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What Is Accreditation and Why Is It Important?

NurseJournal Staff
Updated October 3, 2023
Nursing accreditation guarantees that a nursing school and nursing program meet the quality standards that ensure that graduates can safely practice as nurses.
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If you’re thinking about applying to nursing schools, make sure the programs you apply to are worth your time and money. Nursing accreditation is here to help.

In this article, we’ll cover what nursing accreditation is, what accreditation a nursing program should have, why nursing accreditation is important to your education and career, and where to find out whether your nursing school or program is accredited.

Accreditation Explained

Nursing accreditation is the process of an independent, nongovernment peer review of a nursing program by an established authority. During this peer review, the accrediting organization reviews all aspects of a program to determine if its graduates are qualified to pass the RN examination and practice as nurses.

Accreditation signals to financial aid institutions and prospective students that the nursing program prepares students for future success in their career. Accreditation also protects employers and the public, because it ensures that graduates meet national professional standards required to work in their field.

The Nursing Accreditation Process and Criteria

This review considers the school’s curriculum, teachers’ qualifications, how many of its students pass the NCLEX-RN examination, and other factors related to the teaching quality. Schools maintain nursing accreditation through regular reviews after the initial accreditation. Nursing accreditation is different from approval, which is a government function run by state boards of nursing.

The accreditation process judges the faculty, staff, students, mission, curriculum, resources, institutional commitment, and the outcomes of the program against the current professional nursing standards. State examination and licensure requirements also influence many of the standards for what accreditation a nursing program needs.

Nursing accreditation through the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) lasts only five years for initial accreditation, and eight years for continuing accreditation. At the end of that time, the ACEN reviews the nursing program to decide whether it still meets the standards for accreditation. Additionally, the ACEN surveys each program every year through an annual reporting process.

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) gives out continuous improvement progress reports to their nursing programs and schools to fill out every three years.

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The Importance of Accreditation for Nursing School

If your nursing school or nursing program is not accredited, you may not have the same opportunities for growth in your field, financial aid assistance, or college credit transfers and nursing license as other nurses who attend accredited nursing programs.

  • Nursing accreditation ensures that the program or school meets quality standards.
  • If you plan to take the NCLEX or certification exam for an advanced practice role, you must graduate from an accredited program.
  • Employers often only consider graduates from accredited programs.
  • Government grants and loans can only be applied to accredited schools.
  • Unaccredited program credits may not transfer to other schools.
  • Students who graduate from an unaccredited school may not be able to sit for the NCLEX if they live in a state that requires national nursing accreditation.
  • If you move to another state, you may not be able to transfer your license through reciprocity.

What Accreditation Should a Nursing School Have?

Nursing schools should hold accreditation as a college or university. Accrediting bodies recognized by the United States Department of Education grant this level of accreditation. You can search the Department of Education’s listing of accredited schools online. Institution-level accrediting organizations include the following.

What Accreditation Should a Nursing Program Have?

Within an accredited college or university, the actual program should also receive nursing accreditation. What accreditation should a nursing program have? RN programs should hold accreditation from either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). (Other organizations accredit nurse midwifery programs and nurse anesthetist programs.)

Both the ACEN and CCNE accredit nursing programs. Their standards for nursing programs are very closely equivalent, and in terms of program quality, there is no difference.

The only distinction that might matter to you as a student is that the CCNE accredits only bachelor and master’s degree programs. ACEN accredits all levels of nursing programs from practical to doctorate.

How to Tell if a Nursing Program is Accredited

After a nursing program applies for nursing accreditation through the ACEN, the ACEN requires the nursing program show their accreditation status publicly. Students can find a nursing program’s accreditation status in the course catalog, on the school’s website, or in the school’s nursing brochure.

CCNE accredited programs can choose whether or not to publicly disclose their accreditation status. The CCNE explains what to include in a public disclosure statement on the Public Disclosure FAQ section of their website.

If you cannot find your school’s or program’s accreditation status, the Department of Education provides a searchable list of school accreditations. You can also search current and past listings from the ACEN and the CCNE either by name or program type.

What Students Should Know about Nursing Accreditation

Nursing accreditation ensures the nursing program you complete meets quality standards that will help you succeed in your future career. Whether you are looking for a nursing program for the first time or you’re looking to further your nursing education, find out what accreditation the nursing programs you apply to have.

Ensuring your chosen program’s accreditation enables you to sit for NCLEX licensure, transfer your license, and apply to all available opportunities in your field after graduation.

To find out if your nursing program or nursing school is accredited:

  • Visit your school’s website.
  • Pick up your school’s nursing brochure.
  • Read the nursing program description in your school’s course catalog.
  • Search the Baccalaureate & Graduate Program Directory or the Nursing Residency Program Directory to find CCNE accredited programs.
  • “Search Programs” on the ACEN’s website to find ACEN-accredited programs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing Accreditation

question-mark-circleWhat does it mean if you attend an unaccredited nursing program?

If you attend an unaccredited program, it means that the program has not passed the standard measures of program quality. This means that employers may not consider you for employment, you may not be able to take the NCLEX-RN examination, and other schools may not accept your credits. However, schools and employers may consider graduates and credits from programs outside the United States that have received accreditation from their own country’s accrediting authorities.

question-mark-circleWhat is the difference between approved and accredited nursing programs?

An approved nursing program is not accredited yet, but must seek accreditation within a set time frame. An approved program allows you to take the NCLEX-RN in your state. Accredited programs are nationally recognized, making it easier to seek further education and career opportunities.

question-mark-circleDoes institution accreditation guarantee program accreditation?

No. A school can have accreditation without the individual nursing program being accredited. A nursing program need not be part of a school to receive accreditation (e.g. hospital-based nursing residency.)

question-mark-circleCan programs lose their accreditation status?

Yes, programs are subject to regular review and can lose their nursing accreditation if they fail to meet current standards. The ACEN surveys accredited programs every year. After a program receives initial accreditation, the ACEN reviews it every five years. When the program is granted continuing accreditation, the ACEN reviews them every eight years.

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