Accreditation in the United States is a peer process whereby a private, nongovernmental agency grants public recognition to an institution or specialized program that meets or exceeds nationally established standards of acceptable educational quality. The COA is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The reason why the Council maintains USDE recognition falls under the legislative mandate that calls for the USDE to identify reliable authorities for the quality of training that is offered by educational institutions and programs as the basis for ascertaining eligibility for federal funding under selected legislation. The Council maintains CHEA recognition to demonstrate its effectiveness in assessing and encouraging improvement and quality in programmatic accreditation. The Council also subscribes to the Code of Good Practice for accrediting organizations through membership in the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA).
As CHEA explains, students and the public in the United States sometimes encounter “degree mills” – dubious providers of educational offerings or operations that offer certificates and degrees that may be considered bogus. They may also encounter “accreditation mills” – dubious providers of accreditation and quality assurance that may offer a certification of quality of institutions without a proper basis.