What is Specialized, Professional, or Programmatic Accreditation?
The terms “specialized accreditation,” “professional accreditation,” and “programmatic accreditation” are enough to make one’s head spin, but it’s not as complicated as it sounds. In fact, all of these terms mean the same thing.
Each of these terms means that a specific program within a school has earned an accreditation from a private, non-government, non-profit organization. Accreditation associations represent the professional interests of their particular fields of study.
Examples of Specialized Accreditation Associations
There are many specialized accrediting organizations, too many to mention, in fact. But some large, well-known examples include:
American Bar Association (ABA) – accredits law school programs
Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) – accredits engineering programs
American Medical Association (AMA) – accredits medical programs
American Dental Association (ADA) – accredits dentistry programs
Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) – accredits business administration and accounting programs
National Nursing League (NLN) – accredits nursing programs
What Programmatic Accreditation Means to You
When you are communicating with a potential college or university, make sure that they are institutionally accredited. Then, ask if the program you want to be in is programmatically accredited.
In some professions, if you study at a college that doesn’t have programmatic accreditation, it could be difficult for you to find a job in your field after graduation.
Also, before you enter any field of study, you should talk to someone who has already been through it all. Whether you can get a job shadow or a Facebook interview, you will want to ask someone in the know for his or her honest opinions. Don’t rely solely on college admissions officers, because their job is to recruit you. I’m not suggesting that they might be dishonest, but you’ll still want to get a second opinion from a neutral source. One of the questions you can ask of this neutral source is whether or not your career plans suggest that you should be looking for a program with a specific specialized accreditation.
A specialized accreditation is an honor to a program. It communicates to current students, prospective students, and professionals in the field that a particular program has been examined by its peers and found to be a good one. Even if your profession doesn’t necessarily require you go through a program with specialized accreditation, you might still want to look for one. This accreditation is your assurance that the program is doing what it says it will do, and that it is good place for you to spend your efforts (and your tuition money).
Not to be a pessimist, but there are also some accreditations that mean basically nothing. Just as there are “degree mills,” there are also “accreditation mills.” If an accrediting association isn’t a reputable one, then the accreditation means nothing, and can even be seen as a red flag for the entire school. You’ll want to research any school you plan to attend thoroughly, and you’ll also want to research any accrediting associations. Again, ask professionals in your field for their insights.
Remember not to confuse any of these terms with regional accreditation or national accreditation, which are both types of institutional accreditation. Specialized accreditation is something schools pursue after they’ve already been institutionally accredited.
Also check out: College Accreditation, in a nut shell…