Approval versus Accreditation

Alyssa KirkmanACPA News

An approval process, such as that of the Commission on Approval of Teams, is distinct from an accreditation process, which is a more formal term. Both are types of credentialing, which is an umbrella term that reflects a public recognition or “seal of approval” following an objective third-party assessment to determine if an entity meets predetermined and standardized criteria or requirements.

Approval and accreditation have some common characteristics, in that they both include an aspect of public accountability, although they are both typically performed by private, non-governmental agencies. Both are voluntary and time-limited, and they focus on quality and continuous improvement. A critical component of both approval and accreditation programs is the autonomy of the credentialing body to set its own standards and make its own assessment decisions, without undue influence by any other entity. This helps to avoid even the appearance of any conflict of interest and thus maintain the integrity of the credentialing process.

However, there are important differences between the two. An approval process usually is a less formalized and less prescriptive application of the identified standards than accreditation but is nevertheless more rigorous than a self-assessment by a team. Although accreditation usually includes an on-site evaluation of the entity, an approval process, such as that of the Commission, typically includes verification of compliance with standards through a review of written documentation but does not involve an on-site review. Also, approval programs typically provide greater flexibility in the process by which approval is achieved and maintained, and in the manner in which approval decisions are publicized.

The more formal term “accreditation” should not be used in place of the less formal term “approval.” Thus, the Commission does not accredit teams but does approve teams if they qualify.