Accreditation and quality assurance
Accreditation indicates that the institution or programme meets certain minimum criteria for quality assurance. In the United States, there are 2 types:
- accreditation of institutions, regional or national (institutional) accreditation;
- accreditation of programmes in higher education, professional (programmatic) accreditation.
Accreditation of higher education institutions
The main aim of the accreditation of institutions – regional (institutional) accreditation – is to establish the extent to which an institution is capable of fulfilling its mission. Where necessary, the institution will be given suggestions for improvement.
In the United States, there are 7 regional accrediting organisations which accredit higher education institutions:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSCHE);
- New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE);
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC);
- Northwest Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (NWCCU);
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC);
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC);
- Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC).
There are 2 organisations which recognise these regional accrediting bodies and supervise their work:
- the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) defines most of the standards for accreditation;
- the U.S. Department of Education (ED) primarily deals with issues relating to the award of government funding.
In the case of higher education institutions, it is important to be certain that an institution has been accredited by 1 of the 7 regional accrediting bodies.
CHEA has a database of higher education institutions that have been accredited by recognised, American organisations.
National (institutional) accrediting organisations
As well as the 7 regional accrediting organisations, there are a number of other bodies recognised by CHEA or ED which accredit institutions. These are known as national (institutional) accrediting bodies. They are often responsible for accrediting institutions that primarily offer single-purpose education (education in a specific sector, such as art or business), or faith-based programmes.
In the US, however, students who have studied at a non-regionally accredited institution are often not eligible for exemptions or for admission to (further) studies at a regionally accredited institution.
Accreditation of high schools
The 7 regional accrediting bodies have a separate commission, which monitors the quality of secondary education. In the case of American secondary schools outside the US in particular, it is important to check whether the school has been regionally accredited in the US. See ‘High school outside the US’ below.
The commissions for the accreditation of secondary education are as follows:
- Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association for Schools and Colleges (ASCWASC).
- AdvancED was created from the merger of 3 commissions: the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI), the Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC), and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI). AdvancED is called Cognia since the merger with Measured Progress in 2019.
- Commission on secondary schools of the Middle States Association (MSA-CESS).
- The 3 separate commissions of the New England Association of Schools and College (NEASC) are described on the NEASC website:
- Independent Schools PK-12
- International Education PS-12
- Public schools K-12
In the case of high schools in the US, it is important to be certain that they:
- have been regionally accredited by 1 of the commissions; or
- have been recognised (accredited) by the state.
Please note: public schools are accredited by a regional accrediting body and/or by the state.
The State Boards of Education are responsible for accreditation by the state. Terms for this accreditation include state-approved, ‘state-recognized’ or state-accredited. A state’s State Board of Education can be found through ‘State Profiles’ on the State Board Insight website of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE).
Other bodies are also involved in the accreditation of high schools. It is often unclear whether their work is monitored. In the case of private schools in particular, other (non-regional) bodies are responsible for accreditation.
High school outside the US
American schools abroad are often, but not always, regionally accredited. If they are not regionally accredited, schools may be accredited by other organisations such as:
- the Council of International Schools (CIS); or
- the National Council for Private School Accreditation (NCPSA).
Accreditation by these 2 organisations is accepted in the US and usually in the Netherlands as well.
Accreditation of programmes
Besides organisations that accredit institutions, there are also organisations that accredited study programmes in certain fields in the US. This recognition is known as professional accreditation, or programmatic accreditation or ‘specialized accreditation’. Among other things, it includes programmes in business, engineering and medical/paramedical sciences.
Programmatic accreditation or ‘specialized accreditation’ is important for professions in the US where this type of accreditation is required, such as engineers, architects and medical/paramedical professions. This accreditation is also important for practising these types of professions in the Netherlands.