Frequently Asked Questions for Institutions Seeking Accreditation
Please note that this FAQ sheet provides summarized content only. Please refer to the DETC Accreditation Handbook for a complete listing of all DETC processes, procedures, standards and policies.
What is the first critical step in the accreditation process?
A key person at the institution must obtain a copy of the DETC Accreditation Handbook and enroll in and complete the Preparing for DETC Accreditation tutorial to qualify as a Compliance Officer. The course is available online at the DETC website. This course must be completed before submitting the Application for Accreditation and before writing the Self-Evaluation Report. DETC will not accept an application for Accreditation without a copy of the Certificate of Completion provided by the Compliance Officer.
When will the Application for Accreditation receive approval?
Before DETC will officially accept an institution’s initial Application for Accreditation, the institution must demonstrate that it meets all of the eligibility requirements set forth on pp. 10‒12 in the DETC Accreditation Handbook.
How long is an application for accreditation valid?
An application for accreditation is valid for one year from the date it is received by the Commission.
As a new applicant, how soon is a draft of our Self-Evaluation Report (SER) required for submission?
Preparing the Self-Evaluation Report may take only a few months for a small institution or as many as nine months to a year for a large institution. Please contact DETC regarding a submission timeframe. After DETC receives the SER, the DETC staff will schedule a Readiness Assessment by an expert evaluator. The evaluator will review the SER to determine if the institution is prepared to undergo a full onsite examination by an examining committee.
What is a readiness assessment?
First time applicants for accreditation are required to undergo a Readiness Assessment by an independent DETC-appointed evaluator to assist the applicant in preparing for a full on-site examination. As stated in C.12. Policy on Readiness Assessment, DETC Accreditation Handbook: The first purpose of the assessment is to provide a mechanism for DETC to ascertain if the applicant’s Self-Evaluation Report provides sufficient evidence and information for a successful on-site committee review. Another purpose is to provide the applicant with guidance on what actions to take to get the institution ready for an accreditation review. The third purpose is to ensure that the applicant meets a minimum level of eligibility qualifications for DETC accreditation that would justify the commitment of Commission resources in carrying out a full accreditation examination.” As part of the Readiness Assessment, both an evaluator and an experienced DETC staff member read and make notations in the institution’s SER indicating if an institution did not understand the intent of the statement or its answers were not comprehensive enough. The Readiness Assessment Report and the annotated SER are returned to the institution. For first time applicants, the Readiness Assessment provides an intensive, constructively critical, informative review process of the institution’s SER.
What are DETC’s expectations for continued improvement?
Two DETC Standards address the requirement of institutions to assess their educational quality and continued efforts to improve their educational programs. There are Standards XII.A. and XII.B in the DETC Accreditation Handbook:
XII.A. Planning and Evaluation: An accredited institution has a written plan that is designed to identify internal and external trends and patterns, optimize opportunities, address challenges, reflect on achievements, and maintain quality. The planning enables the institution to improve services to students, ensure the professional growth of its instructors/faculty and staff, and provide for the long-term quality and growth of the institution. The institution collects and analyzes data on a systematic, consistent basis to monitor the status and effectiveness of the plan and evaluates its full range of services.
XII.B. Research and Self-Improvement: An accredited institution shows evidence of continuous progress and self-initiated efforts to improve operations and educational offerings and services. Sound research procedures and techniques are used to measure how effectively the stated institutional mission, goals, and objectives are being met.
The Guide to Self-Evaluation Report explicitly states that an institution must 1) explain how the it evaluates its programs and services, and 2) describe any systematic research, evaluation (#4), and quality controls carried on for institutional improvement. The institution must submit with the SER any material or data giving evidence of present efforts to extend and/or improve the institution.
How long does the accreditation process take?
Generally, it can take about 18-24 months for the entire procedure. A smaller school may be able to prepare for accreditation in as few as 18 months. The Accrediting Commission meets in January and June, so prospective applicants are advised to initiate the process at least 12 months before the meeting they wish to have their application considered.
From whom may one seek advice in preparing to undergo an accreditation review?
The Accrediting Commission staff in Washington is available for consultation by mail, phone, e-mail, or personal visit regarding any questions about the accrediting process, procedures, or standards. Please contact the Commission offices for assistance.
What other publications are useful to study as an institution prepares for an accreditation review?
The DETC Accreditation Handbook, available to download for free online or bound for purchase, covers the entire accreditation process from beginning to end. The Course Development Handbook, and the Student Services Handbook are also useful. The online DETC Evaluator Training Program course also is an excellent guide.
The best preparation is for senior staff at the institution to enroll in and complete the DETC Course on Preparing for Accreditation, which now is offered online. (Please Note: Enrollment in this course is required by at least one staff member at a school undergoing accreditation review.)
To learn more about DETC's online course offerings, or to enroll, please visit the Online Courses page in the Accredited Institutions section of the DETC website.
As an applicant, may an institution refer to seeking accreditation from the DETC Accrediting Commission or refer to an applicant status in its literature or promotional materials?
No. This is inappropriate and has the potential to mislead the public about an institution’s affiliation with DETC.
Does the Commission offer additional assistance and counseling with the accreditation process?
Yes. The DETC offers free online courses designed to assist institutions with the accrediting process. The DETC Course on Preparing for Accreditation and the DETC Evaluator Training Program are currently available online at the DETC website.
(To learn more about DETC's online course offerings, or to enroll, please visit the Online Courses page in the Accredited Institutions section of the DETC website. (Access to the Accredited Institutions section of the site is restricted. To obtain a username and password to access the online courses page, please send an email to Rob Chalifoux, DETC's Director of Media and Events.)
Must a distance study institution be located in the United States to qualify?
No. Distance study institutions outside of the U.S. may apply for accreditation. The Commission has a special policy for non-U.S. institutions. (See Section C.23 Policy on Non-U.S. Institutions, DETC Accreditation Handbook.)
If an institution offers a Doctoral-level degree program, may it apply for accreditation?
Yes. The Commission will accept applications for accreditation from institutions offering a Doctoral degree program, so long as it is a Professional Doctoral degree, e.g. a Doctor of Business Administration or a Doctor of Education. If there is doubt about what qualifies as a professional doctoral degree it is best to check with the Commission staff before applying for accreditation.
Must the school be in operation two years before it may apply for accreditation?
At the time of application the institution must have been enrolling students continuously for the preceding two consecutive years under the present ownership and with its current programs. It must also demonstrate that it will operate continuously thereafter. The two-year period begins with the date of the first student enrollment.
However, if an institution’s parent company is currently accredited by another recognized accrediting agency, then the institution must only have 12 months of continuous operation as a distance study institution before it may be accredited. Institutions may initiate an application near the end of its appropriate waiting period.
Can an accredited school transfer its accreditation or the benefits of its accreditation to another institution or individual by sale, contract, franchise, or other arrangement?
No. Accreditation by DETC’s Accrediting Commission is institutional and is extended only to the accredited institution and its approved programs. Accreditation cannot be transferred in any way to an entity not under the ownership, management, and control of the accredited institution. All distance study programs and distance study-related activities under the ownership, management, and control of the accredited institution must be included in the accreditation, or none can be accredited. When an accredited institution undergoes a change in ownership, management, or control, the institution must undergo a complete accreditation review.
What are the costs involved for accreditation?
To estimate the on-site review fees and subject specialist review fees, consult the DETC Accreditation Handbook. The DETC dues and accreditation fees are based on annual tuition receipts (see "DETC Dues and Fees").
Are accrediting reports and documents made public?
No. The process of accreditation is regarded as a confidential one, and accreditation reports and documents are treated in a confidential manner. Chair reports, institutional responses, application documents are not available to the public. The public is notified of final decisions to grant, withdraw or deny accreditation via the DETC website.
Will course material be returned to the institution after subject specialists review the material?
No. All course materials including kits, tools, textbooks, and hardware are thoroughly vetted in the course review process and are not returned to the applicant institution.
What does the Examining Committee process entail?
As described in the DETC Accreditation Handbook, Section D.6., Undergoing an On-Site Visit, at a minimum, an examining committee is comprised of a Chair, an Educational Standards Evaluator, and a Business Standards Evaluator. Subject Specialist Evaluators are also appointed to Examining Committees for all institutions offering degree programs, for institutions offering numerous courses and programs at a non-degree level, and for any institution offering a required residency component. Other Subject Specialist Evaluators review the curriculum of all institutions applying for initial or re-accreditation on an off-site basis before the on-site review.
A DETC staff representative accompanies every visiting committee to coordinate the on-site logistics and serves as a resource regarding accrediting standards. In addition, DETC always invites a representative of the local state licensing agency to observe the on-site evaluation process, and, to the extent possible, partners with these officials to inform institutions of compliance issues.
The evaluators use various rating forms that tie to DETC’s standards as tools to assist them with the on-site reviews. The Chair, the Educational Standards Evaluator, and the Business Standards Evaluator use the appropriate sections of the Rating Form during this process.
The amount of time scheduled for an on-site visit is impacted by the number of enrolled students and number of programs offered by an institution. Typically, since most of the work may be done before the visits, and there are no students on site and no traditional campus, on-site visits are typically one or two days. During the on-site evaluation, the committee members, having thoroughly read the institution’s SER, subject specialists’ reports, and student surveys, engage in a variety of activities to develop a thorough understanding of the institution, to verify the information in the materials, and to verify compliance with accrediting standards. Those activities include interviewing key staff and faculty, and students (by phone); reviewing records and files, and verifying outcomes data presented in the SER. The Chair informs the institution of the opportunity to present additional or clarifying information to the committee.
Do outside observers serve on visiting examining committees?
The Commission routinely extends an invitation to the appropriate state licensing agency to participate on the examining committee as an observer. As needed, representatives from the U.S. Department of Education may participate as observers. The Chair’s Report and the Institution’s Response to the Chair’s Report are shared with state or federal observers who attended the on-site visit.
Do "competitors" serve on visiting Examining Committees?
No. Evaluators known to have competing interests with the applicant institution are not appointed to serve on an Examining Committee. As part of the on-site evaluation process, DETC examining committees include experienced educators who have advanced backgrounds in education and are charged with performing the educational reviews of any institution seeking accreditation or reaccreditation. In addition to the on-site evaluations, DETC also uses independent subject specialists drawn primarily from regionally accredited institutions to review the courses/programs of applicants for accreditation or reaccreditation, as well as in evaluating any new programs. DETC shares many of the same subject specialist evaluators working in regionally accredited higher education institutions used by the American Council on Education for its Credit Recommendation reviews.
Is reimbursement for travel expenses for visiting examining committees required in addition to the on-site examination fees?
No. The on-site examination fee is a "flat fee" which includes the cost of travel for the Examining Committee members (except for non-U.S. institutions).
How much does the accreditation visit cost?
The fees for an on-site review vary according to the size of the institution and the number of its courses and site locations. An institution with one course seeking initial accreditation can expect the fee to range between $8,000 and $15,000. Larger institutions with many courses can expect a higher fee.