Accreditation for Online Doctorate of Education (EdD) Programs

Educational accreditation is the process by which a school is evaluated through an external organization to ensure it maintains certain standards for student learning outcomes. Schools and their educational programs are expected to prepare graduates to gain admission into further institutions of higher education, or to enter the workforce as competent professionals in their field.

There are two basic types of educational accreditation: institutional, and programmatic. Institutional accreditation, as the name implies, applies to the accreditation of an entire institution of education, such as a university that houses multiple schools or colleges. Programmatic accreditation, also known as specialized accreditation, concerns the specific programs, departments, and schools within a larger institution of education.

Programmatic accreditation may apply to the accreditation of something as granular as a curriculum, or to something as encompassing as an entire department or college within a larger university. Schools of education, EdD programs, and other graduate degree programs in education are accredited through programmatic accreditation, but are a part of larger universities or colleges that also receive institutional accreditation.

Regional Accreditation for Institutions of Higher Education

A group of six regional accrediting organizations oversee the institutional accreditation of almost all colleges and universities in the United States (as well as some schools overseas). Together, these six accrediting bodies form The Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions. While these regional accrediting agencies do not directly accredit EdD programs (which are accredited through programmatic accreditation), they evaluate the colleges and universities that offer these programs. All of six of these accreditation organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). They are described below:

  • The Higher Learning Commission (HLC): This institution accredits post-secondary educational institutions in the North Central area, including Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
  • The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE): This accrediting agency accredits educational institutions in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (CIHE): This organization, which is one of the four commissions that make up the larger New England Association of Schools and Colleges’ (NEASC), accredits institutions of higher education in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The CIHE also accredits several programs overseas that meet its accreditation standards.
  • The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU): This agency accredits institutions of higher education in the northwest region of the U.S., which includes the states of Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, and Washington.
  • The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC): This organization provides accreditation to institutions of higher education in eleven southern U.S. states, including Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee, and Virginia.
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC): This commission, which is a part of the larger Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), accredits four-year institutions of higher education in California and Hawaii, as well as schools in the Pacific and select institutions overseas.

When researching EdD programs and their accreditation status, students should look for colleges and universities that have been institutionally accredited by one of the organizations listed above.

State Boards of Education and Teacher Credentialing Agencies

As schools of education have programs that prepare individuals for jobs that may require state government certification (e.g. public school teachers, principals, and superintendents), schools of education need to receive approval from their state’s department of education to enroll students in their programs.

State departments of education may vary in their requirements for schools’ of education to seek approval, just as they may have different certification or licensure requirements for teachers and education administrators. In some states, schools of education must apply for approval from the specific credentialing body that grants teachers and education leaders their certifications. For example, in California, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) handles teacher and school administrator credentialing. Schools of education must apply to the CCTC in order to receive program approval and enroll students. The CCTC uses the California Professional Standards for Education Leaders (CPSEL) to evaluate programs that train education administrators and leaders.

In Illinois, the process is slightly different: individuals who wish to work as a public school teacher or administrator must earn a Professional Educator License (PEL) from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). In order to qualify for licensure, they must complete their educator preparation program at an institution that has received approval from the ISBE. Schools of education therefore must apply directly to ISBE to obtain approval to enroll students in their educator preparation programs.

As these examples illustrate, students who wish to work as public school educators or education leaders, and who wish to earn their EdD to achieve their goals, should research their programs of interest to ensure that these programs are approved by their state’s board of education, and/or have the approval of their state’s teacher credentialing bodies.

The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

In addition to earning regional accreditation and obtaining the necessary approvals from their state’s department of education, schools of education can elect to apply for accreditation through an independent accreditation organization. Historically, the primary accrediting agencies for educator preparation programs were the National Council for Accreditation in Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC). In 2013, these two agencies merged to create the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). However, there are still many schools that are NCATE and/or TEAC accredited, depending on when they are up for renewal. CAEP evaluates programs based on five key standards, which are:

  • Program Content and Knowledge of Pedagogical Practices: Programs must confer the appropriate knowledge of learning environments, different learning styles, and core teaching principles. Students must learn about the core teaching standards, including guidelines around the learning process, content and knowledge acquisition, instructional practices, and professional responsibility.
  • Clinical Partnerships and Practice: Programs must have and maintain connections with the community and technology-based organizations to provide students with opportunities for the application of their knowledge to actual practice.
  • Candidate Quality, Recruitment, and Selectivity: Programs must recruit high-quality, qualified candidates from a diverse set of backgrounds and populations. Programs should be cognizant of the importance of diversity in instruction and education administration, to reflect the diversity of student populations.
  • Program Impact: Accredited programs must have documentable evidence (through various metrics) that their graduates make an appreciable positive impact on educational communities and on student growth and learning.
  • Provider Quality, Continuous Improvement, and Capacity: Programs must have established systems for quality assurance that monitor their students’ progress, learning outcomes, and professional impact post-graduation. Based on regular quality assessments, programs must work to continuously uphold their standards and improve their program’s content, instruction and assessment methods, and student support systems.

At this time, accreditation by the CAEP is optional, so not all departments or schools of education pursue CAEP accreditation.


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