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Why Accreditation Matters for Grad School

There are many colleges and universities currently offering programs at the master's and doctoral levels in education for professional development and advancement. When experienced educators seek out advanced education, it is critical that they consider the importance and implications of accreditation at the college or university they choose.

What Is Accreditation?

As higher education was developing in the late 19th century, no consistent distinctions were made between what was offered at the high school and the college levels. No standards were in place by which institutions of higher education could develop meaningful programs or gauge their success.

In 1895, the first association was formed among post-secondary institutions "to define the difference between high school and college and to develop some guidelines and procedures for peer review as a condition for membership." In subsequent years, regional associations were formed, accepting only accredited colleges and universities for membership. In this system, accreditation was based on standards developed by independent associations or commissions.

In 1996, the Council for Higher Education (CHEA) was formed. It is a private, nonprofit national organization that oversees all accrediting agencies in the United States. It promotes "academic quality through formal recognition of higher education accrediting bodies and will coordinate and work to advance self-regulation through accreditation."

How Does Accreditation Work?

There are four steps in the accreditation process:

  1. Self-study
    Based on the standards developed by the accrediting agency, the institution or program prepares a summary report of its current performance and what steps it plans to take to improve.
  2. Peer review
    A team of faculty and administrators review the self-study to determine whether or not it is complete, includes sufficient detail and meets the standards set forth by the agency.
  3. Team visit
    Upon completion of the self-study review, a team of review members, as well as practitioners in the field of study and non-academics with a vested interest in the field and in higher education in general, visit the institution. During the visit, they scrutinize the accuracy of the self-study and interview faculty members, students, staff and administrators.
  4. Judgment
    A group of administrators, faculty members and members of the public, called a commission, is organized by the agency to determine the outcome of the process. The commission may affirm the accreditation to a new institution or program, reaffirm an already accredited institution or program, or deny accreditation.

This comprehensive review process for institutions and programs is repeated on cycles that range from every few years up to every ten years, including a self-study and site visit.

Accreditation at University of West Florida

The University of West Florida (UWF) has been accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). This Commission on Colleges, founded in 1912, bases its accrediting process "on the concepts of integrity or dealing openly and honestly with the member institutions with which we work, and quality or an on-going program of improvement that ensures fulfillment of their stated mission."

In addition, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) has accredited the education programs at UWF. NCATE was organized in 1954 "to help establish high quality teacher, specialist, and administrator preparation." As of 2016, the NCATE standards have been replaced by the new Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) standards. The education programs at UWF are currently preparing for their next accreditation visit, aligning to the new CAEP standards.

Educators who pursue an advanced degree at UWF will benefit from the rigorous requirements of accreditation by both the SACSCOC and NCATE. Whether you choose the Master of Education in Educational Leadership or Instructional Design and Technology, the Educational Specialist program in Curriculum and Instruction or the Doctor of Education program in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in Curriculum and Assessment, you can be assured that UWF has "a purpose appropriate to higher education and has resources, programs, and services sufficient to accomplish and sustain that purpose."

Learn more about the University of West Florida's online degree programs in Education.


Congressional Research Service: An Overview of Accreditation of Higher Education in the United States

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Council for Higher Education Accreditation: An Overview of U.S. Accreditation

Council for Higher Education Accreditation: Accreditation and Recognition in the United States

NCATE's Mission; What Is NCATE?

Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

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