Best Accreditation Practices

Hallmarks of a Good Program Accreditation System

At its best, accreditation serves to improve the quality of educational programs, foster self-reflection and self-examination, and help all constituencies of the accredited program be better informed about its goals and progress.

Some of the desired characteristics of good accreditation systems include:

  • The accreditation process is voluntary 
  • The accreditation process and procedures are controlled and led by local educators and practitioners (as opposed to accreditation by visitors from faraway countries)
  • The process is not controlled by governmental bodies (government inspection is not accreditation)
  • Programs have their choice of an accrediting body (there is more than one accreditation agency that a program may use)
  • A comprehensive self evaluation is a key element of the accreditation process
  • A professional accrediting agency, external to the accredited program, conducts the process
    • Basing the process on the objectives of the program and the constituencies it serves
    • Using representation from all major constituencies in setting criteria and evaluation procedures 
  • The evaluation is based on clear, published standards
  • The process is weighted toward being evaluative rather than regulatory
    • Not using mandatory prescriptions for the program, beyond a small set of necessary fundamentals
    • Requiring no specific methodology and weighted toward outcomes rather than specific methods 
  • It is straightforward to find out if a program is accredited, when it was accredited in the past, which accrediting body (or bodies) issued the program with its accreditation credentials, and what the expiration date is of the current accreditation credential. 

Some of the potential misuses of the accreditation process include:

  • Coercing schools and programs to be accredited 
  • Using accreditation as a disciplinary tool
  • Using accreditation to control the school, limit competition or cap enrollments
  • Favor the interests of one core constituency of the program over others
  • Homogenize higher education (trying to make all programs the same)