Accreditation is a voluntary 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 professional associations that have responsibility for establishing criteria, evaluating institutions against the criteria, and approving institutions that meet the criteria.
Accrediting associations are not associated with local or state government or with the federal government, although government agencies do rely on the accreditation of an institution in making student loan monies and other funds available to the institution. Accreditation can aid in the transfer of collegiate credit, but there are various kinds of institutions and accreditation, and transfer of credit between institutions is not automatic.
In American higher education, accreditation fulfills a number of important functions, including the encouragement of efforts toward maximum educational effectiveness. The accrediting process requires institutions and programs to examine their own goals, operations, and achievements, and then provides the expert criticism and suggestions of a visiting evaluation committee, and, later, the recommendations and judgments of the accrediting body. Since accreditation is reviewed periodically, institutions are encouraged toward continued self-study and improvement.
Accreditation by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities means that a higher education institution’s own goals are soundly conceived, that its educational programs have been intelligently devised, that its purposes are being accomplished, and that the institution is so organized, staffed, and supported that it should continue to merit confidence.
Evaluation activities are carried out by volunteers from accredited institutions. Periodically an institution is reevaluated (reaffirmed in accreditation) after a visit by peer evaluators. Institutions accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities undergo a comprehensive full-scale evaluation every seven years. The accrediting decisions are made by the representatives elected by the membership, along with representatives of the public. Accrediting decisions are not made by the staff of an accrediting association.
Additional information may be found in the Accreditation Handbook.