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The Importance of Accreditation for Allied Health Schools and Programs

Figuring out which schools and programs are accredited can be confusing. Find out what’s important to know and why.

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Home » Blog » Why Healthcare School Accreditation Matters
sheila cain

Written and reported by:
Sheila Cain
ASD Editor/Writer

Once you’ve made the decision to go back to school to pursue a career in the field of allied health, figuring out which school to attend and which educational program to pursue are important first steps. Just as important is making sure the school and degree program you choose are accredited.

Accreditation is a quality stamp of approval given to either a school or a school’s specific educational program. Accreditation is bestowed by independent agencies tasked with ensuring a standard level of quality. When a school and/or its degree programs are accredited, students can be assured that the education they receive will adequately prepare them for their careers. Both schools and their programs can—and should—be accredited. This can be confusing, since some agencies bestow “institutional” accreditation, while others bestow “programmatic” accreditation.

As an allied healthcare student, it’s important your school and program are accredited for a number of reasons. It may affect whether you receive financial aid, for example. Also, a degree from an unaccredited school may not be recognized by another school should you want to transfer.

Whether you’re considering an associate degree in dental assisting or a multi-year doctoral program to become a pharmacist, you’ll want to make sure your potential school and program are accredited. Here’s why.

Why Is Accreditation Important?

By the time a college receives accreditation, it has gone through a rigorous review progress by an accrediting agency to ensure that it is qualified to provide instruction to students. This proof of a meaningful education being provided by a legitimate institution is important in several ways:

Financial Aid:

A degree from an accredited university or program allows you access to state and federal financial aid. The government will only provide financial aid to students enrolled in schools accredited by accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Transfer of Credits:

Degrees from accredited healthcare schools and programs are recognized by other accredited institutions. In other words, if you want to transfer to another school or earn a higher-level degree, only your credits from accredited schools will be recognized.

Licensing:

Many healthcare careers such as nursing, physical therapy, or massage require licensure to work in a particular state. In many states, you cannot take licensing or certification exams unless you have graduated from an accredited program recognized by that state.

Job Market:

Getting your degree from an accredited institution will improve your value on the job market.

A school’s educational programs should be accredited as well, especially if you are looking to transfer your credits from a bachelor’s degree program to a master’s or doctoral program, says Robyn Nelson, PhD, MSN, RN, a professor and dean of the College of Nursing at West Coast University. Nelson also serves as a site visitor for Western Association of Schools and Colleges’ (WASC) Senior College and University Commission, visiting schools, assessing their programs, and making sure they are worthy of accreditation.

“If you graduate from a degree program that’s not accredited, another school will be less likely to accept the transfer,” she says. And the more advanced the degree you’re seeking, the stricter the schools are likely to be. That said, it’s definitely important to ask questions. “It’s up to the institution (to which the student will be transferring.) Be sure to ask about their policy on transfer credits and if there’s a limit on the number of units they will accept.”

What if My Program is Online?

It doesn’t matter. If your educational program is accredited, it means online versions of that program are accredited as well.

What Are the Important Accrediting Bodies?

There are many levels of accrediting bodies, so it may be helpful to think of the overseers and approvers as an umbrella or family tree of sorts. The process starts at the top with the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), two agencies that oversee the agencies that accredit colleges and universities. They review the agencies and approve them to set accreditation standards.

The Department of Education and CHEA oversee the agencies that accredit colleges and universities.

Institutional Accrediting Agencies

There are a more than a dozen institutional accrediting agencies approved by the DOE to ensure schools are qualified to provide quality instruction to students. Until recently, institutional accrediting agencies were further defined as either “regional” accreditors (typically overseeing four-year universities) or “national” accreditors (typically overseeing career colleges.) A recent DOE decision (see box below) removed those designations, and all agencies that accredit schools are now referred to as simply “institutional” accreditors.

The institutional accrediting agencies most often associated with allied health programs are:

  • Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools
  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
  • Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
  • Council on Occupational Education
  • Distance Education Accrediting Commission
  • National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences Inc.
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC): Covers Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE): Covers New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC): Covers Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU): Covers Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS): Covers Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC): Covers California and Hawaii

The DOE’s Decision to End Regional and National Designations

The U.S. Department of Education adopted regulations on July 1, 2020, that ended its labeling of institutional accrediting agencies as “national” or “regional.”

The change was made amidst long-standing concerns that institutions and the students who attended them were treated differently based on these designations. In clarifying its reasoning for the ruling, a letter issued by the DOE’s Office of the Undersecretary on Feb. 26, 2020, stated as an example: “some States limit opportunities to sit for occupational licensing exams to students who have completed a program at a regionally accredited institution. In other instances, transfer of credit determinations at public institutions, and other benefits provided by States, are limited to students who attended regionally accredited institutions.”

The DOE states in the letter that it holds all accrediting agencies to the same standards. Further, it acknowledges that regional accrediting agencies often “operate outside of their historic borders, primarily through the accreditation of branch campuses and additional locations,” further making the case to eliminate the regional/national designator.

Before the change, national accrediting agencies typically oversaw private trade and vocational schools, while regional agencies oversaw state-owned and non-profit universities and colleges. Now, all agencies that accredit schools are simply referred to as “institutional” accrediting agencies.

The transfer of credits between schools is still shaking out. “There still may be an issue with transferability of courses from one institutional accreditor to another (previously national and regional) and an issue with recognition of an institution previously nationally accredited,” says Nelson, “so the student needs to ask questions about transferring credits and acceptance of the program.”

Program Accrediting Agencies

The counterpart to institutional accrediting agencies is program accrediting agencies. These agencies oversee the educational degree programs offered by schools, ensuring that they meet a set standard of quality and that students are offered a quality education in a particular area of study. These are typically national agencies, since they cover programs offered throughout the U.S., not just in a particular state or region.

“Institutional accreditation” means a school is accredited, while “programmatic accreditation” means an educational program is accredited.

What if My School Is Accredited and My Program Isn’t?

Sometimes a school may be accredited, but a program (or programs) it offers are not. Programmatic accreditation is important, especially if you are looking to transfer to another school to continue your studies, or you are going into a field that requires you to be licensed.  Make sure you look beyond institutional accreditation when researching your specific educational program. The U.S. Department of Education’s database of accredited programs is online, as is the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s, and you can search for the information you are seeking at either site. Your school’s website or admissions department should also be able to answer your accreditation-related questions.

Common Program Accrediting Agencies for Allied Health

There are hundreds of program accrediting agencies overseeing all sorts of educational programs. The agency that accredits the most allied health programs is the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, or CAAHEP. CAAHEP oversees 32 programs across the health sciences spectrum. In many cases, CAAHEP partners with review “committees on accreditation” to carry out its accrediting activities.

Below is a list of the most common allied health areas of study and the programmatic accrediting agencies that oversee their programs. If you can’t find your area of study here, check out CHEA’s database of institutions and programs or the U.S. Department of Education’s database of schools and programs accredited by federally recognized agencies.

CHEA and/or USDOE-Approved Accrediting Agencies by Area of Study:

Audiologist

Accreditation Commission for Audiology Education (ACAE):

Accredits Doctor of Audiology Degree (Au.D) programs.

Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA) (affiliated with the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association):

Accredits master’s and doctoral-level audiology and speech-language pathology programs.

Clinical Laboratory Technologist

National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS):

Accredits programs at the associate, certificate, and bachelor’s and master’s degree-level medical laboratory science, including medical laboratory technician, histotechnologist, histotechnician, pathologist assistant, diagnostic molecular scientist, and cytogenetic technologist programs.

Counselor

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP):

Accredits master’s and doctoral degree counseling programs.

Dentist and Dental Assistant

Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA):

Accredits predoctoral dental education programs (leading to the D.D.S. or D.M.D. degree), advanced dental education programs, and allied dental education programs that are fully operational or have attained “Initial Accreditation” status.

Dietitian and Nutritionist

Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND):

Accredits undergraduate and graduate dietetic programs; postbaccalaureate dietetic internships, and dietetic technician programs at the associate level.

Healthcare Management

Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME):

Accredits master’s-level professional programs in healthcare management.

Health Information Professional

Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM):

Accredits associate and bachelor’s degree programs in health information management and master’s degree programs in health informatics and health information management professions.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN):

Accredits licensed practical nursing programs.

Massage Therapist

Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA):

Accredits institutions and programs that award postsecondary certificates, postsecondary diplomas, academic associate degrees, and occupational associate degrees, in the practice of massage therapy, bodywork, and aesthetics/esthetics and skin care.

Medical Assistant and Technologist

Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) (based on recommendations from the Medical Assisting Education Review Board):

Accredits certificate, diploma, associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs in a wide range of allied health disciplines, including medical assistants and technologists.

Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES):

Accredits associate degree programs in medical assisting.

Medical Coder

Commission on Accreditation of Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) (AHIMA’s accrediting body):

Accredits associate and bachelor’s degree programs in health information management and master’s degree programs in health informatics and health information management positions (appropriate for managerial positions related to coding and billing).

Medical Laboratory Technician

National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS):

Accredits associate, bachelor’s, certificate, and master’s degree levels in medical laboratory science, medical laboratory technician, histotechnologist, histotechnician, pathologist assistant, diagnostic molecular scientist, and cytogenetic technologist.

Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES):

Accredits associate degree programs in medical laboratory technology.

Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT):

Accredits postsecondary nuclear medicine technology programs offering certificate, associate, and bachelor’s degree programs.

Occupational Therapist

American Occupational Therapy Association, Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (AOTA-ACOTE):

Accredits occupational therapy educational programs offering professional master’s degree, combined bachelor’s/master’s degree, and occupational therapy doctorate (OTD) degree programs; accredits occupational therapy assistant programs offering an associate degree or a certificate.

Optometrist

Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE):

Accredits professional optometric degree programs and optometric residency programs.

Commission on Opticianry Accreditation (COA):

Accredits two-year opticianry degree programs.

Pharmacist and Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission (collaboration between Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education and American Society of Health-System Pharmacists):

Accredits pharmacy technician and education training programs as well as professional degree programs in pharmacy leading to a Doctor of Pharmacy.

Physician Assistant

Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA):

Accredits associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in conjunction with the PA credential award.

Physical Therapist and Physical Therapist Assistant

American Physical Therapy Association, Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (APTA-CAPTE):

Accredits physical therapist professional education programs offered at the clinical doctoral degree levels, as well as paraprofessional physical therapist assistant technical education programs offered at the associate degree level.

Public Health

Council on Eduction for Public Health (CEPH):

Accredits schools and programs of public health offered at the undergraduate and graduate degree levels.

Radiation Therapist

Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT):

Accredits certificate, associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in radiography, radiation therapy, magnetic resonance, and medical dosimetry.

Surgical Technologist

Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) (based on recommendations from the Accreditation Review Council on Education in Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting):

Accredits programs in surgical technology and surgical assisting programs.

Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES):

Accredits associate degree programs in surgical technology.

Ultrasound Professional

Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) (based on recommendations from the Joint Review Committee on Education in Diagnostic Medical Sonography):

Accredits general ultrasound (abdomen, obstetrics/gynecology), cardiac, and vascular sonography programs.

Veterinary Technician

American Veterinary Medical Association, Council on Education (AVMA):

Accredits programs leading to professional degrees (DVM or VMD) in veterinary medicine.

What if Schools Near Me Are Not Accredited?

Nelson’s advice to potential students if nearby schools aren’t accredited? “Buyer beware,” she says. The stakes are just too high. In many cases, a certificate or degree program my offer courses online, but be aware that many allied healthcare programs will require that a student attend in person for at least some hours to fulfill clinical requirements. A discussion with an admissions counselor can help determine your options.

Or My School Loses Accreditation?

If your school loses its institutional accreditation, it is a good idea to transfer to a school that is accredited. Federal financial aid will no longer be available, and future employers may not recognize your degree. You won’t be refunded for the education you received, but other institutions will typically accept your earned credits when you transfer. If you’ve already graduated and your school loses its accreditation, your degree is still valid.

robyn nelson

With professional insight from:
Robyn Nelson, PhD, MSN, RN
Professor and Dean, College of Nursing at West Coast University; Site Visitor for Western Association of Schools and Colleges’ (WASC) Senior College and University Commission