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Understanding Accreditation

Types of Accreditation

It is important to distinguish between the accreditation of programs and the certification of individuals, two separate processes that are frequently referred to as if they are one and the same. On the one hand, accreditation implies the setting of minimal standards which training programs must meet. In order to become accredited, a counselor education program must fulfill certain requirements or standards with regard to institutional settings, program mission and objectives, program content, practicum experiences, student selection and advising, faculty qualifications and workload, program governance, instructional support, and self-evaluation. On the other hand, certification implies recognition that individuals have met minimal professional standards to practice independently as a counselor. In order to be certified, counselors must meet certain levels of education and training in counseling, they must follow the code of ethics, and they are held accountable to show competent and ethical performance in practice.

In the United States, there are two types of accreditation – institutional and specialized.  Institutional looks at the entire institution.  Specialized accreditors, such as CACREP, look at professional preparation programs within institutions.

When programs are reviewed by CACREP, there are a few standards that address issues at the institutional level (such as financial aid), but most of the application and review focus on the program that offers the graduate degree in counseling.  It is the degree-specific program that holds accreditation, not the department or college in which it is housed. Eligibility for CACREP includes having institutional accreditation, so the institutional issues such as financial viability and resources are addressed.