Policies of Accreditation
Eligibility for Accreditation
ACEJMC accredits units that offer professional programs that prepare students for careers in journalism and mass communications. The Council has jurisdiction only over such professional programs.
The unit bears the responsibility of defining — and justifying as appropriate for review — those components that it considers to be within the authorized scope of the Council’s assessment. Some units, for example, might define media studies or telecommunication policy components as non-professional and therefore beyond the scope of review; others might define them, because of their structure or effect on the professional components of the unit, to be within the scope of ACEJMC review.
Schools seeking initial accreditation are required to arrange a pre-visit with the ACEJMC executive director within three to five years before an initial accreditation review. Schools pay only the expenses for travel, lodging and meals.
An invitation to accredit must be made for a unit: a permanent, budgeted administrative entity that establishes the professional curriculum, has a full-time, definable faculty, is formally represented in the organizational chart of the institution and receives a separate designation in its catalog.
The unit may be a college, school, or department that offers professional education in journalism and mass communications. Whatever the unit designation, its professional components must have sufficient autonomy to establish their curriculum and freedom to act as a faculty. Therefore, the Council normally will not review a unit with less than departmental status. It will not review interdepartment or intercollege majors except where there is a clearly designated and articulated budget, faculty and administrative structure. Each unit under review will be required to provide a budget and faculty breakout for all professional components and to provide evidence of designated leadership of those professional components.
The executive officer of the institution seeking accreditation must invite a review of a distinctive unit as defined above. Sometimes the invitation may be to review two separate departments that may be located in one or more colleges.
The visit team will focus its examination on all the professional educational activities that are carried on by the unit under review. It will, however, examine the entire administrative unit in which the effective control of such education is vested by assessing the relationships among the unit’s professional and non-professional components. It will, for example, examine ways in which the non-professional components enhance or detract from the professional programs in journalism and mass communications through their effect on the budget, curriculum, hiring of faculty, awarding of tenure and establishment of general policy regarding professional education.
The team will assess the quality of the unit’s professional components in terms of their stated objectives and in light of the specific standards of accreditation outlined in this publication.
If a unit that consists of professional and non-professional components is accredited, all Council publications will list only its professional components and will note only those components that fall within the scope of review of ACEJMC.
ACEJMC will not evaluate a unit that does not adhere to the Council’s public accountability requirement to provide reliable and current retention and graduation data on its website, as well as other student achievement information.
ACEJMC will not evaluate units within institutions that are not recognized by a regional or nationally recognized accrediting agency. This recognition, where such a body exists, is a prerequisite for accreditation of a unit by ACEJMC. ACEJMC will not renew a unit’s accreditation or consider initial accreditation while the institution is the subject of an interim action by a regional or national accrediting agency, or by a state regulatory agency, potentially leading to loss of accreditation status or of legal authority to provide postsecondary education; or while the due-process procedures required by such interim action remain incomplete.
ACCREDITATION OF PROGRAMS OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES:
ACEJMC’s eligibility requirements for accreditation are the same for all programs, including those located outside of the 50 states. ACEJMC will evaluate only those international programs that are recognized by U.S.-based accrediting organizations and/or the appropriate governmental and nongovernmental quality assurance entities in that country or region.
ACEJMC will notify the appropriate governmental and nongovernmental quality assurance agencies of the unit’s intent to seek review and will invite their comments. A site visit will not be scheduled until the Notice of Accreditation Review has been submitted to ACEJMC’s executive director.
All documents presented in the accreditation review process must be in English.
Review of Professional Graduate Programs
The Council evaluates only professional, not academic, master’s programs. The Council does not evaluate Ph.D. programs or other graduate and undergraduate programs that are designed as preparation for academic careers or that provide non-professional education. A professional master’s degree program in journalism and mass communications is one that prepares students to:
• Meet ACEJMC’s basic competencies, with the added competency of contributing to knowledge appropriate to the profession.
• Think intelligently, strategically and critically about the fundamental and complex social and cultural issues of the profession.
• Master the skills and responsibilities of the profession with grounding in professional experience.
• Perform the profession’s roles ethically.
A professional master’s degree program would require that more than half of its courses are of a professional nature and require a professionally oriented thesis, project or comprehensive examination.
If a unit requests that its professional graduate program(s) be evaluated for accreditation, it integrates material about the graduate program into its self-study report, with information about the graduate program clearly identified in the Indicators and Evidence sections for each standard. The burden of proof is on the unit to explain how its professional graduate program meets appropriate indicators.
Site-visit teams will make a separate overall recommendation for the accreditation status of the graduate program. It is possible that a team could recommend (and the Committee and Council approve) a different status for a unit’s undergraduate program and its professional graduate program.
Review of online degrees
Online degrees from ACEJMC accredited programs will meet the same eligibility requirements, standards of quality and review process as onsite programs.
ACEJMC standards apply to all delivery channels including, but not limited to, traditional face-to-face instruction on the home campus or other locations, distance instruction using any technology, or a blend of distance and face-to-face instruction.
Conflict of Interest
This policy applies to the entire accrediting process, from the selection of site visit teams through the final deliberations of the Council. The Executive Director of the Council will share this policy with each site team invitee. The Chair of the Accrediting Committee and the President of the Accrediting Council will call attention to the policy at the start of each of their respective meetings.
Every precaution must be taken to ensure that all participants in the accrediting process develop and express objective opinions and make decisions free from self-interest and personal bias. It is essential that the accrediting process be as free as possible from even the appearance of conflict of interest.
Accordingly, members of site visit teams, the Committee and the Council must disqualify themselves from accepting site visit invitations or participating in the discussion of and voting upon accreditation issues in which they have a conflict of interest. The Council’s administrative staff members also must guard against conflicts of interest in all accreditation activities.
The primary responsibility for determining potential conflicts of interest rests with each participant in the accrediting process. Participants who question whether they have a conflict of interest should consult with the President of the Council.
Those with conflicts of interest include, but are not limited to:
- graduates of the institution under review;
- former employees of that institution;
- those who have been consultants to the unit within the past 15 years;
- those who have been under consideration for employment as finalists in a search by the unit;
- employees of the same education system;
- those who have any other relationship with the unit that might cause them to remove themselves from the process.
Committee or Council members whose units are being considered for accreditation or reaccreditation may not vote on those units. Such Committee or Council members must leave the table, but may remain in the room. Such members may not participate during the discussion but may respond to questions when requested to do so by other Committee or Council members.
Committee or Council members who have been a part of a site team for the unit under discussion may not vote on that unit. They must leave the table but may remain in the room and respond to questions from other Committee or Council members. They must not introduce more information into the discussion than is already available from the formal written materials before the Committee or the Council. The purpose here is to create fair and equitable conditions for those units whose site teams may not be represented on the Committee and Council.
Conflict-of-interest challenges will be resolved by the Chair of the Committee and the President of the Council at their respective regular meetings.
This policy refers to the concept of conflict of interest in the context of accreditation decisions. The prohibitions and limitations are not intended to exclude participation and decision-making in other areas, such as policy development and standard setting.
The president of ACEJMC appoints a three-person board each October to hear accreditation appeals. This Appeals Board is composed of two journalism/mass communications educators and one journalism/mass communications practitioner. None can be a member of the Council, the Accrediting Committee, or the site team that visited the institution initiating the appeal. No one who has a conflict of interest shall serve on the Board.
When the Council decides to award provisional accreditation or to deny accreditation altogether, the president of the Council, in a letter, informs the president of the institution and the administrator of the journalism/mass communications unit and gives the reasons for the Council’s action. The appeal procedure open to the institution is explained in this letter.
If the president of the institution desires to appeal the decision, it must be done in writing within thirty (30) days of notification of the accrediting decision by the ACEJMC president. Appeals of accreditation decisions must be based on one or both of the following grounds: 1) evidence that the Council failed to adhere to applicable adopted procedures; 2) evidence that, based upon the record before the Council, the decision was arbitrary and capricious or not supported by substantial evidence. Appeals must be made in writing and must be based on concrete evidence that was in the record before the Council at the time of the original decision.
The ACEJMC president shall, within thirty (30) days after receiving a statement of appeal, send each of the members of the Appeals Board a copy of the statement. The chair of the Appeals Board immediately shall notify the members of the visit team, sending to each member a copy of the statement of appeal. The visit team members shall, within fifteen (15) days, respond to the appeal statement in writing addressed to the chair of the Appeals Board, who shall send copies of the visit team’s responses to each member of the Board.
The Appeals Board will meet in open session at some time preceding the next regularly scheduled meeting of the Council. The chief administrative officers of the institution making the appeal and the site team chair shall be notified of the time, date, and place of the meeting. They may attend the meeting, present oral and written arguments, and receive questions from the Appeals Board. The institution has the right to representation by counsel in any appeal proceedings.
Ordinarily, the Appeals Board will base its recommended decision upon relevant written documents, but at its discretion it may consider the points raised in the oral and written presentations. The chair writes a summary of the Appeals Board’s recommendation to ACEJMC. The Appeals Board’s recommendation and the chair’s written summary should be given to Council members not later than the night before the ACEJMC meeting. The chair of the Appeals Board presents the recommendation to ACEJMC members.
ACEJMC then considers the recommendation by the Appeals Board and exercises its responsibility for making the final accreditation decision. The ACEJMC president will notify the chief administrator of the institution and the administrator of the journalism and mass communications unit in a letter of the decision on the appeal and the reasons for the decision.
All expenses of the appeal, including travel, shall be paid by the institution initiating the appeal. Eighty percent of the estimated costs of the appeal hearing must be sent to the ACEJMC office two weeks before the date of the scheduled Appeals Board meeting.
While an appeal is pending and before a decision on the appeal is made by ACEJMC, there shall be no change in the accredited status for the institution making the appeal.
Students, faculty, staff, administrators and other persons may report incidents in which they can present evidence an accredited unit or ACEJMC has violated accreditation standards, policies or procedures. The Council requires administrators of accredited units to inform their units of this policy.
The Council does not adjudicate, arbitrate or mediate individual faculty or student grievances against a program, nor does it act as a court of appeals in individual matters of admissions, appointment, promotion or dismissal of faculty, staff or students.
Complaints must be made in writing and should be addressed to the president of ACEJMC. Complaints must be accompanied by documentation showing a specific, substantive violation of one or more standards, policies or procedures.
After receipt of a complaint against an accredited unit, the president will convene the Executive Committee to determine the validity of the complaint. If further action is warranted, the president will invite a response to the complaint from the institution, including other relevant information as the nature of the complaint indicates. The Executive Committee may then: 1) dismiss the complaint or 2) find the unit in violation of one or more standards. The Executive Committee could then find the violation to a degree that requires a change in the unit’s accreditation status.
After receipt of a complaint against ACEJMC, the president will convene the Executive Committee to determine the validity of the complaint. If further action is warranted, the president will direct the executive director to gather relevant information and provide a response to the complaint. The Executive Committee may then: 1) dismiss the complaint; 2) determine that an individual representing or employed by ACEJMC may have violated a standard, policy or procedure, and counsel the individual; or 3) take further action as circumstances warrant, up to and including termination.
In the case of a complaint against a member of the Executive Committee, the president will direct the complaint to the Appeals Board.
The president of the Council will notify the complainant and unit or individual of the decision in writing. Decisions of the Executive Committee or Appeals Board may be appealed to the Council for consideration at the Council’s next regularly scheduled meeting.
The Council requires all units seeking accreditation to maintain records of student complaints and their resolution. As part of the site visit, a visit team member examines the unit’s record of student complaints. The Council expects this record to show timely, equitable and fair resolution of student complaints that are pertinent to the unit’s compliance with accreditation standards.
ACEJMC maintains records of all complaints it receives and their resolution.
All meetings of the Accrediting Council and its committees are open to the public. This includes meetings of the Accrediting Committee and the Appeals Board. Votes on accrediting decisions are taken in open session. The Council may go into closed session when the discussion centers on individuals; however, no official action may be taken in closed session, and all other discussions that do not focus on individuals will be open.
[Note: ACEJMC makes site team reports available to the public. For more information, contact the ACEJMC office.]
Review of Standards and Procedures
The Council uses several systematic methods to ensure that its accreditation standards are valid and reliable indicators of the quality of education or training provided by accredited programs and are relevant to the education or training needs of affected students. The Council also reviews the validity, reliability and relevancy of the processes used to apply the standards.
If any of these methods reveals potential problems, the Council may appoint a committee to examine any standard and determine whether it remains a valid, reliable and relevant indicator of educational quality. This examination may lead to a recommendation for revision of the standard. Potential problems of validity, reliability or relevancy of the Council’s processes may be resolved similarly, or may be resolved administratively.
The Council measures the validity of its accreditation standards and the processes by which they are applied by determining whether they actually assess 1) the quality of a journalism/mass communications program and 2) the efforts of a program to improve its quality. The Council measures the relevancy of the standards and processes by determining whether they are related to the current educational and training needs of students of journalism and mass communications. The Council measures the reliability of the standards and processes by determining whether they provide a consistent basis for assessing the educational quality of different programs.
The Council uses the following methods to ensure the validity and relevancy of its standards and processes:
Congruency with external agencies’ recognition criteria: The Council’s staff examines the standards and processes annually to determine whether they remain congruent with the recognition criteria set by the Commission on Higher Education Accreditation.
Validation by affected parties: After each annual accreditation review cycle, the Council’s staff sends a questionnaire to each site team chair and the administrator of each program that has been reviewed. This questionnaire specifically asks these individuals to assess the validity, reliability and relevancy of the Council’s standards and processes. The Council’s staff conducts a statistical analysis of responses to the survey.
Broad contributions to revision: The Council ensures and documents that the broadest possible communities of interest contribute to developments or revisions of the standards and processes.
Review of noncompliance findings: The Council’s staff reports annually to the Council the number of noncompliance findings reported for each standard.
Regular review of standards: Every 10 years, the Council appoints a Standards Review Committee. This committee undertakes a full review of the accrediting standards, using the records of the above-mentioned processes and any other appropriate sources. This committee may recommend revision of the standards.
The Council uses the following methods to ensure the reliability of its standards and processes:
Preparation of site team members: The Council conducts several training sessions annually designed to increase site team members’ knowledge of the accrediting process. Attendance at these sessions is not required of experienced team members but is strongly encouraged for potential new team members. Each site team member receives a manual that explains the activities and responsibilities of a site team.
Evaluation of site visits: After each site visit, the unit administrator and the chair of the site visit team are each asked to provide an evaluation of the site visit and the work of the team members. The evaluations are sent to the executive director. The purposes of this review are to evaluate the process and the procedures used in making site visits, to guide the executive director and others in the selection of team members for subsequent visits, and to develop general information about the work of site visit teams for training sessions for prospective team members.
Experience of site team chairs: Individuals are assigned to the position of site team chair only after they have served as members of several site teams and have demonstrated leadership and an understanding of the accreditation process.
Records of previous decisions: The Council’s staff maintains records that show, for each accreditation decision, findings of noncompliance with standards, accreditation recommendations by site teams and the Accrediting Committee, accreditation decisions by the Accrediting Council, and explanatory comment. These records may be used to ensure that current decisions are congruent with previous decisions.
Public Notice of Accrediting Actions
The Council publishes the names of units to be reviewed for initial accreditation or re-accreditation well in advance of the reviews. This notice is accompanied by an explicit invitation for comment by third parties, limited to written comment speaking directly to a unit’s compliance with the Council’s published accreditation standards.
Within 30 days of the decision, the Council notifies other appropriate accrediting agencies, appropriate State regulatory agencies, and the public of: final decisions to award accreditation, re-accreditation, or provisional accreditation; final decisions to deny, withdraw, suspend, or terminate any unit’s accreditation, or take other adverse action; and final decisions by units to voluntarily withdraw from accreditation or allow their accreditation to lapse.
Within 60 days of a final decision to deny, withdraw, suspend, or terminate any unit’s accreditation, or take other adverse action, the Council makes available to other appropriate accrediting agencies, appropriate State regulatory agencies, and the public on request, a brief statement of the reasons for the decision, accompanied by any comments the affected unit may wish to make regarding the decision.
The Council submits to the Commission on Higher Education Accreditation copies of its annually updated directory of accredited programs; any proposed changes in its policies, procedures, or accreditation standards that might alter its scope of recognition or compliance with requirements of the Commission; any annual report it may prepare; and any annual data summary, or other information, that the Commission may request.
Benefits of Accreditation
Among the benefits of accreditation, two are especially important. One is the substantial value of the self-study and peer review that the process requires. The other is the assurance of quality and standards that accreditation gives to parents and prospective students, prospective employers, and the general public. This second benefit is supported by the Council’s commitment to full public disclosure of its actions.
Shortly after its meetings, ACEJMC releases a report of the Council’s actions regarding the accreditation status of institutions that it reviews. The public announcement of its actions is made after ACEJMC notifies the institutions and provides them an explanation of the decisions.
Schools that receive provisional status will carry that designation in all of the Council’s published information. These schools are required by the Council, when they use the term “accreditation,” to list themselves as having provisional status. Schools seeking accreditation for the first time may be granted provisional status; however, they will not be listed in any Council material until they obtain full accreditation.
Information to the Public
ACEJMC also encourages its accredited institutions to publicize the accredited designation in school literature and on their web pages. Institutions should ensure that such publicity about accreditation accurately reflects ACEJMC actions. Ideally, such publicity will include the specific academic or instructional programs covered by accreditation status and the name, address and telephone number of ACEJMC. The institution should ensure that making public a portion of the team report does not present a misleading picture of the content of the overall evaluation.
The Council president or executive director will notify the president of an institution when ACEJMC becomes aware that the school’s use of the term “accreditation” or the release of a portion of the team’s report is not in accord with ACEJMC action or is otherwise misleading. ACEJMC will ask the institution to correct the situation. If the institution is unwilling to do so, the Council may release the full report or issue a statement to clarify the accreditation status of a unit or specialty.
The Council keeps complete and accurate records of accreditation reviews of each program, including: site team reports; responses by units to team reports; reports of any interim, periodic, or special reviews; and the program’s most recent self-study report. The Council also keeps complete records of: all accreditation decisions; minutes of Council and Committee meetings; correspondence and supporting documents relating to appeals and complaints; general correspondence; and other documents related to its accrediting activities.
Beginning with the 2012-13 review cycle, site team reports are available on ACEJMC’s website with the list of accredited programs under the Accreditation tab.
Site team reports before the 2012-13 review period and some self-studies are available to the public upon written request. (Note: documents are not available before the 1989-90 academic year, when ACEJMC’s open-meetings policy became effective.)