect; chemical, electrical, or civil/structural engineer; lawyer; accountant; and financial auditor, among other professionals). At the same time, only one accredited engineering course was offered by a private university, and over 90% of the accredited courses with recognition in the fields of engineering, architecture, and law were exclusively provided by state-run universities. [ [ "15 mil alunos frequentam cursos não reconhecidos" - Expresso (Nº1382), 24th April 1999] , accessed December 2006 (in Portuguese)]

In 2007, the compulsory closing of some problematic and unreliable private higher education institutions (like the defunct Independente University and the Moderna University) which in general had been accredited by the state during the boom of private teaching of the 1990s, but usually without providing any accredited degrees in accordance with the requirements of the main "Ordens" was seen as a remedy of last resort in order to prevent a further loss of credibility among some sectors within the non-public university higher education. [pt icon Pedro Sousa Tavares, [ Governo desencadeia saneamento das privadas] , Diário de Notícias (26th May 2007)]


In Russia accreditation/ national recognition is directly overseen by the Education Ministry of Russia. [] 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 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." [] 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 awarding body is recognised by the Secretary of State, a Royal Charter or Act of Parliament to grant degrees. [ [ The Education Reform Act 1988, section 214 (Unrecognised degrees)] ] Prosecutions under the Education Reform Act are rare, as many unaccredited awarding bodies are based outside UK jurisdiction. 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. [ [ 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]

Private higher (HE) and further education (FE) institutions (here distinguished from the qualifications that they offer) are unregulated, but may choose to become accredited by various non-regulatory bodies such as the British Accreditation Council or the British Council and Accreditation Service for International Colleges in order to demonstrate third-party assessment of the quality of education they offer. The Universities Funding Council, and Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council established in the UK under the 1988 Education Reform Act [ [ 1988 Education Reform Act sections 132 and 133] ] have responsibility for the public funding of the FE and HE sector.

Prosecutions under legislation other than the Education Reform Act 1988 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. [Alex Thompson, 2004. College fined £1,000. "East End Life" 29/11/04, Tower Hamlets Council. [ Google cache] ]

ee also

* Accreditation
* Accreditation mill
* Diploma mill
* Council for Higher Education Accreditation (United States)
* Regional accreditation (United States)
* .edu
* List of recognized accreditation associations of higher learning
* List of unaccredited institutions of higher learning
* List of unrecognized accreditation associations of higher learning


External links

* [ Warning on Bogus Claims of Accreditation/ affiliation with UNESCO]

Accreditation resources

* [ Database for Accreditation] in the United States (CHEA)
* [ Database for Accreditation] in the United States (USDE)
* [ Association of Professional and Specialized Accreditors] (ASPA) in the United States
* [ Database for Accreditation] in the United Kingdom
* [ Database for Accreditation] in Australia
* [ Foundation for the Accreditation of Study Programmes in Germany]
* [ Database for Accreditation] in India
* [ Database for Accreditation] in Malaysia
* [ Database for Accreditation] in the Netherlands
* [ Database for Accreditation] in Pakistan
* [ Database for Accreditation] in the Philippines
* [ Database for Accreditation] in Russia
* [ Database for Accreditation] in Sweden
* [ National Recognition Information Centres ]
* [ List of non-accredited colleges/universities] by State of Michigan
* [ List of non-accredited colleges/ universities] by the State of Texas
* [ List of unacceptable/illegal schools] by Oregon State Office of Degree Authorization
* [ List of non-accredited colleges/ universities] by State of Maine
* [ The World Higher Education Database (IAU/UNESCO)] List of accredited schools throughout the world
* [ The World Higher Education Database (IAU/UNESCO)]
* [ Analytic Quality Glossary: Accreditation]

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