The Council for Higher Education Accreditation offers the following statement on the nature of accreditation:
Accreditation in higher education is defined as a collegial process based on self and peer assessment for public accountability and improvement of academic quality. Peers assess the quality of an institution or academic program and assist the faculty and staff in improvement. The accreditation of an academic program or an entire institution typically involves three major activities:
- The faculty, administrators, and staff of the institution or academic program conduct a self-study using the accrediting organization’s set of expectations about quality (standards, criteria) as their guide, e.g. the Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s (MSCHE) “Characteristics of Excellence”
- A team of peers, selected by the accrediting organization, reviews the self-study and the evidence, visits the campus to interview the faculty and staff, and writes a report of its findings including commendations, suggestions and recommendation to the commission of the accrediting organization.
- Guided by a set of expectations about quality and integrity, the commission reviews the evidence and the team’s report, makes a judgment, and communicates the decision to the institution and other constituencies if appropriate.
Accreditation is an integral part of the American system of higher education. Our system consists of both public and private institutions with a wide range of types of missions, from national research universities and regional comprehensive institutions to liberal arts colleges and very small faith-related colleges to community colleges and vocational institutions. Institutions that seek accreditation can do so from a wide range of accrediting organizations -- from national bodies that are oriented to a particular type of institution, to regional organizations (MSCHE) that encompass a wide range of institution types, to specialized organizations that focus on a single discipline or profession.