Accreditation in the United States
The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. You can find out more about accreditation online – http://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/index.html
Accrediting agencies, which are private educational associations of regional or national scope, develop evaluation criteria and conduct peer evaluations to assess whether or not those criteria are met. Institutions and/or programs that request an agency’s evaluation and that meet an agency’s criteria are then “accredited” by that agency.
The U.S. Department of Education does not accredit educational institutions and/or programs. The DOE does maintain a database of all accredited post-secondary institutions – http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/GetDownloadFile.aspx
Types of Accreditation
There are two basic types of educational accreditation, one referred to as “institutional” and the other referred to as “specialized” or “programmatic.”
Institutional accreditation normally applies to an entire institution, indicating that each of an institution’s parts is contributing to the achievement of the institution’s objectives, although not necessarily all at the same level of quality. The various commissions of the regional accrediting agencies, for example, perform institutional accreditation, as do many national accrediting agencies.
Specialized or programmatic accreditation normally applies to programs, departments, or schools that are parts of an institution. The accredited unit may be as large as a college or school within a university or as small as a curriculum within a discipline. Most of the specialized or programmatic accrediting agencies review units within an institution of higher education that is accredited by one of the regional accrediting agencies. However, certain accrediting agencies also accredit professional schools and other specialized or vocational institutions of higher education that are freestanding in their operations. Thus, a “specialized” or “programmatic” accrediting agency may also function in the capacity of an “institutional” accrediting agency. In addition, a number of specialized accrediting agencies accredit educational programs within non-educational settings, such as hospitals.
Regional and National Institutional Accrediting Agencies