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Shopping for Program Accreditation: Deciding on which accreditation agency to pursue. by Fernando F. Padró , Ph.D. Associate Professor, Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership Cambridge College Australian Higher Education Evaluation Forum (AHEEF) 2008 Conference October 3, 2008.

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shopping for program accreditation deciding on which accreditation agency to pursue

Shopping for Program Accreditation: Deciding on which accreditation agency to pursue


Fernando F. Padró, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership

Cambridge College

Australian Higher Education Evaluation Forum (AHEEF) 2008 Conference

October 3, 2008


Points covered:

  • Program level accreditation as distinct from institutional reviews (accreditation, assessment, or audit processes).
  • Program-level accreditation is more often used to highlight professional programs rather than traditional academic disciplines. Often the focus is on professional licensure or certification requirements.
  • What happens to a higher education institution when there is more than one accrediting body in the profession or discipline.
  • Choice drivers: institutional status, cost benefit analyses, and fit between the university and the accrediting body.

“[T]he longer term development is nearly inevitably going to be in the direction of institutional accreditation, complemented by programme accreditation in certain areas …or in certain cases (e.g. institutions not able to be accredited in all areas, but doing well in a few, or those seeking to mark their excellence in a particular subject/discipline).” (Haug, 2003, p. 236)


Accreditation has become or is quickly becoming the “next step” performed after internal quality assurance has been performed (Augusti, 2005).


The emerging ground rules [for higher education] are creating new distinctions among institutions and reducing a number of factors that once highlighted important differences. Beyond the familiar differences based on institutional control, types of degrees offered, or missions, institutions are being more sharply defined by economic and prestige indicators—such as wealth, diversification of revenue, reputation, and market share.

(Eckel, Couturier, & Luu, 2005, p. 10)


On one hand,

“[i]nternal quality assurance processes can delay the approval of new programs and professional accreditation requirements may impose rigidities or introduce delays.” (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2008, p. 23)

  • On the other,

“[t]here is also a growing influence from international professional bodies on the accreditation of programs and the structure of qualifications. Students are attracted to programs which carry international accreditation and thereby give graduates the opportunity for their qualifications to be recognised in multiple countries.” (DEEWR, 2008, p. 53)


“Professional accreditation of higher education courses (whether delivered by a self-accrediting or a non-self-accrediting institution) occurs in a range of professional areas (e.g. medicine, nursing, law, accountancy) as a prerequisite for professional registration on a legislative or voluntary basis.” (DEEWR, 2008, p. 71)

  • The emphasis of program-level accreditation is on documenting performance (through audit or review) of professional programs rather than traditional academic endeavors.
      • A number of professional programs are tied to licensure requirements overseen by professional and/or government agencies overseeing these professions. These programs have regulatory reporting activities with which institutions cooperate based due program recognition and often a link with graduate performance.
      • Professional associations for traditional academic disciplines in the humanities, natural sciences, or social sciences do not typically have this nexus present. Although the professional associations for traditional disciplines may have standards created for ethical and learning purposes, these are suggestive rather than prescriptive and their use seems to be more in line with informed individual choice as directed by academic freedom and/or tradition rather than external review.

Why would academic units or specific programs want to pursue program-level accreditation?

Program-level accreditation provides the opportunity for these programs to document and demonstrate [1] how they meet challenges that mirror the demands faced by professionals in the field and [2] demonstrate the benefit of the program to the institution, the unit itself, faculty and staff, students, and the community (AACSB, 2008; ACSBP, 2008).


There are instances when one professional area or discipline have two or more accrediting bodies. For example, in the USA:

    • Education units have the choice of two accrediting bodies
    • Business units have the choice of three national accrediting bodies
    • Counseling units have the choice of at least two or more accrediting bodies depending on approach to the profession and license for which the program is designed.

When there is a choice, institutions make decisions from a cost benefit analysis.

    • Cost analysis of program inputs (actual and projected costs related to other programs)
    • Cost-effectiveness analysis (costs associated with achievement toward the objectives), and
    • Benefit-cost analysis (the relationship between the investment in a program and the extent of positive and negative impacts on the program’s Environment) (Stufflebeam, 2001).

Institutional attributes impacting decision:

  • Lower status/reputation
  • Mission and vision
  • Extent of non-traditional program offering(s)
  • Organizational climate vis a vis the influence and role of academic staff in determining institutional/programmatic quality
  • Costs/resources
  • Internal decision-making and reporting processes

External climate issues impacting decision:

  • National and state statutory requirements specific to licensing/certification
  • National and state regulatory compliance requirements documenting performance based on statutory requirements
  • Disciplinary expectations and preferences influencing regulatory and accrediting bodies
  • Performance by graduates in the workforce
benefits and liabilities of program level accreditation

Perceived Benefits (Cecil et al. (1987); House as presented in Bahen & Miller, 1998)

  • The Enhancement of licensure and certification opportunities for graduates.
  • Making the program more attractive for recruitment purposes.
  • Reflecting the faculty’s personal commitment to the program.
  • Enhancing the professional status of the program on campus and nationally.
  • Improving the quality of the program.
  • Improving the academic quality of students.
  • Favorably competing with programs that hold other accreditation in the field.
  • Favorably competing with other accredited programs in the region.
  • Protecting the public and guarantees competent practitioners.

Perceived liabilities (Bahen & Miller, 1998; Smaby and D’Andrea, 1995)

  • Limiting the freedom of programs through strict adherence to standards.
  • Increasing requirements, decreases number of electives, and less flexibility to accommodate student or program differences.
  • Providing consumers with a false sense of security.
  • Loosing potential students to less demanding programs.
  • Possibly limiting a program’s ability to advocate for change.
  • Possibility of stifling innovation.
  • Academic-related problems acting as barriers to accreditation: field-hour requirements, different number of hours required for different specialties, number of course courses, and a perceived difficulty for smaller part-time programs to meet standards.
  • Administrative concerns of getting faculty support as well as the time and resources to complete the self-study.
Benefits and Liabilities of Program-level Accreditation
additional liabilities of program level accreditation

The more non-traditional the university, the greater the need to establish legitimacy, engendering a more conservative approach toward external review/approval processes (Padró & Hurley, 2008; Augusti, 2005).

  • Institutional decision making and reporting alignments to program accreditation guidelines or standards along with appropriate state guidelines if these are present.
  • Ability and agility to link, align, and integrate different regulatory compliance mechanisms in what can be a convoluted, inefficient process (DEEWR, 2008; Augusti, 2005; Haug, 2003) and meet new market demands (Eckel, Couturier, & Luu, 2005).
  • Organizational climate tolerance/preference to the degree of external oversight (standards-drive external review versus verification/clarification audit process).
Additional Liabilities of Program-level Accreditation

For those with questions or further discussion, please feel free to contact me at



Augusti, G. (2005). Transnational recognition and accreditation of engineering educational programmes in Europe: recent developments. European Journal of Engineering Education, 30(4), 417-422.

Bahen, S.C., & Miller, K.E. (1998). CACREP accreditation: A case study. Journal of Humanistic

Education & Development, 37(2), 117-127.

Cecil, J.H., Havens, R. Moracco, J.C., Scott, N.A., Spooner, S.E., & Vaugh, C.M. (1987).

Accreditation surveys: CACREP accreditation intentions. Counselor Education and Supervision, 27, 174-183.

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). (2008). Review of Australian Higher Education: Discussion Paper, June 2008. Canberra, AUS: Author. Retrieved 07-28-2008 from author website: 6F1FF9CA3042/22465/08_222_Review_AusHEd_Internals_100pp_FINAL_WEB.pdf.

Eckel, P.D., Couturier, L., & Luu, D.T. (2005). Peering around the bend: The leadership challenges of privatization, accountability, and market-based state policy. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

Haug, G. (2003). Quality assurance/accreditation in the emerging European higher education

area: a possible scenario for the future. European Journal of Education, 38(3), 229-240.

Smaby, M.H., & D’Andrea, L.M. (1995). 1994 CACREP Standards: Will we make the grade?

Journal of Counseling and Development, 74 (September/October), 105-109.

Stufflebeam, D.L. (2001). Evaluation models: New Directions for Evaluation, no. 89. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass.

The Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). (2008). Value of accreditation webpage. From Association website:

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB). (2008). Eligibility procedures and accreditation standards for business accreditation. Tampa, FL: Author. Retrieved 07-23-2008 from