Accreditation: What Is It and Why Should I Care?

Accreditation is a term that refers to a school or program’s recognition by an independent association established to set educational standards for an academic field.

Schools develop courses and programs to meet the standards established by the accrediting agency, and then apply for recognition by the accreditor. If the program meets those standards and completes the application requirements, the agency accredits the program or school in that area.

Accrediting agencies return at regular intervals to verify that schools and programs continue to uphold or exceed those standards and that they have the financial resources to deliver the promised education. In nursing education, this review process provides an opportunity for accreditors to help schools stay on top of new developments, which in turn lead to better outcomes for patients.

The US Department of Education recognizes two national accrediting agencies in nursing: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

There are additional accrediting agencies, such as the Accreditation Commission for Nurse Midwifery or the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Programs, that accredit particular specializations within nursing. In addition, there is the American Nurses Credentialing Center, which accredits continuing education nursing programs.

Accreditation in nursing is important for several reasons. Firstly, it indicates to prospective students that the educational programs offered by an accredited school meet the standards that nursing leaders agree are essential to produce highly qualified nurses.

Secondly, because schools develop programs that uphold these standards, their graduates have better employment prospects than students from non-accredited schools. Healthcare providers, such as hospitals or community clinics, recognize that accredited program graduates have developed the set of skills and expertise necessary to provide effective patient care. Many employers will not hire nurses who graduate from non-accredited programs, and most accredited nursing schools will not accept coursework or degrees from non-accredited nursing programs.

Finally, students at schools or programs not accredited by US Department of Education recognized accreditation agencies cannot apply for federal financial aid. This puts students at non-accredited programs in the position of having to secure private loans to pay for their education, with uncertain employment prospects at the end of their program. There are associations claiming to provide accreditation, but the legitimate agencies are listed here.

Sources:

Accreditation Manual. (n.d.). Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. Retrieved July 31, 2014, from ACEN