FAQs on Accreditation
Note: These are the 2009 FAQs, and will be updated for 2015.
This page provides a list of frequently asked questions on topics of interest to the public (FAQs on Accreditation and FAQs on Third Party Comment) and to member institutions (FAQs on Substantive Change).
Q. What is accreditation?
Accreditation is a status granted to an educational institution that has been found to meet or exceed stated criteria of educational quality. Institutions voluntarily seek accreditation, and it is conferred by non-governmental bodies. definition.
Accreditation has two fundamental purposes:
- To assure the quality of the institution, and
- To encourage institutional improvement.
Accreditation of an institution by an institutional accrediting body certifies to general public that the institution:
- Has appropriate purposes;
- Has the resources needed to accomplish its purposes;
- Can demonstrate that it is accomplishing its purposes; and
- Gives reason to believe it will continue to accomplish its purposes.
Q. How does the Commission determine if an institution meets accreditation standards?
An institution seeking initial accreditation prepares an extensive report on itself based on the criteria set forth in the document on Eligibility Requirements for Accreditation. This period of extensive self study is followed by an on-site visit by a team of peers selected by the Commission. Based on its findings, the team makes a recommendation to the Commission regarding the accreditation status of the institution. The team will recommend denial, further candidacy, or initial accreditation. The Commission then acts to determine accreditation status, communicating its decision to the institution. Once accredited, an institution is expected to comply with the eligibility requirements and accreditation criteria continuously and must be evaluated periodically.
Q. How often are colleges evaluated?
Colleges maintain accreditation through continuous adherence to accreditation criteria as set forth by the Commission. Colleges follow a six-year cycle during which institutional review is continuous. These reviews include an Annual Report, an Annual Fiscal Report, a Midterm Report, completion of a comprehensive institutional self study, and an evaluation review by a team of peers. The Commission frequently requests other reports.
Q. Do colleges ever lose accreditation?
Loss of accreditation occurs infrequently. Commission practices, which include periodic institutional self study, peer evaluation, and Commission action, are designed to foster education excellence and continuous improvement at each institution. The processes of peer evaluation and follow-up offer support and guidance to institutions that need to improve practice in order to meet accreditation standards or policy requirements. Most institutions are able to correct any errant practices and retain institutional accreditation.
However, the primary purpose of accreditation is quality assurance to the public. Termination signals the Commission believes the institution lacks sufficient quality to be accredited. The Commission may terminate accreditation if an institution has taken action that places it significantly out of compliance with Commission standards or has not satisfactorily explained or corrected matters of which it has been given notice. Termination of accreditation is subject to a request for review and appeal. The institution's accredited status (including the sanction last issued by the Commission) continues pending completion of any review or appeal that is filed.
Q. What are the benefits of accreditation?
Accreditation provides both tangible and intangible benefits:
- It certifies to the public that an institution meets or exceeds specific standards of quality;
- It facilitates institutional eligibility to participate in Title IV student financial aid programs; and
- It provides a process of periodic self and peer review.
These activities are a positive force in improving institutional effectiveness. Many institutions rely in part on regional accreditation in their decisions to recognize transfer credit.
Q. Does accreditation mean that credits and degrees can transfer to another institution?
While it is typically true that many institutions recognize transfer credits only from regionally accredited institutions, the basic principle underlying issues of transfer is that each institution is responsible for determining its own policies and practices in regard to transfer and award of credit. The Commission requires that institutions have a policy on transfer of credit by which the institution certifies that courses accepted for credit from sending institutions achieve student learning outcomes comparable to its own courses.
Q. Does the Commission rank colleges?
Since each college is unique and has its own mission, the Commission does not rank colleges. The responsibility of the Commission is to accredit colleges based on standards of good practice in higher education.
Q. Can the Commission recommend a college to a student?
The Commission does not recommend colleges. Specific information about colleges can be located in the many references books found in libraries. Other valuable sources of information are high school or college counselors and advisors, or college admissions officers.
Q. What happens to a student's records when a college closes?
Commission policy states that when a college is closing, all academic, financial aid, and other records should be prepared for permanent filing. The college should arrange with the state department of higher education, another appropriate agency, or another college or university for the filing of student records. Notification regarding the location of records and their accessibility should be sent to all students, including where possible, a copy of the student's record.
Q. Who evaluates the Commission?
The Commission is authorized by the U.S. Department of Education as a reliable agency of accreditation and must go through a periodic review process. ACCJC is also recognized by the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a non-profit organization of colleges and universities, which recognizes, coordinates, and periodically reviews the work of its member accrediting bodies and the appropriateness of existing or proposed accrediting bodies and their activities