Nursing school accrediting bodies are charged with ensuring the quality of nursing schools. The process of accrediting nursing schools involves evaluating the course offerings of a particular nursing school and those with degrees from accredited nursing programs are often favored by potential employers because of the strong reputation of accredited nursing schools and programs.
There are also a number of other benefits associated with attending an accredited nursing program. For example, financial aid may be limited to accredited schools or programs. Moreover, for those wishing to transfer credits, accredited programs will likely only accept credits from another accredited program.
Major U.S. Based Nursing School/ Program Accrediting Bodies
There are two primary nursing school accrediting bodies in the U.S., as well as smaller accrediting agencies that focus on nursing programs offering specialized studies, like anesthesiology. The two primary accrediting bodies are:
- The National League of Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC). The NLNAC is an all-encompassing nursing school accrediting body in that it evaluates and accredits nursing schools offering associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and diploma programs in nursing. The NLNAC is recognized as an accrediting body by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as well as the U.S. Department of Education. The Commission has accredited nearly 2,000 nursing programs over the course of it’s more than 50 year existence.
- The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The CCNE focuses exclusively on accrediting nursing programs offerings bachelors and master’s degrees in nursing. The U.S. Secretary of Education has recognized this non-governmental organization as an accrediting body after it was established by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) in the mid-1990s.
- Those nursing schools offering graduate programs in nursing may also be accredited by a number of smaller accrediting bodies that focus on specific programs, including:
- The American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) Division of Accreditation. The ACNM was first recognized by the U.S. Department of Education in the 1980s, and the Division of Accreditation has established itself as the primary nurse midwifery program accrediting body in the country.
- The Council of Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA). The COA was established in the 1950s by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, or AANA.
How Does a School Become Accredited?
Given the number of different accrediting bodies, one might wonder about the general steps involved in accrediting nursing schools. While each accrediting agency has its own specific set of rules, in general the steps leading to accreditation include:
- A thorough review of the programs and courses offered by the nursing school conducted by competent and unbiased professionals with ample experience in accrediting nursing schools.
- Courses and practical experience opportunities that prepare nurses for work upon graduation.
- Accredited schools undergo regular, continuous reviews that ensure they continue to meet the standards of the accrediting body.
- School reviews include examination of the current curriculum, the school’s nursing facilities, the physical plant, the financial resources available earmarked by the school to promote its nursing program, faculty and staff meeting notes and CVs, and annual program reports.
- Program reviews involve an evaluation of graduate placement in nursing positions, clinical and course offerings, and consideration of the exams taken by students and their course notes.
- Accredited programs typically conduct self-reviews in order to ensure that they maintain their accredited status.
- Continual review means that accredited programs are also on the cutting edge in terms of facilities and teaching techniques.
While nursing schools may also have state board approval, this designation should not be confused with accreditation by a nationally recognized accrediting body. State board approval indicates that the nursing program can offer the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX. When considering nursing programs, keep in mind that state board approval does not necessarily mean a particular school is accredited by one of the national accrediting bodies mentioned above.
Those wishing to apply to accredited nursing schools have many options in terms of identifying which schools and programs have earned this distinction. For example, the Nursing Online Education Database, or NOEDb, lists the only accredited nursing programs, including both online and campus based nursing programs and is an important tool for identifying the best accredited nursing school to suit your needs.