U.S. universities pursuing accreditation complete an extensive self-evaluation of their performance against accreditation standards, established through a collaborative process involving the accrediting agency and educational institutions. The accrediting agency then sends an on-site team to validate the university's self-evaluation and award accreditation. Monitoring continues throughout the period of accreditation.
In addition to monitoring an institution's performance during the accreditation period, the accrediting agency also conducts periodic re-evaluations to ensure that continuation of the institution's accreditation is justified. Accreditation can apply to an entire institution or to specific programs, departments, schools, or curricula within an institution.
The accreditation process uses peer evaluation that communicates to students and the public that institutions of higher education provide a basic level of quality. Accreditation agencies operate in six geographic regions of the United States. Commissions, including college and university presidents and academic officers, as well as experts in specific fields of higher education management and public representatives, oversee each region.
Agencies accrediting institutions of higher, post-secondary, education are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and review and accredit approximately 3,000 schools, including four-year colleges and universities, research universities, community colleges, military academies and those with religious affiliations or specialities, such as arts or sciences.