Programmatic Accreditation: What It Is and How It Works

Nalea J. KoASO Staff Writers
Updated February 13, 2023
Edited by
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Attending college or graduate school is a big commitment. So how can you ensure your education will be worth it? One way to do this is to choose an accredited program.

Programmatic accreditation tells you whether a particular program meets or exceeds strict academic standards in that field. Learn how programmatic accreditation works, what accreditors to look for, and how to confirm your program is accredited.

What Is Programmatic Accreditation?

Programmatic accreditation, or specialized accreditation, is a comprehensive process that ensures individual academic programs meet certain academic standards.

An accrediting agency — which must be recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and/or the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to be considered legitimate — awards accreditation by assessing the faculty and curriculum quality of a program.

Completing an accredited program means future employers and potential graduate and transfer schools will respect and honor your degree.

Not all programs have specialized accreditation, but certain professional fields, like nursing, will require you to attend an accredited program to be eligible for licensure and jobs.

Programmatic accreditation is especially important for the following fields:

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What Programmatic Accreditation Agencies Are There?

There are roughly 70 programmatic accreditors that provide specialized accreditation, as shown in the table below.

These programmatic agencies are recognized by CHEA and/or ED as of February 2023. Any directory of programmatic accreditors is subject to change since agencies need to renew recognition.

Does Programmatic Accreditation Actually Matter?

Accrediting agencies provide oversight to programs and entire schools to protect your investment and maintain national standards for postsecondary education. This process forces substandard programs to improve and encourages faculty participation in the educational oversight process.

Not every industry has accrediting agencies that provide specialized accreditation. That said, you’ll want to attend an accredited program if you need a license or certification, especially in fields such as education, nursing, healthcare, and psychology.

For instance, to qualify for a state nursing license, you must graduate from an accredited nursing program.

How to Check if a Program Is Accredited: 3-Step Guide

It’s easy to verify a program’s accreditation status. In fact, the process only takes three steps — and you can do it all from your smartphone or computer.

Step 1: Look on the Program Website

The first step to ensuring programmatic accreditation is to check the program’s official webpage for info on programmatic (and institutional) accreditors.

Sometimes you’ll see a logo. For example, the University of Michigan’s nursing homepage contains the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education logo, indicating that some (or all) of its programs are accredited by this agency.

However, even if you spot a logo, it’s helpful to look for an official statement on the program’s accreditations. Michigan has a page detailing its nursing accreditations, including programmatic accreditors.

Step 2: Check the Accreditation Agency’s Member List

Any program can claim accreditation. Some colleges even have outdated information on their accreditations.

For this reason, you should do your own research and check out the accrediting agency’s directory or member list. This allows you to verify current accreditation, regardless of a school’s or program’s claims.

Simply go to the programmatic accreditor’s website and look for a member directory or list. If your program isn’t on it — even if it claims to be — then it’s not actively accredited by that agency.

Step 3: Search for the Agency on CHEA and/or ED

Finally, you’ll want to verify that the accrediting agency itself is recognized.

To do this, look at the CHEA database and/or ED directory for the accrediting body’s name. In some cases, agencies have become defunct or changed names. A simple search can yield the answers you need to ensure you get a quality education.

Frequently Asked Questions About Programmatic Accreditation

question-mark-circleWhat are the different types of accreditation?

The two types of college accreditation are institutional accreditation and programmatic (or specialized) accreditation.

Institutional accreditation covers the entire institution, whether it’s a two-year, four-year, on-campus, or online school. Programmatic accreditation recognizes a specific program at a school. It is typically most important for professional fields like teaching, healthcare, business, nursing, and law.

question-mark-circleWhat is the difference between programmatic and institutional accreditation?

Without institutional accreditation, you may not be able to get federal financial aid or transfer your credits to another school.

Programmatic accreditation doesn’t typically affect your ability to receive financial aid. However, depending on the major, it could stop you from receiving credentials or transferring credits. For instance, graduate schools, especially nursing schools, may not accept credits from unaccredited schools.

question-mark-circleWhat is the purpose of the accreditation process?

Accreditation serves many purposes. Because U.S. institutions operate independently, accrediting agencies keep colleges and universities accountable. It also serves to distinguish programs worthy of funding opportunities.

question-mark-circleWhat is the value of programmatic accreditation?

Programmatic accreditation ensures that academic programs meet certain professional standards. This process not only protects students but also maintains criteria for professional certification in the field.

By setting general criteria for specific majors and departments, programs can set goals to improve curricula and courses that prepare students for specific jobs, such as nurses, teachers, and business professionals.

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