How Accreditation Works: An Interview with BridgeEnglish Director Richard Brown

Looking for the right school to study at can be an important and stressful decision. (If you haven’t already, check out Josh’s post on choosing a school). One important thing that students should be looking out for is “Accreditation.” But, what is this and why is it so important? We sat down with BridgeEnglish director and resident expert on accreditation, Richard Brown to ask him some of these nagging questions.

1)      What are the different types of accreditation?

Currently in the U.S., language centers like BridgeEnglish can be accredited by either ACCET (The Accrediting Council of Continuing Education and Training) or CEA (The Commission on English Language Accreditation). BridgeEnglish is currently fully accredited by ACCET.

2)      What does it mean to be an accredited institution?

To be an accredited institution means that individuals and organizations can be assured they are dealing with an institution that states exactly and clearly how it operates and that these statements have been examined and found to be true by an outside entity. In the U.S., for language schools or centers and IEPs, intensive English programs, it is critical that they be accredited as this will be a requirement in order for them to issue I-20’s (student visas) by 2013.

3)      What’s the process a school needs to go through to get accredited?

The process is a complex one. It involves an application to CEA or ACCET for either accreditation or re-accreditation. Then there is a conference to attend to become familiar with the process or any changes in the process since the organization’s last accreditation. Perhaps the most time consuming piece is a large document that must be compiled to respond to questions about how the school or center operates. Every statement must be documented and usually documented in several ways and multiple times to offer clear evidence to back up the statements by the school. All of this, many hundreds of pages, must be submitted to the accrediting organization in a timely manner.

After being thoroughly examined, copies of the document along with copies of all the supporting evidence are delivered to two professional volunteers who will conduct an on-site inspection of the organization. These volunteers are usually from similar schools accredited by the same organization. For ACCET, the inspection takes a day and a half and during this time, the volunteer inspectors examine every aspect or the school’s or center’s operation, making constant reference to the accreditation document. This way, they can clearly confirm that the school or center is essentially doing what it says it does. Scores are given in each area as strong, acceptable, weak or unacceptable. The final results, received within three months will award a one year, a three year or a five year period of accreditation depending upon the number or strengths or weaknesses. If major problems are uncovered, the school or center is given time to review and take care of these problems.

4)      What if a student is interested in a school that is not accredited?

It’s a risk that you take. One way to check up on the validity and ethical nature of the school is to check with the Better Business Bureau in the city where the school is located.

5) How can a student verify if a school is actually accredited? I mean, sometimes schools claim they have accreditation but actually do not, right?

Simply go to the web site of the organization the school says accredits it and check the list of approved schools. If it’s not on the list, call or e-mail the organization to see if the school is still in the process of accreditation. If it is not, this is definitely a school to avoid.

6)      How does choosing an accredited institution have an effect on a student’s education and even future employment?

The student can be certain that he or she is getting a real education and that the school has given great thought to the program, the program’s goals and outcomes for its students. Employers can be assured that the individual completed a legitimate study program and didn’t attend a “diploma mill.”