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Understanding Accreditation

For many people, accreditation is an unfamiliar concept – what it is, what it means, and how institutions achieve it. As NPRC grows as a college and moves through the accreditation process, the needs of students remain first and foremost. This value drives all college decisions, including the commitment to achieving accreditation.

Accreditation is important to students for three primary reasons:

  1. It provides assurance that the college meets standards for excellence as established by a nationally recognized accreditor through review by accredited peer institutions.
  2. Accredited institutions are eligible to complete the processes necessary for approval to award federal and state grants and loans to enrolled students.
  3. Students have assurance that the credits and degrees they earn are recognized as having the rigor, quality, and relevance common to all accredited colleges.

The following outlines the steps required to achieve institutional accreditation and the associated benefits to students, families, and institutions.

Building An Accredited College – The Process of Becoming Accredited

The road to accreditation is a multistep, peer-reviewed process that all colleges must complete. Once a proposal for a college is legislatively approved, a governing board (Board of Trustees) must be established. This group develops the plan and framework for the college. Once that is written and then approved by the PA Department of Education (PDE), the college must complete a second comprehensive application to PDE to be authorized as a degree-granting institution in the Commonwealth. Finally, only after that approval, a college may begin the accreditation application process.

The process of achieving and maintaining accreditation is neither swift nor simple and involves developing policies and procedures, curricula, and administrative organizational structure. It requires a commitment to the assessment of all policies, procedures, and practices in pursuit of continual improvement in all areas. This is a multi-year process broken into three parts: pre-candidacy, candidacy, and accreditation.

Pre-candidacy. To apply for pre-candidacy, institutions must complete a comprehensive application that includes data on curriculum, finances, student outcomes, and other institutional processes.

Candidacy. To apply for candidacy, institutions must have enrolled students as well as graduates of its own programs, complete a second substantial application, and host a peer review site visit. Once approved for candidacy, the college may complete the process required for approval to award federal grants and loans.

All new institutions seeking accreditation are held to the same process of seeking authorization and must demonstrate success at all stages. There are no shortcuts in the process, nor does approval at one stage guarantee success in the next stages.

According to federal guidelines, once candidacy is established, the institution has a maximum of five years to achieve full accreditation. During this timeframe, the institution must complete a comprehensive self-study demonstrating all functions and programs meet quality standards and requirements for affiliation, are regularly evaluated to ensure continuous improvement, and host a second peer review site visit.

Accreditation. Once accredited, institutions are regularly revisited by peer review teams on an eight-year cycle involving comprehensive self-studies and site visits. To maintain accreditation, colleges are required to demonstrate their commitment to continual improvement through assessment of all policies, procedures, and practices.

NPRC’s Journey To Accreditation 

In agreement with Commonwealth legislation, NPRC began their journey through a partnership with an accredited institution, Gannon University. Through the partnership, NPRC offered associate degrees in business administration and interdisciplinary studies granted by Gannon. This partnership also ensured participating students were provided the benefits of Gannon’s accreditation umbrella. Under this umbrella, all instructors were approved as Gannon faculty and all curriculum was guided by Gannon’s policies, procedures, and practices. During this time, NPRC built essential college infrastructure and curricula and pursued successful implementation of our model for course delivery.

NPRC received authorization from PDE to award associate degrees and workforce development training certificates on May 28, 2019. In September 2019, NPRC applied for pre-candidacy. At year’s end, NPRC ended its agreement with Gannon. Currently, the College awaits a decision from the accrediting body regarding next steps toward achieving candidacy. Today, NPRC operates as an independent organization, offering six associate degrees and two certificates as well as many non-credit Workforce Development trainings. Faculty and staff at NPRC continue to assess their daily practices while keeping in mind the College’s mission and pursuit of accreditation.