Licensing vs. Accreditation: Understanding the DifferenceOften, an institution’s status related to licensure and accreditation is misunderstood. The intention of this column is to shed some light on these terms as they relate to private higher education in New Mexico and the role of the Department. I invite you to spread the word to students by sharing this column
What does licensing a private postsecondary educational institution mean?
“License” means a written acknowledgement from the New Mexico Higher Education Department that an institution has met the requirements for offering a formal educational curriculum. While licensure permits an institution to operate in New Mexico, it is not an approval or endorsement of an institution’s academic program. An institution licensed by the Department may not use terms such as “accredited,” “endorsed,” or “recommended” in reference to its approval by the Department; however, it may use the phrase “licensed by the New Mexico Higher Education Department” in its advertising and promotional literature.
Who should be licensed in New Mexico?
When looking at the meaning of licensure, it is important to understand which types of educational institutions are affected by this requirement. The term “postsecondary educational institution” includes an academic, vocational, technical, business, professional, or other school, college, or university or other organization or person offering courses, instruction, training, or education, through correspondence or in person, to any person within New Mexico. In other words, a private career institute offering certificate programs such as medical assistance, midwifery, truck driving, culinary arts, pet grooming, business administration, or any technical occupation would fall under the licensure requirement. The same is true for private colleges and universities offering an associate’s degree and above. Another factor related to licensure requirement is the meaning of “presence” in applicable state rules. “Presence” is defined as offering courses, programs or degrees on site or from a geographical site in New Mexico or maintaining an administrative, corporate or other address in the state. As a result, an institution offering online courses from a site in New Mexico is required to be licensed. Also, an out-of-state institution, offering programs on site or from a geographical site in New Mexico falls under the licensure requirement.
What is Exemption from Licensure?
The law allows for licensure exemptions if an institution meets specific criteria such as offering continuing education courses or being regionally accredited. The term “Exemption” means a written acknowledgment by the Department that an institution, organization, or other entity, has met requirements and filed pertinent information as required to provide educational services in New Mexico without regulation by the Department.
Are there consequences for not obtaining a license or exemption status in New Mexico?
Not having a license while offering degrees, course credits, certificates or diplomas can lead to civil penalties of up to $500 per day, per violation of any provision noted in Chapter 21-23-10 of the Postsecondary Educational Institution Act. To operate legally in New Mexico, a private postsecondary institution must obtain one of these official documents: 1) a license, or 2) a written acknowledgment of exemption.
What is accreditation?
Accreditation is the process by which an independent association has evaluated the school and determined it meets the formal requirements for education. Accrediting agencies and associations that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education establish standards of quality or criteria of institutional excellence and approve membership of those institutions that meet the standards or criteria. It is generally a voluntary process that schools undergo in order to validate the quality of their programs and the value of their degrees.
In New Mexico accreditation is not necessarily voluntary. The law requires degree-granting institutions (associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate) to obtain accreditation within three years from their initial license, unless they were in existence and operating prior to September 30, 1996. Non-degree granting institutions (certificates, diplomas) are not required to attain accreditation, although some institutions pursue accreditation for their programs. An institution can claim to be accredited in New Mexico only if it has obtained accreditation from an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (a list is available at http://www.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/index.html).
How can an accreditation status of an institution be determined?
A comprehensive database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs is available at http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation/. An additional source is the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database, at http://www.chea.org/search.
What difference can accreditation make?
When a candidate is looking for a job, it is not uncommon for prospective employers to require that the candidate hold a degree from an accredited institution. Certainly, state and federal government and the public education sector have set this standard. Accreditation may also play a role if a student desires to change schools and intends to transfer credits. The acceptance of credits is ultimately the decision of the accepting institution; however, the acceptance of credits may be more likely, if the credits where earned from an accredited institution. Finally, accreditation of an institution may open the door to federal financial aid for students, which may translate into grant monies or subsidized loans that would otherwise not be available.
What is the difference between license and accreditation?
A license from the Department gives permission to operate a postsecondary educational school in New Mexico, much like a business license. It does not validate or endorse a school’s programs. The purpose of accreditation is to validate an institution’s programs for their standards and legitimacy.