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State Authorization and Accreditation

What is State Authorization?

Colleges and universities, like other types of businesses, must typically have approval to operate from the state(s) in which they operate. Once granted an authorization or approval from a state agency, referred to as state authorization, an institution must comply with relevant state laws. State regulators, such as NASASPS member agencies, are responsible for approving colleges and universities to operate and verifying their compliance on an ongoing basis.

Some institutions are exempt from state approval requirements. Categories of exempt institutions vary by state, though some commonalities exist. For example, many states do not require authorization for institutions offering avocational programs, such as skills related to a hobby, or religious instruction.

What is Accreditation?

Accreditation is different from state authorization, though accrediting agencies and state regulators work closely together, alongside the U.S. Department of Education, to promote quality education and consumer protection.

The goal of accreditation is to ensure that colleges and universities meet acceptable levels of quality, based on standards established in federal law and regulations. Accrediting agencies, which are private educational associations, develop evaluation criteria based on the federal standards and conduct peer evaluations to assess whether those criteria are met. Institutions and/or programs that request an accreditor’s evaluation and that meet an accreditor’s criteria are then “accredited.”

Accreditation’s quality assurance function is one of the three main elements of oversight governing the Higher Education Act’s (HEA’s) federal student aid programs.

Which Accrediting Agencies are Recognized?

Under federal law, the Department recognizes, or approves, accrediting agencies that it has determined to be reliable authorities as to the quality of education or training provided by institutions of higher education. In order for students to receive federal student aid from the U.S. Department of Education for postsecondary study, the institution must be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency.

You can find a list of recognized accrediting agencies, and search to see if an institution or program is accredited by a recognized agency, here.