6 June, 2016
Accreditation is a procedure by which a facility’s services and operations are inspected by a third-party accrediting agency to determine if applicable standards are met.
Should the facility meet the accrediting agency’s standards, the facility receives accredited status from the accrediting agency.
In the United States, the term is most often used with reference to schools and hospitals. Accreditation of these institutions is performed by private nonprofit membership associations known as accreditors. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversees accrediting agencies and provides guidelines as well as resources and relevant data. In contrast, in many other countries the authority to operate an educational institution is at the discretion of the central government, typically through a Ministry of Education (MOE). In these countries, the MOE may provide roles similar to those of accreditation body, depending on resources and government interests.
Accreditation in the U.S.
It is vital that the concept of accreditation not be confused with the authority to operate. The authority to operate a school in the U.S. is approved by each of the states individually. As the U.S. is federal republic, the authority of the U.S. Department of Education does not extend to authorizing schools to operate, to enroll students, or to award degrees. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education is not responsible for accreditation of institutions.
In the United States of America the accreditation of schools has long been established as a peer review process coordinated by accreditation commissions and the members, and predating the U.S. Department of Education by many decades. As noted, the U.S. Department of Education itself, does not have the duty to accredit schools. These accreditation commissions are formed, funded, and operated by their members to create an academic community that is self-regulating.
With the advent of the U.S. Department of Education and under the terms of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, the U.S. Secretary of Education is asked by law to publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies that the Secretary determines to be reliable authorities as to the quality of education or training provided by the institutions of higher education and the higher education programs they accredit. The federal government makes no distinction between accreditation bodies, giving all equal standing.
Accreditation of Certification Bodies
Organizations which certify third parties against many official standards are themselves formally accredited by the standards bodies, hence they are sometimes known as “accredited certification bodies”. The accreditation process makes sure that their certification practices are acceptable i.e. they are competent to assess and certify third parties, behave ethically, employ suitable quality assurance and other measures etc.
Examples include accredited test laboratories and certification specialists that are allowed to issue official certificates of compliance with physical, chemical, forensic, quality, security or other standards.
Without accreditation, anyone can issue certificates and bad practices or incompetence might discredit the certification process as a whole. However, of course, accreditation and formal processes incur additional costs.