What’s the Big Deal About All This Accreditation Stuff and Why Should You Care?

by Steven J. Brzezinski

Accreditation, or more precisely “regional accreditation,” is the gold standard of accreditation for colleges and universities and what separates them from trade schools and other types of academic institutions lacking regional accreditation.  Most critically, it permits accredited colleges and universities to accept transfer credit from other regionally accredited institutions, makes them able to grant Pell Grants and other forms of federal financial aid to their students, and ensures that degrees received from regionally accredited colleges will be accepted by graduate schools, law schools, medical schools, and similar post -baccalaureate institutions. 

There are only six regional accrediting agencies in the United States: 1) Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools 2) New England Association of Schools and Colleges 3) North Central Association of Colleges and Schools through its accrediting arm, the Higher Learning Commissio 4) Northwest Accreditation Commission 5) Western Association of Schools and Colleges 6) Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.  Because Antioch University is chartered in Ohio, all of its campuses receive their accreditation through the North Central Association.

Every 10 years,  accredited institutions must undergo a rigorous examination of their  practices, programs, governance, and leadership in order to ensure that they are worthy of being reaccredited by North Central.  The reaccreditation process is incredibly detailed and culminates in a site visit from a North Central team.  Antioch University, including Antioch University Midwest, has been preparing for our site visit for two years already; the visit will take place in April , 2013, and will be done by a team of 15 academics assembled by North Central.

There are five Criteria that the University will be reviewed on. They are : 1) the institution’s mission is clear and articulated publicly; it guides the institution’s operations 2) the institution fulfills its mission ethically and responsibly 3) the institution provides high quality education, wherever and however its offerings are delivered 4) the institution demonstrates responsibility for the quality of its educational programs, learning environments, and support services, and evaluates their effectiveness for student learning through processes designed to promote continuous improvement 5) the institution’s resources, structures, and processes are sufficient to fulfill its mission, improve the quality of its educational offerings, and respond to future challenges and opportunities.  The institution plans for the future. There are approximately 60 subcomponents of the Criteria,  which must be addressed in the self-study we prepare as documentation for the site visit team.

It is hard to overstate the work that goes into this process,  given its criticality for our work.  We are in the process of building an electronic data base of literally thousands of documents for review by the accrediting team prior to the actual visit in April.  There are self study teams at each of the campuses working together to prepare the self study. This is a daunting and  enormous task and it is made even more complex and complicated because Antioch University is extremely unique within higher education, a  comprehensive, unified  University, but which maintains 5 campuses widely separated geographically across the country. Students will be actively involved and invited to participate in the interviews and other activities  associated with the site visit process.

This is why you should care about accreditation; it provides the legitimacy necessary for the University as a whole and AUM as a component part to continue to function.

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