Just as you are evaluated for admission to colleges, many academic programs at colleges are themselves subject to scrutiny and approval!  There are a variety of national accreditation boards empowered to perform a peer review of specialized academic programs to ensure that the educational experience meets specified quality levels and that graduates are adequately prepared to enter the profession. Typically, periodic evaluation is required, and the process involves self-study, peer review, and site visits.

Accreditation is a serious, comprehensive process, and in no way a pro forma validation of programs, even strong programs at top colleges. Accreditation is one of many features that may factor into your assessment of whether academic programs are a good fit for you.

Graduating with a degree from an accredited program can be very influential for a student’s future prospects in employment or graduate school admissions.   For students, accreditation verifies academic quality, increases employment opportunities, helps with licensure and certification, and establishes eligibility for federal student loans and scholarships.  The programs themselves grow stronger through the process of self-evaluation and peer review, gain from the international recognition and are able to attract stronger students.  Employers benefit from knowing that students have met the educational requirements for the profession, and are familiar with best practices. And the public reaps rewards from the resulting innovations.

The U.S. Department of Education recognizes dozens of programmatic accreditation agencies for programs of higher education.  This blog discusses many of the most sought-after endorsements, and the range of programs that are – and aren’t – accredited.

STEM Disciplines

One of the most well-known and widely respected specialized academic accreditation bodies is ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering Teaching, a non-profit agency for the fields of applied science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology.  ABET has endorsed over 3400 programs in these fields at almost 700 universities in the US and internationally, and about 85,000 students graduate from ABET-accredited programs each year.

ABET keeps up with the newest subspecialties.  For example, 65 aerospace engineering programs are ABET-accredited, including MIT, Princeton, Clarkson and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. And when MIT launched a revolutionary new aero-astro program in 2010-2011 to provide a more flexible interdisciplinary approach, it received ABET accreditation.

Computer Science, one of the fastest growing STEM fields, had its own accreditation board until it was merged into ABET in the 1990s.  381 computing programs at 299 institutions have received ABET accreditation, with 92% in the US and the rest international. ABET-accredited computing programs range from private liberal arts such as Tufts, to technical schools such as WPI, to large state schools such as UCLA.

In fact, over the past five years, the curricular area of information technology has had a nearly 300% increase in the number of ABET-accredited programs, making it the fastest growing area.  The next highest growth is in the curricular area of engineering, engineering physics and engineering science, with a 72% increase.

Another STEM area of growth is pharmacy, due to the aging population, and the growth of pharmaceutical and related biotechnology industries. ACPE, Accreditation Council of Pharmacy Education, accredits both BS in Pharmacy and PharmD programs.  This agency made a landmark change in the pharmacy profession when it decided in 1997 that the PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy) degree would be “the sole professional practice degree for pharmacy in the United States.” And in 2011, the guidelines were changed to reflect increasing emphasis on student learning outcomes and collaborative health care teamwork. 

The Arts

There are four Council of Arts accrediting associations for higher education:

Art and Design

NASAD, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design was founded in 1944, and currently has 323 accredited institutional members.  Competencies are outlined for each specialization in art, such as animation, digital media, glass, painting, photography, sculpture; in design, such as fashion, industrial or interior design; as well as combined art and design, such as the interdisciplinary study of studio, art history and museum studies.  NASAD-accredited programs range from specialized art schools such as Parsons at The New School to specialized schools within research universities, such as the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. None of the Ivy League institutions have NASAD-accredited art programs.


NASM, National Association of Schools of Music, was founded in 1924, and includes about 650 accredited institutional members.  The NASM’s Handbook specifics competencies for specializations, such as professional undergraduate programs in music theory, jazz studies, musical theatre and music therapy; general liberal arts music programs; and specialized fields such as recording technology. The Frost School of Music at the University of Miami is an excellent example of a top-ranked accredited program, with specializations from instruments such as voice and piano, to applications including music business and music engineering.


NASD, National Association of Schools of Dance, founded in 1981, includes about 80 accredited institutional members, such as Barnard, whose dance program encompasses studio and dance studies courses as well as performances.


NAST, National Association of Schools of Theatre, founded in 1965, has about 177 accredited institutional members, including University of Cincinnatti College-Conservatory of Music.

Additional arts-related fields are accredited as well, outside of the Council of Arts, such as architecture, interior design and landscape design.


A unique aspect of certain fields, such as architecture, is that licensure is required for applicants to begin their professional practice. And licensure is only granted if the individual has attended an accredited program.  The NAAB, National Architectural Accrediting Board, is the only agency authorized to accredit US professional degree programs in architecture, and has so far accredited 154 programs in 123 institutions, including 58 BArch, 95 MArch and 1 DArch program. In California, the architecture programs at UCLA, Berkeley and USC are accredited, as you would expect… but you might be surprised to learn that Woodbury University, a private college in Burbank with 1600 students, has a School of Architecture that offers NAAB-accredited BArch and MArch degrees.


In the field of business, the recognized international accreditation agency is AACSB, The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, founded in 1919.  Today, 716 business schools in 48 countries have earned AACSB Accreditation, as well as 181 institutions with specialized accreditation for their accounting programs.  30 institutions received initial business accreditation in 2014, with eight in the United States, from Saint Mary’s College of California, one of the oldest schools in the West, to Menlo College, founded in 1927, with the tagline “Silicon Valley’s Business School.” Menlo aptly describes how “all members of the college community (i.e., students, faculty, and staff) contribute to the achievement of AACSB accreditation.”

The AACSB interactive website allows you to search easily for type of program, country and state. For example, there are nine accredited undergraduate programs in entrepreneurship in New York, including Fordham and RPI.  Accredited programs in international business in the UK total 11, including University of Edinburgh and University of Manchester.

Accounting represents a growing area of employment.  AACSB provides an Accounting Accreditation Process similar to the Business Accreditation Process, and requires that an institution have a Business Accreditation in order to receive an Accounting Accreditation.  Criteria for the Accounting Accreditation include ethical behavior, collegiate environment, and a commitment to corporate social responsibility. Only 182 schools have received the AACSB Accounting Accreditation, including Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics, University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business and UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce. While the University of Michigan Ross School of Business boasts that its Graduate Accounting Program is ranked #5 in the US, it is not AACSB- accredited (though the business program is).

A university can have multiple programs accredited. For example, Cornell has four distinct business programs. Three have received AACSB accreditation — BS in Applied Economics and Management (AEM) in the Charles H. Dyson School in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS); MMH (Masters of Management in Hospitality) in the School of Hotel Administration (SHA), and MBA in the Johnson Graduate School of Management – but the Business program in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) has not.

Every college and every academic program is unique. In addition to finding schools and programs that fit your preferences and interests, check whether their academic programs in your areas of interest are accredited!  Stay tuned for a future blog about regional accreditation of institutions, and for more information, contact us at www.collegiategateway.com.  As always, we’re happy to help!