Overview of Higher Education Accreditation
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NAEYC is the sole accreditor of early childhood degree programs. In 2006, NAEYC launched the Early Childhood Associate Degree Accreditation (ECADA) system. In 2016, the system expanded to accredit licensure and nonlicensure programs from the associate degree through master’s degree levels that prepare early childhood educators in order to ensure that all early childhood degree programs could participate in a NAEYC quality assurance pathway. The system’s name has since changed to NAEYC Accreditation of Early Childhood Higher Education Programs to reflect this expansion.
NAEYC’s Professional Preparation Standards serve as the accreditation standards for the system, and these standards establish expectations (knowledge and competencies) for early childhood educators across all early learning settings.
The mission of the accreditation system is to set a standard of excellence for early childhood degree programs and to recognize programs that have demonstrated they meet this standard, thereby benefiting the early childhood profession, young children, families, and communities.
The Accreditation Process
NAEYC Higher Education Accreditation involves an in-depth review of early childhood higher education programs, beginning with submission of an application to confirm eligibility. Eligible programs engage in self-study by working with stakeholders to reflect on the program's strengths and areas for improvement, collect data, and implement changes. Programs host a team of peer reviewers for a three-day site visit, and findings are shared with the Commission, the decision-making body that makes the final accreditaiton decision. Accreditation occurs in a seven-year cycle, with programs submitting annual reports to maintain accreditation.
To learn more about how to begin the accreditation process, please review this recorded webinar. For a more detailed explanation of each step in the process, please see below:
Application and Eligibility Criteria
The accreditation process begins with submission of the application for accreditation eligibility, detailing the qualifying features of the program described in the eligibility requirements below. NAEYC staff review the application to confirm program eligibility, and eligible programs enter the self-study phase, a process of reflection and program improvement (see Self-Study section).
Faculty contacts leading the self-study process are granted access to a private online community, where additional resources and support are available to help guide the process. We encourage you to apply and join the community as soon as your program becomes interested in pursuing accreditation, as access to these additional resources often saves faculty significant time and effort.
The Eligibility Criteria:
Each degree program submitted for accreditation review must meet six eligibility requirements:
- The institution offering the degree program must be currently accredited by a regional institutional accrediting agency that is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the US Department of Education (must be met at the time of application.
- Each degree program must not be designated as "low-performing" through Title II of the Higher Education Act (applies only to licensure programs reported on through Title II. Must be met at the time of application).
- Each degree program is a specialized degree in early childhood or child development with at least 18 credit hours of early childhood coursework. This may include courses from other departments, such as Child Psychology, Sociology of the Family, or Children's Literature, if these courses are aligned with the NAEYC accreditation standards and faculty are willing to participate in site visit interviews (must be met at the time of application).
- Each degree program includes field experiences (must be met by the time of Self-Study Report submission).
- Each degree program has graduated at least one degree candidate (must be met by the time of Self-Study Report submission).
- The faculty for each degree program includes at least one full time faculty member whose primary responsibilities are in the early childhood programs submitted for review. For associate degree programs, this faculty member must hold a graduate degree in early childhood education, child development, child and family studies, or a related discipline with at least 18 graduate credits in early childhood/family studies. For baccalaureate and graduate degree programs, this faculty member must hold a terminal degree in early childhood education, child development, child and family studies, or a related discipline with at least 18 graduate (or higher) credits in early childhood/family studies. For all degree programs, this faculty member must act as either the primary or secondary contact. One person may serve this role in multiple degree programs.
In self-study, program faculty and stakeholders examine program quality together to make improvements. During the process, program faculty analyze and reflect on quality, work with stakeholders both in the program and the community to make changes, collect evidence of the program's alignment with the NAEYC Professional Preparation Standards, gather data, and prepare a Self-Study Report.
In the Self-Study Report, programs use the designated report template to describe their context, as well as present five to six Key Assessments that demonstrate the program's alignment with the six NAEYC Professional Preparation Standards. In addition, programs submit student performance data on these Key Assessments related to the standards, as well as a description of how the data are being used to improve teaching and learning.
The Parts of the Self-Study Report
Part one of the Self-Study Report includes a description of the program's context by providing a narrative on the following twelve criteria:
- Mission and role in the community
- Conceptual framework
- Program of study
- Quality of teaching
- Role in the professional pipeline
- Qualifications and characteristics of candidates
- Advising and supporting candidates
- Qualifications and composition of faculty
- Professional responsibilities
- Professional development
- Program organization and guidance
- Program resources
Part two of the Self-Study Report includes an overview of the alignment between the six competency-based NAEYC standards and the program's chosen Key Assessments, as well as copies of the actual assessments themselves (student instructions, rubrics, data, and description of the program's use of the data). Programs will also address Standard 7 (Field Experiences) and report program outcomes data in this part of the Self-Study Report.
Candidacy & Site Visit
Once the Self-Study Report is complete, programs enter the candidacy phase, and begin working with NAEYC to plan a site visit. A peer review team comprised of early childhood faculty members from other institutions visits the program. The team spends approximately three days on campus observing courses and field placement sites, reviewing materials, and interviewing faculty, students, and other stakeholders in order to document key strengths and areas for improvement for consideration by the Commission on Early Childhood Higher Education Accreditation, the decision-making body that determines whether the program has substantially met the NAEYC Professional Preparation Standards.
Programs will receive a copy of the team's findings documented in the Peer Review Report, and may submit a written response to correct any factual inaccuracies or highlight information in the Self-Study Report that may have been overlooked. Together, the Self-Study Report, Peer Review Report, and program's written response are used to inform the discussion and decision of the Commission.
After the Commission has reached its decision, the program will receive an Accreditation Decision Report summarizing the Commission's findings. Programs seeking accreditation for the first time will receive one of the following decisions:
- Accredited: The program has substantially met all six of the standards and is fully-accredited for a seven-year term.
- Accredited with Conditions: The program has substantially met the standards, but there are conditions that must be met by the second annual report in order to maintain accreditation.
- Not Accredited: The program has not substantially met the standards.
Maintaining and Renewing Accreditation
Accredited programs submit annual reports each of the following five years leading up to renewal of accreditation. In year six, the process repeats with a renewal self-study report, site visit, and accreditation decision.
Programs seeking and maintaining accreditation submit the following fees (subject to change):
- Application and eligibility review ($561; due with program applications for eligibility)
- Accreditation review ($1,683 if submitting one program, $2,244 if submitting more than one program; due with Self-Study Report on March 31 or September 30)
- Site visit ($6,500*; due after Self-Study Report is approved and by July 31 for visits the following fall or December 15 for visits the following spring)
- Annual fee ($1,683 for one program, $2,244 for more than one program; due on each anniversary of accreditation review fee submission. On the rare occasion when program circumstances (not NAEYC circumstances) require a program to extend its candidacy beyond one year, the program will pay an annual fee to maintain its candidacy status.)
- Late fee for late reports and/or fees ($150; due for Annual Reports, Renewal Self-Study Reports, and/or respective fees more than two weeks late for which a formal extension request was not submitted)
- Appeals fee ($500; refundable if appeals panel decides in favor of program)
*Site visit fee covers all direct costs (including peer reviewers' airfare and hotel) and administrative costs associated with the site visit. Higher fees may apply in Alaska, Hawaii, and US territories or in special circumstances requiring a longer-than-usual visit or larger reviewer team.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How can accreditation help to streamline and support our program's efforts to enhance our articulation with programs at a different degree level?
The good news is that our profession has come to consensus around what professionals should know and be able to do, regardless of the degree level with which they enter the field—knowing that different degrees may qualify them for varying roles that will require differentiated ways of demonstrating knowledge and skills. Because NAEYC-accredited programs at the associate, baccalaureate, and graduate degree levels all meet the same national professional standards, this consistency can streamline the process of articulating individual degrees and provide reassurance to programs at all degree levels.
Q. I've heard references to ECADA (associate degree accreditation). Is my four-year program eligible for NAEYC Accreditation or is it only for community colleges?
Previously, the NAEYC higher education system accredited only associate degree programs and went by the name Early Childhood Associate Degree Accreditation (ECADA). Starting in 2016, NAEYC expanded to accrediting programs at the bachelor's and master's degree levels as well under its new name of NAEYC Accreditation of Early Childhood Higher Education Programs. Applications for eligibility are now accepted from all three degree levels.
Don't see your question listed? Please contact us if you need further information.