On June 24, 2010, Yasmine Issa testified before the United States Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee about her experiences with a proprietary postsecondary institution in New York where she completed an 18-month program for ultrasound technicians. During her job search, she was told by prospective employers that she needed to be certified by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS). She subsequently discovered that she was not eligible to sit for the ARDMS certification examination because although the school she attended was accredited, the ultrasound program was not (Issa, 2010).

"The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality” (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.a, 2nd paragraph). Ms. Issa’s story illustrates the importance of ensuring that postsecondary institutions, as well as applicable programs and courses within them, are properly accredited.

The U.S. Department of Education identifies two types of accreditation for postsecondary institutions and programs. They are as follows:

  • Institutional accreditation normally applies to an entire institution, indicating that each of an institution's parts is contributing to the achievement of the institution's objectives, although not necessarily all at the same level of quality. The various commissions of the regional accrediting associations, for example, perform institutional accreditation, as do many national accrediting agencies (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.b).
  • Specialized or programmatic accreditation normally applies to programs, departments, or schools that are parts of an institution. The accredited unit may be as large as a college or school within a university or as small as a curriculum within a discipline. Most of the specialized or programmatic accrediting agencies review units within an institution of higher education that is accredited by one of the regional accrediting commissions. However, certain accrediting agencies also accredit professional schools and other specialized or vocational institutions of higher education that are free-standing in their operations. Thus, a 'specialized ' or 'programmatic ' accrediting agency may also function in the capacity of an 'institutional ' accrediting agency. In addition, a number of specialized accrediting agencies accredit educational programs within non-educational settings, such as hospitals. (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.c).

As a public service, the U.S. Department of Education maintains a “Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs” that is searchable by institution or accrediting agency. However, the Department "recommends that the database be used as one source of qualitative information and that additional sources of qualitative information be consulted" (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.a, 5th paragraph).

The Florida Commission for Independent Education (FCIE) strongly recommends that prospective students contact its office to verify that a postsecondary institution is “licensed or approved by the Commission” before proceeding (FCIE, n.d., 1st paragraph). Students should also research the field of study to determine if a programmatic accreditation is needed and who the appropriate accrediting agency would be.


Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs
U.S. Department of Education database searchable by accrediting agency or institution; however, the information is not guaranteed to be “accurate, current, or complete.”

Florida Commission for Independent Education
FCIE has statutory responsibilities including consumer protection, program improvement, institutional policies and administration, data management and the licensure of independent schools, colleges and universities in the state of Florida.


Issa, J. (2010, June 24). Testimony of Jasmine Issa before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. Washington, DC: Senate HELP Committee. Retrieved June 28, 2010, from

Florida Commission for Independent Education. (n.d.) How do you know which school or program is best for you?. Tallahassee, FL: Author. 

U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.a). U.S. Department of Education database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved June 30, 2010, from

U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.b). Institutional accrediting agency. (Pop-up). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved June 29, 2010, from

U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.c). Specialized or programmatic accrediting agencies. (Pop-up). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved June 29, 2010, from