About Accreditation

Resources, Documents and Definitions

About Accreditation

Higher education in the United States relies on accreditation to ensure quality and foster a culture of continuous improvement. Accreditation offers a mark of distinction for academic programs and institutions, signaling high quality and a commitment to excellence.

There are two distinct types of accreditation in higher education:

Programmatic (specialized and professional) accreditation conducts an in-depth assessment of specialized or professional programs at a college, university or independent institutions.

Institutional accreditation reviews academic and organizational structures of a college or university as a whole.


Some programmatic and institutional accreditors may be “recognized” – wherein accreditors are reviewed against established standards set by an external agency.  Many accreditors believe that just as they hold programs to a set of quality standards, it is important that they undergo periodic reviews of their own level of quality.  It is important to know that accreditors do not need to be “recognized” in order to operate as accreditors.  There are two recognition bodies in the United States:

U.S. Department of Education (ED)

The U.S. Secretary of Education “recognizes” accreditors to indicate that they are reliable authorities on the quality of education or training provided by the programs and institutions they accredit. There are federal links (laws or federal programs) that require accreditation by recognized accreditors in order for academic programs and institutions to participate in federal programs such as Title IV student loans and scholarships. Additional federal links include Health and Human Services scholarships programs, Veterans Affairs residency programs and Homeland Security laws, among others.  Accreditors are not eligible for recognition unless there is a federal link.

Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is a non-governmental membership organization of institutions of higher education that recognizes accreditors. CHEA’s primary focus is quality assurance and quality improvement. Accrediting organizations that seek CHEA recognition must demonstrate the quality of their activities and the pertinence and value of their activities to higher education and the public interest.  At least 50% of programs/institutions accredited must be at the Associates degree level or higher in order for the accreditor to be eligible for CHEA recognition.