In our recent blog, Part I: Why Specialized Accreditation Matters to You, we explored a variety of national accreditation boards that provide programmatic accreditation for academic programs in the STEM, arts and business fields. This blog discusses the accreditation of the overall institutions of higher education.

The United States has a unique approach to accreditation of higher education institutions. The vast majority of colleges and universities participate in voluntary, non-governmental accreditation through a peer review process.  Importantly, the agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education “as reliable authorities concerning the quality of education or training offered by the institutions of higher education or higher education programs they accredit.”

Benefits of Institutional Accreditation

There are numerous benefits of institutional accreditation to all the stakeholders:

  • Ensures that the institution’s overall academic program meets specified standards of quality;
  • Qualifies the institution to participate in Title IV federal funding for student financial aid;
  • Assures employers who want to pay for tuition or fees as part of a company-sponsored benefits program;
  • Helps students transfer credits to another institution if appropriate;
  • Strengthens students’ candidacy for graduate school.

The accreditation process itself significantly improves the institution.  Higher education faculty and staff cited the following strengths of participating in the accreditation process: peer-review, self-study, more effective planning and agenda-setting, greater collaboration and dialogue between departments, and reflection about priorities, goals and future needs.

Regional Accreditation Boards

Most institutional accreditations of colleges and universities are conducted at the regional level by the following DOE-approved agencies:

Each agency operates autonomously and sets its own standards. For example, the Middle States Commission, which oversees colleges and universities in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, DC, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, has seven current standards in the areas of: mission and goals; ethics and integrity; design and delivery of the student learning experience; support of the student experience; educational effectiveness assessment; planning, resources and institutional improvement; and governance, leadership and administration.

Ongoing Institutional Evaluation

Accredited institutions must have comprehensive evaluations at least every ten years to maintain their accredited status – they cannot rest on their laurels!  California College of the Arts was required to have re-accreditation review by WASC (Western Association), the regional accreditation body, from 2007-2009.  According to Melanie Corn, CCA’s Accreditation Liaison Officer, “The process was successful and quite fruitful, inspiring important college-wide conversations.”  Since the prior accreditation, CCA had increased faculty, expanded facilities, and implemented student learning and program assessments.

In addition, new or changed programs require re-accreditation.  New York University has been a member of MSCHE (Middle States Association) since 1921, was last reaffirmed in June 2014, and will have its new locations in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi reviewed for accreditation in June 2019.

Relationship between Regional and Specialized Accreditation

It’s possible to receive both regional institutional accreditation, as well as specialized programmatic accreditation; or to receive one without the other.

Babson College, which provides a business and entrepreneurial education, has both regional NEASC accreditation and specialized AACSB accreditation. SMFA, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, has programmatic accreditation through NASAD (National Association of Schools of Art and Design), but is in the process of receiving regional accreditation by NEASC. Cornell has regional institutional accreditation through MSCHE, and has a variety of specialized accreditations in engineering, business, and architecture, but some programs, such as Industrial and Labor Relations, are not accredited.

Every college is unique. In addition to finding schools that fit your preferences and interests, check whether they are accredited!  For more information, contact us at  As always, we’re happy to help!