Continuing education accreditation is a process by which a third-party accrediting agency examines and endorses the educational offerings of a continuing education provider. Accrediting bodies carefully review every aspect of a continuing education program. If it meets the accrediting body's standards, the program is accredited. For potential students, accreditation can be an indicator that a program offers quality education, while professional associations and employers can use the system of continuing education accreditation to ensure that members and employees receive appropriate ongoing and training and education in their field.
The accreditation system and process for continuing education can differ between countries. In the United States, education accreditation is a private system, though the United States Department of Education does recognize certain accrediting agencies. Continuing education accreditation is often, but not always, performed by accreditation committees sponsored by trade and professional associations. In other countries, government agencies may perform accreditation of educational programs. In general, organizations or schools receive accreditation, not specific course offerings.
Accreditation is typically a long process involving a period of self-study and reporting by an organization that offers educational programs. Each accrediting body sets its own accreditation criteria, and its employees or representatives carefully scrutinize the reports submitted by an continuing education provider and may also conduct its own investigation. In many cases, accrediting standards are very comprehensive, examining every aspect of an educational provider. Required standards may include the strong financial health of the organization, a good administrative staff, as well as the quality of its educational offerings. Many accreditation or continuing education approval commissions often regulate conflict of interest issues that can occur when a business offers continuing education opportunities.
Some education providers may hold accreditation from more than one source. This is particularly common in liberal arts universities or schools that offer several areas of study. In some cases, an institution holds accreditation from a generalist accrediting board, but its individual career-oriented programs may be accredited by a specialist agency. This can become an issue when a school that holds generalist accreditation begins to offer continuing education courses for professionals and tradespeople, as it may be necessary to obtain additional accreditations.
For individuals who need to complete continuing education hours in order to maintain a professional or trade license, continuing education accreditation is often a concern. In some cases, licensing boards may accredit or approve continuing education courses or may only recognize continuing education courses accredited by another organization. It is up to individual licensees to ensure that any continuing education courses that they take have the required approvals.