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Accreditation in higher education is a process that involves self and peer assessment to test if they meet the minimum standards required (Olivi, 2013). The primary purpose of accreditation is to maintain and improve the quality of academic programs as well as accountability in the education systems. It can also be regarded as a continuous quality control process that is normally conducted after every five to ten years to monitor if the educational institutions are adhering to the quality standards as stipulated in the relevant laws (Eaton, 2012).
Accreditation as a term covers the process of the initial and the ongoing approval of an institution, a school, postsecondary institution. The accreditation process assesses the institution to determine if it meets the standards set by the nationally established associations which have the mandate of approving such institutions. The institutions must meet the accreditation standards to become members of the associations. The accreditation associations are usually voluntary membership organizations that take part in the monitoring of the academic and administrative qualities of their members (Eaton, 2010). The members of the accreditation institutions can either be the entire institutions or their components such as departments or schools within the institutions.
The United States Department of Education lacks a centralized direct control over the postsecondary educational institutions, and the institutions are left to operate independently with less interference from the national government. As a result of the independent operation of the educational institutions, the American postsecondary institutions can have varying qualities of their programs. For uniformity and to establish a basic level of quality, the process of accreditation was started in the United States to guide the institutions through quality attainment (Eaton, 2010).
The main functions of accreditation include certifying that an academic institution has met the minimum established standards to provide the services. The accreditation also helps students in identifying the acceptable institutions before they settle on which school to enroll. It also assists the institutions in determining whether the transfer of credits from one institution or from one institution to the other is acceptable. The accreditation process also protects the institutions from interference by other agencies or from any external or internal pressures. Finally, another important function of accreditation in postsecondary schools is involving the faculty members comprehensively in the evaluation of situations as well as planning (Eaton, 2010). The accreditation boards also establish the criteria for professional certification.
Institutional accreditation looks at the entire institution to ensure that all its components are contributing to the overall goal of the institution. The institutional accreditation ensures that the institution has all the components to operate and offer the programs it intends to offer. The institutional accreditation is normally conducted by national and regional accreditation organizations that are responsible for assessing the institutions to ensure that they meet the standards.
For instance, my home university Argosy University has been granted accreditation by the WASC Senior College and University Commission. The institution also has several programmatic accreditations that have been granted by various accreditation bodies depending on the specialty of the program. The WASC Senior College and University Commission serves a diverse membership including both the public and the private education institutions in the United States. The agency conducts peer review of institutions based on standards agreed by the membership to ensure that schools are fulfilling their mission to offer the best services to the students and the public in general.
Specialised or Programmatic Accreditation
Specialized or programmatic accreditation refers to the process of reviewing the programs, schools or components of the higher education institutions to ensure that they conform to the required quality standards (Pavlakis & Kelley, 2016). In programmatic accreditation, the unit to be accredited may be as large as a college or a school, or it may only involve a single curriculum within a discipline. In most cases, the programmatic accrediting agencies review the units in the institution to ensure that it meets the quality standards as set by the members of the agency. Different programs within the high education institutions are accredited by various accrediting agencies depending on the areas of specialization.
For example accreditation of programs in disciplines such as psychology, counseling, clinical and social works are conducted by various organizations to ensure that the institutions offering these programs met the minimum requirements. For example, institutions offering counseling programs are accredited by two bodies that are recognized by the American Counseling Association. The two bodies are the CACREP which accredits various counseling programs and specialties apart from rehabilitation counseling, and the other body is the Council on Rehabilitation Education which offers accreditation for rehabilitation counseling programs only (Pavlakis & Kelley, 2016). The Council recognizes the two bodies that are responsible for the accreditation of the counseling specialties for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Psychological related programs are accredited by the American Psychology Association whose mission is to advance the creation and application of psychological knowledge to help the society and promote the life of people. The association has the responsibility of reviewing the psychology related programs offered by various institutions to ensure that they meet the minimum required standards as stipulated by the organization (Pavlakis & Kelley, 2016). The American Psychology Association also sets ethical standards that govern the conduct v of psychologist and other professionals in the field of psychology.
Programs in Marriage and Family therapy are often approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) which conducts periodic peer review of the curriculum of the programs to ensure that they meet the minimum quality standards. The organization also encourages institutions to support further program development through research and certifies that the programs are meeting the required standards as well as their stated goals.
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The Council on Social Work Education is responsible for the accreditation of the clinical social works programs in institutions that provide them. The organization ensures that the institutions offering the programs have a level of performance, integrity and meets the quality standards that make them part of the educational community and the public that they serve (Ewell, 2015). The Council for Higher Education Authority recognizes the CSWE as the body that accredits the bachelor’s and graduate programs in social work education in the United States and its environs.
Pros and Cons of Accreditation
The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is a specialized body that accredits graduate counseling programs throughout the United States and the World to ensure that they meet the counseling profession standards. Obtaining CACREP accreditation for graduate programs in counseling is important as it gives an assurance that the program has been evaluated and met the quality standards required for the profession. Studying a program that is accredited by the CACREP means that the curriculum used to teach the course contains all the academic materials and knowledge required for the professional licensing. An accredited program also assures students that what they are studying contains all the learning materials required for both knowledge and skill development. Accreditation also ensures that the program is both professionally and financially stable as required by the set quality standards.
Accreditation also creates uniformity among educational institutions on the programs that they offer to allow for the transfer of credit and to ensure that the content of the courses taught in the institution’s match (Ewell, 2015). The standardized curriculum makes it possible for universities and students to transfer credits from one institution to the other in case the student gets a transfer. However, one of the main disadvantages of obtaining accreditation is the high costs that are associated with the process. The accreditation process is expensive both monetarily, and terms of the opportunity cost. The institutions have to pay for the annual fees that adds burden on the university as well as on the students as they have to increase the school fees to cover for the accreditation costs (Ewell, 2015). Also, certification requires that the university must hire only highly qualified faculty members who ask for high salaries as compared to the teachers who do not meet such qualifications.
- Eaton, J. S. (2010). Accreditation and the federal future of higher education. Academe, 96(5), 21.
- Eaton, J. S. (2012). An Overview of US Accreditation–Revised. Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
- Ewell, P. (2015). Transforming institutional accreditation in US higher education. National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.
- Olivi, P. (2013). Institutional vs programmatic accreditation. Radiologic technology, 84(5), 542-543.
- Pavlakis, A., & Kelley, C. (2016). Accreditation in the professions: Implications for educational leadership preparation programs. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 11(1), 68-90.