There are three main phases for an institution that is working to become accredited:
Although the Candidate status is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a pre-accreditation status, institutions are not actually considered Accredited until they have achieved Initial Accreditation and become member institutions.
Accredited institutions must follow a schedule of accreditation-related activities known as the Seven Year Cycle and abide by NWCCU’s Eligibility Requirements, Standards, and Policies.
These activities include:
Throughout the seven-year cycle, every institution is reviewed by NWCCU staff, teams of peer evaluators, and the Board of Commissioners to confirm institution is working to fulfill its mission, addressing problems identified previously, continuously improving, offering high quality education, and supporting student success and closing equity gaps.
The process of becoming and staying accredited is explained in the Accreditation Handbook.For an overview of the process, please see our Accreditation at a Glance guide.
The initial step in applying for accreditation with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities is to seek recognition as a Candidate for Accreditation. Only accredited institutions are members of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Candidate for Accreditation is a pre-accredited affiliate status with the Commission. It is a status of recognition by the Commission that the institution meets the eligibility requirements and is progressing toward accreditation. It does not, however, imply or ensure eventual accreditation by the Commission.
At such time as the institution’s chief executive officer and governing board determine that the Eligibility Requirements are met, the chief executive officer may submit an Application for Consideration to the President of the Commission. The Application for Consideration consists of a letter of application signed by the chief executive officer, along with one electronic copy of the documents listed below. The application must include the application fee of $7,500. The process of review will include a site visit by the NWCCU Liaison, for which the institution will be invoiced for the actual cost of travel.
The Commission uses the following procedure in reviewing an Application for Consideration:
If the Commission judges that the institution meets the conditions of eligibility, the institution’s chief executive officer is advised to proceed with an analytic self-study for Candidacy, and tentative dates for an evaluation committee onsite visit are set. The self-study report and evaluation for Candidacy are to be completed no earlier than one year and no later than three years following acceptance of the Application for Consideration. If the self-study is not completed within three years of the date of acceptance of the Application for Consideration, approval of the institution’s Application for Consideration will be withdrawn.
Once authorized by the Commission to proceed with self-evaluation, the institution is to prepare a comprehensive analytical self-analysis. Although a Candidate for Accreditation institution will not be expected to have the maturity and stability of an accredited institution, the Standards and Guide for Self-Evaluation provides a good basis for the institution to document how it is organized, staffed, and supported to accomplish its purposes and to demonstrate its potential to attain accreditation within five years, the maximum allowed under U.S. Department of Education regulations.
Institutional self-evaluation is the most significant part of the accreditation process. It must be comprehensive, encompass the entire institution, and address the Commission’s accreditation criteria and be viewed as an ongoing process to understand, evaluate, and improve quality and effectiveness by:
Institutions granted candidacy status must agree to the following terms:
Candidacy lapses when an institution fails to achieve accredited status within five years. An institution whose Candidacy lapses must wait at least two years before resubmitting an Application for Consideration.
The Commission also reserves the right during the Candidacy period to withdraw the institution’s Candidacy status, after due notice, if evidence of progress is lacking or if the conditions on which the institution was admitted to Candidacy are substantially altered. If the Commission judges that candidacy status should be removed, a Show-Cause order will be issued requesting that the institution respond to the expressed concerns of the Commission. The burden of proof rests with the institution to demonstrate why its candidacy should be continued.
If the Commission acts to withdraw an institution’s Candidate status, the action may be appealed. (See Appeals Policy and Procedures.) Pending action on appeal, the Candidacy status remains in effect. An institution whose Candidacy status is withdrawn by the Commission must wait a minimum of two years before resubmitting an Application for Consideration.
Additional information may be found in Candidate for Accreditation, Accreditation Handbook, pages 9-13.
Following submission of the institution's self-study report, which may not be earlier than one year or later than three years after the acceptance of the institution's Application for Consideration for candidacy, an onsite evaluation visit is conducted. The self-study report is to be submitted at least four to six weeks prior to the visit. An electronic copy and printed copies of the self-study are to be mailed to the Commission office and to members of the evaluation committee. The size of the evaluation committee will be determined by the size and complexity of the institution. Please see NWCCU’s Dues and Fees webpage for information on fees and other charges for Candidate Evaluation visits.
The institution's self-study report and evaluation committee's report are discussed with the evaluation committee chair and the chief executive officer of the institution during Commission meetings. The Commission also considers a confidential recommendation submitted by the evaluation committee. Following a review of all relevant materials, the Commission determines whether or not the institution:
Following the meeting, the institution's chief executive officer is notified in writing of the Commission's action. If granted, the effective date of Candidacy is the date of the Commission's action. In case of denial, the reasons will be stated.
The Commission permits the withdrawal of a request for recognition as a Candidate for Accreditation at any time prior to final action by the Commission. If an institution is denied candidacy by the Commission, it must wait at least two years before resubmitting an Application for Consideration. The institution has the option of appealing a Commission decision to deny Candidacy. (See Appeals Policy and Procedures.)
For more information on the evaluation process, see the Accreditation Handbook.
In arriving at a decision on candidacy, the Commission:
Once the Commission has made a decision regarding candidacy or accreditation of an institution, it provides written notification of the action to the institution within one month of the date the action was taken. Commission action with regard to institutions include:
All of the Commission actions set forth above are posted to the Commission's website, published in the Directory of Accredited and Preaccredited Institutions, and in the minutes of the Commission meeting at which the action took place. In addition, in taking any of the above actions, the Commission may impose conditions on continued accreditation or candidacy status or request additional reporting or site visits. (See Notification to the US Department of Education Policy.)
Reapplication for Accreditation. An institution not granted Candidacy or Initial Accreditation may resubmit an Application for Consideration no fewer than two years following the date of the Commission's action to deny Candidacy or Initial Accreditation. An institution whose Candidacy or Accreditation has been terminated may resubmit an Application for Consideration no fewer than two years following the date of the Commission's action to terminate Candidacy or Accreditation.
Institutions granted Initial Accreditation are not accredited for a specific number of years. They are expected to submit an interim report in the first and third year following the year of initial accreditation and to conduct a comprehensive self-study and host an evaluation committee in the seventh year following the year of initial accreditation. If, in the Commission's judgment, an institution is not ready for membership, it may defer a decision pending further reports on specific matters and/ or a visit by a small committee, or it might deny initial accreditation.
When Accreditation is initially granted by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the effective date of accreditation is September 1 of the academic year in which the Commission took action. For example, if the Commission undertook action during its January or June Commission Meeting to grant Initial Accreditation, the effective date of Accreditation is retroactive to the date of the institution’s Candidacy.
Accreditation is not granted permanently or for a definite number of years. It is an ongoing status that must be reaffirmed periodically. Every institution is to conduct a self-study and be visited by an evaluation committee at least every seven years. In addition, each institution is to prepare a Mid-Cycle Self-Evaluation report (usually in the third year following a comprehensive evaluation) and be visited by a team of two evaluators. At the time of reaffirmation, the Commission may request an institution to submit additional reports at specified times or to submit additional reports and receive a visit by a small evaluation committee. The Commission may also request that an institution conduct a complete self-study and be visited by a comprehensive evaluation committee.
An institution that is aggrieved by an adverse decision of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities may file a written appeal.
Adverse Decisions that may be Appealed:
For Accredited institutions, Accredited status remains in effect during the appeal.
The Commission's Appeals Policy and Procedure governs the process of appeals. For the complete description of the appellate process and the full Policy, please download the Appeals Policy and Procedure here.