What Criteria are Colleges Required to Meet in Order to be Accredited?

Anyone who has gone to a job interview where everything was on the line can appreciate how important achieving ACCREDITED status is to colleges. Making a good impression affects the outcome for years to come, and preparation is essential. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes 68 accrediting agencies in the United States, and many of the criteria are common among them. The Department of Education states that the goal of accreditation is to make sure that colleges provide “acceptable levels of quality” in educational programs.

Understanding the Measurement Characteristics

The accreditation process focuses on seven characteristics of colleges that affect the quality of educational programs. Accrediting agencies are classified as regional, national and specialized or programmatic, and each category has its own set of standards. The most common criteria that apply to most but not all colleges include these:

Leadership and Governance

The leaders of a college are judged on the strategic development and implementation of plans and policies that are transparent. Successfully facing challenges and adapting to change in a complex environment demonstrates leadership ability. Governance ensures that performance follows the plans set forth by leadership.

Condition of Facilities

On campus colleges are evaluated on facilities that include dormitories, classrooms, libraries, performing arts theaters, book stores, student centers, child care options, disability services, food service, gymnasiums, writing resource centers, hospitals or infirmaries, research labs, laundry rooms and recreation centers.

Financial Stability

A college that is fiscally sound determines the actual cost of services and establishes a price that contributes to financial stability. Tracking financial data provides a basis for anticipating demands to ensure delivery of uninterrupted services. Financially sound colleges seek sources of revenue that provide funds for educational programs.

Student Services

Online and on campus colleges provide many of the same services for students, including advising, learning centers, counseling, scholarships and career development. In addition, on campus schools are measured on athletic programs and opportunities for students to participate in organizations.

Health and Safety

A college’s ability to take care of students’ health on campus is a measure that examines the availability of infirmaries and emergency rescue options as well as compliance with the American Disability Act.

Long Range Planning

A college’s capacity for making long range plans directly affects the continuity of educational programs. Students need assurance that divisions of an on campus college are not relocated to other campuses. The consistent availability of courses assures online as well as on campus students that inconvenience or additional expense does not occur.


The reputation and credentials of a college’s faculty attracts students who want to receive a quality education. The number of professors who hold doctorates is considered in evaluating a college for accreditation.

Colleges recognize the importance of meeting exacting standards that are required by accrediting agencies. Satisfying the criteria allows a college to qualify as an ACCREDITED educational institution.