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The Higher Education Accreditation Process: Proper Planning is Key



Colleges and universities must maintain their institutional accreditation in order to grant degrees and fulfill their core operating missions. Accreditation is not only essential in attracting students and faculty, it communicates to the public that an institution has met quality standards in areas such as academic programs, faculty, financial resources, and administrative support functions. The denial of accreditation can be devastating to an educational institution’s image, negatively impacting its ability to attract outstanding students and faculty and to sustain operations. Moreover, once an institution has lost accreditation, the process of re-applying for accreditation can often be difficult to complete, time consuming, and costly.


Over the past several years, the industry has witnessed accrediting agencies take a much more aggressive interpretation of the standards by which they view the accreditation process. While uncommon, several institutions have lost their accreditation or have been placed on remediation plans. The added scrutiny has made an already arduous process even more challenging. By having a thorough understanding of the standard requirements and current interpretations of those standards by the accrediting agencies, institutions can better gauge whether or not they are in compliance.

Institutions are devoting hundreds of hours in order to complete this mission critical requirement. They are planning, coordinating, documenting, and assessing their compliance with numerous standards, including the effectiveness of programs designed for attracting and retaining students and faculty, marketing and communications, financial aid, and employee benefit plan offerings. In fact, a number of institutions are beginning to prepare for their accreditation reviews at least a year in advance of their application date.

What Does CohnReznick Think?

In our experience, too many institutions are not allocating the necessary resources to comply with the application requirements for accreditation. It takes proper planning to appropriately address items such as staff, facilities, and technology. By reviewing these resources as part of the annual planning process and documenting compliance, institutions can accommodate additional accreditation requirements.

To help prepare, many educational institutions have created large project teams from across their organizations responsible for addressing every aspect of the review, from financial viability to institutional eligibility to administrative capability. In addition, we suggest adding external advisors to the team to gain an outside point of view for key areas such as the institution’s risk management policies, IT vulnerabilities, and financial management processes.


For more information about our offerings to the Not-for-Profit and Education Industry, please visit our website, or contact Kelly Frank, Partner, Not-For-Profit and Education Industry Practice Leader, at 973-403-7999, or James J. Perrino, Partner, at 646-625-5769.

You can also learn about our accreditation services for educational institutions here.

Circular 230 Notice: In compliance with U.S. Treasury Regulations, the information included herein (or in any attachment) is not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used, by any taxpayer for the purpose of i) avoiding penalties the IRS and others may impose on the taxpayer or ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any tax related matters.

This has been prepared for information purposes and general guidance only and does not constitute professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining specific professional advice. No representation or warranty (express or implied) is made as to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this publication, and CohnReznick LLP, its members, employees and agents accept no liability, and disclaim all responsibility, for the consequences of you or anyone else acting, or refraining to act, in reliance on the information contained in this publication or for any decision based on it.

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