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What is the impact of the accreditation bill in the USA?

Amazingly, until December 2010, it was not a legal requirement for English language schools in the USA to be officially endorsed or quality-certified to be able to issue I-20s. An I-20 is required by overseas applicants to gain their student visa. And even in December 2010, when President Obama rubber stamped the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act (Accreditation Act), there was a three-year window by which time all operators had to prove their bona fides.

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"It's not an easy process"

However, the deadline for applying to be in the accreditation system was December 2011, and since then there has been a deluge of activity. The two national accrediting bodies, the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET) and the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA) say they are now dealing with a huge rise in applicants and having to increase staffing to cope.

Indications are that at least 200 operators in the USA had previously been running their businesses outside of the existing accreditation framework and are now seeking to become certified.

“We’ve been very busy since December,” Teresa O’Donnell, CEA executive director, tells The PIE News. “Many years we’ve had about 40 university programmes and independent language schools at any given moment seeking accreditation. Now we’ve got 180 new applicants.”

Similarly, ACCET is dealing with about 50-60 new applications, up from the 10-12 of previous years. Although ACCET accredits institutions other than just English language programmes, it says the majority of the new applicants are IEPs.

At least 200 operators had been running businesses outside of the accreditation framework

College or university-based IEPs that are governed by a nationally or regionally accredited college or university were not required to seek independent accreditation. But IEPs that are physically located on an accredited school’s premises, but not governed by that institution, as well as independent IEPs, now need to be accredited.

CEA has increased full-time staff and increased the number and length of information meetings to keep up with the number of new applicants, which according to O’Donnell are mostly all private IEPs (universities can choose to undergo CEA accreditation for improvement purposes).

O’Donnell explained that as well as servicing all the new requests for accreditation, they have about 100 programmes and schools who require re-accreditation spread over a 10-year period. “All the work for reaccreditation and annual reports must still go on for those 100.”

Both ACCET and CEA have similar accreditation processes which last 18-24 months and cost around $US8,000 initially followed by an annual sustaining fee based on the programme’s number of student weeks. The process includes a year of self-study, presenting a report based on set standards, undergoing a two-and-a-half-day site visit by a three-person team and then a commission review.

Terry O'Donnell runs CEA, which has increased staff to match workload

O’Donnell points out that the price tag doesn’t include efforts on the programme’s part to beef up regulation and administration practices, and improve student services in order to meet the strict standards.

“The schools that have applied must go through the process using the same standards and same review procedures as anyone who’s ever applied in the past. It’s not an easy process,” she says. “It’s not like ticking things off a checklist.”

CEA accreditation standards incorporate 10 different areas, ranging from an institution’s Mission, to Faculty, Facilities, Recruiting, Program Development and Student Achievement/Complaints, among other areas.

Before legislation made accreditation obligatory, many schools avoided it due to the rigorous, expensive process, claims Cheryl Delk, President of the American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP). Nevertheless, AAIEP required its members be accredited in order to differentiate themselves as quality operators. Still, AAIEP argues that the new law will change the industry for the better. [more>>]

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