Accreditation Chameleon Part I: You Come and Go

What does recognition mean? What is the use of accreditation? Depending on where I’m standing on our fair planet, the answer to those questions could be quite different. Understanding what it means for a higher education institution to be “recognized” and what an “accredited” institution is authorized to offer is central to making judgements about the academic value of study at these schools. Since ECE is based in the U.S., we are primarily concerned with finding what is equivalent to regional recognition in the United States. Regional higher education accreditation is undertaken as a peer review process coordinated by accreditation commissions and their member institutions. 

Below are a few rules or best practices to make consistent and sound judgements regarding the credit worthiness of an institution’s offerings. 

When determining recognition, we are looking for the public or state authority that is permitted by the government of a country to oversee education within its borders. Therefore, the recognition is from educational oversight body to institution.  

An accredited institution, or program if the system goes that granular, is one which has been evaluated by that educational authority (let’s say ministry, that’s an old word!) and deemed to have the necessary characteristics to teach and educate the nation’s citizens. Therefore, we would expect a date of accreditation, or when the review and authorization of the institution or its programs were finalized. 

Learning what is accredited is often as simple as accessing a public database to determine if an education ministry has authorized the institution and its programs. Sometimes though it can be like navigating an ancient maze guarded by a dusty old Minotaur librarian. Perhaps the date is ambiguous, or there are multiple dates implying different levels of recognition or provisional recognition. Maybe the name of the ministry has changed over time, or even the body itself has been replaced by regular laws of the country. Beyond that, internal conflict and war can make it very difficult for such a body to both exist and to perform their mission, let alone publish their findings. We can’t always have perfect information, so we strive to collate the best and most broad archive possible for each country and system to form a coherent picture of recognized higher education institutions around the world. So, to review:

  1. Find the authority responsible for quality assurance and regulation of higher education. 
  2. Find the date or periods of accreditation, when the institution or programs are recognized by era. 
  3. Archive your research to understand the process and reality of how accreditation works and what gets recognized. 

In my next post on this topic, I’ll dive more deeply into how an evaluator might make tricky decisions related to questions of recognition when the information isn’t always perfect, accreditation has been given and removed (and perhaps given again!), and the authorizing body itself seems unreliable. I hope you’ll join me next week for Part II.  

Charles Hoehnen is an Evaluator and has been with ECE since 2011. He specializes in country systems from Belgium to Zimbabwe, with particular focus on educational systems in transition. 



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