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Accreditation Process

To be considered for accreditation by NWCCU, an institution:

What do we mean by these Requirements?

  • Institutions must have programs that are degree related, which are designed to build on knowledge, abilities, or skills students normally would have achieved by completing high school or a similar form of education.
  • Programs are based on achieving knowledge that is verified by competent experts.
  • Institution must continue to meet NWCCU’s Eligibility Requirements, Standards for Accreditation, and the Policies that are in place to make sure institutions are effective, offer a high-quality education, and are constantly working to improve student outcomes.

There are three main phases for an institution that is working to become accredited:

  1. Applicant status – lasts for one to three years
  2. Candidate status – lasts for up to (but no more than) five years
  3. Member (Accredited) status – begins with Initial Accreditation and starts the seven-year accreditation cycle

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.

What does membership look like?

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:

  • Submission of an Annual Report;
  • Submission of self-study reports in years Three (Mid-Cycle Report), Six (Policies, Regulations, and Financial Resources Report), and Seven (Evaluation of Institutional Effectiveness Report) of the accreditation cycle;
  • Additional ad hoc reports, as requested by the Board of Commissioners; and,
  • Reports of any changes that fall under the Commission’s Substantive Change Policy.

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.

Accreditation Process

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.

  1. Thorough written response to each Eligibility Requirement;
  2. Plans for institutional development;
  3. Current Catalog;
  4. Current budget and audited financial statement; and
  5. Articles of incorporation and bylaws, or charter if the institution is independent, and when appropriate, proof of state authority to operate within the state and grant degrees.
  6. A copy of the National Center on Educational Statistics IPEDS Institution Profile and most recent IPEDS Data Feedback Report (located at www.nces.ed.org) detailing the institution’s capacity, programs, enrollments, and other information required by the US Department of Education.

The Commission uses the following procedure in reviewing an Application for Consideration:

  1. The institution submits its Application for Consideration not later than sixty (60) days prior to a regularly scheduled Commission meeting.
  2. Commission staff review and prepare an analysis of the Application.
  3. The Application is placed on the agenda for the next regularly scheduled Commission meeting.
  4. The institution is invited to send a representative(s) to appear before the Commission when the Application is considered.
  5. Following the meeting, the institution is notified in writing of the Commission’s action.

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:

  • analyzing institutional resources and effectiveness in fulfilling its mission;
  • demonstrating that student achievement is commensurate with the certificates, diplomas, degrees, or other recognition awarded;
  • appraising the relationship of all the institution’s activities to its purposes;
  • providing a sound basis for institutional planning and improvement;
  • assessing educational achievements as well as structures and processes;
  • assessing student achievement with respect to programs and services offered to accomplish educational purposes;
  • assessing performance in achieving institutional mission and goals.

For more information on self-evaluation, see Institutional Self-Study, Accreditation Handbook.

Institutions granted candidacy status must agree to the following terms:

  1. Use the prescribed official definition for Candidate for Accreditation in all official publications and correspondence.
  2. Ensure that candidacy covers only those programs, degrees, and geographic locations of the institution at the time recognition was granted. Program, degree, and geographic location changes must be approved in advance by the Commission. (See Substantive Change Policy.)
  3. File an Annual Report with the office of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
  4. After initial candidacy is granted, submit an Interim Candidacy Self-Evaluation Report eighteen months after Candidacy and again three years after Candidacy within a five-year period depending on Candidacy date.
  5. As a component of the Interim Candidacy evaluation process, host an on-site visit by representatives of the Commission for Continuation of Candidacy status every 18 months after initial candidacy is granted, or earlier if requested by the Commission.
  6. Apply for accreditation only after consultation with the President of the Commission.
  7. Copies of any doctrinal statements required for employment, promotion, and tenure.
  8. Policies governing the employment, orientation, and evaluation of part-time faculty and teaching fellows, if applicable.
  9. Summary reports of faculty involvement with public services/community services.
  10. Institutional policies regarding scholarship and artistic creation by faculty and students.
  11. Institutional policies regarding research activity, including sponsored research by faculty and students.
  12. Summary of the faculty role in developing and monitoring policies and practices scholarship, artistic creation, and research.

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.

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:

  1. appears organized, staffed, and supported to offer the educational programs and services as published in the catalog; and
  2. appears to have the potential for meeting enrollment projections and for achieving institutional stability in order to qualify for accreditation within five years.

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:

  1. reviews the self-study and other institutional documents;
  2. reviews the report of the evaluation committee;
  3. reviews the institution’s written response to the evaluation committee report, if submitted;
  4. discusses with the chair of the evaluation committee the report and confidential recommendation regarding candidacy; and
  5. meets with the institution’s chief executive officer and invites him or her to make a statement on behalf of the institution.

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:

  1. Grant Candidacy or Initial Accreditation.
  2. Continue Candidacy or Reaffirm Accreditation.
  3. Request an Ad Hoc or Special Report and/or Visit.
  4. Defer action on Candidacy or Accreditation.
  5. Issue or Continue Warning.
  6. Impose or Continue Probation.
  7. Issue or Continue a Show-Cause order with Candidacy or Accreditation to terminate unless the institution has demonstrated, to the satisfaction of the Commission that it has satisfied the Commission’s concerns or responded to its directives prior to a specified date.
  8. Deny Candidacy or Accreditation.
  9. Terminate Candidacy or Accreditation.

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.

Appealable Actions

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:

  1. Denial of Candidacy or Initial Accreditation
  2. Denial of Accreditation
  3. Termination of Candidacy or Accreditation

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.