Accreditation–it’s a term that you have likely heard in the past, but do you know what it really means? If not, you’re not alone. Many people are unsure about what it means when a program or school is accredited, the different kinds of accreditation that exist, and how this elusive term affects your education and career. Here are some important things that you should understand about accreditation as you prepare to start your nursing education.
What Is Accreditation?
When you enroll in a degree program, you want to be confident that everything you are taught meets professional standards.; You want to know that the curriculum will prepare you to enter the healthcare industry with the most current skills and knowledge in that field.. This is where accreditation comes in. Accreditation is a process by which educational programs are evaluated by an outside body that determines if professional standards are being met. These organizations help ensure that the education you receive conforms to certain requirements, allowing you to proceed knowing that the time and dedication that you put into your studies are a wise investment.
Accreditation is given at two important levels: institution and program. It is important to understand both, as each is important to your education plan.
University Regional vs. National Accreditation
Colleges and universities can earn 1 of 2 types of accreditation: regional or national.
In the United States there are 6 regional accrediting agencies:
- Middle State Association of Colleges and Schools (Commission on Higher Education)
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (Commission on Technical and Career Institutions and Commission on Institutions of Higher Education)
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (The Higher Learning Commission)
- Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (Commission on Colleges)
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges and Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities)
These accrediting bodies certify that schools in their region meet very specific standards of higher learning.
National accrediting agencies focus not on areas of the country, but rather associations of schools with common themes. These agencies tend to accredit post-secondary technical, career, and vocational programs. There are 52 of national agencies in the United States. Some examples are:
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT)
- Council on Occupational Education (COE)
What does this difference mean to you as a student? The biggest issue is the ability to transfer credits between different schools. eLearners.com points out that schools that are nationally accredited typically accept credit from both regionally and nationally accredited schools, but the opposite does not hold true; most regionally accredited schools do not accept transferred credits from nationally accredited schools. So if you began your higher education coursework at a nationally accredited school and then want to transfer to a regionally accredited school, your coursework at the nationally accredited school many not transfer.
This issue isn’t just limited to transferring credits; it can also have an effect on your ability to continue your education in advanced programs, which in turn can impact your ability to progress in your career. Many institutions of higher learning require you to have an undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution in order to apply to their graduate programs.
Nursing Education Program Accrediting Bodies
The Department of Education sanctions two national organizations that accredit nursing education programs. The first is the National League of Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC). As detailed on the organization’s website, the NLNAC is responsible for the specialized accreditation of a wide variety of nursing education programs, including clinical doctorate, master’s, bachelor’s, associate, diploma, and practical programs.
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) also accredits nursing schools, but only those that solely offer master’s and bachelor’s nursing degrees. Similar to the accreditation process of the NLNAC, the CCNE offers a nongovernmental peer review process that operates in accordance with nationally recognized standards, according to the CCNE website. The organization’s mission statement outlines its intention to accomplish several purposes, including:
- Holding nursing programs accountable to the community of interest,
- Evaluating the success of a nursing program in achieving its own goals and meeting its expected outcomes,
- Evaluating the extent to which a nursing program meets the standards for accreditation,
- Implementing changes that can continue to improve nursing programs, and
- Informing the public of the value that accreditation has, so that institutes that have such status are recognized for their merits.
Beyond the NLNAC and the CNNE national accrediting bodies, there are also other accrediting bodies for specific, advanced practice nursing fields. For instance, the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME) is responsible for accrediting midwifery education programs.