Accreditation in Psychology

A surprising number of prospective psychology students do not fully understand, nor do they appreciate, the significance of accreditation within the field of psychology, how accreditation applies to different institutions and programs, and what types of accreditation exist. On a similar note, it's not uncommon for these same individuals to confuse psychology accreditation, licensing and certification.

According to the U.S. Department of Education

The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. Accrediting agencies, which are private educational associations of regional or national scope, develop evaluation criteria and conduct peer evaluations to assess whether or not those criteria are met. Institutions and/or programs that request an agency's evaluation and that meet an agency's criteria are then "accredited" by that agency.

Below you'll find an in-depth explanation of psychology regional and state accreditation, as it relates to current and future psychology students and professionals. Please note that there is national accreditation. You can find more information on national accreditation by visiting the U.S. Department of Education accreditation website.

Regional Accreditation

The United States is divided into six regions, each represented by a regional higher education accrediting agency. When a public or private university, college, or school feels they have met the agency's educational standards they can apply for "accreditation". Accreditation indicates that an institution's programs and curriculum meet the highest standards of educational quality as set forth by the accrediting agency. In the West, the regional accrediting agency is called the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC); in the South it is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS); in the Midwest the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools; in the East the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; in the Northest the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools; in the Northwest the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities; and in the Northcentral region the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The following are the regional accrediting agencies in the United States:

  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools

    The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools is a not-for-profit, peer-evaluation organization that is comprised almost entirely of volunteers. It is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the United States Department of Education (DOE) as one of six regional higher education accreditation associations in the United States. The association provides evaluation and accreditation for universities, colleges, and schools located in the Mid-Atlantic region, which includes, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. It also provides accreditation for education institutions located abroad in the Far East, Near East, Europe, Africa, Chile and Canada.

  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges

    The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) is an association that provides regional accreditation for all levels of education (k12 through doctoral) for schools and colleges located in the New England region of the United States. NEASC also provides accreditation services for schools located in certain areas abroad. The NEASC was the first of the 6 regional accreditation agencies to be established in the United States and recognized by the Department of Education (DOE). Today, the NEASC accredits over 2000 public and private k12 schools, colleges and universities located in several states including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Among the 2000 schools accredited by the NEASC are included 250 degree-granting higher education institutions, and 90 vocational/technical schools.

  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools

    The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) is one of six regional accreditation associations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The NCA currently accredits over 10,000 educational institutions, which includes over 1,000 colleges, universities and vocational schools. The NCA accredits education institutions located in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming, as well as the Navajo Nation in Southeastern Utah, Arizona, and Northwestern New Mexico.

  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

    The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) is a non-profit, independent regional accreditation association of higher education. Established in 1952, the NWCCU has serves as a DEO and CHEA authorized accreditation authority that ensures, monitors and reports the quality of education for higher education institutions in the Northwest region of the United States. NWCCU provides regional accreditation for schools located in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. With respect to the other five regional accreditation agencies, The NWCCU oversees a smaller number of schools. In all, NWCCU accredits 156 colleges, universities and vocational schools. NWCCU board is composed of26 commissioners. For education institutions to become accredited by the NWCCU they must first achieve recognition as a Candidate of Accreditation with the Commission. Candidacy with the NWCCU indicates that a school meets of all of the Commission's eligibility requirements and is working towards accreditation.

  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

    The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) is recognized by the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and United States Department of Education (DOE) as one of six regional accreditation authorities for private and public schools, colleges and universities, with regional accreditation jurisdiction in California, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Micronesia, Palau, and Northern Marianas Islands. Outside of the United States, the WASC also has limited accreditation authority. The WASC accredits American schools located in Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, East Asia, the Pacific Rim, and areas other areas of the Pacific and East Asia.

    The WASC is composed of three independent organizations: the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), the Accrediting Commission for Schools and the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities. The ACCJC is responsible for accrediting public and post-secondary schools that offer 2-year associate degrees. The Accrediting Commission for Schools accredits schools below the college level including elementary, middle, junior, high-schools and non-degree granting adult education institutions. The Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities provides accreditation for private and public colleges and universities that grant bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees.

  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

    The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is a regional accreditation authority that is recognized and authorized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) to accredit education institutions in the states of Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas, as well as American schools for U.S. students in the Caribbean, Mexico and South and Central America. Of the six regional accreditation associations, the SACS is one of the largest. The SACS currently accredits over 13,000 private and public preschools, elementary, junior, middle and high schools as well as hundreds of degree-granting higher education institutions.

State Accreditation

Some states have their own accreditation organizations. Relatively new schools or colleges often apply for state approval of their educational curriculum/degree programs before they are prepared to apply for regional accreditation. When reviewing such schools online, you'll typically see verbage that reads "Approved by the State (of California), or State Accredited."

Special Discipline and Area Accreditation

Some accrediting agencies are setup to provided specialized accreditation for schools offering specialized programs or learning formats. For example, a school that offers "home study" or correspondence learning programs may receive specialized accreditation status to reflect the quality of its unique education offerings. Specialized accreditation can also be offered for a specific program (i.e. bachelor's, master's, specialisit, or doctorate) withing a conventional discipline such as Education, Business, Nursing or Medicine. The standards for accreditation under such circumstances give particular attention to the specific discipline or profession. For example, it is not uncommon for a University's psychology school/program to be specially accredited by the Consortium for Diversified Programs (CDPP) while the university itself is fully accredited by a regional accreditation authority.

APA Accreditation

The American Psychological Association (APA) is a specialized industry association that only provides accreditation for psychology schools and programs. Specifically, the APA provides accreditation for professional doctoral-level psychology degree programs such as clinical, clinical-counseling, and related programs that offer doctorate degrees (e.g. PsyD and PhD). Master's degree in psychology are also accredited by the APA. Currently there are no other specialized agencies that provide accreditation for Master's level psychology programs.

What Exactly Is The APA

APA stands for American Psychological Association. The APA is one of the most recognized organizations representing the psychology industry and is responsible for accrediting education in the areas of academic and professional psychology (with specific focus on professional psychology). APA membership includes psychologists from every area within the field of psychology. While the APA is dedicated to educational accreditation, it is only one of the functions the association serves. APA's traditional role and central function is to provided support for all areas and aspect of the practice of psychology.

Another well-known psychology association is the American Psychological Society (APS), which is a break-off from APA. The primary motivation behind the establishment of aps was to more fully represent the non-professional side of practice, where the APA focuses on professional provides support services industry.

In addition to these two well-known associations, there exist regional and state psychology associations such as the Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA) which have been established to represent the interests of psychologists within a specific specialty or geographic region.

Difference Between Accreditation, Licensing and Certification

Accreditation is a process by which a school demonstrates their programs/curriculum are up to a specific educational standard as dictated by an accrediting authority. Accreditation is typically offered via independent regional authorities that are recognized by the United States Department of Education (DEO) and/or Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Alternatively, licensing is typically provided by local agencies and state municipalities. Individual professionals (including clinical, counseling and educational psychologists) are approved and regulated by state licensing boards. These boards establish their own criteria for licensing and will often include as pre-qualification for licensing specific educational and training requirements. Where individual practitioners are regulated by licensing, educational institutions are monitored and overseen by regional accreditation associations. Both licensing and accreditation are designed to ensure that industry quality standards are met. However, each focuses on different aspects of the industry. Like licensing, certification is typically provided and regulated by local and state municipalities and is focused on ensuring the competency of individual practitioners.

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