This page will walk you through the difference between accreditation for a whole institution, such as regional accreditation, and accreditation for a specific degree program or department, often called programmatic accreditation. Programmatic accreditation is particularly important for certain fields of study, and some schools may lack programmatic accreditation for these fields even if the school as a whole is accredited. Read on for information on this type of accreditation and how to find the offline and online degrees that are right for your field. Earning a degree with all the necessary types of accreditation for your field will make sure employers respect your education.
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While entire institutions can earn regional accreditation to ensure that the school as a whole meets educational standards, specific departments and degree programs also pursue specialized educational accreditation for departments or degree programs including engineering, business and clinical sociology. Offline and online accredited degree programs use this accreditation not to vouch for the quality of the school as a whole, but instead to provide assurance that the programs they offer meet the standards of excellence set by top academics and professionals in the field.
Accreditation for a school as a whole tells you that all departments at a school meet at least minimum standards for general education, and that the school has the necessary support services to help students succeed. Organizations that accredit schools as a whole look at issues like class sizes, number of qualified faculty, library resources and organizational concerns. These organizations cannot say with certainty that a school offers a comprehensive education in a field like business or computer science, but instead assure potential students that, generally, the institution can meet the needs of its students.
Accreditation for a specific program, on the other hand, is carried out by organizations that employ experts on the topic. A specialized accrediting organization for business or engineering employs experts on those topics to look not only at the general support services the school offers for students pursuing offline and, where offered, online degree programs, but also looks at what the institution offers students in that discipline. These experts look at the curriculum of the department or degree program, examining whether it keeps up with current developments in the field. They also make sure that, where necessary, the school has appropriate laboratory equipment or field experience opportunities. The best online degrees in a field will have this type of accreditation, if a specialized accrediting body exists for that field.
Not all specialized accrediting bodies accredit online degree programs, and in many cases, you will need a degree with this accreditation to get a job in the field. In some fields, the technology necessary to administer the education for accredited online degrees does not exist. Accredited online programs for doctors, for example, are not feasible due to requirements for medical students to work in clinical settings. Other fields, like business, provide many opportunities for accredited online degrees. For example, many top business schools offer online degree programs, as all of the appropriate learning can be conducted exclusively online.
ABET is the primary accrediting body for technical fields like engineering and computer science, and was created as the Engineers’ Council for Professional Development (ECPD) in 1932. ABET is made up of several smaller organizations and member societies, like the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and the American Ceramic Society (ACerS).
These organizations take the lead on accreditation for their specific fields and provide support for accreditation initiatives in other fields. The accreditation process takes 18 months, during which schools must submit a request for evaluation and a self-study report, followed by an on-site visit by ABET members.
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) assesses the quality of nursing degree and certificate programs in the U.S. and was founded in 1998. The organization pays particular attention to nurse residency programs, as these must meet specific standards, which differ from those of nursing bachelor’s or graduate degree programs.
Organizations seeking accreditation must submit a written application including evidence that it meets basic nursing program standards set by CCNE. Programs will then undergo an on-site evaluation by CCNE personnel to ensure that all standards for nursing education are met. The process takes between 12 and 18 months.
The Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) is the accrediting body for all degree programs that lead to a medical degree (MD) in the U.S. and Canada, and has been providing degree accreditation in the U.S. since 1942. The organization requires institutions to provide assurances that its graduates are ready to go on to additional medical learning and to provide proficient medical care to their patients. As the medical field evolves very quickly, accredited programs are visited once every few years by LCME personnel to ensure they remain current in the field. The accreditation process, which consists of an application, institutional self-study and visit by an LCME survey team, takes about 18 months.
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is the major accrediting body for teacher education and was founded in 1954. To ensure that all standards continue to be met, accredited schools must apply to renew accreditation once every seven years. Professionals evaluate the school to review any problems that may have arisen since the previous assessment.
Organizations must submit a form indicating their intent to seek accreditation and verify that they meet a variety of preconditions. After conducting a self-assessment, the school will be visited by NCATE survey teams to determine if any problems exist. The process can take up to three years from the initial submission.
Federal Law Enforcement Training Accreditation (FLETA) is a relatively new accrediting body for federal law enforcement training organizations, such as those used by military police and federal drug enforcement organizations, and was founded in 2002.
Police standards for state and local police are set by the states. Organizations are only accredited for three years at a time, and must undergo an evaluation identical to the initial accreditation assessment to receive continuing accreditation. Accredited programs must also submit reports each year regarding their current operations, which allows FLETA to monitor the continued excellence of academies and programs. An institution must submit an application, prepare documents and information for FLETA assessors and finally undergo an on-site assessment by FLETA personnel. After this, FLETA determines whether or not to award accreditation. This process can take at least 18 months.
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is the premier accrediting agency for business schools, departments and programs, and was established in 1916. This organization ensures that its accreditation meets the needs of the business field by establishing specialized rules for fields such as accounting that have more specific educational requirements. The organization also requires accredited institutions to undergo an accreditation maintenance program every five years. Schools must submit an eligibility application, undergo a peer review and self-assessment period and allow for a visit by AACSB assessors. The process takes more than two years to complete.