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Q: What type of institutions does COE accredit?

A: The Council on Occupational Education accredits post-secondary occupational institutions that offer certificate, diploma, or applied associate degree programs. The Council does not accredit institutions that offer credentials above an applied associate degree. These institutions include public technical colleges, private career colleges (both for-profit and not-for-profit), federal institutions including Army, Navy, and Department of Defense institutions, Job Corps Centers, Registered Apprenticeship Programs, and ERISA Training Institutes. The Council also accredits institutions that offer distance education programs, though limits are placed on these activities (see the following eligibility requirements below).

Q: What are the eligibility requirements for candidacy with COE?

A: Candidacy is the first step toward accreditation. To be eligible for consideration for candidacy, an institution must meet the following criteria:

  1. Offer postsecondary instruction exclusively in career and technical education at all campuses.
  2. Offer credentials no higher than an applied associate degree.
  3. Have produced a graduate from the longest program offered by the institution where the graduate has completed 100 percent of the program’s required hours at the institution (no hours transferred in and no CLEP hours awarded).
  4. Utilize a campus-based instructional delivery system with at least 25 percent of the institution’s total FTE being derived from enrollments in traditional (bricks and mortar) programs.
  5. Maintain at least 50% FTE enrollment at each campus in non-VESL programs.*
  6. Have an institutional enrollment of no fewer than 10 FTE (at the time of applying for candidacy).
  7. Be legally authorized to operate within the jurisdiction in which it is located for a minimum of one year.
  8. Have been in possession of current and applicable licensure/authorization for a minimum of one year.
  9. Have been in continuous operation and providing instruction at the main campus and under the same ownership for a minimum of one year.
  10. Have the on-site administrator or other full-time employee at the main campus attend a Candidate Academy within 12 months prior to submitting an application for candidate status.
  11. Demonstrate that it has the administrative capabilities (including, but not limited to, financial) to support the educational programs offered.
  12. Demonstrate that it meets the financial stability requirements for the most recent completed fiscal year as stated in Standard 7 – Financial Resources.
  13. Be in compliance with all Federal requirements applicable to accreditation.
  14. Agree to comply with all requirements of the Council.

* Institutions in candidate or accredited status as of November 4, 2016 whose VESL enrollment is in excess of 50% of the institution’s total enrollment as of that date are exempt from this limitation.

Institutions with non-main campus sites (branches, extensions, extended classrooms, instructional service centers) must meet additional eligibility requirements applicable to those locations.

Institutions seeking candidate status with the Commission that have non-main campus sites must:

  1. Demonstrate that the ownership of all non-main campus sites (branches, extensions, instructional service centers, etc.) is identical to that of the main campus.
  2. Demonstrate that the local administrators of all non-main campus sites report to the chief administrative officer of the main campus.
  3. Demonstrate that duplicate records on personnel, financial matters, student attendance, and educational progress for all non-main campus sites are kept at the main campus. (NOTE: Institutions capable of maintaining and accessing records electronically may keep all records previously mentioned at the main campus.)
  4. Demonstrate that names of non-main campus sites are identical to that of the main campus. (Names of non-main campus sites may be expanded, with Commission approval, to identify different locations or specific programs.)
  5. Demonstrate that all non-main campus sites, and their respective program offerings, are described in the main campus catalog.

Institutions seeking accreditation with COE must not have been denied accreditation, dropped from accreditation, or on adverse status by a regional or national agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Q: What are the 2023 deadlines for submitting candidate and substantive change applications?

A: Application deadlines for 2023 are Jan 26; Apr 27; Jul 27; and Oct 26 to be considered for candidacy or substantive change approval at the March, June, September or December, 2023 Commission meetings, respectively. The 2023 Candidate Academies will be held on FEB 8-9, JUN 21-22 and OCT 11-12. Registration information about the Academies will be posted on the Council’s website approximately 8-10 weeks prior to the scheduled Academy dates.

Q: What are the costs of seeking candidacy with COE?

A: With the application for candidacy, institutions must submit an application fee, the first year’s annual dues based on Full-time Equivalency (FTE) enrollment, and a deposit for the candidate visit. Dues and fees are listed on this web site under Accreditation/Dues and Fees. See the latest Handbook of Accreditation for specific details and how to calculate FTE.

Q: What are the steps to become a candidate for accreditation?

A: The five steps necessary to become a COE candidate institution are:

1.   The institution sends a letter to COE notifying the Council of its intent to seek candidacy status with the Commission. (The Council will then send Candidate Academy information to the institution.)

2.   A full-time representative of the institution attends a Candidate Academy.

3.   The candidate application is completed and submitted in hard-copy and PDF versions to COE.

4.   A two-person, two-day candidate visit is conducted at the institution.

5.    The Commission reviews the institution’s application, financial statements (including the COE Financial Questionnaire under Resources/Applications and Forms), candidate team report, and institutional response report, and takes action on candidate status for the institution. The Commission may vote to approve candidate status; it may defer a vote if additional information is required by the Commission; or it may vote to deny candidate status.

Q: While the institution is in candidate status, what changes can be made to the institution and its programs?

A: During the time that an institution is in candidate status it may make changes to programs that appear on the institution’s COE Approved Program List at the time that candidacy is awarded. However, it may not apply for or receive approval for any substantive change. Approval for substantive changes may be requested after initial accreditation is achieved.

Q: How do I submit a substantive change application to the Council?

A: First, contact the Council at 800-917-2081, ext. 204, or at [email protected] to notify the COE staff of the substantive change. The appropriate application and submission deadlines will be provided. The hard-copy application should be in correct page order, followed by the requested additional documents (i.e., state license, Employer Program Verification Forms, financial reports, etc.). The entire document should be “jumbo-clipped” (not placed in a 3-ring binder or spiral-bound), and sent to the Council via US mail, FedEx, UPS or other delivery means.

Q: How do I submit an electronic document to the Council?

A: The hard-copy document should be transferred to one PDF file and emailed to [email protected]. Please do not email the digital version in separate files (i.e., a PDF file of the state license, a PDF file of the Employer Program Verification Forms, a PDF file of the financial reports, etc.) School catalogs, handbooks and brochures should not be included in the electronic application since these tend to make the digital version too big to email. The institution may also choose to mail a thumb-drive containing the digital application along with the hard-copy application. (The COE Financial Questionnaire can be found under Resources/Applications and Forms.)

Q: Once in candidate status, how does an institution become accredited?

A: Before a candidate institution can become accredited, a representative of the school must attend the required Self-Study and Annual Report workshops. It must prepare an institutional self-study report, and host an accreditation team visit. After an institution has attended the required Self-Study and Annual Report workshops, the Council will contact the institution requesting possible dates for the initial accreditation visit. This visit must occur at least six months after attendance at the required Self-Study and Annual Report workshops. Furthermore, the visit must occur within 24 months of the date the Commission awarded candidacy to the institution. Approximately one month prior to the initial accreditation team visit, the team leader will make a preliminary visit to the institution to verify that the institution is adequately prepared to host the accreditation team. The self-study report must be completed prior to this preliminary visit. Once the visiting team has completed its three- to four-day review of the institution’s programs and services, it sends its report to the Council. A copy of the report is then mailed by the Council to the institution. The institution has 30 days to prepare and submit a written response to the team report. At its next meeting, the Commission reviews the self-study report, visiting team report and institution’s response before acting to grant accredited status to the institution.

Q: How long does it take to become accredited?

A: The institution must host its initial accreditation visit within 24 months of the date it was awarded candidacy. The institution cannot host its initial accreditation team visit within the first six months of its date of attendance at the required Self-Study and Annual Report workshops. The institution must meet three requirements prior to hosting the initial accreditation team visit: (1) have at least two years of student enrollment; (2) have two consecutive years of acceptable audited financial statements; and (3) have a Completion, Placement, and Licensure report documenting that a majority of the institution’s programs meet or exceed the Council’s C-P-L benchmarks. The accreditation team visit must take place at least two months before the institution can be on the Commission agenda for a vote of initial accreditation (in March, June, September and December). The accreditation process takes at least 12 months to complete once candidate status is awarded.  Finally, accreditation must be granted no later than 12 months from the date the Commission first reviews an institution’s self-study, team report, and institutional response.

Q: How is accreditation maintained once an institution is awarded initial accreditation?

A: Accreditation is renewed on a yearly basis through the submission of the COE Annual Report each December. In the Annual Report the institution affirms its continued compliance with COE Standards and Criteria. When the Commission awards accredited status to an institution it will designate the number of years until the next team visit. This “reaffirmation” visit may take place 2 to 6 years from the date that initial accreditation is conferred. The accreditation reaffirmation process requires attending a self-study workshop, preparing a new institutional self-study report, and hosting a team visit. (A moratorium will be placed on the acceptance, processing, and approval of all substantive changes beginning 6 months prior to the scheduled dates of the accreditation team visit through the date the Commission reaffirms accreditation.)

Q: Once the institution is accredited by COE, will it be eligible to offer federal student financial aid?

A: Accreditation by a regional or national accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education is one of the eligibility requirements to offer federal student financial aid as outlined in Title IV of the Higher Education Act. (COE is one of the recognized national accrediting agencies.) However, accreditation alone does not automatically qualify an institution to offer federal student financial aid. There are special program and institutional requirements mandated by the Department of Education for institutions wishing to offer federally-funded grants and loans. Institutions desiring to participate in Title IV financial aid programs should apply for a Program Participation Agreement (PPA) with the Department of Education. Information about PPA applications can be obtained by calling the Department of Education at (202) 377-3173.

Q: Does COE accredit distance education programs?

A: As an institutional accreditor, COE accredits all of the postsecondary occupational programs its member institutions offer. When an institution receives candidate or accredited status by the Commission, it will also receive an official list of COE-approved programs. COE’s accreditation scope was expanded to include distance education programs in 2007. However, COE candidate and accredited institutions must certify that at least 25% of their annual FTE is derived from enrollment in traditional (“brick and mortar”) and non-VESL (Vocational English as a Second Language) programs

Q: Once my institution is accredited, what are COE’s requirements for changing the institution’s location, adding a new campus, adding new programs, changing the institution name, etc.?

A: Changes in campus locations, the addition of new programs and locations, or changing the institution’s name or ownership structure are examples of institutional “substantive changes.” A substantive change is defined by COE as one which significantly alters an institution’s objective; scope; programs; location; standing with another nationally recognized accrediting agency or state or federal agency; financial stability; ownership; or control.

Most substantive changes require an application and approval. Many also require application fees and team visits. Commission approval must be granted before an institution can undertake a substantive change.

The Handbook of Accreditation provides detailed information about substantive changes and the approval process.

Q: How are complaints filed against COE-accredited institutions?

A: All institutions accredited by COE are required to have grievance policies for handling student complaints. These policies are to be published in the institution’s catalog or student handbook. COE recommends that complainants first attempt to resolve complaints through the institution’s established policies and procedures. Once the institution’s procedures have been exhausted the complainant may file a written and signed letter of complaint to COE describing the nature of the grievance and the preliminary steps taken to resolve the problem. Once the letter is received by COE, a Complaint Certification form is emailed to the individual filing the complaint. The complainant has 14 days to return the signed and completed certification form to COE. The Council staff will then send a copy of the original letter of complaint and a copy of the certification form to the institution. The institution will have 21 days to submit a formal response to the Council. After the institution’s response has been received by COE, the Council will send a copy of the complaint letter, certification form, and institutional response to members of the Commission who will have 21 days to render a judgment on the complaint. The Commission may rule that (a) the institution has responded adequately to the complaint; (b) the institution has not responded adequately and must take appropriate action to resolve the issue; or (c) more information is needed from either the complainant or the institution in order for a judgment to be rendered. Complainants should allow for at least 42 days for the Commission’s decision on a complaint once the Council has received a signed Complaint Certification form. The Commission attempts to resolve all complaints within 60 days. Please note that the institution’s response will be reviewed only by the Commission and members of the COE staff.