In the country of origin of accreditations in the education sector, the USA, regional accreditation for a higher education institution is an important seal of quality. The American higher education landscape is known for its diversity of educational institutions. Universities with a regional accreditation can prove that their institution meets certain performance standards.
In addition to belonging to a renowned university association such as the Ivy League or university rankings, regional accreditation can provide an indication when selecting the desired university. Regional accreditation is usually one of the prerequisites for obtaining national accreditation.
Inhalt dieses Artikels
- Purpose of accreditations in higher education
- Facts about regional accreditations in the USA
- Regional accreditations in the USA: Agencies at a glance
- Advantages of regional accreditation in the USA
- Criticism of regional accreditations
Purpose of accreditations in higher education
The origins of regional accreditation go back to 1885. At that time, as today, accreditation in the USA is voluntary, so there are also universities without accreditation. In the USA, each of the 50 states is responsible for its own university affairs. Licensing is regulated individually at the universities and there is no cross-border regulation.
For this reason, it is not possible to make a general statement about the quality standards at a university on the basis of a federal license alone. On the other hand, an official regional accreditation proves that the performance standards set by the accreditation body or association have been met.
Indicator of an official regional accreditation in the USA
In the United States, the term “accreditation” is not protected by law. To be considered official, an accreditation association or body must meet one of the following criteria:
- Member of the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)
- Member of the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA)
- Recognition by the U. S. Department of Education
Only if at least one of these criteria is fulfilled, an accreditation is considered to be officially recognised.
Facts about regional accreditations in the USA
Regional Accreditation is the most common form of accreditation in the USA. Regional accreditation agencies independently evaluate the performance standards of research universities, community colleges and all types of colleges and schools that exist in the USA.
In the United States, a high quality of higher education institutions is therefore guaranteed primarily through accreditations. The accreditation process is usually carried out in the course of a self-analysis and a peer review process and is based on strict criteria.
Institutions of higher education and universities have to analyse in regular self-assessments how well they meet these standards, depending on the requirements of the accreditation agency. After a review by the Accreditation Commission, the accreditation status of the institution is determined.
The regions of the respective regional accreditation agency are interlinked in different ways in order to be able to act as a cross-national system. In addition, the regional
Accreditation agencies develop common guidelines and meet every two years for the supraregional exchange of information. This is intended to ensure nationwide recognition of degrees within the USA.
Regional accreditations in the USA: Agencies at a glance
The following seven regional accreditation agencies currently exist in the USA, which make a significant contribution to quality assurance in higher education in the USA. They are responsible for a specific part of the country. Recognised regional accreditation agencies include
The HLC (Higher Learning Commission) was founded in 1895 as one of six regional institutional accreditation bodies in the United States. The HLC accredits postgraduate institutions of higher education that award at least one Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in the North Central Region.
Regional responsibilities: Arizona, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Link to the HLC website:
The MSCHE (Middle States Commission on Higher Education) was founded in 1919 and is a non-governmental non-profit organization dedicated to quality assurance and accreditation in the higher education sector of the Middle States in the USA. MSCHE is officially recognized by the U. S. Department of Education and CHEA. MSCHE accredited institutions are reviewed at regular intervals to ensure a continuous evaluation of all educational institutions.
Regional responsibilities: Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and individual universities in other countries.
Link to the website of MSCHE:
The NEASC-CIHE (New England Association of Schools and Colleges – Commission on Institutions of Higher Education) was founded in 1885 and is the oldest of the regional accreditation agencies for schools and universities in the USA. NEASC is headquartered in Burlington, Massachusetts. NEASC accredits more than 2000 public and independent schools, colleges and universities in the six New England states and some overseas schools.
Regional responsibilities: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and individual universities in other countries.
Link to the NEASC website:
The NWCCU (Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities) strives to continuously improve the quality of study and teaching at colleges and universities in the Northwest of the United States. The NWCCU promotes analytical, institutional self-assessment and critical peer review at the respective universities.
Regional responsibilities: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington
Link to the NWCCU website:
The SACSCOC (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – Commission on Colleges) accredits public and private educational institutions in the south of the United States. Headquartered in North Druid Hills, Georgia. The SACS-COC accredits both public and private tertiary education institutions in the United States, including community colleges and four-year colleges.
Regional responsibilities: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and others.
Link to the SACS-COC website:
The ACCJC-WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges – Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges) accredits private and public community colleges as well as other educational institutions awarding Associate Degrees. Since 1962, the ACCJC-WASC has been an independent organisation in the West of the USA, representing a rigorous peer review system that constantly evaluates the universities.
Regional responsibilities: California, Hawaii and others
Link to the ACCJC-WASC website:
The WSCUC (WASC Senior College and University Commission), also known as the Commission, is responsible for the accreditation of public and private universities, colleges and four-year colleges in the United States. The WSCUC accredits institutions as a whole, not individual programmes. The WSCUC accreditation process therefore promotes not only the development and maintenance of effective study programmes, but also a high degree of quality in study and teaching.
Regional responsibilities: California, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and others
Link to the WASC-SCUC website:
Advantages of regional accreditation in the USA
Apart from the officially recognised regional accreditations, there are also accreditation agencies that are not accepted by CHEA, ASPA or the US Department of Education. The following list provides reasons why an officially recognised accreditation is advantageous not only for the university itself, but also for its international students:
- The recognition of academic achievements and degrees such as a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree at US universities without regional or national accreditation is problematic not only in the states but also abroad.
- A change of study, for example from a community college to a university, is only possible if an official regional accreditation is available.
- The receipt of government grants such as foreign BAföG or scholarships is linked to the visit of a regionally accredited higher education institution that is attending a regionally accredited higher education institution.
- Employers in the USA or abroad usually only recognise a degree if it has been awarded at an officially recognised university.
Criticism of regional accreditations
There are various interest groups among the higher education institutions that demand more state control over higher education. However, the transformation of the higher education sector, which is accompanied by regional accreditations, into a task increasingly subject to the individual federal states, is seen as a cutback in academic freedom.