Accreditation is widely used in higher education in the United States as a nongovernmental means to evaluate colleges and universities and to evaluate and attest to the quality of an individual educational program that prepares students for entry into a recognized profession. Regional accrediting bodies, whose membership is made up of universities and colleges in six geographic regions of the country, carry out institution-wide accreditation focusing on the university as a whole. Approximately fifty specialized accrediting agencies, composed of representatives of the universities and the various professions, evaluate the educational programs that prepare graduates for practice in different fields. Public health is one of the established fields of practice for which there is a recognized accrediting agency.
The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) serves as the accrediting body for graduate schools of public health and graduate public health programs outside schools of public health. Established in 1974 by the American Public Health Association and the Association of Schools of Public Health, CEPH is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. This recognition, which is based on periodic assessment of CEPH’s performance against federal requirements, designates CEPH as one of the agencies that the secretary of education considers “reliable authorities as to the quality of education or training provided by the institutions of higher education and the higher education programs they accredit.”
The council, with a staff based in Washington, DC, accredits schools of public health, graduate community health education programs, and graduate community health and preventive medicine programs. As of October 2000, there were 29 accredited schools, 13 accredited health-education programs, and 30 accredited community health and preventive medicine programs. The number of accredited schools and programs grows annually as new applicants pursue accreditation.
In general, accreditation is widely embraced as a major quality control mechanism in higher education and as one of the primary means by which higher education demonstrates accountability to its various constituents. Four elements are common to all accreditation in higher education: (1) agreed-upon criteria serve as the basis for evaluation, (2) self-study allows the institution or program to document how it meets the criteria, (3) an on-site visit by a team of peer reviewers allows for verification of the self-study conclusions, and (4) the results of the evaluation become public. The results are used for various purposes. In public health, for example, accreditation establishes the eligibility of schools and programs for certain federal funds and qualifies students for selected employment and training opportunities.
The criteria used to evaluate schools and programs are adopted and periodically revised by CEPH’s ten-member governing body. The criteria establish major responsibilities, including mission and goals, organizational setting, governance, instructional programs, research, service, faculty, students, and evaluation and planning. The evaluation takes place in the context of the school’s own mission and the focus is on educational effectiveness and assessment of outcomes.
There are three accreditation criteria documents, one for each category of school or program served by CEPH. A companion document, Accreditation Procedures, outlines the procedures and processes a school or program must follow to seek accreditation. All documents are available on the CEPH web site at https://ceph.org/.
- Accreditation Criteria for Graduate Schools of Public Health (October 1999). Washington, DC: Council on Education for Public Health.
- Accreditation Criteria for Graduate Programs in Community Health Education (October 1999). Washington, DC: Council on Education for Public Health.
- Accreditation Criteria for Graduate Programs in Community Health Education/Preventive Medicine (October 1999). Washington, DC: Council on Education for Public Health.
- Accreditation Procedures (October 1999). Washington, DC: Council on Education for Public Health.