Department of Education

U.S. Department of Education

Our mission of the U.S. Department of Education is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.

Accreditation

The U.S. Department of Education does not accredit educational institutions and/or programs; however, the Department provides oversight over the postsecondary accreditation system through its review of all federally-recognized accrediting agencies. The Department holds accrediting agencies accountable by ensuring that they enforce their accreditation standards effectively. Also, as a part of the Department's oversight roles, the Secretary of Education is required by law to publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies that the Secretary determines to be reliable authorities as to the quality of education or training provided by the institutions of higher education and the higher education programs they accredit. The U.S. Secretary of Education also recognizes State agencies for the approval of public postsecondary vocational education and nurse education.

Overview of Accreditation in the United States
The goal of accreditation is to ensure that institutions of higher education meet acceptable levels of quality. Accreditation in the United States involves non-governmental entities as well as federal and state government agencies. Accreditation’s quality assurance function is one of the three main elements of oversight governing the Higher Education Act’s (HEA’s) federal student aid programs. In order for students to receive federal student aid from the U.S. Department of Education (Department) for postsecondary study, the institution must be accredited by a “nationally recognized” accrediting agency (or, for certain vocational institutions, approved by a recognized state approval agency), be authorized by the State in which the institution is located, and receive approval from the Department through a program participation agreement.

Role of Accrediting Agencies (Accreditors)
Accreditors, which are private educational associations of regional or national scope, develop evaluation criteria and conduct peer evaluations to assess whether or not those criteria are met. Institutions and/or programs that request an accreditor's evaluation and that meet an accreditor's criteria are then "accredited".

Role of Department
Under the HEA the Department “recognizes” (approves) agencies that the Secretary of Education determines to be reliable authorities as to the quality of education or training provided by institutions of higher education, and the Department publishes a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies. The Department does not accredit individual educational institutions and/or programs and is not directly involved in the institutional or programmatic accrediting process. The Department recognizes onlyagencies that apply for recognition; many do not. Along with its recognition decision, the Department designates the scope of accrediting activities to which its recognition pertains.