The Importance of Nursing School Accreditation

Nursing accreditation is the cornerstone of education in the nursing community. The purpose of nursing school accreditation is to ensure a baseline of quality among all nursing programs. It is the evaluation of a program’s standards, practices, curriculum, assignments, and methods to ensure state and national standards are met. A nursing program that has obtained accreditation helps to prepare students to provide quality, safe care after graduation.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the functions of nursing school accreditation are:

  • Assess the quality of academic programs at institutions of higher education
  • Create a culture of continuous improvement of academic quality at colleges and universities and stimulate a general raising of standards among educational institutions
  • Involve faculty and staff comprehensively in institutional evaluation and planning

What Are the Main Accreditation Bodies for Nursing Education?

There are two primary nursing accreditation bodies: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). These accreditation bodies for nursing programs evaluate nursing schools to determine if the programs meet the necessary criteria to obtain accreditation.

What is the nursing school accreditation process?

The nursing school accreditation process is a lengthy endeavor that involves a thorough review of the nursing program. This process includes on-campus visits from the accreditation agency, peer reviews, the evaluation of faculty qualifications, examining course content, review of the competency-based framework, student progress, graduation rates, and more.

Benefits of accreditation

Nursing accreditation is important. Students who are exploring nursing programs have done their research and understand the value of accreditation.

For starters, in order for a student to be eligible to receive financial aid, they must be enrolled in a nursing program that has obtained accreditation. Additionally, many state boards of nursing require a candidate to have graduated from an accredited nursing program for eligibility to take the NCLEX exam to earn licensure.

Students who attend a non-accredited nursing program cannot be sure that the program meets state and federal requirements for a quality education, they cannot may not be accepted into a graduate nursing program if they choose to further their education, and they will not be as competitive in the job market upon graduation.

Accreditation is the foundational requirement students are looking for when choosing a nursing program.

What Is the Difference Between CCNE and ACEN Accreditation?

Both CCNE and ACEN are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as national accreditation programs. However, there are some differences between the two nursing accreditation bodies.

  • ACEN is the oldest nursing accreditation body.
  • More so than ACEN, CCNE evaluates the goals and purpose of a nursing program in addition to its quality of standards.
  • CCNE relies more on the assessments from the program’s faculty and peer reviews than ACEN.

The most significant difference when considering ACEN vs. CCNE accreditation is that CCNE only offers nursing accreditation to bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, while ACEN evaluates and offers accreditation to all levels of nursing education from practical to doctorate.

Laptop with item-level reporting from UWorld’s Learning Platform for Nursing
Use advanced item-level reporting for additional insight into your program.

Can Nursing Programs Lose Their Accreditation Status?

Once a program earns either CCNE accreditation or ACEN accreditation, it must maintain the proper quality and standards to preserve the accreditation. The nursing accreditation bodies visit the schools regularly and evaluate the programs consistently to ensure that they are continuously in compliance with the accreditation standards.

It is vital that nursing programs stay up to date with the latest changes and requirements from nursing accreditation bodies. For example, the ACEN recently updated their standards in the new ACEN Essentials, requiring all BSN programs to move to a competency-based framework.

Nursing programs that are up to date with the latest standards will adjust accordingly and invest in resources like UWorld, which offer item-level reporting to help align assignments and assessments to student learning outcomes.

Maintaining accreditation is just as challenging as earning accreditation and should always be a top priority for nursing programs.

How often do nursing programs need to be re-accredited?

The initial nursing school accreditation is a five-year accreditation. After that, nursing programs must earn re-accreditation. To maintain CCNE accreditation, a nursing program is reviewed at least every 10 years. To maintain ACEN accreditation, a nursing program is reviewed at least every 8 years.

What Can My Nursing Program Do Now To Prepare for Accreditation or Re-Accreditation?

In order for a nursing program to obtain or maintain CCNE accreditation or ACEN accreditation it must make sure that it meets and maintains the state and federal standards for accreditation. Course material, qualifications of faculty, clinical training, graduation requirements, student outcomes, curriculum – all of these things and more are evaluated by the accrediting bodies for nursing programs.

If you are wondering if your program has the proper nursing school accreditation, you can contact CCNE or ACEN and find a list of their accredited nursing programs.

Use advanced item-level reporting for additional insight into your program.
Screenshot of item level reports from UWorld’s Learning Platform for Nursing.
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