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What to Expect from the Higher Education Accreditation Process

Topics in Higher Education

In the U.S. higher education landscape, universities seek out accreditation, a quality review process that assures students, families, and the press that a program or institution offers a high-quality education.

Aside from improving a college’s public perception, accreditation is important for students seeking financial assistance. According to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, students who want federal and/or state loans and grants must attend a recognized accredited organization. Additionally, those seeking out tuition assistance from their employers must attend accredited universities.

There’s no doubt programs and institutions desire accreditation. However, the process is complex, and institutions may be unclear on how to qualify and obtain this status. . If your institution is interested in applying for accreditation, read on to find out what you should anticipate from the process.

Accreditation requirements

Accrediting agencies have different standards and requirements that  institutions must meet for an initial accreditation. When you’re trying to become an accredited university, you should do some research on your desired accrediting agency. For instance, the Higher Learning Commission specifies the following steps in applying for candidacy and initial accreditation:

  • Letter of intent to pursue candidacy
  • Comprehensive evaluation for candidacy
  • Award of candidacy
  • Biennial evaluation
  • Comprehensive evaluation for initial accreditation
  • Award of initial accreditation

Membership policies and procedures

Each accrediting agency has its own unique standards for gaining and maintaining accreditation. For instance, institutions and programs must pay fees for earning initial accreditation and then must pay annual membership costs to maintain accreditation.

Accreditors require different membership dues, often depending on the amount of students within a program or institution. For instance, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges has annual dues of $5,500 for institutions with more than 2,000 students enrolled. Meanwhile, the base membership fee for the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is $4,550. However, the HLC has a variety of additional costs associated with off-campus activities, monitoring, and on-site visits, among others.

According to EducationNext, seven regional accrediting agencies are responsible for accrediting over 80% of public and private nonprofit institutions in the U.S. These include:

  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges

Gain and maintain accreditation with Interfolio

The accreditation process certainly isn’t simple. It requires multiple parties, numerous standards, tons of documents, and up-to-date data. Though it’s possible to complete this process manually, with stacks of paperwork, it has become much more streamlined and organized with the assistance of accreditation software. Accreditation with Interfolio provides innovative technology that fits seamlessly into your institution’s workflow, rather than forcing you to alter your operations to meet its systems.

Comprehensive accreditation software gathers the documentation needed to earn and maintain your institution’s accreditation status. In addition, it helps institutions create and store faculty data surrounding hiring and recruiting; this is important in proving to accreditors that your university works with productive, qualified, and diverse instructional staff members. It’s possible to gain and keep accreditation the old-fashioned way (universities did it for years) but the benefits of using accreditation software—cost savings, saved time, and increased data accuracy just to name a few—are numerous.