the standards of the [accreditation] organization and seems likely to continue to meet that mission for the foreseeable future” (U.S. Department of State, 2003, p. 2). Accreditation is the primary means by which the federal government ensures that U.S. institutions and programs of higher education maintain and improve their quality standards of education. It has been in place for nearly a century. Those institutions/programs that meet and maintain specified educational standards are deemed “accredited,” or as holding “accreditation.”

Although accrediting bodies have their own specific standards, they may require that institutions and programs that seek accreditation have an overall stated purpose (or mission) that defines the students it serves and delineates the objectives of the institution’s or program’s activities. In addition, accrediting organizations direct each educational institution/program to show evidence that it accomplishes the following:

  • Provides adequate resources necessary to achieve its purposes; that is, financial resources, sufficiently prepared faculty and instructional staff, clearly defined admissions policies, and a coordinated and coherent curriculum;

  • Defines educational objectives; and

  • Demonstrates evidence that those objectives are being achieved.

A private form of self-regulation, accreditation offers a strong incentive to institutions/programs to improve academic quality as they go through the required periodic reviews. Accreditation’s most critical responsibility is to sustain and enhance the quality of higher education. In so doing, it protects the public by identifying institutions/programs that have yet to establish “sound academic and fiscal practices leading to quality operations” (Eaton, 2003, p. 1). In addition to serving the public’s interest and needs, accreditation acts as a protective barrier against the undue pressures of politics. Accrediting organizations have adopted this role in part because of the willingness of the federal government to rely on accreditation to guarantee academic quality rather than directly assuming responsibility. Each of the 50 states has a system of licensing institutions of higher education that allows them to conduct business and issue degrees legally in that state. The determination of how institutions/programs meet minimum education standards primarily falls on the accreditation body.

Through their domains and standards, accrediting bodies encourage institutional freedom in developing programs that secure sound educational experimentation and constructive innovation (APA, 2002).

Inherent in their overall goal, accrediting organizations assume the responsibility of making certain that institutions/programs pursue and

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement