Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology
Program, Organization, Financial Support, History
The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT), formerly known as the Accrediting Commission for Business Schools, is the accrediting authority for private postsecondary technical and vocational schools, colleges, and programs of instruction. Its more than 700 participating institutions of various types range from one-year vocational programs to continuing education programs, to full four-year undergraduate degree programs in qualified fields of study. The goal of the commission is to ensure the highest standard of career-oriented education for over 350,000 students in the United States and in Puerto Rico, and it is recognized as the accreditation authority in its area of expertise by the U.S. Department of Education.
On the request of an interested postsecondary institution, the commission first requires proof that the school or program is legally established and properly licensed by the state in which it operates. Once this has been proved, the person responsible for managing the program to be accredited must attend a workshop in which he or she learns the philosophy behind accreditation and the procedures by which to achieve it. During this workshop, information on resources, publications, and other aids that may help in the accreditation process are also made available.
After attending the mandatory workshop, the administrator of the petitioning institution must file a detailed self-evaluation report. In this document, the school sets forth its mission statement and the plan by which it fulfills this mission. It must provide course syllabi, financial statements, an organizational chart documenting its administrative hierarchy, a list of faculty along with each instructor's educational and professional qualifications to teach, copies of all advertising and promotional materials, catalogs and brochures, and copies of all state and federal reviews of the program to be accredited. In addition, the institution must provide a statement of its graduation and job-placement rates, a description of the physical facilities available, and a statement of the student services offered and procedures used in handling student grievances. Finally the report must document student recruitment and admissions policies as well as the requirements students must fulfill to qualify for the degree or certification offered by the program.
Once this report is filed, the commission sends a team of investigators to verify the information. The team consists of an administrative expert, who evaluates the administrative and financial practices of the institution; an occupational specialist, who examines the equipment and practical instruction offered by the program; and an educational specialist, who investigates the quality and sufficiency of the faculty teaching the program. In addition the team includes a representative from the commission, whose role is to help both the investigative team and the institution fully understand and comply with accrediting requirements. In some cases a representative from the relevant state licensing or oversight board may also join the team.
After completing its survey, the team prepares a Team Summary Report and makes a copy for the institution so that it may address any questions or issues that arose during the investigation. The whole file then goes to the commission, which makes the determination as to whether or not to grant accreditation.
For a first-time applicant, the commission may make one of four decisions: to grant accreditation (for a period not to exceed five years); to accredit the institution "with stipulations"; to defer its decision pending receipt of additional information; or to deny accreditation. An institution accredited with stipulations is one that essentially meets the commission's standards but falls short in one or more aspects of its program. The stipulations provide the institution with accredited standing, while giving it an opportunity (usually with a strict deadline) to rectify any such problems. If accreditation is denied, the institution must wait nine months before reap-plying for consideration by the commission.
Even if accreditation is granted, however, the institution must maintain an ongoing dialog with the commission. It must file annual reports to show that it continues to maintain the commission's standards, and it must reapply for accreditation once the five-year term (or less, in some cases) is up. Failure to file the annual report, or to pass muster during the re-accreditation process, can result in an institution being put on probation or even being stricken from the list of accredited institutions.
Once accredited, member schools are a valued resource to the commission, which seeks their advice and cooperation in the ongoing process of establishing standards that reflect changes in technology and in educational and employment policies and standards. In return, member schools gain access to commission resources and advisors as they seek to improve their programs and remain abreast of the changing world of vocational and technical education.
Although accreditation is voluntary, it is necessary if a school wishes to participate in federally administered student grant and loan programs. Accreditation also serves as a sign of quality, making accredited schools more attractive to potential students and to the high school guidance counselors who advise them on career and postsecondary educational choices.
The commission is made up of thirteen members, each of whom has been elected to serve a single four-year term. Six of the members are drawn from the public sector, representing government, the business and industrial communities, and the public postsecondary educational community. The remaining seven members are drawn from the private institutions served by the commission. The election of this latter group is done by direct vote of the commission's more than 700 member institutions, whereas the public representatives are selected by the commission itself, from a list drawn up by its own nominating committee.
The committee meets every four months to review applications for accreditation and to discuss possible changes in the standards or process used to guarantee continuing improvement in postsecondary education. It also publishes a quarterly newsletter, The Monitor, and maintains a website to circulate information of interest to professionals in the field of vocational and technical education.
As an independent organization, the commission receives no public funds or outside financing. Instead it supports its activities entirely from its own income. Its income includes the fees it charges for its workshops and application process, as well as the annual dues it collects from the institutions it has accredited. Dues are calculated based on the number of students enrolled in the program, school, or institution and adjusted according to the amount of tuition charged per student.
Although the ACCSCT only became an independent entity in 1993, it got its start in the early 1950s. At this time a number of groups became concerned about establishing professional standards for business schools, which were increasing in number and popularity. In 1952 the U.S. Office of Education (now the Department of Education) set up the National Association and Council of Business Schools to administer the accreditation process for the whole nation, and in 1956 this became the single accrediting authority of career schools in the nation. One of the earlier independent groups, the American Association of Business Schools, soon merged with the national organization, and together they formed the Accrediting Commission for Business Schools.
At about the same time, an organization was formed to evaluate the programs available from trade and technical schools offering postsecondary programs. Advancements in technology during the ensuing three decades blurred the once clear distinction between business and technical training, and the two accrediting organizations ultimately merged into the ACCSCT, a division of the National Association of Trade and Technical Schools. In 1993, as a result of provisions contained in 1992 amendments to the Higher Education Act, the Accrediting Commission became an independent organization.
ACCREDITING COMMISSION OF CAREER SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES OF TECHNOLOGY. 2002. <www.accsct.org>.
HAROLD B. POST
NANCY E. GRATTON
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