Question: Are Graduate Certificate Programs Accredited?
Updated: August 8, 2023
Answer: Yes. Graduate certificate programs are accredited when the college or university offering the program is granted institutional accreditation from one of the six recognized regional commissions for the accreditation of postsecondary degree-granting institutions. In addition, some graduate certificate programs may have additional accreditations through the academic division or department that offers the program, if the school has programmatic accreditation from one or more of the many professional organizations that accredit programs in specific fields.
Institutional accreditation is an important consideration when evaluating graduate certificate programs because it provides assurance that a school offering the program has undergone periodic evaluations of its institutional integrity to ensure that it meets accepted standards. Programmatic accreditation, which is separate from institutional accreditation, is primarily a concern in fields for which individual licensure and/or professional certification is a requirement, such as nursing, clinical laboratory science, counseling, and teaching. For professional licensure in these fields, many state boards require or prefer applicants for licensure to have received their training from an accredited program. However, licensing requirements vary by state; therefore, students who are pursuing a certificate in order to meet licensing requirements should review state policies regarding accreditation prior to choosing a program.
In fields for which licensing or certification is not universally or uniformly required, such as business, nutrition, health informatics, healthcare management, and public health, programmatic accreditation may still be important, as it ensures the program meets recognized standards for quality of instruction and training, thus signaling to potential employers that graduates have received proper academic and professional preparation for their desired area of work.
Institutional Accreditation for Graduate Certificate Programs
There are seven regional accrediting commissions and associations recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) that serve colleges and universities in the US, six of which provide accreditation to schools that offer programs at the bachelor’s and graduate levels, including graduate certificate programs. These commissions and associations are listed below, along with the states and territories for which they provide governance:
- The Higher Learning Commission (AK, AZ, CO, IA, IN, KS, MI, MN, MS, NS, NE, NM, OH, OK, SD, WI, WV, and WY)
- The Middle State Commission on Higher Education (NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands)
- The New England Commission of Higher Education (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, and VT)
- The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (AK, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT, and WA)
- The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (AL, FL, GA, KY, LA, MI, NC, SC, TN, TX, and VA)
- The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (CA, HI, Guam, American Samoa, Micronesia, Palau, and the Norther Marianas Islands)
While each of the accrediting bodies listed above has its own charter and procedures, all six of the commissions and associations that provide accreditation for colleges and universities in the US are concerned with ensuring the institutional viability of the schools they accredit and the academic quality of the programs those schools offer. It is, however, important to note that regional accrediting bodies do not evaluate specific academic programs; rather, they assess the overall integrity and viability of an institution and confirm its proven ability to offer quality academic programs, including graduate certificate programs.
CHEA also recognizes additional accrediting bodies that are separate from the six regional accrediting bodies noted above. Some of these organizations accredit online education programs. For a complete list of organizations that are recognized by CHEA to accredit college and universities, check out their list of Institutional Accrediting Agencies.
Note: Students who complete a graduate certificate may be able to transfer those credit hours towards a master’s degree in the future. For students who think they might want to pursue a master’s degree, it is critical to attend a college or university that has institutional accreditation from an accrediting body approved by CHEA, as many schools will not accept transfer credits from colleges or universities who do not meet this standard.
Programmatic Accreditation for Graduate Certificate Programs
Programmatic accreditation is more complex than institutional accreditation, as there are numerous commissions and associations that provide accreditation to schools and academic departments within schools that offer programs in specific fields of study. Programmatic accreditation is not available in all fields, and in many fields where there is an accrediting body, program accreditation is still not required. For those fields, programmatic accreditation is largely a voluntary process that schools undergo in order to demonstrate the quality of the academic programs they offer.
As a result, the relative importance of programmatic accreditation depends on the field and the requirements regarding professional practice in that field. For example, there are several organizations that provide accreditation to schools of business. Earning a graduate certificate from a school accredited by one or more of these organizations may be advantageous in a competitive job market. However, it is not paramount. In addition, programs that have not pursued formal programmatic accreditation may still use the standards and guidelines set by the accrediting body when they design their programs.
In contrast, programmatic accreditation can have major implications in certain fields. For example, in the field of nursing, which has several accrediting bodies, nursing schools typically must have proper programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA), and/or the American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACNM). Whether or not a program is accredited may impact a graduate’s eligibility to pursue licensure and thus his or her career options in the future. It is therefore advisable to review the relationship between licensing requirements and programmatic accreditation in a particular field prior to enrolling in a graduate certificate program in that field.
Examples of Graduate Certificate Program Accreditation by Area of Study
As previously noted, institutional accreditation for colleges and universities offering graduate certificate programs is granted by regional accrediting bodies, and programmatic accreditation is the domain of national and international organizations that specialize in particular areas of study. The sections below provide examples of programmatic accreditation for specific graduate certificate programs offered in various disciplines and professions.
There is no organization currently providing programmatic accreditation for data analytics or data science graduate certificate programs. However, some analytics graduate certificate programs, particularly business analytics programs, may have accreditation from one of three non-profit groups that accredit business schools and programs: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International); the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP); and the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE). For example, The George Washington University (GW) offers a Graduate Certificate in Business Analytics program through the GW School of Business, which is accredited by AACSB International. In addition, GW has institutional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Many graduate certificates in business are offered through schools of business that have accreditation from AACSB International, ACBSP, or IACBE. For example, the College of Business at Colorado State University (CSU) offers an Online Graduate Certificate in Business Management program. CSU’s School of Business is accredited by AACSB International and CSU has institutional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC) has accredited 118 communication and journalism programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and graduate certificate levels. For example, Arizona State University (ASU) offers an Online Digital Audience Strategy Graduate Certificate program through ASU Online and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, which has programmatic accreditation from the ACEJMC. ASU also has an Online Technical Communication Graduate Certificate that is offered through ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts that does not have programmatic accreditation, as there is no body that currently accredits programs in technical communication. ASU has institutional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) are two organizations that provide programmatic accreditation to academic programs in education and teaching. George Mason University in Virginia offers an Educational Leadership graduate certificate program that has programmatic accreditation from NCATE, while George Mason University is institutionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Note: The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) merged to form the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) in 2013. Programs accredited by NCATE or TEAC will become CAEP accredited when their accreditation is up for renewal.
In the field of healthcare, there are several organizations that offer programmatic accreditation to different types of degree programs. The Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) is an organization that accredits graduate certificate programs in health informatics, such the as the Health Information Management Graduate Certificate program offered by Eastern Carolina University (ECU) in North Carolina. ECU has institutional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) accredits health administration and management programs as well as graduate programs in public health, but does not accredit graduate certificate programs at this time.
As mentioned previously, there are several accrediting bodies for advanced nursing education, including the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA), and the American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACNM). Maryville University, a private, non-profit university in St. Louis, MO, has an Online Post-Master’s Nurse Practitioner Certificate program with five specialization options: Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP); Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP); Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP); Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PPCNP); and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP). All five specializations have programmatic accreditation from the CCNE. Maryville has institutional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
Public Administration and Management
While accreditation is not a requirement for graduate programs in public administration and management, some schools of public affairs and public administration may seek accreditation from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), a non-profit organization that accredits master’s programs in public affairs, public management, and public policy. At this time, the NASPAA does not accredit graduate certificate programs; however, schools whose master’s programs in public affairs or public administration are NASPAA-accredited may have also have graduate certificate programs that feature many of the same courses as their master’s program in public affairs/administration. For example, the Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) has programmatic accreditation from NASPAA. Mizzou offers a graduate certificate in public management program through Mizzou Online and courses in the program are part of the Truman School’s NASPAA accredited Master of Public Affairs program. Mizzou has institutional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
The primary accreditation body in the field of psychology is the American Psychological Association (APA), and the APA only accredits doctoral programs. However, there are graduate certificate programs in psychology that are offered by schools and departments accredited by the APA. Columbia University, for example, is accredited by the Middle State Commission on Higher Education and offers a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Psychology program that is designed for students who did not major in psychology as undergraduates and would like to prepare to apply to a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or PhD in Psychology program.
Note: Institutional and programmatic accreditation are just two factors that potential applicants to graduate certificate programs may want to consider when they are exploring programs. Accreditations may provide quality assurance but do not function as a guarantee. Conversely, lack of accreditation, particularly programmatic accreditation, does not indicate a lack of quality, particularly in fields where programmatic accreditation is unavailable.
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