Accreditation Works Because of a Structure

Accreditation -- the process by which educators and their peers work together to observe and to improve professional education -- would not work if it were not for hundreds of dedicated volunteers and dozens of staff members working in a complex organizational structure.

WHAT'S A COMMITTEE ON ACCREDITATION (CoA)? WHICH ONE IS YOURS?

Committees on Accreditation (CoAs), exist because professions, through their professional societies, feel the need to establish and sponsor an accreditation process.

CoAs vary in size, and they vary from each other in the details of their work, because of the number of educational programs in their field. For example, the CoA serving Medical Assistants has responsibility for more than 500 programs and is an organization with several staff members and dozens of volunteers nationwide; the CoA serving Medical Illustrators has responsibility for fewer than 5 programs and is an organization run by a handful of volunteers.

In the CAAHEP system, the work of accreditation in each education program (such as yours) is managed by a Committee on Accreditation (or CoA).

CoAs work within a system of Standards and within a framework of policies established by the CAAHEP Board of Directors. CoAs devise their own detailed procedures for conducting the accreditation process, and it's the CoA in your professional area that you will deal with most frequently. Eventually, when it is time for an accreditation status to be determined, the CoA will make a recommendation to CAAHEP.

CAAHEP, which receives recommendations from 21 CoAs, is the legal entity that grants accreditation status.

You probably know which is your CoA already. But if not, you can almost certainly look at the list of CoAs and from the names of each, determine which is yours. If you have any doubt, check each possible CoA's website for detailed information. If there's still any doubt, call the most likely CoA or call CAAHEP.

COMMISSION ON ACCREDITATION OF ALLIED HEALTH EDUCATION PROGRAMS (CAAHEP)

CAAHEP is an umbrella organization to which 21 CoAs belong.

CAAHEP does several important things that CoAs don't readily accomplish individually:

The most important is that CAAHEP exercises the legal responsibility to grant accreditation status.

CAAHEP is composed of a Commission that meets annually that includes all the professional societies that sponsor CoAs, all the CoAs, and some representatives of higher education and of the public. The Commission elects a Board from among its members that meets 6 times annually (January, March, May, July, September, and November). It is the Board that grants accreditation status.

CAAHEP runs workshops for CoA staff and leaders to hone their skills; CAAHEP manages the Standards development process; CAAHEP represents and facilitates its member CoAs in various professional roles in the larger worlds of accreditation and Allied Health. CAAHEP provides services -- such as Your Accreditation Mentor (YAM) -- that serve many CoAs.

FEES THAT GET PAID TO CoAs AND CAAHEP

Accreditation is not supported by government; it is paid for by fees to CoAs and to CAAHEP.

The fee structure requires that educational programs subscribe to or purchase services from CoAs. Some activities of accreditation, such as site visits, also have fees that programs pay to CoAs. You'll find the fees to your CoA explained on its website.

The fee structure also requires that institutions that have CAAHEP-accredited programs pay an institutional fee annually to CAAHEP (currently $450). Additional CAAHEP support comes from dues paid by CoAs and dues paid by CoAs' sponsoring organizations.

Institutions handle their fee in various ways: Some pay it from an institutional budget; some distribute the appropriate share of the fee to the budget of each of their CAAHEP-accredited program(s). For your own peace of mind, check with your institution (or look at last year's budget) to see how this fee is handled at your institution.

It's a complex structure, but it works.

What you most need to know as a program director is that you work with one Committee on Accreditation (CoA). Your CoA facilitates your accreditation processes (and you have fees to pay there); ultimately the Standards you meet and the Accreditation status you receive come from CAAHEP (and your institution pays a fee there).

WHAT DOES CAAHEP DO THAT YOU NEED TO CARE ABOUT?

The first and most obvious thing that CAAHEP does that's meaningful to your program is that it grants accreditation status. The letter to you from CAAHEP is the proof that all has gone well and that you meet the CAAHEP Standards for education programs in your health professions area.

The second-most-obvious CAAHEP activity is the CAAHEP website. The website has many features, but the one that will matter to you most is that your program gets posted on the list of accredited programs. This happens at the same time as the CAAHEP Board acts on the accreditation of your program.

The list of accredited programs, on the website, will attest to your accreditation status to thousands of your potential students, and to other interested parties. (It is wise to check your listing to assure accuracy!)

Some potential students (or their parents, or counselors), because of the website, will discover that your program exists. So it's a prospecting tool, for your program.

Some potential students will review your program's status on the website to assure themselves that claims they've heard are accurate and that yes, indeed, your program is CAAHEP-accredited. So it is a recruiting tool.

Some of your savviest new students may go further into the website to read the Standards for education in the area your program serves. And you might urge all potential students to do so. The Standards serve as an explanation to students about the kind of education they can expect to receive from your CAAHEP-accredited program.

Also, CAAHEP publishes, both on the Web and in paper formats, a great deal of useful information. YAM is one example. Check the CAAHEP website, just so you'll know what's there when you need it.

CAAHEP does many other things in service to its CoA members and to its professional society sponsors; and through Standards-setting procedures, training efforts for CoA staff and leadership, and participation in various national organizations, as well as through special projects, CAAHEP serves to keep the accreditation process as timely, fair and professional as possible. In your first accreditation efforts, these aspects of CAAHEP's work may be invisible to you; or you'll think of them as "behind the scenes." Some program directors, as they mature in the profession, find some CAAHEP activity such as standards-setting to be of great interest.

HOW DO COMMITTEES ON ACCREDITATION (CoAs) AND CAAHEP FUNCTION TOGETHER?

CoAs are members of CAAHEP. Relationships are friendly, professional, and mutually supportive because each entity is dependent upon the other for accreditation to go well. Each has its assigned roles to play, each watches the other to be sure that all are playing by the rules and procedures, and each has reason to rely on the other. Some members of CAAHEP's Board of Directors are CoA members. A present or former CAAHEP Board member is a liaison to each of the CoAs and attends CoA meetings. There is an electronic communications system that connects CAAHEP staff and leadership with CoA staff and leadership.

CAAHEP is expected to stay apprised of developments in the larger world of accreditation and bring information to the CoAs. CAAHEP is expected to be the first line of defense when legal issues arise and to apprise CoAs of changes in the legal environment. CAAHEP is expected to manage the Standards-setting process. CAAHEP is expected to develop services to the CoAs and to promote good practices developed in one CoA for possible adaptation to others.

CoAs are expected to function within CAAHEP policies, to attend workshops and membership events, to communicate issues that arise to the CAAHEP leadership, and, of course, to handle accreditation work within CAAHEP policies and to make accreditation recommendations.

As a program director, CAAHEP's workings are matters of interest, perhaps. But most of the time, your interaction will be with a CoA. When (which, fortunately, is rare) a problem arises that a CoA cannot resolve, use your discretion but if you think it might help, contact the CAAHEP office.

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