Everyone acknowledges that choosing an accredited degree program is important, but what is needed for an academic program to become accredited? First, we need to stipulate whether the program you are discussing is an academic degree, a college within a university or the university itself. There are accrediting organizations at each level.

What is Needed for University Accreditation?

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on College  has several core values that institutions must address to become accredited.

Mission

This first value looks at the mission statement of the school. It must be developed with consideration to the culture of the school. That is, it must be appropriate to “who the school is.” Second, the school must put their mission into a written, public format. Third, all programs offered by the school should advance that mission. If, for instance, the school says one of its goals is to graduate students with a global perspective, then they need classes with a focus on international aspects. The fourth consideration in the mission of the school is that their priorities line up with their stated goals. Their budgets and hiring policies must put resources behind the mission statement.

Integrity

This integrity must be demonstrated in the finances, the academics, the personnel and in the interface of the school with other organizations and programs. A key element of integrity is the ensuring of board autonomy. That is, the governing board has the authority and the freedom to make decisions.

Teaching and Learning

All programs must be kept current through continuous monitoring and updating. In addition, degree programs should be offered at appropriate levels of difficulty to ensure graduate competency. The quality and effectiveness of courses should be consistent from program to program.

Diversity

The program should be inclusive of ethnicity, culture and racial differences, and build upon these diversities in the focus of their courses.

Resources to Meet Their Goals

They must have teaching faculty and support staffing that augments their programs. They also need the financial resources to pay staff, initiate research, provide student support and remain solvent as a business.

Support of Students and Staff

The colleges and universities must offer guidance to students and encourage professional development among its staff and faculty.

Internal Assessment

Schools should have their own protocols for quality assessment, including learning outcomes and cost-effectiveness.

How Are Programs Accredited?

Usually, peer organizations within a discipline accredit programs. For instance, nursing programs may be accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing or by the Accreditation Commission for Nursing Education. The “gold standard” for engineering programs is Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. These organizations are formed by professionals in the discipline that want to ensure quality education. Engineering, nursing and other colleges within universities as well as individual programs must meet standards to be accredited. First, organizations like ABET look at the quality of the university containing the college or program. The host school must be accredited. Another requisite is that the college or program has an internal assessment protocol built into the format. It, too, must have a mission and another requisite is that the program meets that standard.

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Your degree is an important asset in your professional life. These institutions ensure that what is needed for an academic program to become accredited is quality of education.