Federal Student Aid - IFAP
SFA Information for Financial Aid Professionals
U.S. Department of Education
PublicationDate: 4/1/96

Nationally Recognized
Accrediting Agencies
and Associations

Criteria and Procedures for
Listing by the U.S. Secretary of Education
and Current List

Department of Education
Office of Postsecondary Education

April 1996

Accreditation in the United States

The United States has no Federal ministry of education or other
centralized authority exercising single national control over
postsecondary educational institutions in this country. The
States assume varying degrees of control over education, but, in
general, institutions of higher education are permitted to
operate with considerable independence and autonomy. As a
consequence, American educational institutions can vary widely in
the character and quality of their programs.

In order to insure a basic level of quality, the practice of
accreditation arose in the United States as a means of conducting
nongovernmental, peer evaluation of educational institutions and
programs. Private educational associations of regional or
national scope have adopted criteria reflecting the qualities of
a sound educational program and have developed procedures for
evaluating institutions or programs to determine whether or not
they are operating at basic levels of quality.

Functions of Accreditation

1. Certifying that an institution or program has met
established standards;

2. Assisting prospective students in identifying acceptable

3. Assisting institutions in determining the acceptability of
transfer credits;

4. Helping to identify institutions and programs for the
investment of public and private funds;

5. Protecting an institution against harmful internal and
external pressure;

6. Creating goals for self-improvement of weaker programs and
stimulating a general raising of standards among educational

7. Involving the faculty and staff comprehensively in
institutional evaluation and planning;

8. Establishing criteria for professional certification and
licensure and for upgrading courses offering such preparation;

9. Providing one of several considerations used as a basis for
determining eligibility for Federal assistance.

The Accrediting Procedure

1. Standards: The accrediting agency, in collaboration with
educational institutions, establishes standards.

2. Self-study: The institution or program seeking
accreditation prepares an in-depth self-evaluation study that
measures its performance against the standards established by the
accrediting agency.

3. On-site Evaluation: A team selected by the accrediting
agency visits the institution or program to determine first-hand
if the applicant meets the established standards.

4. Publication: Upon being satisfied that the applicant meets
its standards, the accrediting agency grants accreditation or
preaccreditation status and lists the institution or program in
an official publication with other similarly accredited or
preaccredited institutions or programs.

5. Reevaluation: The accrediting agency periodically
reevaluates each institution or program that it lists to
ascertain whether continuation of its accredited or preaccredited
status is warranted.

Types of Accreditation

There are two basic types of educational accreditation: one
identified as "institutional" and one referred to as
"specialized" or "programmatic."

Institutional accreditation normally applies to an entire
institution, indicating that each of an institution's parts is
contributing to the achievement of the institution's objectives,
although not necessarily all at the same level of quality. The
various commissions of the regional accrediting associations, for
example, perform institutional accreditation, as do many national
accrediting agencies.

Specialized or programmatic accreditation normally applies to
programs, departments, or schools that are parts of an
institution. The accredited unit may be as large as a college or
school within a university or as small as a curriculum within a
discipline. Most of the specialized or programmatic accrediting
agencies review units within an institution of higher education
that is accredited by one of the regional accrediting
commissions. However, certain accrediting agencies also accredit
professional schools and other specialized or vocational
institutions of higher education that are free-standing in their
operations. Thus, a "specialized" or "programmatic" accrediting
agency may also function in the capacity of an "institutional"
accrediting agency. In addition, a number of specialized
accrediting agencies accredit educational programs within non-
educational settings, such as hospitals.

Accreditation does not provide automatic acceptance by an
institution of credit earned at another institution, nor does it
give assurance of acceptance of graduates by employers.
Acceptance of students or graduates is always the prerogative of
the receiving institution or employer. For these reasons,
besides ascertaining the accredited status of a school or
program, students should take additional measures to determine,
prior to enrollment, whether or not their educational goals will
be met through attendance at a particular institution. These
measures should include inquiries to institutions to which
transfer might be desired or to prospective employers and, if
possible, personal inspection of the institution at which
enrollment is contemplated.

Nongovernmental Coordinating Agency

The Council on Postsecondary Accreditation (COPA) was established
in 1974 through the merger of the Federation of Regional
Accrediting Commissions of Higher Education and the National
Commission on Accrediting, whose membership was comprised of
various specialized and national institutional accrediting
agencies. It served as a nongovernmental organization whose
purpose was to foster and facilitate the role of accrediting
agencies in promoting and ensuring the quality and diversity of
American postsecondary education. Through its Committee on
Recognition, COPA recognized, coordinated, and periodically
reviewed the work of its member accrediting agencies and the
appropriateness of existing or proposed accrediting agencies and
their activities, through its granting of recognition and
performance of other related functions. After COPA voted to
dissolve in December 1993, a new entity, the Commission on
Recognition of Postsecondary Accreditation (CORPA) was
established in January 1994 to carry out the evaluation and
recognition of accrediting agencies that was previously carried
out by COPA.

National Recognition
of Accrediting Agencies and
Associations By the U.S. Secretary of Education

The U.S. Secretary of Education is required by statute to publish
a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies and
associations that the Secretary determines to be reliable
authorities as to the quality of education or training provided
by the institutions of higher education and the higher education
programs they accredit.

Most institutions attain eligibility for Federal funds by holding
accredited or preaccredited status with one of the accrediting
agencies recognized by the Secretary of Education, in addition to
fulfilling other eligibility requirements.

The commissions of the regional associations and the national
accrediting agencies that are recognized by the Secretary have no
legal control over educational institutions or programs. They
promulgate standards of quality or criteria of institutional
excellence and approve or admit to membership those institutions
that meet the standards or criteria.

The Accrediting Agency Evaluation Branch

The Accrediting Agency Evaluation Branch is established to deal
with accreditation matters. Located in the Office of
Postsecondary Education, the Branch has the following major

1. Continuous review of standards, policies, procedures, and
issues in the area of the Department of Education's interests and
responsibilities relative to accreditation;

2. Administration of the process whereby accrediting agencies
and State approval agencies secure initial and renewed
recognition by the Secretary of Education;

3. Liaison with accrediting agencies and State approval

4. Consultative services to institutions, associations, State
agencies, other Federal agencies, and Congress regarding

5. Interpretation and dissemination of policy relative to
accreditation issues in the case of all appropriate programs
administered by the Department of Education;

6. Conduct and stimulation of appropriate research; and

7. Support for the Secretary's National Advisory Committee
on Institutional Quality and Integrity.

The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and

The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and
Integrity was established under the Higher Education Amendments
of 1992 (Public Law 102-325). It is composed of 15 persons
appointed by the Secretary of Education from among individuals
who are representatives of, or knowledgeable concerning,
education and training beyond secondary education, including
representatives of all sectors and types of institutions of
higher education and representatives of the general public.
Members of the committee serve three-year terms.


The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and
Integrity advises the Secretary of Education on matters related
to accreditation and to the process for determining the
eligibility and certification of institutions and the provisions
of financial aid also under Title IV of the Higher Education Act
of 1965, as amended. Specifically, the Committee--

1. Advises the Secretary with respect to establishment and
enforcement of the standards of accrediting agencies or
associations under subpart 2 of part H, Title IV, of the Higher
Education Amendments;

2. Advises the Secretary with respect to the recognition of
a specific accrediting agency or association or a specific State
approval agency;

3. Advises the Secretary with respect to the preparation
and publication of the list of nationally recognized accrediting
agencies and associations;

4. Develops and recommends to the Secretary standards and
criteria for specific categories of vocational training
institutions and institutions of higher education for which there
are no recognized accrediting agencies, associations, or State
agencies, in order to establish the eligibility of such
institutions on an interim basis for participation in federally
funded programs;

5. Advises the Secretary with respect to the eligibility
and certification process for institutions of higher education
under Title IV of the HEA, together with recommendations for
improvement in such process;

6. Advises the Secretary with respect to the functions of
the Secretary under subpart 1 of part H, relating to State
institutional integrity standards;

7. Advises the Secretary with respect to the relationship

(A) Accreditation of institutions of higher education and
the certification and eligibility of such institutions, and

(B) State licensing responsibilities with respect to such
institutions; and

8. Carries out such other advisory functions relating to
accreditation and institutional eligibility as the Secretary may