What Is Programmatic Accreditation?

Programmatic accreditation is essential for education in many fields. But all accrediting agencies aren't created equal. Here's what you need to know.

portrait of Sharon Wilfong
by Sharon Wilfong

Published on July 1, 2022 · Updated on July 6, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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What Is Programmatic Accreditation?
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Accreditation is an evaluative process used to ensure that institutions of higher education and their programs meet acceptable educational standards. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) oversee these independent accrediting agencies.

Whereas programmatic accreditation focuses on assessing specific programs at a school, institutional accreditation evaluates an educational institution as a whole. Institutional accreditation is essential for credibility, distributing federal financial aid, and efficiently transferring credits.

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Additionally, employers often only hire graduates from accredited colleges.

Why Is Programmatic Accreditation Important?

Programmatic accreditation ensures an academic program meets rigorous educational quality standards. This credential applies to a single degree program or school housed in an accredited institution. Although there isn't programmatic accreditation for all fields, it's vital for many areas, including nursing, business, engineering, and counseling.

For example, graduates from unaccredited programs in nursing may not qualify for certification or licensing exams. Proper accreditation is also essential for online colleges and universities to ensure they provide the same quality education as traditional colleges.

Finally, programmatic accreditation proves to prospective employers that graduates developed applicable knowledge and skills during their program.

How Programmatic Accreditation Differs From Institutional Accreditation

Programmatic accreditation varies depending on the industry, while institutional accreditation is a reliable indication of a reputable college. Institutional accrediting bodies assess academic and organizational structures as a whole to confirm the education offered by a college or university meets quality standards.

What's more, accreditation is one of the requirements for a school to be eligible for federal student aid programs. Students who attend unaccredited schools may not qualify for federal aid. Alternatively, programmatic accreditation is for professional and specialized programs offered by accredited institutions.

Some specialized accrediting bodies can provide both institutional and programmatic accreditation for single-purpose freestanding institutions, such as trade schools. Many professions require candidates to complete a program overseen by a specific accrediting agency to qualify for licensing or certification exams.

How to Check for Programmatic Accreditation

The same agencies that assess on-campus programs typically evaluate online programs to confirm they meet quality educational standards. However, it's important to know that some accreditation agencies may not be reputable and use names similar to legitimate agencies to mislead students.

Fake accreditors for online programs can appear legitimate with a professional-looking website. Researching a school's accreditations is essential because, without proper accreditation, the education they provide might not be worth anything.

Students can check CHEA's directory of programmatic accrediting agencies to verify legitimate programmatic accreditation. ED's database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs is another place to verify institutional and programmatic accreditation.

What Are Programmatic Accrediting Agencies?

Programmatic accrediting agencies conduct in-depth assessments of certain specialized college and university programs and independent institutions. There are a few differences between ED recognition and CHEA recognition regarding these independent agencies.

For example, ED requires an institution or program to participate in federal student aid or government programs. CHEA recognition doesn't require federal aid participation, but programs and institutions must meet specific educational standards.

Some agencies, such as the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education, aren't recognized by CHEA but are recognized by ED. Similarly, CHEA recognizes some accrediting bodies that aren't contained in ED's database.

The best-case scenario for an accrediting organization is to be in both databases. Here are a few examples of accreditors recognized by both ED and CHEA:

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