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Navigating similarities and differences in national and international accreditation standards: A proposed approach using US agency requirements

Judy R. Wilkerson (College of Education, Florida Gulf Coast University, Ft. Myers, Florida, USA)

Quality Assurance in Education

ISSN: 0968-4883

Article publication date: 3 April 2017



Understanding and navigating the differences in standards, and the roots and rationales underlying accreditation reviews, is necessary for all institutions that seek multiple accreditations. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate a method to assist institutional-level leaders and assessment practitioners analyze and align these differences in various national or international agency requirements, to develop a framework for assessment and data collection. The proposed method is demonstrated by using multiple accreditors’ standards from the USA.


Guided by a set of process questions, a review and content analysis of national standards and 12 accreditation agency requirements from the USA was conducted using Web-based, documentary sources. An operational definition of institutional quality was derived based on the core themes that emerged. Examples of evidence matched to each core theme were outlined to suggest an assessment framework. The 12 US agency requirements were compared and contrasted with the core themes and validated.


In the USA, recognition requirements set by two national bodies, the US Department of Education and Council of Higher Education Accreditation, drive the standards applied by various agencies that accredit institutions and programs. Six themes emerged from their requirements, serving as a core framework for designing institutional assessment systems. The themes are student achievement and continuous improvement; curriculum quality; faculty; facilities, equipment and supplies; fiscal and administrative capacity; and student support services, admissions and information-gathering systems. While the 12 sampled accreditation agencies generally used these core themes, divergences were found in how they treated the themes in published requirements.

Practical implications

Where multiple US or other accreditations are sought, the approach recommended could facilitate the work of institutional accreditation leaders and practitioners in establishing assessment systems that reduce redundancy while also maximizing efficiency in assessment and data collection.


There is little guidance in the literature on how institutional leaders and practitioners confronting the challenges of accreditation can negotiate multiple, and sometimes conflicting, sets of requirements. This paper demonstrates a possible solution strategy. Outside the general utility of the demonstrated method, the findings and core assessment framework produced could be useful for institutions seeking accreditation through the agencies in the study sample, in both the USA and overseas.



The author gratefully acknowledges the input and support from the Co-Editor, Professor Madhabi Chatterj, and the reviewers.


Wilkerson, J.R. (2017), "Navigating similarities and differences in national and international accreditation standards: A proposed approach using US agency requirements", Quality Assurance in Education, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 126-145.



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