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The role of accreditation in establishing academic legitimacy in graduate level non-profit management education

Emiko Blalock (Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 13 August 2019

Issue publication date: 9 April 2020



The purpose of this study is to examine the tension that a graduate education field called non-profit management education (NME) faces as it decides whether or not to adopt accreditation. The tension at hand is the politically wrought process of accreditation and the challenge many professional graduate education programs face in maintaining distinctive characteristics of their programs while conforming to the perceived legitimate norms within the larger field of higher education.


This case study is focused on a multi-day Summit, collecting data from participant presentations and discussions, observations and field notes and documents. Inductive coding and deductive coding are used to analyze data, framed under the theoretical framework of organizational legitimacy, strategy and homogeneity.


Three major themes are identified that illuminate the inherent tension between the ambiguous nature of legitimacy and the structured character of accreditation: arguing the field is unique, establishing threats to innovation and drawing boundaries.


This study offers unique insights into the political nature of accreditation and its ties to legitimacy for professional graduate education programs. With the expansion of graduate education into more applied fields and the increased pressure to provide programs that are directly related to professional and career advancement, many programs may benefit from accreditation standards while garnering legitimacy. However, it is imperative that those seeking accreditation understand they may risk losing the very elements that make their programs distinct.



Blalock, E. (2020), "The role of accreditation in establishing academic legitimacy in graduate level non-profit management education", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 1-16.



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