The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) is an independent, non-profit organization and regional accreditation authority for higher education. Since 1952, the United States Department of Education (DOE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) have relied on NWCCU to ensure, monitor and report the quality of education and effectiveness of higher education institutions in the Northwest region of the United States which includes Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. The NWCCU establishes criteria and procedures by which higher education institutions are evaluated and accredited in the seven states listed above.
In comparison to the other five regional accreditors recognized by the DOE and CHEA, the Northwest Commission oversees a smaller number of higher education institutions. In all, the Commission accredits 156 colleges, universities and vocational schools. Its decision-making board is made up of 26 Commissioners who represent the public interest as well as higher education institutions in the Northwest region.
For schools and colleges to gain accreditation through the NWCCU they must first seek recognition as a Candidate of Accreditation with the Commission. Candidate for Accreditation is a preaccredited status that all institutions must attain prior to becoming fully accredited. Candidacy indicates that an institution meets the Commission’s eligibility requirements and is working towards accreditation.
Eligibility requirements for Candidates of Accreditation through the NWCCU include the following:
- Operational Status – An institution must have completed at minimum one year of principal education programs, there must be students actively pursuing degrees and the institution must have already graduated one class in its principal education programs.
- Authority – The institution has authority to operate and award degrees as a higher education institution by governmental organizations or agencies for the jurisdiction where it operates.
- Mission and Core Themes – The institution’s mission and core themes must be clearly defined and adopted by its governing board.
- Operational Focus and Independence – The institution’s programs are predominantly concerned with higher education and the institution has the operational capability to meet the Commission’s eligibility requirements.
- Non-discrimination – The institution demonstrates respect for the individual in a nondiscriminatory manner as constituted by its charter, mission statement, and core themes.
- Institutional Integrity – The institution adheres to ethical standards in how it conducts itself in its relationships and as a course of its daily business.
- Governing Board – The institution has a governing board that oversees the quality and integrity of the institution’s offerings and operations. The governing board must have at least 5 voting members (3 of which do not have a contractual or employment relationship or financial investment in the institution).
- CEO – The institution must have a full-time chief executive officer (CEO) appointed by the governing board.
- Administration – The institution must demonstrate sufficient administrative staff to support operations and fulfill the institution’s mission and core themes.
- Faculty – The institution must employ qualified faculty, sufficient in number, to achieve its mission, goals, core themes, education objectives, oversee academic policies, and ensure the integrity and continuity of its programs.
- Education Program – The institution must provide at least one education program that includes content and rigor consistent with the institution’s mission and core themes.
- General Education and Related Instruction – The institution’s baccalaureate degree programs and/or associate degree programs must include a substantial element of general education as a prerequisite (i.e. High School Degree, GED, etc.) and/or general education is incorporated into the institution’s program.
- Library and Information Resources – The institution provides access to library and information resources that can adequately support the institution’s education programs and services.
- Physical and Technological Infrastructure – The institution maintains the physical and tehcnological infrastructure necessary to achieve its goals and support its educational offerings.
- Academic Freedom – The institution promotes an atmosphere where students and faculty are free to examine and test all knowledge relevant to their discipline.
- Public Information – The institution publishes its information regarding its core themes, mission, admissions requirements, general policies, calendars, courses and program details in a catalog or on its website which are made available to the public.
- Financial Resources – The institution can demonstrate financial stability including sufficient cash flow and reserves to support its program offerings.
- Financial Accountability – The institution undergoes an external annual audit.
- Disclosure – The institution promptly and accurately discloses all information to the Commission as is required in order for the Commission to conduct a thorough evaluation and to provided institutional accreditation.
- Student Achievement – The institution identifies and publishes the learning outcomes it expects from its students for each program, degree or certificate it offers and engages in activities and assessments to achieve these outcomes.
- Scale and Sustainability – The institutions shows that its operational scale is adequate to fulfill its mission today, tomorrow and down the road.
The most important and substantial part of the NWCCU accreditation process is the Institutional Self Evaluation. The Self Evaluation includes:
- Analysis of an institutions resources and ability to fulfill its operational and educational mission.
- Showing that student achievement is on par with the diplomas, certificates, degrees or other awards earned.
- Evaluation of all of an institution’s activites in relation to it core themes, educational goals, and purposes.
- Demonstration of intent and ability to provided sound institutional planning and improvement.
- Assessment of education achievements and and processes.
- Assessment of student achievement with respect to programs and services offered to fulfill educational objectives.
- Assessment of overall performance in achieving institutional goals and missions.
To learn more about the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and their accreditation process you can visit their website at www.nwccu.org. To check and see if a school is accredited by the Commission you can visit the Directory of Institutions page of their website.