What’s the Deal with Accreditation?


There are a lot of factors to consider when you are searching for nursing programs. One factor that should be at the forefront of your search is accreditation status. If you are interested in furthering your education by attending a nursing program, you should become familiar with the basics of nursing program accreditation and why it matters.

What is Accreditation?

At the most basic level, accreditation is about quality control. According to the U.S. Department of Education, accreditation is meant to:

  1. Assess the quality of academic programs at institutions of higher education.
  2. Create a culture of continuous improvement of academic quality at colleges and universities and stimulate a general raising of standards among educational institutions.
  3. Involve faculty and staff comprehensively in institutional evaluation and planning.
  4. Establish criteria for professional certification and licensure and for upgrading courses offering such preparation.

In nursing, the purpose of accreditation is to ensure that nursing education programs across the United States are being held to common standards of quality. This furthers the profession and greatly enhances the overall quality of care administered by nurses. Accreditation helps to ensure that a nurse educated in Arizona and a nurse educated in Maine are able to perform their duties with the same level of competence.

It is also important to highlight the difference between national accreditation and approval by a state board of nursing. State board approval simply means that the state has approved the operation of the program, and in most cases, graduates of that program can sit for licensure or certification exams in that particular state. National accreditation means that the program adheres to common standards of quality set by a U.S. Department of Education approved agency. You should also note that specialized and professional accrediting bodies (such as the bodies that accredit nursing degrees) only accredit degree programs, not entire schools of nursing or institutions. So it is possible you may encounter a school where the master’s programs are accredited but the baccalaureate programs are not.

Why is accreditation important?

There are several reasons why attending an accredited institution is important. Firstly, you may not be eligible for federal financial aid if you attend an unaccredited institution. Additionally if you find that you need to transfer to a different institution, your credits are more likely to transfer if you are enrolled in an accredited institution.

Accreditation also provides benefits after graduation. Students with a degree from an accredited program are more competitive in the job market since employers know their education has adhered to national standards. Many employers require programmatic accreditation as a condition of employment. If you should decide to further your education, you may not be eligible to attend the graduate program of your choice if your undergraduate degree was not accredited.

Who is responsible for accrediting nursing programs?

Before going further, it is essential to understand that institutions and programs will be accredited by different accreditation bodies. For example, your institution could be accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges but that institution’s BSN program could be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Nursing’s primary accrediting bodies include:

The Commission on the Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

CCNE accredits programs at the baccalaureate and graduate levels, as well as post-graduate APRN certificates and entry-to-practice nurse residency programs. CCNE is the autonomous accrediting arm of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)

ACEN accredits programs at the associate, diploma, baccalaureate, and graduate levels.

The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA)

COA accredits nurse anesthesia programs in the United States as well as its territories and protectorates.

The American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACNM)

ACNM accredits midwifery education programs including certificate, graduate nurse-midwifery, direct entry midwifery, and pre-certification nurse-midwifery education programs.

How do I know a program is accredited?

There are a few ways to find out if a nursing program is accredited. All of the accrediting bodies listed above maintain lists or databases of accredited programs. These are easy to find online and will be the most accurate resource available for determining accreditation status.