Accreditation Frequently Asked Questions

Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College’s accreditation visit is scheduled for April 22-24, 2013.

 

What is accreditation?

Accreditation by the Commission and by other nationally recognized agencies provides assurance to the public, in particular to prospective students, that an organization has been found to meet the agency's clearly stated requirements and criteria and that there are reasonable grounds for believing that it will continue to meet them.  Southern’s last accreditation visit was in 2003 when the institution received a 10-year reaccreditation.

 

What is the value of accreditation?

 

Accreditation provides both public certification of acceptable institutional quality and an opportunity and incentive for self-improvement in the accredited organization. The Commission reaches the conclusion that a college or university meets the Criteria only after the organization opens itself to outside examination by experienced evaluator’s familiar with accrediting requirements and with higher education. The process of accreditation provides the accredited organization with an opportunity for critical self-analysis leading to improvement in quality and for consultation and advice from persons from other organizations.

 

How does the reaccreditation occur?

 

The college will produce a "self-study," which is the accepted process for institutions seeking to earn and maintain accreditation.  It is a self-evaluation that encompasses every aspect of the institution, including educational activities, governance and administration, financial stability, admissions and student personnel services, resources, student academic achievement, organizational effectiveness, and relationships with outside constituencies.  It is an opportunity for the college to identify areas where it needs improvement and to help implement change.

 

What is the Higher Learning Commission (HLC)?

 

The HLC of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools is the accrediting agency for many schools and colleges in our region of the country.  Its role is to ensure students are receiving a high-quality education and that the institution is operating within the boundaries of its stated mission.

 

What is the difference between regional accreditation and state licensure?

While many states have established regulations that must be met before an educational organization may operate, in most states such regulations represent a minimum basis for protection of students. State authorization should not be confused with institutional or specialized accreditation. To operate legally, a college or university may need state authorization, but it does not necessarily have to be accredited by an institutional or specialized accrediting association. In fact, an organization must have the appropriate authorization by a state to operate before it can seek affiliation with the Commission.

What is the difference between institutional accreditation and program accreditation?

Institutional accreditation speaks to the overall quality of the organization without making judgments about specific programs. Institutional accreditation is accreditation of all programs, sites, and methods of delivery. The accreditation of individual programs, such as those preparing students to practice a profession, is carried out by specialized or program accrediting bodies that apply specific standards for curriculum and course content.

The Commission does not maintain lists of programs offered by its accredited organizations. Each specialized accrediting body publishes a list of programs it accredits. This information also is shown in the annual directories, Accredited Institutions of Postsecondary Education, published by the American Council on Education, and Higher Education Directory, published by Higher Education Publications, which are available in many libraries. The National Center for Education Statistics also provides an online tool; COOL (College Opportunities Online), that contains program and other information (http://www.nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cool/). College catalogs usually note all institutional and program accreditations.

Does accreditation include distance education courses and programs?

Yes. The Commission accredits many organizations that offer courses and programs through various methods of distance delivery. Since the Commission accredits organizations rather than individual programs, it does not maintain listings of such programs. The Commission does provide a list of Internet resources on distance education on its Web site. In addition, the regional associations have developed Best Practices for Electronically Offered Degree and Certificate Programs for those organizations that offer courses or programs through distance delivery (available on the Commission's website).

Does accreditation guarantee that credits and degrees can be transferred to another college or university?

No. The college or university to which the student has applied determines transferability of credits and degrees. Transferability depends on the college or university at which credits or degrees were earned, how well the credits mesh with the curriculum offered by the school to which the student wishes to transfer, and how well the student did in the courses.

Many organizations choose to consider the accredited status of the college at which the credit or degree was earned as one factor in the transfer decision. Some have specific agreements with other colleges or universities guaranteeing transfer of credits. Organizations should be prepared to explain their institutional policies on transfer and the factors in an individual transfer decision. Students should be skeptical of any school that makes unqualified assertions that its credits will transfer to all other schools. Anyone planning to transfer credits should, at the earliest opportunity, consult the receiving organization about the transfer before taking the courses for transfer.

Who evaluates the Commission?

The Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is a national, non-governmental organization that provides recognition of accrediting bodies. The Commission's CHEA recognition was last confirmed in 2002. In addition, the United States Department of Education maintains a list of accrediting agencies determined to be reliable authorities as to the quality of training offered by educational institutions and programs. The list serves as one of the bases for the federal government's determination of institutional eligibility for participation in federally-funded programs, including Title IV student financial aid. To appear on the list, an accrediting body must demonstrate its compliance with regulations established in accordance with the Higher Education Act. The Secretary of Education reviews the status of accrediting bodies on the list on a regular schedule. The Commission has been listed by the Secretary of Education (or a predecessor officer) since 1952, when the list was first published. Its most recent renewal of recognition was in 2003.

CHEA and USDE recognition processes evaluate the effectiveness of the Commission's ongoing self-evaluation program. The Commission evaluates its processes in a variety of ways.

  • Participants provide routine evaluation of accreditation processes.
  • Consultant-evaluators and organizations evaluate team performance.
  • Organizations and others respond to surveys on the quality of programs and services.
  • Focus groups and task forces address specific issues and challenges.
  • Stakeholders share comments through Commission listening opportunities.

 

Why should you care?

 
An undertaking such as this must involve everyone on campus – faculty, staff and students – as well as the off-campus community.  The only way to ensure a factual and thorough evaluation of the college is to seek feedback from everyone involved with, benefiting from, or contributing to college programs and activities.

*FAQs adapted from the Higher Learning Commission's Institutional Accreditation: An Overview