Q: What type of institutions does COE accredit?

A: The Council on Occupational Education accredits post-secondary occupational institutions that offer certificate, diploma, or applied associate degree programs. These institutions include public technical colleges, private career colleges (both for-profit and not-for-profit), federal institutions including Army, Navy, and Department of Defense institutions, and Job Corps Centers. The Council also accredits institutions that offer distance education programs, though limits are placed on these activities (see the following eligibility requirements below).

Q: What are the eligibility requirements for candidacy with COE?

A: To be eligible to be considered by the Commission for candidate for accreditation (pre-accreditation status), an institution must:

  1. Offer associate degree and/or non-degree postsecondary instruction exclusively in career and technical education.
  2. Utilize a campus-based instructional delivery system with at least 25 percent of the institution’s total FTE being derived from enrollments in traditional programs.
  3. Be legally authorized to operate within the jurisdiction in which it is located for a minimum of one year.
  4. Have been in possession of current and applicable licensure/authorization for a minimum of one year.
  5. Have been in continuous operation and providing instruction at the main campus and under the same ownership for a minimum of one year.
  6. Demonstrate that it has the administrative capabilities to support the educational programs offered.
  7. Demonstrate that it meets the financial stability requirements for the most recent completed fiscal year as stated in Standard 7 – Financial Resources.
  8. Be in compliance with all Federal requirements applicable to accreditation.
  9. Agree to comply with all requirements of the Council.

Q: What are the 2012 deadlines for submitting a candidate application?

A: Application deadlines for 2012 are January 6, April 20, July 20, and September 21 to be considered for candidacy at the February, June, September, and November Commission meetings, respectively. The Candidate Academy is held on April 4-5, July 12-13 (during the COE Summer Conference in St. Louis, MO) and again on November 1-3 (during the COE Annual Meeting in Atlanta, GA).

Q: What are the costs of seeking candidacy with COE?

A: With the application for candidacy, institutions must submit an application fee, the first year’s annual dues based on Full-time Equivalency (FTE) enrollment, and a deposit for the candidate visit. See the Handbook of Accreditation for specific details and how to calculate FTE.

Q: What are the steps to become a candidate for accreditation?

A: The four steps necessary to become a COE candidate institution are:
The institution sends a letter to COE notifying the Council of its intent to seek candidacy status with the Commission. (The Council will then send a candidate application packet to the institution.)
The candidate application is completed and returned to COE.
A two-person, two-day candidate visit is conducted at the institution.
The Commission reviews the institution’s application, financial statements, candidate team report, and institutional response report, and takes action on candidate status for the institution. The Commission may vote to approve candidate status; it may defer a vote if additional information is required by the Commission; or it may vote to deny candidate status. (If candidate status is denied the institution must wait at least one year before reapplying for candidacy.)

Q: While the institution is in candidate status, what changes can be made to the institution and its programs?

A: During the time that an institution is in candidate status it may make changes to programs that appear on the institution’s COE Approved Program List at the time that candidacy is awarded. However, the institution cannot add new programs, change the location of its campuses, change its name, add new campus sites, or change its ownership structure. Approval for these and other “substantive changes” may be requested after initial accreditation is achieved.

Q: Once in candidate status, how does an institution become accredited?

A: Before a candidate institution can become accredited, it must send a representative to the Candidate Academy, prepare an institutional self-study report, and host an accreditation team visit.

After an institution has been awarded candidate status, the Council will contact  the institution requesting possible dates for the initial accreditation visit. This visit must occur at least six months after the institution becomes a candidate and six months after a representative of the institution attends the Candidate Academy. Furthermore, the visit must occur within 18 months of attending the Academy and within 24 months of the date the Commission awarded candidacy to the institution. Approximately one month prior to the initial accreditation team visit, the team leader will make a preliminary visit to the institution to verify that the institution is adequately prepared to host the accreditation team. The self-study report must be completed prior to this preliminary visit. Once the visiting team has completed its 4-day review of the institution’s programs and services, it sends its report to the Council. A copy of the report is then mailed by the Council to the institution. The institution has 30 days to prepare and submit a written response to the team report. At its next meeting, the Commission reviews the self-study report, visiting team report and institution’s response before acting to grant accredited status to the institution.

Q: How long does it take to become accredited?

A: The institution must host its initial accreditation visit within 24 months of the date it was awarded candidacy. A representative of the institution must attend the Candidate Academy (held in July and November each year) no sooner than six months prior to the date of the initial accreditation team visit. Also, the institution cannot host its initial accreditation team visit within the first six months of the date it was awarded candidacy by the Commission. The institution must have at least two years of student enrollment and two years of acceptable audited financial statements prior to scheduling the initial accreditation team visit. Finally, the accreditation team visit must take place at least two months before the institution can be on the Commission agenda for a vote of initial accreditation (in February, June, September and November). The accreditation process takes at least 12 months to complete.  Finally, accreditation must be granted no later than 12 months from the date the Commission first reviews an institution’s self-study, team report, and institutional response.

Q: How is accreditation maintained once an institution is awarded initial accreditation?

A: Accreditation is renewed on a yearly basis through the submission of the COE Annual Report each December. In the Annual Report the institution affirms its continued compliance with COE Standards and Criteria. When the Commission awards accredited status to an institution it will designate the number of years until the next team visit. This “reaffirmation” visit may take place 2 to 6 years from the date that initial accreditation is conferred. The accreditation reaffirmation process requires attending a self-study workshop, preparing a new institutional self-study report, and hosting a team visit.

Q: Once the institution is accredited by COE, will it be eligible to offer federal student financial aid?

A: Accreditation by a regional or national accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education is one of the eligibility requirements to offer federal student financial aid as outlined in Title IV of the Higher Education Act. (COE is one of the recognized national accrediting agencies.) However, accreditation alone does not automatically qualify an institution to offer federal student financial aid. There are special program and institutional requirements mandated by the Department of Education for institutions wishing to offer federally-funded grants and loans. Institutions desiring to participate in Title IV financial aid programs should apply for a Program Participation Agreement (PPA) with the Department of Education. Information about PPA applications can be obtained by calling the Department of Education at (202) 377-3173.

Q: Does COE accredit distance education programs?

A: As an institutional accreditor, COE accredits all of the postsecondary occupational programs its member institutions offer. When an institution receives candidate or accredited status by the Commission, it will also receive an official list of COE-approved programs. COE’s accreditation scope was expanded to include distance education programs in 2007. However, COE candidate and accredited institutions must certify that at least 25% of their annual FTE are derived from enrollments in traditional programs.

Q: Once my institution is accredited, what are COE’s requirements for changing the institution’s location, adding a new campus, adding new programs, changing the institution name, etc.?

A: Changes in campus locations, the addition of new programs and locations, or changing the institution’s name or ownership structure are examples of institutional “substantive changes.” A substantive change is defined by COE as one which significantly alters an institution’s objective; scope; programs; location; standing with another nationally recognized accrediting agency or state or federal agency; financial stability; ownership; or control.

Most substantive changes require an application and approval. Many also require application fees and team visits. Commission approval must be granted before an institution can undertake a substantive change.

The Handbook of Accreditation provides detailed information about substantive changes and the approval process.

Q: How are complaints filed against COE-accredited institutions?

A: All institutions accredited by COE are required to have grievance policies for handling student complaints. These policies are to be published in the institution’s catalog or student handbook. COE recommends that students first attempt to resolve complaints through the institution’s established policies and procedures. Once the institution’s procedures have been exhausted the student may file a written and signed letter of complaint to COE describing the nature of the grievance and the preliminary steps taken to resolve the problem. Once the letter is received by COE, a Complaint Certification form is mailed to the individual filing the complaint. The complainant has 14 days to return the signed and completed certification form to COE. The Council staff will then send a copy of the original letter of complaint and a copy of the certification form to the institution. The institution will have 21 days to submit a formal response to the Council. After the institution’s response has been received by COE, the Council will send a copy of the complaint letter, certification form, and institutional response to members of the Commission who will have 21 days to render a judgment on the complaint. The Commission may rule that (a) the institution has responded adequately to the complaint; (b) the institution has not responded adequately and must take appropriate action to resolve the issue; or (c) more information is needed from either the complainant or the institution in order for a judgment to be rendered. Complainants should allow for at least 42 days for the Commission’s decision on a complaint once the Council has received a signed Complaint Certification form. The Commission attempts to resolve all complaints within 60 days.