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Accreditation is a form of independent, professional certification that focuses on schools and programs in a particular field. Accreditation of English as a Second Language (ESL) schools and programs in the state therefore assures international students and their parents that the school adheres to high quality standards. Which means the programs are delivered by qualified faculty and are constantly updated to meet student needs. The Department of Homeland Security/Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services DHS/BCIS) requires that international students who enter the country on an F-1 visa--no matter which state they plan to live in--attend an accredited institution. Therefore, please note that the information below is a general guide for students researching American ESL schools, and is applicable to schools in all states. For the most current and specific details, students should also refer to individual state higher education agencies, as well as individual institutions.

Accreditation of educational institutions in the US takes place at different levels. Governmental and other agencies must first recognize the accrediting bodies. For instance, the US Department of Education, the Council for Higher Education Association (CHEA) and the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA) grant power to associations that oversee accreditation at the regional, institutional or program level. Additionally, some types of schools--such as career colleges, which may include language institutes--require approval to operate at the state level.

Accreditation of any college or private language school offering ESL programs can occur at the regional, state, institutional or program levels.

Regional: The US Department of Education recognizes 6 distinct higher educational regions, each of which is overseen by a different accrediting body. This is the type of accreditation most commonly referred to and is for a college as a whole, not for individual programs. Accreditation by these regional agencies isn't automatic: this is voluntary accreditation.

Institutional: Depending on the kind of school it is (e.g., private, Christian, career college, etc.) it may also be accredited by institute-type specific agencies. Educational institutions in the US vary in character, size, location and in the programs they offer. Therefore a school that offers ESL programs may be accredited by one or more of several accrediting organizations.

Specialized: Specialized accreditation is a type of accreditation that focuses on specific areas of study and individual programs. This is sometimes called professional accreditation, because it means specific programs meet the national standards for that field of study.

When assessing quality, you can also look at whether a school or program has any memberships in, or endorsements by, professional associations (such as UCIEP-University and College Intensive English Programs) which reflect certain standards of quality, but this is not the same as official accreditation.

Specialized ESL Accrediting Bodies
Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA)
Established: 1999
Location: Alexandria, Virginia
Scope: CEA is an international accreditation organization based in the USA. CEA accredits postsecondary English language training schools and programs in the US and internationally.

Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
Established: 1974
Location: Washington, DC
Scope: ACCET accredits institutions providing noncollegiate continuing education and training programs and which may be approved to award the validated CEU, certificates and/or Occupational Associates Degrees. They specifically accredit Intensive English Programs (IEP).

Why Accreditation?
The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. Accrediting agencies have no legal control over institutions or programs; they promote certain standards and approve or renew membership of institutions that apply and meet the accreditation standards or criteria. The US Secretary of Education and CHEA each maintain and publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies, and most institutions attain eligibility for Federal funds by holding accredited or pre-accredited status with one of the recognized accrediting agencies. Accreditation will protect you from scams and substandard instruction.
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