National and regional accrediting agencies review colleges and universities at the institution-level. Programmatic accreditors provide a more focused evaluation of a specific academic program, department, or school that is part of a larger institution. The accreditation process is similar to that used at the institutional-level — based on peer review and established standards, and focused on academic quality and learner support.
It’s not unusual for a college or university to be either regionally or nationally accredited, and also have multiple program-level accreditations. For example:
- Western Governors University is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NCCU), but also has separate accreditations in its education, nursing, health informatics, and national security systems programs.
- The University of North Carolina is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), as well as more than 20 program-level agencies.
An institution’s accreditation status can affect you as a student in multiple ways, including:
- applying to graduate school
- meeting employer expectations and certification requirements
- receiving financial aid
- transferring credit
Program-level accreditation is particularly linked to employment in many fields, such as the following:
- Nursing: Students who want to become licensed Registered Nurses must pass the NCLEX exam, in addition to completing their degree program. Many state boards of nursing, like the one in Florida, require graduation from approved programs including those accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), to sit for the exam.
- Athletic Training: To receive certification through the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, students must pass a national certification exam, as well as graduate from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE).
Not all fields of study have related accreditation requirements and agencies. If you aren’t sure whether or not programmatic-level accreditation is relevant to your field of interest, contact a professional association in the industry and employment offices in your state to find out more about what may be required for you to be eligible to work.
Programmatic Accrediting Agencies
The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) lists more than 40 “specialized accrediting agencies” in six categories:
- Arts and Humanities
- Education Training
- Community and Social Services
- Personal Care and Services
The agencies listed include those that evaluate specific academic disciplines (e.g., the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education for pre-service education programs), as well as agencies that evaluate “freestanding” schools, which only offer programs in the field specified (e.g., the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation accredits massage therapy institutions).
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) lists program-level accreditors for more than 30 different fields of study, including:
- Allied Health Education
- Chiropractic Education
- Clinical Laboratory Sciences
- Computer Sciences
- Construction Education
- Family and Consumer Sciences
- Fire Service
- Forensic Science
- Funeral Service Education
- Healthcare Management
- Health Informatics
- Industrial Technology
- Interior Design
- Journalism and Mass Communications
- Landscape Architecture
- Library and Information Studies
- Marriage and Family Therapy
- Nuclear Medicine Technology
- Nurse Anesthesia
- Occupational Therapy
- Optometric Education
- Physical Therapy
- Physician Assistant
- Public Affairs and Administration
- Recreation and Park
- Rehabilitation Education
- Respiratory Care
- Social Work Education
- Teacher Education
- Veterinary Medicine
Finding Recognized Programmatic Accreditors
The USDOE and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) independently evaluate the work of accrediting agencies, and officially recognize those who have been found to be reliable in their review of institutions and programs.
The USDOE focuses on accreditation as a requirement for distributing financial aid, while the CHEA focuses on accreditation as a way to measure academic quality. It’s important to understand that the USDOE and CHEA do not accredit schools and programs themselves, but do provide a good place for us to start in our own search for accredited options.
Here are a few resources you can use to find out more about which accrediting agencies are recognized by the USDOE and/or the CHEA, and in turn, which schools are accredited by the recognized agencies:
- Database of Accredited Institutions and Program: Search this USDOE site by school or accrediting agency.
- Directory of Recognized Organizations: A list of accrediting agencies recognized by the CHEA.
- Recognized Accrediting Organizations: A side-by-side list of accrediting agencies and their status as recognized by the USDOE and/or CHEA.