Accreditation is a status granted to an institution that meets or exceeds the stated criteria of educational quality. The purposes of accreditation are to assess and enhance the educational quality of an institution, to assure consistency in institutional operations, to promote institutional improvement, and to provide for public accountability.
Accreditation functions to:
- Evaluate whether an institution meets or exceeds minimum standards of quality.
- Assist students in determining acceptable institutions for enrollment.
- Assist institutions in determining acceptability of transfer credits.
- Assist employers in determining validity of programs of study and the acceptability of graduate qualifications.
- Assist employers in determining eligibility for employee tuition reimbursement programs.
- Enable graduates to sit for certification examinations.
- Involve staff, faculty, students, graduates, and advisory boards in institutional evaluation and planning.
- Create goals for institutional self-improvement.
- Provide a self-regulatory alternative for state oversight functions.
- Provide a basis for determining eligibility for federal student assistance.
Accreditation is a deliberate and thorough process and is entered into voluntarily for purposes of quality assurance and institutional enhancement. Accrediting agencies assess compliance with published administrative and academic standards and seek a continuous striving for excellence on the part of the institutions they accredit. As such the accrediting agencies serve students, society, higher education, as well as their accredited institutions and entities by striving to insure academic excellence and ethical standards. Providing appropriate accrediting criteria and enhancement services to its membership are key elements in achieving these goals. Accrediting agencies, through peer assessment, attention to educational trends, and a commitment to require both ethical business and educational practices at institutions, promote qualitative standards, policies, and procedures leading to institutional/organizational effectiveness.
Within the higher education community, accrediting agencies, state regulatory agencies, and the U. S. Department of Education are all involved in institutional oversight. As already described, accrediting agencies are responsible for determining educational quality. State regulatory agencies are responsible for granting the legal authority for institutions to operate in their states and for consumer protection matters. The U.S. Department of Education is responsible for determining the eligibility of institutions to participate in federal assistance programs and for enforcement of the regulations governing the administration of federal student assistance programs. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education, using Congressionally mandated criteria, recognizes accrediting agencies to ensure that these agencies are, for the purposes of the Higher Education Act, "reliable authorities regarding the quality of education or training offered by the institutions or programs they accredit."
Accreditation is either institutional or programmatic in nature, and it is intended to assess and enhance the educational quality of either an entire institution or a specific program of study within an institution. Programmatic accreditation is an assessment of a particular program of study such as law, music, or library science offered at an institution. Institutional accreditation means the entire institution has been assessed, from the governance and financial stability to the programs of study and student services of that institution.