What is Accreditation?

This is part of our Accreditation 101 series. At Woolf, our mission is to increase access to world-class higher education and ensure that it is globally recognized and transferable. Accreditation is an important part of that.

December 14, 2021

By Joshua Broggi, PhD

Who decides what gets accredited?

Over the next 10 years, the number of higher education students is expected to continue increasing by more than 25,000 students per day.[1] That number is about 3 new universities per day!

To make higher education accessible to the next generation of students, we need a lot more colleges. But starting a college can be expensive and challenging, in large part due to accreditation.

Accreditation is a certification that a college or university satisfies a recognized set of quality standards. Accreditation is provided by a third party (typically government-related), and it covers a very broad range of processes in a higher education institution (HEI).

An accreditor’s role is to enforce a suitable level of quality in everything from an institution’s general conduct to the details of its educational activities. The scope of assessment includes the student admissions process, the educational objectives of a degree, the curriculum of a single course, the outcomes achieved by students, and the resources available to faculty and students.

In most countries around the world, the standards of accreditation are defined by the Ministry of Education and then checked by a government agency.

Accreditation in the European Higher Education Area

The most widely-recognized set of accreditation standards are those formulated centrally and adopted by the 50 member countries in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). These shared standards are implemented by their respective Ministries of Education along with other authorized agencies.

Some programs offered through Woolf are accredited in this system because it is the most sophisticated and well-respected accreditation system in the world.

Source: WES.org

Accreditation in the United States

In the United States, the Department of Education has adopted a more marketized approach. The US Department of Education does not confer accreditation on any universities. Instead, private organizations (typically non-profit) confer accreditation on universities according to their own private standards, and then they lobby the US Department of Education to have their accreditation recognized.

Currently, there are about 195 institutional and programmatic accreditation agencies that the US Department of Education recognizes. When an American college or university is accredited by a federally recognized accreditor, they often gain the right to process federal loans, grants, and scholarships for students.

Adding to the complexity of the American accreditation landscape, every single US state has its own accreditation standards, and violating standards within the state can incur heavy penalties.

Regional Accrediting Organizations in the United States

Regional accrediting commissions have long been considered the most prominent type of accrediting body in the United States. There are seven regional accrediting commissions that have historically operated across six regions: New England, Middle States, North Central, Southern, Western and Northwest.

Source: chea.org

As of February 2020, the US Department of Education no longer distinguishes between regional and national accrediting bodies, in an effort to create a unified group of institutional accreditors.[2]

The Future of Accreditation

Accreditation is deeply embedded in the laws and policies of most countries, affecting everything from taxes and visas to the right to operate at all. Students and the courses they study are increasingly operating across borders.

Woolf’s software platform helps organizations meet and maintain regulatory standards by handling everything from course creation to degree issuance. Members of Woolf subscribe to a shared set of standards, and they receive all the benefits of accreditation while the software does all of the work.


[1] Calderon, Angel. (2018). Massification of higher education revisited.
[2] U.S. Department of Education, Office of the Under Secretary. (2020). Re: Final Accreditation and State Authorization Regulations.