Accrediting the Accreditor


Council for Higher Education Accreditation

“Accrediting the Accreditor”

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) provides an important service to member institutions, students and society through CHEA's recognition of accrediting organizations. However, CHEA’s services – or how these services benefit accreditation stakeholders – are not fully understood. This short document is designed to answer important questions about CHEA recognition and how it serves CHEA members, students and the public.

1. What is the major focus of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation?

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is the only nonprofit national organization that coordinates accreditation activity in the United States. CHEA provides recognition (approval) to accrediting organizations, which ensures that colleges and universities and their programs provide academic quality for students and accountability to the public. Recognition is another way of saying that CHEA “accredits the accreditor.”

When CHEA recognition is granted, it means that the accrediting organization has met rigorous standards and can be trusted when conducting accreditation activities.

2. What are CHEA’s core values?

Higher education has the responsibility to provide academic quality; colleges and universities are the leaders and experts in determining “quality” in accordance with their academic mission.

It is through the voluntary process of accreditation that colleges and universities provide evidence of academic quality that leads to student success.

Higher education must maintain its institutional autonomy and academic freedom. Continuous quality improvement, innovation and accountability thrive in this environment.

CHEA-recognized accrediting organizations are committed to the work of higher education by establishing standards that provide evidence of student achievement.

3. What are CHEA’s key functions?

Recognition of institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations

Conveyor and interpreter of federal government regulations related to higher education accreditation

Advocate on behalf of higher education for autonomy and independence in accreditation activities

Provides periodic review of accrediting organizations to ensure that CHEA standards are met on behalf of students, families, policy makers and the public

4. How do CHEA’s key functions serve students, families and the public?

Students, families and the public are assured that:

  • Institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations are reviewed by unbiased, ethical and professional academic experts.
  • Accrediting organizations are transparent, accountable and provide evidence of student academic success.
  • Accrediting organizations undergo periodic review to ensure organizational integrity and accountability.

5. How does CHEA serve institutions of higher education?

CHEA’s functions are strategically aimed at supporting student success through the higher education experience. CHEA provides oversight of accrediting organizations that review higher education for academic quality. 

Without the CHEA recognition process of accrediting organizations, the sole recognition process, which is compliance based, would be through the U.S. Department of Education (USDE). Although there may be some overlap between USDE and CHEA recognition, CHEA focuses on an accrediting organization’s ability to review institutions within the context of the institution’s mission, which is important in the evaluation of academic quality, student success and accountability.

CHEA is an advocate for institutions and programs. CHEA works with congress and USDE to ensure that higher education remains autonomous in decision-making matters of academic performance and academic quality.

6. Is CHEA an affiliate of the U.S. government?

No. CHEA is an independent, private non-profit organization working on behalf of students, universities and colleges. It is not subject to any of the regulations legislated by the federal government. CHEA remains consistent in its standards of accountability and transparency regardless of political administration.

7. How do students benefit by attending an institution or program accredited by a CHEA-recognized accrediting organization?

Institutional or programmatic accrediting organizations choose to be recognized by CHEA. That intentional choice sends a message to students, families and the public that the accrediting organization values a review by a non-governmental, academically based, non-biased panel of experts using rigorous standards of accountability. Stakeholders can be certain that CHEA-recognized accrediting organizations are committed to academic quality and student success. 

Students enrolled in institutions or programs accredited by CHEA-recognized accrediting organizations benefit because:

  • transfer credits are more readily accepted.
  • public confidence is affirmed because CHEA accrediting organizations require evidence (proof) of academic quality and student success
  • many employers seek confirmation from CHEA about an institution’s or program’s accredited status when making employment decisions
  • some states require institutions to be accredited by a CHEA- or USDE- recognized accrediting organization.

8. How can a parent know if a university or college is reviewed by a CHEA-recognized accrediting organization?

CHEA maintains an online directory of all institutions and programs accredited by CHEA- and/or USDE-recognized accrediting organizations. This is a useful tool for students and their families when making decisions about college or university selection and transfer of credits eligibility. Additionally, the online CHEA Almanac, regularly updated, identifies all CHEA- and USDE-recognized accrediting organizations. 

9. How does CHEA recognition protect against degree mills?

Degree mills offer credentials based on little study or engagement in higher education activity. They are easy to start, difficult to eliminate and, at least to date, relatively immune to regulation. Degree mills are part of an emerging academic corruption that, unfortunately, is accompanying the growth of access and participation in higher education worldwide.

The CHEA database of accredited institutions and programs helps students, parents and the public identify legitimate education providers.

10. How can I learn more about CHEA and accreditation?

The CHEA website,, is the best source of information regarding all matters related to non-governmental accreditation processes.  Students, families, universities/colleges and stakeholders use the CHEA website to increase knowledge and understanding about CHEA and accreditation throughout the United States.