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Accreditation ABCs

Accreditation Works Because of a Process

There are more than 32,000 accredited individual educational programs in the United States, including more than 2,200 programs under the CAAHEP umbrella. [Obviously, you are not alone in this accreditation activity; and you are not being singled out. It's part and parcel of being an educator.]

To support this volume of activity, and to do so with fairness to all, there must be a process that organizes steps that each program needs to follow. The process as it applies to your program will be found, in all its detail, on the website of your Committee on Accreditation (CoA). But it wouldn't be very different in any other profession than it will be for you

After 100+ years of accreditation in American higher education, the process is nearly the same across the spectrum of American professions; details vary, but not the essence of the process.

The process not only enables you to know what to do; it also allows you to know what actions at each step along the way you can expect that your CoA, and CAAHEP, will take.

In these times of digital communications, details of the process sometimes are changed in order to increase efficiency. So, please, check the website of your CoA from time to time, just to be sure that you are aware of changes in the details that may have been introduced.

When you start into the process, you will find that there are timelines to meet, forms to file, fees to pay, meeting dates and deadlines to be aware of, and more.

All this is explained in the materials from your CoA and on the website of your CoA. Read it; if you're confused, ask questions! (Down the road, you won't want to experience delays or snafus because you missed a step or a deadline.)

There is a vocabulary for accreditation that you'll soon get to know as second nature.

You'll talk about "site visits," "self-studies," "visiting teams," "employer surveys," "annual reports," and much more. These terms are all discussed elsewhere in YAM and in the materials from CAAHEP and from your CoA.

Before you master these words, please understand that they describe discrete steps in the process, but don't lose sight of the whole: Accreditation is best understood as a continuous process of evidence-gathering, analysis, reporting, review and critiquing, and responses; the process never stops, whether you are working on a site visit, an annual report, or other bits of the process. Here's how that process flows:

EVIDENCE-GATHERING. You gather a variety of required data, information and documents.

ANALYSIS. You analyze all these data, information and documents in a prescribed manner, asking of yourself whether your program meets each and all of the Standards established for your profession.

REPORTING. You report your data and your analysis, in writing, at the established times, to your CoA.

REVIEW. Your CoA reviews your data and your analysis and makes its own judgments (based on the evidence you have provided, and periodically, on the basis of a visit to your program) about whether your program meets standards.

RESPONSE. You receive feedback from your CoA. If changes to your program are needed, time is allotted and you will submit updated reports. And, at the appointed times, in the CAAHEP process, your CoA makes recommendations to CAAHEP about your program's accreditation status.

STATUS. CAAHEP reviews the recommendations it receives and, subject to its own rules and procedures, grants your accreditation status.

CONTINUATION. Accreditation is ongoing, so every year you will gather more evidence, analyze, report to your CoA, get responses, etc., and, periodically, you will experience another visit.

In a few cases, there may be additional steps to achieve accreditation. Built into the process are opportunities to appeal decisions. To the credit of the process, and to the hard work of the CoAs, these step are rarely needed.

If you're just getting started with accreditation, you won't need to think about other aspects of the process, although you certainly may check them out on the CAAHEP and CoA websites:

For example, there is an elaborate process for how Standards may be changed that involves proposals, reviews, public hearings, and if changes are made, a timetable for implementation.

Another example: Your CoA also will have a process for selecting the individuals who may visit your program on site. In due time, you may want to be a site visitor.

Similarly, there are processes by which CAAHEP functions, and one day you may wish to be part of the overarching organization.

But as you begin your involvement with accreditation, focus on the flow of activity described here, and on the details of the process as prescribed by your CoA.

The details are important, of course. But don't get so focused on the steps that you forget what accreditation is all about: Ultimately, it's all about a process that that leads you and others to answer the fundamental question: How good is this educational program?