Accreditation in the United States
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Criteria for the Recognition of State Agencies for Vocational Education

The following are the criteria used by the Secretary in designating a State agency as a reliable authority concerning the quality of public postsecondary vocational education in its State.

The criteria and procedures for listing State agencies are contained in Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Dear Colleague Letter: Guidance to Institutions and Accrediting Agencies Regarding a Credit Hour as Defined in the Final Regulations Published on October 29, 2010 (March 18, 2011) | download files PDF (includes enclosures)


Subpart A--(reserved)

Subpart B--Criteria for State Agencies

603.20 Scope.
603.21 Publication of list.
603.22 Inclusion on list.
603.23 Initial recognition; reevaluation.
603.24 Criteria.

Authority: Sec. 438(b) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, Public Law 89-329 as amended by Public Law 92-318, 86 Stat. 235, 264 (20 U.S.C. 1094(b) (3)).

Subpart B - Criteria for State Agencies

Section 603.20 Scope.

(a) Pursuant to section 438(b) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 as amended by the Public Law 92-318, the United States Secretary of Education is required to publish a list of State agencies which he determines to be reliable authorities as to the quality of public postsecondary vocational education in their respective States for the purpose of determining eligibility for Federal student assistance programs administered by the Department of Education.

(b) Approval by a State agency included on the list will provide an alternative means of satisfying statutory standards as to the quality of public postsecondary vocational education to be undertaken by students receiving assistance under such programs.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1094(b)(3))

Section 603.21 Publication of list.

Periodically the U.S. Secretary of Education will publish a list in the FEDERAL REGISTER of the State agencies which he determines to be reliable authorities as to the quality of public postsecondary vocational education in their respective States.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1094 (b)(3))

Section 603.22 Inclusion on list.

Any State agency which desires to be listed by the Secretary as meeting the criteria set forth in the Section 603.24 should apply in writing to the Accrediting Agency Evaluation, Accreditation Division, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, #270-12, Washington, D.C.20202.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1094(b)(3))

Section 603.23 Initial recognition and reevaluation.

For initial recognition and for renewal of recognition, the State agency will furnish information establishing its compliance with the criteria set forth in Section 603.24. This information may be supplemented by personal interviews or by review of the agency's facilities, records, personnel qualifications, and administrative management. Each agency listed will be reevaluated by the Secretary at his discretion, but at least once every four years. No adverse decision will become final without affording an opportunity for a hearing.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1094(b)(3))

Section 603.24 Criteria for State agencies.

The following are the criteria which the Secretary of Education will utilize in designating a State agency as a reliable authority to assess the quality of public postsecondary vocational education in its respective State.

(a) Functional aspects.The functional aspects of the State agency must be shown by:

(1) Its scope of operations. The agency:

(i) Is statewide in the scope of its operations and is legally authorized to approve public postsecondary vocational institutions or programs;

(ii) Clearly sets forth the scope of its objectives and activities, both as to kinds and levels of public postsecondary vocational institutions or programs covered, and the kinds of operations performed;

(iii) Delineates the process by which it differentiates among and approves programs of varying levels.

(2) Its organization. The State agency:

(i) Employs qualified personnel and uses sound procedures to carry out its operations in a timely and effective manner;

(ii) Receives adequate and timely financial support, as shown by its appropriations, to carry out its operations;

(iii) Selects competent and knowledgeable persons, qualified by experience and training, and selects such persons in accordance with nondiscriminatory practices, (A) to participate on visiting teams, (B) to engage in consultative services for the evaluation and approval process, and (C) to serve on decision-making bodies.

(3 ) Its procedures. The State agency:

(i) Maintains clear definitions of approval status and has developed written procedures for granting, reaffirming, revoking, denying, and reinstating approval status:

(ii) Requires, as an integral part of the approval and re-approval process, institutional or program self-analysis and on-site reviews by visiting teams, and provides written and consultative guidance to institutions or programs and visiting teams.

(A) Self-analysis shall be a qualitative assessment of the strengths and limitations of the instructional program, including the achievement of institutional or program objectives, and should involve a representative portion of the institution's administrative staff, teaching faculty, students, governing body, and other appropriate constituencies.

(B) The visiting team, which includes qualified examiners other than agency staff, reviews instructional content, methods and resources, administrative management, student services, and facilities. It prepares written reports and recommendations for use by the State agency.

(iii) Reevaluates at reasonable and regularly scheduled intervals institutions or programs which it has approved.

(b) Responsibility and reliability. The responsibility and reliability of the State agency will be demonstrated by:

(1) Its responsiveness to the public interest. The State agency:

(i) Has an advisory body which provides for representation from public employment services and employers, employees, postsecondary vocational educators, students, and the general public, including minority groups. Among its functions, this structure provides counsel to the State agency relating to the development of standards, operating procedures and policy, and interprets the educational needs and manpower projections of the State's public postsecondary vocational education system;

(ii) Demonstrates that the advisory body makes a real and meaningful contribution to the approval process;

(iii) Provides advance public notice of proposed or revised standards or regulations through its regular channels of communications, supplemented, if necessary, with direct communication to inform interested members of the affected community. In addition, it provides such persons the opportunity to comment on the standards or regulations prior to their adoption;

(iv) Secures sufficient qualitative information regarding the applicant institution or program to enable the institution or program to demonstrate that it has an ongoing program of evaluation of outputs consistent with its educational goals.

(v) Encourages experimental and innovative programs to the extent that these are conceived and implemented in a manner which ensures the quality and integrity of the institution or program;

(vi) Demonstrates that it approves only those institutions or programs which meet its published standards; that its standards, policies, and procedures are fairly applied; and that its evaluations are conducted and decisions are rendered under conditions that assure an impartial and objective judgment;

(vii) Regularly reviews its standards, policies and procedures in order that the evaluative process shall support constructive analysis, emphasize factors of critical importance, and reflect the educational and training needs of the students;

(viii) Performs no function that would be inconsistent with the formation of an independent judgment of the quality of an educational institution or program;

(ix) Has written procedures for the review of complaints pertaining to institutional or program quality as these relate to the agency's standards, and demonstrates that such procedures are adequate to provide timely treatment of such complaints in a manner fair and equitable to the complainant and to the institution or program;

(x) Annually makes available to the public (A) its policies for approval, (B) reports of its operations, and (C) list of institutions or programs which it has approved;

(xi) Requires each approved school or program to report on changes instituted to determine continue compliance with standards or regulations;

(xii) Confers regularly with counterpart agencies that have similar responsibilities in other and neighboring States about methods and techniques that may be used to meet those responsibilities.

(2) It assurances that due process is accorded to institutions or programs seeking approval. The State agency:

(i) Provides for adequate discussion during the on-site visit between the visiting team and the faculty, administrative staff, students, and other appropriate persons;

(ii) Furnishes as a result of the evaluation visit, a written report to the institution or program commenting on areas of strength, areas needing improvement, and, when appropriate, suggesting means of improvement and including specific areas, if any, where the institution or program may not be in compliance with the agency's standards;

(iii) Provides the chief executive officer of the institution program with opportunity to comment upon the written report and to file supplemental materials pertinent to the facts and conclusions in the written report of the visiting team before the agency takes action on the report;

(iv) Provides the chief executive officer of the institution with a specific statement of reasons for any adverse action, and notice of the right to appeal such action before an appeal body designated for that purpose;

(v) Publishes rules of procedure regarding appeals;

(vi) Continues the approval status of the institution or program pending disposition of an appeal;

(vii) Furnishes the chief executive officer of the institution or program with a written decision of the appeal body including a statement of its reasons therefor.

*Effective July 1, 2011

*(c) Credit-hour policies. The State agency, as part of its review of an institution for initial approval or renewal of approval, must conduct an effective review and evaluation of the reliability and accuracy of the institution's assignment of credit hours.

(1)The State agency meets this requirement if—

(i)It reviews the institution's--

(A) Policies and procedures for determining the credit hours, as defined in 34 CFR 600.2, that the institution awards for courses and programs; and

(B) The application of the institution's policies and procedures to its programs and coursework; and

(ii) Makes a reasonable determination of whether the institution's assignment of credit hours conforms to commonly accepted practice in higher education.

(2) In reviewing and evaluating an institution's policies and procedures for determining credit hour assignments, a State agency may use sampling or other methods in the evaluation, sufficient to comply with paragraph (c)(1)(i)(B) of this section.

(3) The State agency must take such actions that it deems appropriate to address any deficiencies that it identifies at an institution as part of its reviews and evaluations under paragraph (c)(1)(i) and (ii) of this section, as it does in relation to other deficiencies it may identify, subject to the requirements of this part.

(4) If, following the institutional review process under this paragraph (c), the agency finds systemic noncompliance with the agency's policies or significant noncompliance regarding one or more programs at the institution, the agency must promptly notify the Secretary.

(d) Capacity to foster ethical practices. The State agency must demonstrate its capability and willingness to foster ethical practices by showing that it:

(i) Promotes a well-defined set of ethical standards governing institutional or programmatic practices, including recruitment, advertising, transcripts, fair and equitable student tuition refunds, and student placement services;

(ii) Maintains appropriate review in relation to the ethical practices of each approved institution or program.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1094(b)(3))

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