Accreditation is a process of recognizing educational institutions for performance, integrity, and quality that entitles them to the confidence of the educational community and the public. In the United States this recognition is extended largely through nongovernmental, voluntary membership associations that establish accreditation criteria, evaluate institutions against that criteria, and approving institutions that meet the criteria.
Institutions accredited or preaccredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities are required to examine their own missions, goals, operations, and achievements. The Commission then provides expert analysis by peer evaluators, and, later, commendations for accomplishments and recommendations for improvement from the accrediting body. Since the accreditation status of an institution is reviewed periodically, institutions are encouraged toward continued self-study and improvement.
While accreditation criteria and procedures of accrediting agencies differ, the principles underlying eligibility and levels of expectation are similar in their intent to:
- foster excellence through the development of criteria and guidelines for assessing educational quality and institutional effectiveness;
- encourage institutional improvement through continuous self-study and evaluation;
- ensure the educational community, the general public, and other organizations that an institution has clearly defined and appropriate educational objectives, has established conditions under which their achievement can reasonably be expected, appears in fact to be substantially accomplishing them, and is so organized, staffed, and supported that it can be expected to continue to do so; and
- provide counsel and assistance to established and developing institutions.
When granted, accreditation by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities is not partial. It applies to the entire institution in operation at the time of the most recent comprehensive evaluation. It indicates that the institution as a whole is substantially achieving its mission and that it meets the Commission’s expectations for compliance with the accreditation criteria.
Types of Accreditation
Institutional accreditation is granted by an accrediting agency within a scope of authority approved by the U.S. Department of Education. Institutional accreditation applies to the institution as a whole, not individual programs or units within the institution.
Specialized accreditation of certain professional schools and individual educational programs is granted by a number of national organizations, each representing a professional area such as business, law, engineering, or nursing. Though each of these organizations has its distinctive definitions of eligibility, criteria for accreditation, and operating procedures, accreditation by a specialized accrediting agency is one means of assuring quality of the accredited programs.