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Why Accreditation Matters in Certification

By Lisa Alikhan

No matter the industry or profession, certification matters, period … but so does accreditation. In fact, a certification program’s accredited status is an important underpinning of its value in the market, and enhances its overall worth. It should thus be considered when making a decision whether to certify, or to pursue certain professional development activities.

As the manager of both governance and program accreditation for the Competency and Credentialing Institute (CCI), I am sometimes asked by those who are newly certified or new to the industry of professional certification, why accreditation matters. Beyond providing a basic definition of the term, I hope to be able to explain the benefits of accreditation in this article.

Accreditation, as defined by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE) is “the process by which a credentialing or educational program is evaluated against defined standards by a third party. When in compliance with these standards, it is awarded recognition.” Further, according to ICE, accreditation:

  • Enables credentialing organizations to demonstrate to the profession it represents, and to the general public its certificants serve, that their program has met the stringent standards set by the credentialing community.
  • Enhances a program’s credibility and legitimacy by providing impartial, third-party oversight of a conformity assessment system.
  • Provides organizations with a way to answer the question “who reviewed your certificate/certification program?”, a question often posed by members of an occupation, employers and sometimes courts.

This means that accredited programs are not evaluated only on the quality of their content. The qualifications of those involved in program development, volunteer management and program administration are also evaluated, and the organization is required to demonstrate financial solvency through submission of current and prior years’ financial records. For new programs, a budget and proforma is required for the associated new offering. Additionally, the certifying organization’s governance practices and operations are scrutinized, including the submission of all records pertaining to the board of directors (and certification council, as applicable), as well as a review of the organization’s bylaws, policies and operating procedures. Industry partnership agreements are also reviewed to ensure the absence of any conflicts of interests or endorsements in the program development process.

An accredited program must be able to demonstrate legal defensibility of its certification mark and inherent properties. In other words, what is the value of the credential to both the certifying organization and the credential holder, and what do the letters behind a name signal to the public? The answer to these questions lies in whether there is a sound basis to either award or deny a specific credential. Before a competency-based program can be accredited, it must be able to demonstrate compliance with a conformity assessment system. Instruments used to assess competency must be psychometrically sound, meaning a uniform performance standard must be established, and regular statistical analysis performed to support the methodology’s validity and reliability over time. As well, accredited programs must supply evidence of maintenance of quality assurance (QA) measures. These measures provide for continuous analysis of a program’s certification operations and administered assessments. In accordance with program policies, anomalies are flagged and addressed.

Accreditation is a rigorous peer review process against defined standards. It validates a certain level of quality content, qualified expert involvement in program design and development, and disciplined organizational controls in program administration. Based on the industry, there are multiple organizations involved in the business of certification. Similarly; there are multiple agencies involved in the business of accreditation. CCI currently has two nationally accredited credentials, CNOR and Certified Surgical Services Manager (CSSM). CNOR is dual accredited by the American Board of Specialty Nursing Certifications (ABSNC) and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). CSSM is accredited by ABSNC. ABSNC currently certifies over 65% of specialty nursing credentials against a set of 18 standards for exam-based certifications. NCCA developed the first set of standards for professional certifications and accredits a wide range of professions and occupations against 24 standards.

Accreditation terms for CCI programs are three or five years, and are linked to the frequency of the program’s job analysis cycle, which correlates with the pace of change within the profession’s body of knowledge. The accreditation process is approximately 12 to 18 months. Having read this, I hope that you now have a better understanding of the accreditation process and why it truly does matter.

“Accreditation,” Institute for Credentialing Excellence, Retrieved from

Lisa Alikhan is the Manager of Governance & Program Accreditation at Competency and Credentialing Institute. She may be reached at



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