Accreditation in PsychologyAccreditation is a process by which colleges and universities are evaluated against certain standards of educational and administrative quality. In other words, if an educational institution is accredited, it has proven itself to be a reputable institution which offers high quality education. The process is complex and is a very important factor in a degree's marketability and overall value. Therefore, prospective psychology students would benefit from learning about the finer points of accreditation.
Regional Accrediting Agencies
There are six regional accrediting agencies in the United States, and each is responsible for evaluating and accrediting educational institutions within a specific region of the country. These agencies establish the quality standards by which institutions are evaluated, and then conduct an evaluation to determine whether their standards are met. A school which is regionally accredited has met these standards of quality. This is particularly important, because if your school is regionally accredited, you'll have a much easier time transferring credits to other institutions, and your degree will be recognized and accepted by any employer or organization. If an institution is regionally accredited, its psychology department and programs are considered to be accredited as well.
The six regional accrediting agencies are:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools offers peer-based evaluation and accreditation for educational institutions within the Mid-Atlantic region of the country, which includes Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, as well as the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools also evaluates and accredits institutions in other countries, such as Canada and Chile, as well as a number of European, Asian, and African countries. A non-profit organization, the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools is comprised of volunteers, and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) evaluates and accredits all levels of educational institutions (k12 through doctoral) within the New England region of the United States. This region includes Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine. The NEASC is recognized by the US Department of Education (DOE) and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). In fact, it was the first such agency established in the United States, originating back in 1885. Although its main focus is the accreditation and evaluation of schools within the New England region of the US, it works to accredit schools in other countries as well. Over 2000 schools, colleges, and universities are accredited by the NEASC.
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (often referred to as the NCA) offers peer-based evaluation and accreditation for education institutions in the following 19 states: Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The NCA also accredits institutions within the Navajo Nation, located in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The NCA is recognized by the US Department of Education (DOE) and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Of the six regional accreditors in the United States, the NCA accredits the most schools. Roughly 10,000 institutions are accredited by the NCA, including more than 1,000 universities, colleges, and vocational-technical schools.
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) evaluates and accredits education institutions in the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. It is one of the six non-profit accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Established in 1952, the NWCCU is a peer-based, non-profit organization which assesses the quality and efficacy of higher education institutions and their programs. The organization has created a system of criteria and protocol by which the institutions throughout the region may be evaluated and accredited. The NWCCU is responsible for a comparatively small number of schools--a total of 156 universities, colleges, and vocational-technical institutions.
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) monitors, evaluates, and accredits education institutions in California and Hawaii, as well as American Samoa, Guam, Palau, Micronesia, and the Northern Marianas Islands. The WASC also evaluates schools in various locations throughout Asia and the Pacific. It is one of six regional accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The WASC is subdivided into three distinct commissions. The Accrediting Commission for Schools evaluates any school below college level (K-12 schools, as well as adult institutions which do not grant degrees). The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) accredits institutions which offer two-year associate's degree programs. The Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities accredits institutions which offer bachelors, masters, and doctorate degree programs.
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is a regional accreditor which monitors, evaluates, and accredits education institutions in the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. It also evaluates American schools for U.S. students in Mexico, South and Central America, and the Caribbean Sea. The SACS is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). SACS has jurisdiction over a comparatively large number of schools: more than 13,000 institutions ranging from preschools to universities. SACS is subdivided into two organizations: the Southern Association of Community, Junior, and Technical Colleges, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC).
When researching schools, you may see a message that says, "Approved by the State of _______," or "State Accredited." This usually means that the school is rather new, and isn't quite ready to meet the standards of regional accreditation yet. Many schools in this position seek state accreditation as a first step. Not all states have their own accrediting agencies, however.
Special Discipline/Area Accreditation
Because many schools offer unique training in a particular specialty area, and because these kinds of schools are not easily compared to traditional state universities and colleges, there are a number of accreditors which only evaluate schools within certain specialty areas. The Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), to name one example, only evaluates online and distance learning institutions. Specific programs can also be accredited by these specialized agencies, even if the university the program belongs to is already regionally accredited. Psychology programs at regionally accredited universities are commonly accredited by the Consortium for Diversified Programs (CDPP).
The American Psychological Association (APA)
The American Psychological Association (APA) is the preeminent organization representing the psychology industry. The APA accredits psychology schools and programs exclusively, with a particular emphasis on professional psychology. The APA accredits both master's and doctorate programs, in such areas as clinical, clinical-counseling, and other related emphases. There are no other specialized accrediting agencies which evaluate master's level psychology programs.
Educational accreditation, however, is only one of the duties which the APA performs. The APA's main job is to support the practice of psychology in all its forms, and to expand and enhance the industry as a whole.
There are also regional and state psychology organizations. These organizations work toward the same goals as the APA, but operate only within a specific region of the country.
Accreditation, Certification, and Licensing
Many students confuse accreditation with certification or licensing, but they are in fact entirely different concepts. Accreditation is a process by which an entire school, university, college or program is evaluated by an independent agency, to determine whether the institution meets certain standards of educational quality. Licensing, on the other hand, is a process by which individual professionals (such as counseling, clinical, or educational psychologists) are evaluated by state licensing boards. Certification is similar to--sometimes synonymous with--licensing, in that individual professionals are evaluated by local and state governing bodies. Accreditation, licensing, and certification are all methods of quality regulation. However, accreditation is the regulation of educational institutions and programs by recognized accrediting organizations, whereas licensing and certification is the regulation of individual practitioners by state and local government.
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