accreditation frequently asked questions
What is the value of institutional accreditation?
For members of the public and especially prospective students of an institution the institutional accreditation provided by the North Central Association means that the accredited institution has been found to meet the Commission's requirements and criteria and that there are reasonable grounds for believing that it will continue to meet them. Reaching this conclusion requires that an institution open itself to outside examination conducted by qualified persons using accepted criteria. For the accredited institution, the process of accreditation provides an opportunity for critical self-analysis leading to improvement in quality and for consultation and advice from persons from other institutions. Thus accreditation provides public certification of acceptable institutional quality and an opportunity and incentive for institutional self-improvement.
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Is there a difference between regional accreditation and state licensure?
Yes. While many states have established regulations that must be met before an institution can operate, in most states such regulations represent a minimum basis for protection of students. State authorization should not be confused with institutional or specialized accreditation. An institution may have state authorization to operate, but it may not necessarily be accredited by an institutional or specialized accrediting association. In fact, an institution must have the appropriate authorization by a state to operate before it can seek a status with the Commission.
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Does the Commission rank colleges?
No. The purpose of accreditation is to provide public assurance of educational quality and institutional integrity. Rankings may be found in various publications based on specific numerical details (size, tuition, endowment) or on public opinion. However, it is important to remember that colleges and universities differ from one another in significant ways, including mission, programs offered, and students served. Therefore, the important issue for each student is whether the college meets the student's needs. Published rankings may be one source of information, but they should not be the only source.
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Can the Commission recommend a college to a student?
No. Selection of a college to attend is a decision that must be made individually. There are so many different types of institutions (small, large, single-program, multiple-program, urban, rural, public, private, etc.) that matching the student's interests and abilities to the characteristics of a college requires detailed information about the student. Information about colleges may be found in various books and directories (available in many libraries), and students are advised to consult with counselors or advisors in secondary schools. The admissions officers of colleges are often able to provide assistance, although they will have the most knowledge of the institution they represent. The public information available from the Commission is limited to that describing the institution's status with the Commission.
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Is institutional accreditation the same as program accreditation?
No. Institutional accreditation speaks to the overall quality of the institution without making judgments about specific programs. Institutional accreditation is accreditation of the whole institution, including all programs and sites. The accreditation of individual programs, such as those preparing students to practice a profession, is different from institutional accreditation and is carried out by "specialized" or "program" accrediting bodies that apply specific standards for curriculum and course content. The Commission does not maintain lists of programs offered by its accredited institutions. Each specialized accrediting body publishes a list of programs it accredits, and this information is also shown in the annual directory, Accredited Institutions of Postsecondary Education (available in many libraries). For further information about institutional and specialized accreditation (including names and addresses of accrediting bodies) write or call:
Council on Higher Education Accreditation
One Dupont Circle, N.W., Suite 854
Washington D. C. 20036-1110
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Does accreditation guarantee that credits and degrees can be transferred to another institution?
No. Transferability of credits and degrees is a matter determined by the institution receiving the credits. Transferability depends on several factors: the institution at which credits or degrees were earned; how well the credits offered for transfer mesh with the curriculum offered by the institution to which the student wishes to transfer; and how well the student did in the courses. Accreditation speaks only to the first of these factors and, therefore, cannot by itself guarantee transfer of credits; however, many institutions choose to accept transfer credits only from accredited institutions so that transfer of credits from an unaccredited institution may be excluded. Some institutions have specific agreements with other institutions guaranteeing transfer of credits, but students should be skeptical of any institution that makes unqualified assertions that its credits will transfer to all other institutions. Anyone planning to transfer credits should consult the receiving institution about the transfer at the earliest opportunity before taking the courses for transfer, if possible.
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Who evaluates the Commission?
The Commission on Recognition of Postsecondary Accreditation (CORPA) is a national nongovernmental organization that provides recognition of accrediting bodies. CORPA evaluates each accrediting body against a set of "Provisions for Recognition." The Provisions set forth an extensive list of requirements describing accepted practices in accreditation; CORPA-recognized accrediting bodies must be reevaluated at least every five years.
As of January 1, 1997, CORPA ceased to exist, and its recognition was assumed by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CHEA currently maintains the CORPA recognition while it establishes its own recognition agreements and processes.
The U.S. Secretary of Education maintains a list of accrediting bodies determined by the Secretary to be "reliable authorities as to the quality of training offered by educational institutions and programs." The Secretary's list serves as a basis of eligibility for participation in federally-funded programs, including student financial aid. To appear on the list an accrediting body must demonstrate its compliance with a series of criteria established by the Secretary. Reconsideration of status on the list is conducted approximately every four years.
The Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the North Central Association has been recognized by COPA since 1975 (when COPA was formed), and by its successor organization, CORPA, and listed by the Secretary of Education (or a predecessor officer) since 1952 (when the first list was published). Through its own committees, the Commission regularly assesses the effectiveness of its policies and procedures.
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For questions, please contact one of the co-chairs:
Linda Elliott-Nelson (928) 344-7516
Bryan Doak (928) 344-7617