ALA and accreditation

Questions and answers

Last updated: 5/13/05

  1. What is Accreditation?
    Accreditation is a voluntary system of quality control in higher education, based on nongovernmental, external, peer evaluation of educational institutions and programs. Its purpose is to ensure that education by the program or institution meets acceptable levels of quality based on criteria adopted by the accrediting body.

    Accreditation is both a process and a condition. The process entails the assessment of educational quality and the continued enhancement of educational operations through the development and validation of standards. The condition provides a credential to the public at large indicating that an institution and/or program have accepted and are fulfilling their commitment to educational quality.
  2. What does accreditation involve?
    Accreditation involves the establishment of standards, self-study by the accredited institution or program, peer review, on-site evaluation by a team selected by the accrediting body, action or judgment by the accreditation agency, publication of the name of institutions and/or programs accredited, monitoring and reevaluation.
  3. Who can accredit?
    In the U.S., unlike some countries, accreditation is accomplished through private, non-profit organizations. These non-profit accrediting bodies fall, roughly, into three groups:
    1. Regional accrediting bodies which review entire institutions,
    2. National accrediting organizations which also review entire institutions – often single purpose institutions (e.g. business colleges), and
    3. Specialized accrediting organizations which review programs within institutions  (and sometimes single-purpose institutions). ALA falls into this 3rd group.
  4. Who ensures the quality of accrediting bodies?
    Two organizations “recognize” the accrediting bodies: the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation – a private, non-profit organization, with a membership of approximately 3,000 colleges and universities and 60 participating national, regional and specialized accrediting organizations.

    ALA is recognized by CHEA and is listed in their Directory of Programmatic Accrediting Organizations (will open in a new window). CHEA defines “recognition” as “the scrutiny and certification of the quality of regional, national, and specialized accrediting organizations.” To achieve recognition, the accrediting organization undergoes a review of their qualifications and activities, against the standard set by the review body.
  5. For what period of time are accrediting organizations recognized?
    The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) recognizes organizations for a maximum of five years.  CHEA recognizes organizations for a maximum of ten years, with a five-year interim report – and reserves the right to review an accrediting organization any time significant changes are made in that organization’s accrediting procedures or when there are documented concerns.  ALA was last recognized by CHEA in May 2001 and is currently preparing for the regular interim review.
  6. Why isn’t ALA recognized by the U.S. Department of Education?
    Prior to 1994, ALA was recognized by the USDE. In 1992, as part of the Higher Education Act Amendments of 1992, the requirements for USDE recognition changed to require that, as a condition for being recognized by the Secretary of Education, the accreditation must “serve the purpose of enabling the institutions or programs it accredits to establish eligibility to participate in Federal programs administered by either the Department or other Federal agencies.” (Source: Letter to the Director of Accreditation and Committee on Accreditation from the Chair, National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, U.S. Department of Education, July 20, 1994.)

    With this change in regulation, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), USDE, found that the ALA criteria for accreditation went beyond the scope of USDE recognition, given that ALA already required that institutions in which a program resides be accredited by a regional commission, that by their own criteria act as gatekeepers for federal programs, e.g. Federal Student Financial Aid. ALA concurred with the NACIQI and voluntarily withdrew from U.S. Department of Education recognition. This change in the scope of USDE recognition affected a number of organizations that had previously been recognized by USDE.
  7. When was CHEA established?
    Nongovernmental coordination of accreditation has existed for almost 60 years. The National Commission on Accreditation (founded 1949) was the first national organization to develop criteria for and recognize accreditation agencies. In 1974, the Council on Postsecondary Accreditation (COPA) was formed by the merger of the National Commission on Accreditation and a federation of regional accrediting commissions. COPA’s Committee on Recognition recognized, coordinated and reviewed the work of member accrediting bodies. COPA dissolved in 1993 and a new entity – the Commission on Recognition of Postsecondary Acccreditation (CORPA) – was established on a temporary basis to continue the work of COPA until a new national organization could be established. That body – the Council on Higher Education Accreditation – was established in 1997 (?), at which point CORPA dissolved. For additional information on CHEA, visit www.chea.org (opens in a new window).
  8. What is the ALA accreditation process?
    Standards for Accreditation are approved by the ALA Council, most recently in 1992. The accreditation body established by ALA is the ALA Committee on Accreditation. Its charge is “to be responsible for the execution of the accreditation program of ALA and to develop and formulate standards of education for library and information studies for the approval of Council.” Within the framework of the Standards approved by Council, the Committee on Accreditation functions as an independent accreditation body.
  9. How many ALA-accredited programs currently exist?
    Currently (effective 1 February 2005) ALA accredits 62 programs at 57 institutions in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.  For a complete list of ALA-accredited programs, see the directory of ALA-accredited master's programs in library and information studies.
  10. How else is ALA involved in the accreditation process?
    In 1988, on recommendation of the American Association of School Librarians, the ALA Council voted to join the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education  (NCATE) as a specialized accreditation organization.  NCATE is a coalition of 33 member organizations, bringing together teachers, teacher education content specialists (including ALA/AASL), and local and state policy makers.  NCATE currently accredits 588 colleges of education.  For additional information on NCATE, see www.ncate.org (opens in a new window).
  11. How does ALA participate in NCATE?
    ALA participates in NCATE in several ways:
    1. The American Association of School Librarians develops standards for the review of graduate programs with a specialization in school library media within schools of education. These standards are adopted by the AASL Board of Directors, under authority delegated by the ALA Council. For a list of graduate programs for the education of school library media specialists reviewed under the AASL standards, see the list of NCATE/AASL reviewed and approved school librarianship education programs.
    2. ALA members serve as program reviewers, using the AASL-approved standards and receiving procedural training through the ALA Office for Accreditation.
    3. On nomination by AASL and approval by the ALA Executive Board, ALA members are appointed to various NCATE committees and boards.
  12. Does ALA participate in other accreditation-related organizations?
    ALA, through the Office for Accreditation, participates in the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA). ASPA provides continuing education in accreditation practices and helps in establishment of “best practices.”
  13. Where can I find additional information?
    Additional information is available on the following web sites:
    1. CHEA – www.chea.org (opens in a new window)
    2. ASPA –  www.aspa-usa.org (opens in a new window)
    3. NCATE – www.ncate.org (opens in a new window)
  14. What is the relationship between accreditation and national or international ranking of programs, schools or institutions – for example, the U.S. News and World Report ranking of graduate LIS education programs?
    Publications and groups that seek to rank programs, school or institutions may use accreditation (by the recognized accrediting body in that field) as one of several criteria for ranking.  In the case of LIS, the U.S. News and World Report list uses ALA accreditation as one criteria.

    Ranking is not an accepted activity for an accrediting body, however. Neither the membership of ASPA nor CHEA include ranking among accepted practices for accrediting bodies. The ALA Committee on Accreditation includes the following language on their web site: “Institutions of higher education benefit through self- and peer evaluation and through the opportunity for continuous improvement. Accreditation does not, however, result in ranking of programs. Rather, it respects the uniqueness of each program while ensuring that all accredited programs meet the same standards.” See  Standards for Accreditation of Master's Programs in Library & Information Studies.