Frequently Asked Questions

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About Accreditation

The goal of accreditation is to assure students, as well as parents and employers, that a college or university provides a quality educational experience.

Accreditors—private associations of regional, national or programmatic agencies—develop their own standards, or criteria for accreditation, and regularly conduct evaluations to assess whether those criteria are being met. Institutions and/or programs that meet an accreditor's criteria may become "accredited" after a process of evaluation called “candidacy.”

Accreditation provides current and potential students assurance that they are receiving a quality education which will be recognized as such by potential employers or licensing boards as well as by other colleges or universities in case of student transfers or pursuit of a higher degree. Also, employer-paid tuition reimbursement programs often require that employee participants enroll in accredited institutions.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education recognizes accreditation as a marker to allow the institution to disperse federal (Title IV) student financial aid.

There are institutional accrediting agencies, such as HLC, that look at the college or university as a whole. And there are programmatic or specialized accrediting agencies that focus only on specific academic programs. Colleges and universities can have multiple accreditations. The U.S. Department of Education has a list of recognized accrediting agencies.

Yes, the term “regional” refers to the geographic area of the United States the agency oversees. HLC, for example, has a 19-state area in the central region of the country. Universities and colleges that HLC accredits must be headquartered within one of those 19 states, although they may have branch campuses or additional locations around the country.

HLC is a private not-for-profit company that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to act on its behalf as a regional accrediting agency. Higher education is overseen by the “Triad,” which is made up of an accrediting body such as HLC, a state’s higher education regulatory agency and the U.S. Department of Education, each with a distinct role in higher education oversight.

The HLC website provides a search tool to find institutions accredited by HLC, including formerly accredited or closed colleges and universities. An additional institutional directory tool, especially if the accrediting agency is unknown, can be found on the U.S. Department of Education website.

No. During the candidacy stage, a college or university is not accredited. The institution has to demonstrate through its candidacy period that it meets HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation. Then the institution may become accredited.

HLC policy does not allow for retroactive accreditation of a college or university.

A college or university that is on sanction is still accredited. In most cases, other colleges and universities will continue to accept the institution’s credits in transfer or for admission to a degree program while it is on a sanction. However, all colleges and universities define their own transfer and admission policies. So, students interested in pursuing another degree or transferring should contact the college or university they plan to attend so that they are knowledgeable about their admission and transfer policies.

A course completed, or a degree earned, from an accredited institution remains accredited regardless of what happens to the institution at a later date. HLC’s Directory of Institutions includes all colleges and universities that have held status with HLC, so past accreditation dates can be verified.

For Students

An institution’s accreditation will generally encompass all methods of delivery, though approval is sometimes needed before an institution can offer distance education.

Each institution determines its own policies and procedures for accepting transfer credits. HLC expects institutions to have clear policies on transfer of credit. Questions about the transferability of credits should be directed to the institution that the student is interested in attending.

The Higher Learning Commission does not rank or categorize schools. HLC evaluates an entire educational institution in terms of its mission and our Criteria for Accreditation. Besides assessing formal educational activities, it evaluates such things as governance and administration, financial stability, admissions and student services, institutional resources, student learning, institutional effectiveness, and relationships with internal and external constituencies.

Questions regarding licensure should be directed to the agency or state that would be granting a professional license.

HLC is not able to provide recommendations to students. A directory of HLC’s member institutions is available.

For Institutions

General

Visit hlcommission.org/upload for information on submitting reports to HLC.

Many states require an educational institution to be licensed to legally operate. This legal requirement is not accreditation, which determines the educational quality provided by the institution.

Through its Eligibility Process, HLC determines whether an educational institution considering affiliation with the Higher Learning Commission is ready for a comprehensive visit by an evaluation team. HLC works with the institution to determine the appropriate time for moving toward candidate or accredited status.

All accredited and candidate institutions are required to complete HLC’s Institutional Update each year. This report, which is completed online, provides HLC with up-to-date information on the scope of activities of each affiliated institution and sufficient information to understand and respond to significant shifts in an institution’s capacity and/or scope of educational activities. If you have questions, contact your staff liaison.

The Mark of Affiliation is used on member institutions’ websites to indicate their affiliation status with HLC. It is a key component of HLC’s program to provide information to the public about the accreditation relationship between HLC and an institution. Mark of Affiliation guidelines and web coding for the image can be obtained by contacting This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Campus Visits

HLC will send the institution an invoice for a scheduled peer review visit.

No. The team members are responsible for paying for their own expenses at the time of the visit. HLC will bill the institution for all visit-related expenses following the visit. Please see the Dues and Fees Schedule for more information.

HLC begins setting teams for the next academic year in January. In some cases, you may not see information on a proposed team until late April. Please refrain from contacting your team until you receive the official “team set” letter from HLC.

By “team set” we mean that all members have been approved by the institution, have been invited, and have accepted the appointment to the team.

When setting teams, HLC staff members consider a variety of factors, including your institution's desires for the team, the size of your institution, the high degree level, the carnegie classification, the mission/scope of your institution, and the institution's control.

For more information, visit Accreditation Processes.

Change

You can see your institution's most current Statement of Accreditation Status (SAS) in HLC’s Directory.

While HLC cannot approve anything retroactively, it is still important that institutions submit a substantive change request as soon as possible. Depending on the type of change, the lack of approval may result in a delay in Title IV funds being released.

HLC asks that change requests be submitted at least ninety days prior to the desired approval. Some changes may require a visit, a process that typically takes six months to complete. Institutions should contact their staff liaisons early in the planning process to determine when to submit a request.

Visit the Substantive Change page for an overview of HLC's substantive change policies and the applications needed to gain approval for a substantive change.

Institutions may include a change request in a comprehensive evaluation if the request requires a visit to the institution. The change request must be submitted at least six months in advance of the scheduled comprehensive evaluation visit.

If a change request does not require a visit, it is evaluated separately through HLC’s change process.

For more information, visit Substantive Change.

Decision Making

The IAC meets 10 times a year. IAC Hearings are held three times a year. Institutions will be notified approximately two weeks after an IAC meeting or hearing as to whether a final action was taken or the matter is being forwarded to another decision-making body. For institutions considered for candidacy or initial accreditation and those receiving a recommendation to impose or remove a sanction or to withdraw status, the IAC Hearing Committee makes a recommendation to the Board of Trustees, which takes final action.

Institutions appearing before the IAC Hearing Committee should send no more than four representatives. It is in the institution’s best interest to review carefully the issues that led to the need for a hearing and make a determination about which individuals will best be able to respond to questions the Hearing Committee members are likely to ask. The institution is encouraged to contact the HLC staff liaison to discuss IAC Hearing participation if it is unclear who would best represent the likely topics to be covered.

For more information, visit HLC Decision-Making Bodies and Processes.

For Peer Reviewers

Once you have completed the visit, send your reimbursement form and all necessary receipts to HLC. The reimbursement form is available with the Resources for Peer Reviewers.

For more information, visit Resources for Peer Reviewers.