Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
General Information about Accreditation
What is accreditation?
Accreditation is the process for evaluating and assuring the quality of education used by the American higher education community. It is a uniquely American quality assurance process through which institutions collectively set standards for good practice, conduct peer-based evaluations of institutions on a regular basis, confer accredited status on institutions, and make the results of accreditation review of institutions known to the public. Through accreditation, the higher education community shoulders the responsibility for monitoring the quality of the programs and services of member institutions. Agencies that develop and apply standards are often called accrediting commissions. Accrediting commissions were created by the collective group of institutions that wished to engage in the quality review and assurance process, and those institutions were and are referred to as the member institutions of a commission.
There are three types of accrediting agencies or commissions used in the United States.
Regional Accreditation: The most highly regarded form of institutional accreditation, and that sought by most academic institutions with comprehensive missions, is conducted by accrediting agencies that have chosen to organize themselves into six broad geographic regions of the country. These are referred to as the regional accrediting commissions and operate in the New England states, the mid-Atlantic states, the southern states, the middle or north central states, the northwestern states, and the western states and U.S. territories of the Pacific. The commissions in these six regions, which have standards that cover the entire institution, require that a component of general education be included in all degree programs. These commissions issue a periodic report on the quality of the entire institution according to processes and procedures established by each commission. The regional accrediting commissions set a very high standard for the performance of the entire institution. Not all higher education institutions can meet these standards.
Programmatic Accreditation: Programmatic accrediting agencies provide quality assurance for individual degree programs that may be offered within accredited institutions but that require special review because their graduates become licensed practitioners (for example, nursing, medical, culinary programs or law schools). The programmatic accrediting agencies assure that the quality of the educational program meets the national and state standards and that graduates are prepared to pass licensure examinations.
National Accreditation: National accrediting agencies accredit institutions with specialized missions (for example, businesses colleges or colleges of art and design). These are referred to as the specialized or national accrediting commissions.
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) accredits associate degree granting institutions in California, Hawaii, the Territories of Guam and American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. ACCJC is one of three commissions under the corporate entity known as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) is the corporate entity that consists of three separately organized commissions within the western region. WASC separates the two kinds of higher education institutions (two-year and four-year) into separate commissions. The three commissions that make up WASC are:
- The Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities (ACSCU), which accredits public and private senior colleges and universities;
- The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), which evaluates and accredits public and private postsecondary institutions that offer two-year education programs and award the associate degree;
- The Accrediting Commission for Schools (ACS), which has the responsibility for the accreditation of all schools below the college level. Included are elementary, junior high, middle, high and adult schools, whether public, private or church-related.
The purposes of ACCJC are to evaluate member institutions to assure the educational community, the general public, and other organizations and agencies that an institution has clearly defined objectives appropriate to higher education; has established conditions under which their achievement can reasonably be expected; appears in fact to be accomplishing them substantially; is so organized, staffed, and supported that it can be expected to continue to do so; and demonstrates that it meets commission standards. The commission encourages and supports institutional development and improvement through self study and periodic evaluation by qualified peer professionals.
Process for becoming accredited
Prior to making a formal application, an institution wishing to become a candidate for accreditation by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges must begin by assessing itself in relation to the basic criteria for institutional eligibility through an eligibility application and supporting documentation. The institution should also review the standards of accreditation and commission policies, which provide a clear statement of ultimate commission expectations of institutional performance and quality and give further definition to the eligibility criteria. The eligibility process is designed to screen institutions prior to a period of formal and extensive institutional self study so that only institutions that meet the basic criteria for eligibility may proceed. Following review, the institution may be granted or denied eligibility.
If eligibility is granted, the institution may apply for candidacy status by completing and submitting a "Self Study Report" using the standards of accreditation, the Self Study Manual, and other commission policies and resources. This report is supported by evidence that is retained at the college for review by the accreditation team. The report is submitted to the commission, which sends a team to visit the college for the purpose of determining if the institution meets the standards, policies and eligibility criteria of the commission. Following the review, the institution may be granted candidacy or extension, deferral, denial or termination of candidacy by the commission.
If the commission grants candidacy, which is generally awarded for a period of two years, the institution next applies for initial accreditation. This is accomplished by submitting the Self Study Report using the standards of accreditation, the Self Study Manual, and other commission policies and resources. This Self Study Report is supported by evidence that the institution continues to meet the eligibility requirements, as well as the standards and policies. Following submission of the report, a team visits the institution for the purpose of ensuring the college meets all standards of the commission. Following the review of the self study and team reports, the institution may be granted initial accreditation, extension or denial of initial accreditation.
If initial accreditation is granted, the institution then begins a six-year cycle of periodic review for reaffirmation of accreditation, which has several parts. These include a six-year comprehensive evaluation, a mid-term evaluation in the third year, annual reports and annual fiscal reports to the commission, and other progress and substantive change reports and visits as deemed necessary by the commission.
Sources: Policy on Commission Actions on Institutions, 2005 Accreditation Reference Handbook, page 50; 2004 Eligibility, Candidacy and Initial Accreditation Manual.
The entire process described above is characterized and driven by peer review. An institution at any stage in the process (eligibility, candidacy, initial accreditation and reaffirmation of accreditation) begins its self study by examining itself and preparing a report detailing how well and to what degree it continues to meet the eligibility criteria, standards and policies of the commission. During that period of self evaluation, the institution is encouraged to seek broad input from the various constituent groups on campus and provide for periodic and open dialog and contribution. The resultant Self Study Report represents the institution's honest appraisal of how it continues to meet all commission expectations.
Peer review is also characteristic of the subsequent levels of evaluation of an institution. A team is selected from a pool of peer evaluators that has been recommended by the ACCJC member institutions themselves and scrutinized by commission staff. Team members are trained by commission staff in their roles and responsibilities as representatives of the commission while conducting the evaluation visits. Under the direction of a team leader, the team evaluates the quality of the institution by assessing the degree to which it meets standards and adheres to policies. The resultant team report and confidential recommendation are submitted to the commission for consideration. Following submission of the report, the commission (itself made up of 19 individuals, of whom 14 are institutional representatives) acts on the accredited status of the institution and decides on a course of follow-up to cover the six years leading to the next comprehensive review.
Sources: 2005, Self Study Manual; 2005 Team Evaluator Manual; Policy on Commission Actions on Institutions - 2005 Accreditation Reference Handbook (ARH), page 50; Code of Commission Good Practice in Relations with Member Institutions - 2005 ARH, page 47; Disclosure and Confidentiality of Information - 2005 ARH, page 65; Policy and Procedures for the Evaluation of Institutions in Multi-College/Multi-Unit Districts or Systems - 2005 ARH, page 70; Policy on the Rights and Responsibilities of ACCJC and Member Institutions in the Accrediting Process - 2005 ARH, page 104; Representation of Accredited Status - 2005 ARH, page 108; Review of Commission Actions - 2005 ARH, page 110; Substantive Change Policy - 2005 ARH, page 127.
The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) provides oversight to the American system of accreditation. It conducts a review of each legitimate accrediting commission every five years and confers, on accrediting bodies that qualify, the status of recognition. All institutions wishing to provide students with federal financial aid must seek accreditation from a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting body. The Higher Education Act, periodically reviewed and renewed by the Congress of the United States, contains the criteria that accrediting commissions must meet if they are to obtain recognition from the US DOE.
In addition, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) has established criteria of excellence and a quality review system that define quality for accrediting bodies. Although accrediting commissions are not compelled to seek CHEA recognition, many accrediting agencies voluntarily participate in the CHEA quality review process as part of their own efforts to establish and maintain quality in accreditation practices.
Primary Source: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, 2008.
Guidelines for Standard III.D Financial Resources Review
The Commission is establishing a protocol for accreditation visiting teams to follow when evaluating an institution's financial stability. The evaluation will include analysis of its financial resources and determine if support for student learning programs and services to improve institutional effectiveness are sufficient. To ensure consistency during site visits, the Commission expects that the CBO or team members examining college and district/system finances for Standard III.D will look for the following, either before or during the visit:
- Audits, last several years, how they have responded to the audits. What changes have occurred as they responded.
- Budgets last few years and adopted budget for current year.
- Actuarial studies that reflect long term liabilities. (GASB will ask for review of actuarials every three years) such as retiree benefits, accrued vacation, on workers comp if available.
- In what areas is the college/district self-insured? Does the college/district have a risk management fund? What is the reserve in it? What do their actuarial studies show?
- Cash Flow Statements (privates).
- Current Bargaining Agreements. Any expired labor agreements are a signal for a closer look at college financial resources and stability.
- Debt Obligations: Lease agreements, bonds or notes payable, and other debt agreements.
- Policies related to finance, how they charge fees. (Fees for Private Institutions)
- Most recent variance statement/quarterly reports. (Information showing current relationship between income and expenditures). (Variance between projected income (budget) and actual income, and between projected expenditures (budget) and actual expenditures.)
- Projected ending balance for the current fiscal year?
- What mechanisms do they have in place for monitoring the ending balance?
- What mechanisms do they have for monitoring fiscal stability?
- Foundation(s) audits. Examine where the foundation is housed, how it is staffed (own employees or reimbursed use of college employee time?), the effective support of the foundation, articles of incorporation. Ask all questions that we ask when we review the annual audit. Under GASB, foundation audits are public documents.
- Bonds: If institution has bonds in California, they will be included in the financial statements of the district. If it is a proposition 39 bond, it must have a compliance audit annually. Should look at a bond budget â€“ list of expenditures to date, documents that describe the bond "promise." Look at whether the district planned the "total cost of ownership."
- Procurements: Examine the district's financial management practices, integrity issues â€“ Policies on procurement, bidding, etc.
- Business plan for new acquisitions, for expansion of programs. Education and financial plans to accompany it.
- Risk Management: If self-insured, does the district have the finances to cover all costs? Are there actuarial studies showing the costs; sufficient funds to cover the "retention" or deductible.
- Examine documents that show the institution has made payments to Social Security, IRS, etc.
ACCREDITING COMMISSION FOR COMMUNITY AND JUNIOR COLLEGES,
WESTERN ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES
(Adopted, June 1998; Revised January 1999, January 2001, January 2002, June 2002; Edited January 2004; Edited October 2007)
Section 1. Name. The name of this organization shall be the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.Â It shall be referred to throughout these bylaws as the "Commission."
Section 2. Purpose. The purposes of the Commission shall be the evaluation of member institutions to assure the educational community, the general public, and other organizations and agencies that an institution has clearly defined objectives appropriate to higher education; has established conditions under which their achievement can reasonably be expected; appears in fact to be accomplishing them substantially; is so organized, staffed, and supported that it can be expected to continue to do so; and demonstrates that it meets Commission standards. The Commission encourages and supports institutional development and improvement through self study and periodic evaluation by qualified peer professionals.
Section 1. Member Institutions. The member institutions of the Commission shall consist of all of the institutions accredited by the Commission. In the event an institution loses its accreditation for any reason, its membership status shall cease immediately.
Section 2. Scope. The Commission accredits associate degree granting institutions in California, Hawaii, the Territories of Guam and American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Section 1. Membership. The Commission consists of nineteen members, all of whom are appointed by the Commissioner Selection Committee.Â One Commission member shall be selected from among the nominees who represent community college interests provided by the California Community Colleges Chancellor. One Commission member shall be selected from among the nominees who represent community college interests provided by the University of Hawaii Community College Chancellors. Â In addition, one Commission member shall be selected from among the nominees provided by each of the other Commissions to represent the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities and the Accrediting Commission for Schools in accordance with the WASC Constitution.Â At least five of the Commission members shall be faculty, at least five members shall represent the public interest [as defined in USDOE Â§602.3],Â at least three members shall be administrators, at least one member shall represent independent institutions, and at least one member shall represent institutions in the Western Pacific.
Section 2. Appointments. Commissioners are appointed for staggered three-year terms in accordance with the WASC Constitution, Article III, Section 3b.Â Appointments are limited to two three-year terms unless the person is elected an officer for a term which extends beyond a sixth year, in which case an additional three-year term may be served.Â Regular appointments are effective on July 1 of the first year and end on June 30 of the last year of a Commissioner term.Â
A Commissioner appointed to a membership category defined by position or status is expected to maintain that status for the entire term.Â If the Commissioner's position or status changes during a term so that the Commissioner no longer meets the requirement for the category to which appointed, the Commissioner shall notify the Commission's chairperson or President in a timely manner.Â A Commissioner whose status has so changed is considered to have completed the term on the date that the new status is actually assumed.Â
Section 3. Appointment Procedure. Anticipated vacancies will be announced at the winter meeting for Commission terms due to expire at the end of the following June.Â Notice of Commission vacancies will be sent to the chief executive officers, accreditation liaison officers, and academic senate presidents of all member institutions, districts and Â systems; major organizations; and individuals known to have expressed interest.Â The notice will include the positions open for appointment, the Commissioners eligible for reappointment, and the deadline for receipt of applications.Â Institutional and organizational representatives may submit nominations.Â Individuals may also submit applications.Â Applications are considered to be in effect for one year.Â
All applicants and nominees, including Commissioners seeking reappointment, are asked to submit the following:
- A letter of application stating the basis for interest in the Commission.
- A completed ACCJC data/biographical form. (Service as a Commissioner will be considered for Commissioners seeking a second term.)
- A resume and/or letter of recommendation.
Section 4. Commissioner Selection Committee. The Commissioner Selection Committee shall consist of seven members including at least two administrators, two faculty members, and two representatives of the public.Â The Commission Chair shall appoint three Commissioner Selection Committee members, two from the Commission and one from the private institutions it accredits, and will designate one to be the chair.Â The Pacific Postsecondary Education Council shall appoint one member.Â The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, the California Chief Executive Officers, the California Community College Trustees, and the Hawaii Community College Academic Senate Chairs shall appoint whatever additional faculty, administrators, and representatives of the public are required to complete the composition of the Commissioner Selection Committee.Â The Committee shall be constituted in the spring of each year.Â The President serves as the nonvoting secretary to the committee.
The Commissioner Selection Committee meets annually to consider nominees and applicants and to make appointments to the Commission.Â In order to carry out its responsibilities the committee conducts the following activities.
- selects from the nominees of the California Community College Chancellor and the University of Hawaii Community College Chancellors,
- selects from the Senior College Commission and Schools Commission nominees,Â Â
- appoints the Commissioners from the remaining membership categories.
Vacancies occurring after the meeting of the Commissioner Selection Committee and before the winter Commission meeting may be filled by the Commissioner Selection Committee by reviewing the pool of applicants and nominations from the most recent selection process if the committee determines that the pool is adequately representative of the region. In the event that the pool is deemed deficient, the vacancy(s) will be announced according to the process described above.
Section 5. Officers. Commission officers shall consist of the chairperson, the vice chairperson, and the chairperson of the Budget and Personnel Committee.
The position of Commission chair is filled by the succession of the vice chair.Â The Commission vice chairperson is elected by the Commission and succeeds to the office of chairperson when that office becomes vacant.Â He or she then serves a two-year term as chairperson.Â No member of the Commission may serve as its chairperson for longer than three consecutive years.Â Thus, the vice chairperson may succeed to no more than twelve months of an unexpired term, followed by his or her two-year term.Â When a vacancy occurs in the vice chair position, an election to fill that office must occur within 45 days of the position becoming vacant.Â
Nominations for vice chairperson are normally solicited from the Commissioners at the winter meeting prior to the end of the chairperson's term.Â Nominees for the position shall represent a different membership category from that of the incoming chairperson.Â Four weeks prior to the scheduled vote, each nominee must submit a 200-word statement explaining why he or she is seeking the office.Â The statement is distributed to the full Commission prior to the vote.Â Voting is conducted by mail through a secret ballot.Â The results are mailed to Commission members within one week of tabulation and are formally announced at the next Commission meeting.Â Vacancies occurring outside normal term conclusions are filled through a similar process.
Commission officers are expected to serve in several ex-officio capacities.Â The Commission chairperson serves as an ex-officio, voting member of the Budget and Personnel Committee and of the Policy Committee, and as chair of the Executive Committee.Â The Commission chairperson also serves on the WASC Board.Â The Commission vice chairperson serves as an ex-officio, voting member and chair of the Committee on Substantive Change.
Section 6. Removal of a Commission Member. Commissioners may be removed by two-thirds vote of the Commission for failure to exercise their responsibilities in accordance with the Commission policy on Professional and Ethical Responsibilities of Commission Members or for conduct which is detrimental to the purposes of the Commission.
Section 1. The Time and Place. The Commission shall meet in regular session twice each year to consider the accredited status of institutions evaluated since the previous meeting and to address such policy and organizational business as shall come before it.Â Written notice of the time and place of meetings, and a preliminary agenda shall be mailed to the chief executive officer of each member institution, normally 45 days prior to the date of each meeting.Â At its discretion, the Commission may schedule such additional meetings as it deems necessary.
Section 2. The Agenda. Consideration of the accredited status of institutions will occur in executive session as will all personnel matters.Â Policy and organizational matters will be considered in public session.Â Observers are provided the opportunity to address the Commission in accordance with Commission policy.
Section 3. Minutes. The Commission shall maintain minutes of all of its meetings.Â The Commission shall designate those subjects which are to be discussed in executive and public session.
Section 4. Commission Actions. At the call of the Commission Chair, and subject to prior consent setting forth such action by two-thirds of the Commission then in office, executed in writing, FAX, e-mail, telephone, or other electronic means, actions required or permitted to be taken at a meeting of the Commission may be taken without a meeting.Â Such consent, the reasons therefore, and the substance of the Commission action is filed with the minutes of proceedings of the Commission.Â
The Executive Committee of the Commission shall be comprised of the Commission chair, the vice chair, and the chair of the Budget and Personnel Committee.Â The committee shall serve as council to the President between Commission meetings.
The Commission shall be served by such standing and ad hoc committees as it creates.Â Ad hoc committees may be created at the discretion of the Commission chair, but their creation, functions, and authority must be ratified by a simple majority of the Commission membership at the first Commission meeting following the creation of the ad hoc committee.
Standing committees shall be authorized by a simple majority of the Commission and may be dissolved by the same margin of the Commission.Â The Commission may charge a standing committee with authority to act on its behalf.Â No Standing Committee membership may be comprised of a majority of the Commission.Â Members and chairs of standing committees are appointed by the Commission chairperson and serve two-year terms.Â Current standing committees of the Commission are the Budget and Personnel Committee, the Committee on Substantive Change, the Policy Committee, and the Evaluation and Planning Committee.Â The Commissioner Selection Committee is constituted at regular intervals as described in Article III, Section 4, above.
The Commission shall govern itself by Robert's Rules of Order except in the case where it has adopted standing rules.Â All standing rules of the Commission take precedence over Robert's Rules of Order, but they may be suspended temporarily by the provisions of Robert's Rules of Order.
These bylaws may be amended by a simple majority vote of the Commission after the proposed amendments have been circulated among the Commission members at least two weeks before the meeting at which the vote is taken.Â In those instances where time is of the essence, the Commission may employ telephone, mail, or electronic ballot processes.
 A representative of the public means a person who is not (1) An employee, member of the governing board, owner, or shareholder of, or consultant to, an institution or program that either is accredited or pre-accredited by the agency or has applied for accreditation or pre-accreditation; (2) A member of any trade association or membership organization related to, affiliated with, or associated with the agency; or (3) A spouse, parent, child, or sibling of an individual identified in (1) or (2) of this definition.
Source: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Please visit the ACCJC website for the latest information.
Please visit the ACCJC website for the latest information.