Accreditation is a process of self-study and external review that ensures that an educational program meets or exceeds predetermined standards. The ACOE is recognized by the United States Department of Education as an authority on the quality of the educational programs it accredits.
The ACOE has developed Standards of accreditation to which programs must comply to hold an accreditation or preaccreditation status from the ACOE. The key steps in the accreditation process include: (1) Self-study; (2) Evaluation visit; (3) Report of visit; and (4) Determination of accreditation or preaccreditation status.
The ACOE also provides a process for prospective professional optometric degree programs to pursue preaccreditation, and ultimately an accreditation status.
Formally dcoumented information about the accreditation process can be found in the ACOE Policy and Procedure Manual.
Development and publication of standards
The ACOE develops the Standards that establish the requirements for programs to be accredited or preaccredited. Prior to adopting its Standards, the Council seeks input from the higher education community, the profession of optometry, and the public at large to ensure that its Standards reflect the broad-based input essential to operating a quality optometric education program. The Standards of accreditation for professional optometric degree (OD) programs, professional optometric degree programs seeking preliminary approval, optometric residency programs, or optometric technician programs are published on the Accreditation Resources section.
The self-study is a required component of the accreditation process. The professional optometric degree, optometric residency or optometric technician program assesses the quality of its education and its success in meeting its mission, goals, and objectives; highlights opportunities for improvement; and delineates a plan for making those improvements. The self-study includes a narrative addressing how the program meets the Standards of the ACOE and is supplemented with demonstrative evidence. An ACOE evaluation team reviews the self-study in advance of conducting an on-site evaluation visit.
The ACOE sends a team of qualified evaluators to visit the program to validate the information provided in the self-study and assess its compliance with the ACOE’s Standards. The team does this by interviewing students, faculty, and administrators; reviewing records, files, and publications; and examining the facilities. ACOE strives to ensure that the team is impartial, objective and without conflict of interest.
Report of visit
Following the evaluation visit, the team writes a report of its findings relating the program's compliance with the ACOE Standards. The team’s report is forwarded to the program to review it for factual accuracy before being presented to the ACOE for decision-making.
Determination of accreditation or preaccreditation status
At regularly scheduled business meetings, typically in February, June, and October of each year, the ACOE reviews accreditation reports to determine whether each program meet the Standards of accreditation and to award an appropriate accreditation classification.
The classification of Accredited means the program generally meets the Standards of accreditation. Accredited indicates that the program has no major deficiencies that compromise the educational effectiveness of the total program. However, recommendations to address marginal compliance with certain Standards and suggestions for program improvement may be included in the evaluation report.
The classification of Accredited with Conditions indicates major deficiencies or weaknesses in reference to the Standards.
In the case of a professional optometric program which is not fully operational, the Council may grant the preaccreditation status of Preliminary Approval following satisfaction by the program of the requirements for initial application and the Council's review of an evaluation team report following a site visit. Preliminary Approval is defined as a preaccreditation classification granted to a professional optometric degree program that has clearly demonstrated it is developing in accordance with Council standards. The program has the approval to begin student recruitment, selection and admissions, and to begin offering the program.
The Council shall review the Preliminary Approval classification annually during each academic year of the program through written reports and/or site visits as deemed necessary by the Council. The Council will conduct a final on-site evaluation visit to the program for the consideration of an accreditation status during the academic year in which the first class is expected to graduate.
Process for prospective professional optometric degree programs
The Council provides a pathway for developing programs to achieve accreditation. Before a prospective program can be considered for the preaccreditation status of Preliminary Approval it must achieve the Council’s Stage One and Stage Two designations. Neither Stage One nor Stage Two designation provides any rights or privileges of accreditation, and neither is a formal preaccreditation status.
An application for Stage One designation consideration must include: (1) a formal letter of intent from the chief executive officer of the sponsoring institution; (2) a completed feasibility study; and (3) an initial application fee. Council will review the application for Stage One designation during one of two sessions per year designated for consideration of new program applications.
An application for Stage Two designation consideration must include: (1) provide evidence that it is part of an institution that possesses or is actively seeking regional institutional accreditation; (2) have employed a chief executive officer and chief academic officer of the program at least six months prior to submitting the self-study; (3) provide evidence that it is authorized by applicable law to confer the doctor of optometry degree; and (4) have completed and submitted a self-study report addressing the Standards for professional optometric degree programs seeking preliminary approval preaccreditation status. Council will review the application for Stage Two designation during one of two sessions per year designated for consideration of new program applications.
The designated sessions for consideration of new program applications are typically in April and December of each year.
Publishing accreditation status
The Council publishes directories of accredited programs, which are updated regularly.