The term “accreditation” definitely has a ring to it but not everyone knows what it means or why accreditation is such an important asset in the educational field.
Accreditation should be one of the decisive factors in the process of selecting any type of educational institution, and you should be well aware of how a school’s accreditation or lack thereof could affect your future, as an alumnus of that specific institution.
We, at Nightingale College, have written this guide on nursing school accreditation, so that all those who are thinking of building a career in nursing can start by choosing an accredited university which will benefit them in the long run, especially in the process of searching for a job.
What Is Accreditation?
Accreditation is a process during which an accrediting body evaluates an educational institution and/or its programs in order to make sure there is compliance with the standards. Since this is a recognition of quality and credibility, the educational institution will only be granted the accredited status if it meets the accrediting organization’s standards.
There are two types of educational accreditation, both of equal importance to any kind of university or college:
Institutional accreditation refers to an evaluation of the school as a whole, from administration, objectives, and mission to resources and finances. This process of institutional self-assessment and peer review based upon criteria established by the accrediting agency is an indicator of educational quality and effectiveness.
Programmatic or specialized accreditation relates to individuals educational programs within an institution. When evaluating a program, the accrediting body can look into curriculum, faculty staff, and resources.
Does a nursing program have to be accredited? It is important for schools to have both institutional and program accreditation. Attending a non-accredited university or a non-accredited program can be risky for many reasons, but mainly because employers tend to prioritize graduates with accredited education.
Why Is Accreditation Important?
Accreditation is voluntary, yet many nursing schools pursue accreditation because it comes with many benefits for the institution and its learners.
So what are the benefits of accreditation?
Accreditation is a strong stamp of approval for the institution, which contributes to the school’s reputation and its high status as a nursing education provider. This can translate into more concrete benefits, such as more enrollments into the school’s programs.
For learners, these benefits include being eligible for federal financial aid, being able to take the licensing exams and transferring to other accredited programs as they continue their education to baccalaureate, masters, or even doctorate degree programs. Accreditation also serves as a guarantee of qualitative education to employers and is, therefore, a great asset for a successful career.
The way the accreditation system is built ensures that institutions maintain qualitative standards. Accreditation is only valid for a certain period of time, so each school is assessed every 3-5 years by the accrediting body in order to maintain its accredited status.
Nursing Accrediting Bodies
We’ve established that accreditation is important for any nursing school but who accredits nursing schools? There are two main types of accrediting organizations – the ones that accredit institutions and the ones that accredit nursing programs:
Accrediting bodies for nursing institutions
- The Accrediting Bureau of Health Schools (ABHES) is a higher education institutional accrediting organization, recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. During the accreditation process, ABHES focuses on three main areas – recognition, resources, and service.
ABHES is well known for constantly improving the quality of health care across the country, which is why ABHES accreditation is highly regarded in the educational nursing field.
There are many other accrediting bodies that serve nursing institutions, but the ABHES is the only accrediting body for generalized health care education programs, which is also recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Accrediting bodies for nursing programs
While ABHES is an institutional accreditor, nursing programs are accredited by programmatic accreditation bodies, the best-known being the CCNE and the ACEN.
- The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is a national nursing education accrediting organization. The CCNE is in charge of accrediting nursing baccalaureate, graduate, and residency programs that rise up to certain quality standards. The CCNE will use the same guidelines to determine the eligibility of a certain type of nursing program, regardless of the institution, so BSN programs from two different universities will be evaluated according to the same criteria.
- The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) is a national accrediting body which can evaluate and provide accreditation for nursing programs at all degree levels. The list of programs that can be accredited by the ACEN includes LPN programs, diploma, associate’s, baccalaureate, masters and doctorate nursing programs.
The main difference between the ACEN and the CCNE is that the CCNE does not accredit LPN or ADN programs, while the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) does.
Nightingale College understands the importance of accreditation and is institutionally accredited by ABHES and its nursing programs are programmatically accredited.
The ADN Program is accredited programmatically by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), and the BSN and RN-to-BSN Programs are accredited programmatically by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
Accredited institutions and programs adhere to standards set by their accreditor. The metric for programmatic success may vary from one accreditor to another. You can locate the standards by visiting the accreditor’s website. For example, the ACEN standards are located within their Accreditation Manual, and the CCNE standards are located in their Standards For Accreditation.
Besides the accrediting bodies which serve generalized nursing programs, there are specific organizations that accredit specialized nursing programs. Here are two of the most important such accrediting bodies:
- The American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACNM) which is an accrediting organization specialized in nurse-midwifery education programs.
- The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA) which provides accreditation to nurse anesthesia programs.
National Accreditation vs Regional Accreditation
There are two types of institutional accreditation: national and regional, both of which are equally recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Thousands of educational institutions hold each type of institutional accreditation. Nursing schools can have national accreditation, regional accreditation or both of them. For more details on institutional accreditation, please view our National vs Regional Accreditation video.
National accreditation is a type of institutional accreditation that is not bound to certain geographical areas. National accreditation is newer than regional accreditation, but it is just as authoritative. Most private colleges have national accreditation, as opposed to regional accreditation, which is more common with non-profit colleges.
As opposed to national accreditation, regional accreditation bodies are restricted to a certain geographical area.
There are six different regional accrediting organizations that serve different parts of the United States and they are all recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA):
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA) which oversees nursing accreditation in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) which oversees nursing accreditation in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) which oversees nursing accreditation in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) which oversees nursing accreditation in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) which oversees nursing accreditation in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) which oversees nursing accreditation in California, Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa.
Or you can discover more about these two different types of accreditation in our video below.
What Type of Accreditation Should a Nursing School Have?
Nursing schools should be accredited both at an institutional level and a programmatic level. At the institutional level, nursing schools should have an accredited status from the Accrediting Bureau of Health Schools (ABHES) or from one of the six regional accreditation bodies, depending on the state the school is based in.
At the programmatical level, nursing schools can be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or by an accrediting body for specialized nursing programs, such as the American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACNM) or the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA), depending on the type of program.
Since both national and regional accreditations are just as authoritative, it is not mandatory for nursing schools to have either one or the other, they can opt for any of them, or both.
What type of accreditation should an online college have?
Accreditation is just as important for online colleges, if not more important. Employers pay even more attention to nursing college graduates’ resumes and are keen on verifying the accreditation of any online nursing program.
The types of accreditation required for “brick and mortar” nursing schools apply to online nursing schools as well. Same goes for the accreditation standards imposed by the national and regional accrediting bodies, which are the same for traditional and online nursing schools.
On top of having accreditation, online nursing schools have to have their programs approved by a state in order for them to be recognized in that state. State approval ensures that if you are a graduate of that program, you can sit for the NCLEX exam and earn your nursing licensure.
Are Nightingale College’s Nursing Programs Approved by your State?
Nightingale College is a distance-learning nursing education provider that is nationally accredited. Since the College began in Ogden, Utah, it is based in Utah and offers the ADN and BSN Programs in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and the BSN Program in Nevada, as well as the RN-to-BSN Program option in 13 states and counting.
Prior to enrolling learners in other states, the College works to meet the requirements at both state and national levels. Nightingale College has been approved by Utah to participate in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA). NC-SARA is a voluntary, regional approach to state oversight of postsecondary distance education. For a full list of Nightingale College’s state approvals, visit the State Approvals page.
How to Find out if a Nursing School Is Accredited?
There is no doubt that accreditation is a must have for any nursing college you choose to attend so you must know how to verify accreditation. In order to find out which schools are nationally accredited, follow these easy steps:
- Visit your institution’s accreditation page to see who their accreditors are. Every accredited institution will most likely have such a page on their website.
- Go to the accreditor’s official website.
- Enter the college’s name to verify that your program or institution is indeed accredited.
For example, Nightingale College’s BSN and RN-to-BSN programs are accredited by CCNE. Visit the CCNE website and enter “Nightingale College” (since it is based in Utah, enter Utah into the state field) to see the BSN and RN-to-BSN programmatic accreditation.
What Is the Nursing School Accreditation Process?
How do nursing schools get accredited?
Accreditation is voluntary in the United States, so nursing schools request to get accredited. Schools look over the various accrediting bodies that are able to provide accreditation and select the one that suits their institution and program best.
The accreditation process may differ slightly from an accrediting body to another, but usually, these are the steps that a nursing school must follow in order to get accredited.
Each accrediting body has a set of nursing school accreditation standards that the school must meet in order to get accredited. Nursing schools take a period of time to get accustomed to the evaluation criteria and prepare for the accreditation review.
If a nursing school meets the requirements of the accrediting body, it gains the accredited status, which is a public recognition of the high-level quality education it provides.
How does a nursing program get accredited?
The accreditation process for programs broadly follows the same guidelines as the accreditation process for institutions, noting that is may differ slightly, depending on the accrediting body.
For the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), the process starts with programs applying for accreditation, after which they have a period of two years to host the accreditation visit. They can do it sooner, but not later.
Before the evaluation visit, nursing programs have to prepare a Self-Study Report. Based on this report and most importantly, the on site visit, the Evaluation Review Panel will assess the program and then the ACEN Board of Commissioners will make the accreditation decision.
The Risks of Attending a Non-Accredited Nursing School
Enrolling in a non-accredited nursing university can pose many risks for a future nurse. Here are the main dangers you are facing when attending a non-accredited school:
- The quality of the education you receive may be questionable. Accreditation is a stamp of approval that certifies the quality of a nursing school and its programs. One of the greatest risks of attending a non-accredited nursing school is that you have no way of knowing if they can provide you with qualitative education.
- Transferring to another nursing school may not be possible. If you decide to transfer to another university, you may not be able to, because accredited schools may not accept transfer credit from a non-accredited school.
- You may not be eligible for federal financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education requires that all schools that participate in the student aid programs be accredited. Moreover, your state education agency’s financial programs may be unwilling to grant financial aid to non-accredited schools.
- It can affect your employment opportunities. Employers know that accredited schools have high education standards so they tend to hire nurses that graduated from such schools because they deem graduates more qualified to do the job.
How does a nursing school lose accreditation?
Accreditation is valid for a certain period of time, usually 3-5 years, after which the school needs to be assessed by the accreditation body once again. If during this assessment the accreditation body finds that the school no longer rises up to the accreditation standards, it may deem fit to remove the school’s accreditation.
A school could also lose its accreditation if it violates the standards imposed by the accrediting body. Depending on the severity of the violations, accreditation bodies can issue a warning period, during which the school can rectify the situation.
In cases of violation of the accreditation standards, accreditation bodies have only two options for recommendation: they can recommend continued accreditation or they can deny accreditation. So one small violation on the school’s part could result in a denial of accreditation.
A nursing school will not lose accreditation immediately. The accreditation removal is a process that can take up to two years to complete.
What happens when a nursing school loses accreditation?
If your nursing school lost its accreditation and you have yet to complete your nursing program, then the best choice for you would be to try and transfer to an accredited nursing school. There are high chances that you will find one which will accept the credits that you earned while your current nursing school still had its accreditation.
If your nursing school lost its accreditation after you graduated, you should not worry, because you completed your program while the school was still accredited.
Now that you know all about accreditation and why choosing an accredited nursing school can only be beneficial for your career, you are ready to start walking on the path to becoming a nurse.