How Much Does Accreditation Cost Isn’t The Right Question


By Marcy Stoll | CEO | ACEN
Bridges, Volume XIII – Issue 3, August 2019

A common question is how much does it cost to have an ACEN accredited program? While the answer to that question is straightforward and easily answered by reviewing the ACEN fee schedule and illustration, the more important question is: what are the benefits of a nursing program being accredited with the ACEN?

When someone makes an investment they expect to profit from that investment. Profit is often expressed as a “return on investment,” which is commonly defined as the gain or loss generated on an investment relative to the amount of money invested. For example, you profit during your retirement from investments made in your retirement plan that grew over time. Students make an investment in their education (e.g., time, effort, payment of tuition/fees) to become a nurse. Institutions also make an investment (e.g., personnel, equipment, services, classrooms/laboratories) to educate students, which assists students to fulfill their goal of becoming a nurse and the institution to fulfill its mission and serve its communities.

Accreditation of a nursing program is another investment, which returns a gain to students, institutions, communities, and the nursing profession.


There are numerous benefits of accreditation

Students gain the maximum career and educational benefits of their nursing education by being a graduate from an accredited nursing program. Some examples include:

  • Accreditation benefits students’ ability to transfer credits. Think about your institution and nursing program. Does your institution or nursing program accept transfer credits from an unaccredited institution or nursing program?
  • Accreditation influences employers’ hiring decisions. Did you know that all branches of the United States military require nurses to be graduates of an accredited nursing program to work as a nurse in the military? The same is true for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and many other private and public employers that use accreditation as a consideration. Saying “we educate students for our local workforce” is shortsighted and a disservice to students.
  • Accreditation facilitates licensure in some states and certification by some organizations. The ACEN regularly receives telephone calls asking what the ACEN can do to help because the person did not graduate from an accredited nursing program and the state where the person wants to work as a nurse requires graduation from an accredited program to obtain a nursing license in that state. Unfortunately, the ACEN’s only response is that there is no solution as the caller did not graduate from an accredited program. Additionally, certifying bodies require graduation from an accredited program to take its certification examination such as the certification examinations for advanced practice nursing roles.
  • Accreditation facilitates academic progression. The ACEN regularly receives telephone calls asking what the ACEN can do to help because the person did not graduate from an accredited nursing program and the nursing program the person wants to attend requires “graduation from an accredited program” as an admission requirement. Unfortunately, the ACEN’s only response is that there is no solution as the caller did not graduate from an accredited program.
  • Accreditation enables students’ eligibility for funding support from federal agencies (e.g., Title IV, HRSA), as well as access to funding from private resources (e.g., foundations).

In summary, accreditation provides useful information for students’ career and education decision-making. Many students and their family members are aware of the benefits that accreditation offers, so they do make career and education decisions based on whether a nursing program is accredited.

Faculty and communities of interest benefit from accreditation. Accreditation means a nursing program periodically undergoes review by peers on the extent to which it meets its educational purpose and on the extent to which it meets standards of educational quality that were established by the peers in the nursing profession. Experience suggests as nursing faculty, we are very focused on educating students and don’t often take the time to intentionally reflect on what we are doing and why we are doing it. Accreditation encourages necessary and deliberate reflection, which heightens our awareness and administrators’ awareness about what is working and what could be improved.

Another benefit of ACEN accreditation and your most valuable resource is the ACEN professional staff. ACEN accreditation gives you access to these professionals. The professional staff are experienced nurse educators and nurse clinicians having served in a variety of faculty, clinician, and administrative roles throughout their career. These are colleagues who have walked in your shoes and the ACEN is the only nursing accrediting agency that offers you this resource.

ACEN – Around the World


By Nell Ard, PhD, RN, CNE, ANEF | Director | ACEN
Bridges, Volume XIII – Issue 3, August 2019

Were you aware that the ACEN has nursing programs accredited around the world? The ACEN has a long history of accrediting nursing programs in the United States – since 1938. The ACEN also accredits nursing programs in United States territories, including: Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam. The first program in Puerto Rico accredited with the ACEN was in 1963; currently, there are over 20 accredited nursing programs in Puerto Rico with other programs pursing the accreditation process. The University of the Virgin Islands was initially accredited in Fall 1987, while the University of Guam was initially accredited in Fall 1996.

The ACEN has been recognized as an accrediting agency by both the United States Department of Education (USDE) since 1952 and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) since 2001. With the CHEA recognition, the ACEN has the opportunity to accredit nursing programs internationally, since the ACEN is the only nursing accrediting agency recognized by CHEA. It is the CHEA recognition that allows the ACEN to accredit international nursing programs.

The first international nursing program was accredited by the ACEN in 2000; however, it was not until 2010 that the ACEN initially developed and released a position statement regarding the accreditation of international nursing programs. Since then, the ACEN continues to seek to broaden the impact of accreditation by encompassing programs across the globe; this resulted in a revised position statement in August 2018.

Currently, there are six international nursing programs accredited, four programs with a Candidate Status, and four programs actively pursuing the Candidacy process. The countries with currently accredited nursing programs include Scotland, Saudi Arabia, the Sultanate of Oman, Turkey, and Jordan; countries having programs with a Candidate status include Jordan, Kuwait, and Columbia.

The ACEN Standards and Criteria are broad enough to enable all programs to demonstrate compliance in a variety of ways. Just as the domestic programs may differ in how they demonstrate compliance with the Standards and Criteria, the ACEN recognizes that some international programs may demonstrate Criteria achievement differently based upon nursing education in that country/region and as with some domestic programs, some of the Criteria may not be applicable.

International programs seeking and maintaining ACEN accreditation utilize the same Standards and Criteria; they follow the same peer-review process as the programs in the U.S. and its territories. International programs are also expected to adhere to all ACEN policies, including, but not limited to: reporting substantive changes, publishing program outcomes data to constituents, and submitting annual reports to the ACEN.

The ACEN provides the international nursing programs access to the same resources as domestic programs as well as access to resources specific to international programs. Additionally, the ACEN has also developed an Accreditation Manual Supplement for International Programs. The supplement provides the international programs with information regarding the candidacy process specific to international programs as well as international site visits. This supplement addresses the potential need for interpreter/translator services during accreditation visits, cultural sensitivity, and security needs during onsite visits.

The Candidacy process for an international program varies slightly with the process for domestic programs; these variations are to provide additional support and to promote success with the accreditation process. The International Candidacy Eligibility Application Form requires the program to provide additional information regarding the potential for the program to be successful with the accreditation process, including, but not limited to: information about the administration, faculty, curriculum, and finances.

Similar to domestic programs, when an international program is deemed eligible to pursue the international candidacy process, the program is assigned a professional staff member to be a mentor during the Candidacy process. The mentor works with the program during the candidacy period and assists the program faculty through the submission of the Candidacy Presentation; this presentation includes the same selected Standards and Criteria to be considered for Candidacy as the review for domestic programs. However, a variation in the international Candidacy Presentation process is the inclusion of an onsite Consulting Visit. The purpose of the onsite Consulting Visit is to verify that the program faculty and institutional administration understand the ACEN accreditation process and Standards and Criteria. Additionally, the consulting visit will verify that the program has the resources for a successful initial accreditation visit as well as maintaining accreditation once achieved. During the Consulting Visit, the professional staff members review all of the Standards and Criteria and provide the program with specific, detailed feedback to support the program in the accreditation process.

The benefits to international nursing programs to pursue the accreditation process with the ACEN include, but are not limited to:

  • Increasing the global reach of the program,
  • Helping students meet the U.S. undergraduate- and graduate-level nursing program admission requirements,
  • Facilitating the transfer of credits,
  • Providing recognition that the nursing program has been evaluated, and periodically reevaluated, by a qualified independent group of peers, and
  • Demonstrates the extent to which the program meets appropriate educational purposes and standards of educational quality specific to nursing education.

Having ACEN-accredited nursing programs around the world provides the ACEN to partner with those programs in ensuring quality nursing education is available globally. While there are many similarities in nursing education globally, having the opportunity to network with nurse educators and programs from around the world, the ACEN-accredited international programs provide depth and diversity to the ACEN and its constituents. The ACEN is the leading authority for nursing education accreditation in the United States, its territories, and around the world!

Mingle with Marcy, August 2019


Your CEO Answers Frequently Asked Questions

By Dr. Marcy Stoll, EdD, MSN | CEO | ACEN
Bridges, Volume XIII – Issue 3, August 2019

Is a program pursuing candidacy and initial accreditation with the ACEN required to submit substantive changes?

A nursing program seeking initial accreditation must apply for Candidacy. The ACEN encourages all nursing programs to be accredited for graduates to have the maximum educational and career benefits of their education. Contrary to rumors, a nursing program does not have to have graduates or outcomes data before being accredited by the ACEN. All existing nursing programs should seek initial accreditation as soon as possible and all new nursing programs should seek initial accreditation so the first cohort of graduating students graduate from an accredited nursing program.

Programs pursuing Candidacy and initial accreditation with the ACEN must notify the ACEN of changes that occur in the program during the entire Candidacy process as both eligibility for Candidacy and Candidate status are based upon the information provided in the Candidacy Eligibility Application or the Candidacy Presentation. Changes that occur can affect the program’s eligibility to pursue the process and/or achieve initial accreditation with the ACEN. Therefore, programs must notify the ACEN of changes, which include, but are not limited to: changes in nurse administrator, change in status with the state regulatory agency or the accrediting body of the governing organization, changes in curriculum/options, potential addition of a new location, or implementation of distance education. Contact ACEN professional staff for guidance related to any change and the potential need to report a change. The ACEN must be notified of all changes no less than four months prior to the change, or as soon as possible for any unexpected changes. The notification should be in writing and should address the selected Criteria from the Candidacy Presentation related to the change (e.g., all of the Standard 4 Curriculum Criteria for a change in the curriculum and/or new option). Failure to notify the ACEN of changes may delay or jeopardize a nursing program from being approved for Candidacy, hosting an initial accreditation visit, or being granted initial accreditation by the Board of Commissioners.

Learn more about Candidacy here.

How often are programs reviewed by the ACEN after being granted initial accreditation?

Initial accreditation is the first peer review process for a candidate nursing program seeking accreditation with the ACEN. Once a nursing program is granted initial accreditation, continuing accreditation is the cyclical peer review process for an accredited nursing program to maintain accreditation with the ACEN.

The first continuing accreditation peer review process occurs five years after initial accreditation is granted, and then the continuing accreditation peer review process occurs every eight years thereafter.

There are two reasons why a continuing accreditation peer review process would occur sooner than between the customary cyclical review process.

    1. The nursing program made or will make a significant change in the nursing program. This is known as “substantive change” and the change is so significant that the ACEN Board of Commissioners authorizes a focused visit. The Focused Visit Report provides information related to the program’s compliance with a selected number of ACEN Standards and Criteria. The Standards and Criteria to be reviewed are based on the reason for the focused visit, such as the addition of a new off-campus instructional site (e.g., where the didactic component of the nursing courses are taught) or implementation of distance education. Note, the addition of a clinical site is not a significant change in the nursing program, thus not a substantive change. See the ACEN Glossary for helpful definitions.The Focused Visit Report differs from the Substantive Change Prospectus. While the Substantive Change Prospectus outlines a proposed substantive change or describes a substantive change that occurred (e.g., decline in program outcomes), the purpose of the Focused Visit Report is to demonstrate a nursing program’s continuing compliance with the Accreditation Standards approximately six months after implementation of the substantive change.

      Learn more about a focused visit here.


  1. The second reason there may be a visit between accreditation cycles is related to follow-up. If a program is found in non-compliance with one or more Accreditation Standards and placed on conditions, warning, or good cause by the Board of Commissioners, then a follow-up report is required.Learn more about a follow-up visit here.


Schedule of Fees

The ACEN continuously looks for ways to reduce costs in order to maintain a fair and reasonable fee structure. In fact, the fee schedule for nursing programs located in the U.S. and U.S. territories has remained the same for four consecutive years, and the fee schedule for international nursing program was significantly reduced in 2019.

Candidacy is the process the ACEN uses for nursing programs seeking initial accreditation regardless of geographic location. However, the Candidacy process differs for international nursing programs. Information regarding the process for international nursing program is available here.

Candidacy is an affordable process where fees are billed in portions depending on what part of the process a nursing program is in.

  • The fee schedule for nursing programs located in the U.S. and U.S. territories is available here.
  • The fee schedule for international nursing programs is available here.
  • An Illustration of Cost with Timeline was created to clarify the costs associated with candidacy and initial accreditation.

From Candidacy to Accreditation

Austin Community College’s Journey as the First in Texas to Offer an RN-to-BSN Program

By Nina Almasy, DNP, RN, CNE | Department Chair, Professional Nursing | Austin Community College; And Patricia Recek, MSN, RN | Dean of Health Sciences | Austin Community College
Bridges, Volume XIII – Issue 3, August 2019

In the summer of 2017, the professional nursing department at Austin Community College (ACC) embarked on the journey to develop and implement the RN-to-BSN program by August 2018. In alignment with the college mission, the program aimed to meet the local needs of preparing the nursing workforce at the baccalaureate level by offering an affordable and accessible program in the region.

The journey could be described as a two-step process with an intricate timeline, resembling the famous Texas Two-Step dance. The two major steps of this journey included (a) obtaining all necessary approvals from various regulatory entities and (b) obtaining accreditation. The program had to obtain approval of several regulatory entities, including the college’s Board of Trustees, The Board of Nursing, and the governing organization’s regulatory entities: the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

It was essential that at each step, the timeline for each entity’s needed approval was carefully considered. For example, for submission of the ACEN Candidacy Eligibility Application, ACC needed to include documentation that the program proposal was sent both to the state’s Board of Nursing and the governing organization’s regulatory entities, which are the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Achievement of these two essential steps required ongoing intricate partnership among various stakeholders and entities within and outside the college—and most importantly, keen attention to the timelines to successfully complete both steps.

Early in the program development stages, in order to better understand the local need, the department created the RN-to-BSN Advisory Committee, which is comprised of key area healthcare nurse leaders and nursing schools. In addition, several needs-assessment surveys and focus groups were conducted.

Program and curriculum development was guided by a review of the literature and best practices, as well as consideration of professional guidelines and baccalaureate essentials and competencies. The faculty worked diligently to ensure that the assessment and evaluation methodology for end-of-program student learning outcomes was carefully considered, as they developed the curriculum.

Obtaining nursing education accreditation that was effective for the first graduates of the program was one of the most important steps. We at ACC were committed to ensuring that our BSN graduates were eligible to apply to graduate schools, should they choose to do so. ACC’s associate degree program has been accredited by ACEN for several years, and the relationship with the ACEN had been a positive and collaborative one that allowed us to move forward to candidacy. ACC reached out to then ACEN and Dr. Nell Ard in August 2018 to determine if this aggressive timeline was achievable. Dr. Ard was so responsive from the very beginning, providing essential information to ensure we were progressing correctly.

The journey from ACEN candidacy to accreditation could be described as a collaborative, collegial process. Once the candidacy process began and the program applied for initial accreditation, an ACEN professional staff member, Dr. Ard, was assigned as a mentor and resource. The department chair of the program sought the expertise and supportive guidance offered by the mentor. This mentorship support was key in ensuring that the program not only met candidacy requirements, but also ensured that the program met the ACEN Standards and Criteria. Additionally, the ACEN website offered invaluable information and resources that were useful to the faculty and administrators throughout the entire accreditation process. It is safe to say that no stone was left unturned on the ACEN website!

The candidacy process involved ongoing review of the curriculum and the systematic plan for evaluation by a team of faculty and college leadership. Upon granting candidacy status, the ACEN also provided two comprehensive, independent reviews of the Candidacy presentation conducted by the ACEN professional staff. The faculty carefully examined the two reviews and staff input, then made necessary adjustments and revisions to the systematic plan for evaluation to ensure that the program is not only high quality, but also on track to meeting all ACEN Standards and Criteria for initial accreditation.

ACC was granted candidacy in June 2018, had the site visit in February 2019, and is awaiting action from the commission in September 2019, the final step in our accreditation journey.

When and How to Start the Candidacy Process


By Greg Donaldson | Report Processing and Quality Assurance | ACEN
Bridges, Volume XIII – Issue 3, August 2019

When to Start the Candidacy Process (Eligibility)

Accreditation Candidacy with the ACEN cannot be discussed without first discussing what it means to become eligible for Candidacy. The distinction between eligibility and official Candidacy is of paramount importance. In fact, one of the most common questions presented to ACEN professional staff members is, “What is the difference between eligibility and Candidacy?”

Eligibility simply means that a governing organization/institution and a nursing program meet the ACEN required prerequisites and has been approved to submit a Candidacy Presentation to the ACEN. A program eligible for Candidacy is not automatically a Candidate for ACEN accreditation. It is only after the review and approval of a Candidacy Presentation that a nursing program becomes an official ACEN Candidate, and the program is listed as such on the ACEN website. More information regarding the Candidacy eligibility process can be found in Policy #3 Eligibility for Initial and Continuing Accreditation.

Assuming that a program has been deemed eligible for Candidacy, another common question is “When should I submit my program’s Candidacy Presentation?” The short answer to this question is that a Candidacy Presentation must be submitted within one year of the date of eligibility. Please note, however, that programs applying for accreditation will be assigned an ACEN professional staff member to mentor the program leaders and faculty members after eligibility is confirmed. Though a Candidacy Presentation can be submitted at any point after eligibility is confirmed, the ACEN strongly advises programs to submit Candidacy Presentations only after conferring with the assigned professional staff mentor. Throughout the entire Candidacy process, the ACEN professional staff mentor is the best available resource for any nursing program.

How to Start the Candidacy Process (Submitting a Candidacy Presentation)

A nursing program seeking Candidacy will receive a letter verifying its eligibility. From the date of this letter, the program has 30 days in which to submit its eligibility fee payment and one year in which to submit the Candidacy Presentation. A governing organization that offers a program not accredited by the ACEN initiates the Candidacy process through its chief executive officer and nurse administrator. The chief executive officer of the governing organization for the nursing program/nursing education unit as well as the nurse administrator must authorize the ACEN to conduct the accreditation process by submitting the Official Authorization for Candidacy Process Form, which is sent to the program with the letter confirming eligibility. When the signed Authorization is received, ACEN professional staff members can officially begin reviewing the Candidacy Presentation.

Essentially, a Candidacy Presentation is a condensed version of a Self-Study Report. A Candidacy Presentation does not include all of the ACEN Standards, and those Standards included (Standards 2, 4, 5, and 6) are limited to certain criteria within these Standards. The written Candidacy Presentation should be developed by the program leaders and faculty members and submitted electronically by emailing the document to Dr. Nell Ard. Please use the following link to find more information regarding how to compose a Candidacy Presentation:

All materials submitted are reviewed by the ACEN professional staff. Applicants receive written notification whether the program is approved for Candidacy, deferred, or disapproved. Approval for Candidacy is granted when the nursing program demonstrates it is currently compliant with the requirements of the Candidacy Presentation as well as the Candidacy process, or demonstrates the ability to be compliant during the Candidacy period. Additional information about Candidacy can be found in Policy #34 in the ACEN Accreditation Manual.

Questions along the way

Each nursing program is unique, so it is natural that program leaders and faculty members need to ask questions specific to their program. The ACEN cannot put enough emphasis on the importance of reaching out to the professional staff mentor.

Understanding the ACEN Accreditation Cycle Timeline

Timeline to Candidacy


By Matt Middlebrooks | Candidacy and Content Editor | ACEN
Bridges, Volume XIII – Issue 3, August 2019

At ACEN, we are often asked, “How long will it take for my program to become accredited if I apply today?” The answer, as to many of life’s great questions, is: “it depends.”

Ultimately, much of the Candidacy timeline’s length is determined by the program leaders and nursing faculty rather than by the ACEN. It takes some time to complete the Candidacy Eligibility Application, and potentially a significant amount of time to complete the Candidacy Presentation which is a condensed version of the Self-Study Report covering selected Standards and Criteria. This article provides the program information about components of the process and the time that each takes to assist the program in developing a timeline for achieving Candidacy and initial accreditation.

Once the Candidacy Eligibility Application has been submitted, it takes the ACEN an average of a week to review the application and respond in writing via email. At this point, assuming the program was deemed eligible, the program leaders and nursing faculty can begin working on the Candidacy Presentation. As this is an in-depth document that requires time to prepare (see our guidelines for more detail), the time it takes will vary from program to program. We highly advise that you first work with your assigned professional staff mentor for the Candidacy process before submitting your Presentation. Your professional staff mentor, one of the ACEN professional staff, will assist you in clarifying questions related to the Candidacy Presentation and the required components, which can assist you in “telling the program’s story” and providing every possible advantage in the process. The maximum amount of time to submit the Candidacy Presentation is one year, as eligibility expires one year after it is granted.

Once program leaders and nursing faculty submit the Candidacy Presentation, it’s time for the next step of ACEN review. The ACEN professional staff, who are professional nurse educators, complete a comprehensive review of the Presentation and generate extensive feedback for the benefit of the program leaders and nursing faculty in achieving compliance with the ACEN Standards and Criteria; this process can take up to six weeks to complete. If the professional staff identify that the program is currently compliant with the requirements of the Candidacy Presentation as well as the Candidacy process, or demonstrates the ability to become compliant during the Candidacy period, then the ACEN will designate your program as a Candidate for accreditation.

If the professional staff’s review identifies non-compliance or cannot determine whether the program is able to achieve compliance by the time of the site visit, fear not! Rather than outright deny Candidacy, the ACEN can defer a Candidacy decision in such cases. This extends the eligibility period for up to a year, allowing program leaders and nursing faculty to resubmit the Candidacy Presentation after working with the assigned professional staff mentor to remedy areas needing improvement that were identified in the first review.

Whether it takes one year or two to achieve Candidacy, the next step is scheduling the initial accreditation site visit. The Candidacy period lasts for two years, so program leaders and nursing faculty may elect to host the initial site visit in an available accreditation cycle during the Candidacy period. Application deadlines are always March 1 for a Fall accreditation visit or July 1 for a Spring accreditation visit. The program must have achieved Candidate status prior to requesting an initial accreditation visit. Program leaders and nursing faculty will also need to write the complete Self-Study Report in preparation for an initial accreditation site visit.

Once the visit has taken place, the Self-Study Report and accompanying Site Visit Report will be reviewed by the Evaluation Review Panel, which convenes in January for a Fall cycle and June for a Spring cycle. The final step of the peer review process is a review by the ACEN Board of Commissioners, which meets in March for the Fall cycle and September for the Spring cycle. The program will be notified within 30 calendar days of the Board’s decision.

All told, if everything takes the maximum amount of time possible, the Candidacy process can last as long as four years from the time a Candidacy Eligibility Application is submitted to hosting the initial visit with the additional six months for the final decision. Programs can also complete the overall process from application to site visit in as little as nine months. Even for longer cases, though, there is good news: due to recent revisions to ACEN Policy #34, the effective date of initial accreditation is the date on which the Candidacy period leading to the initial accreditation decision began!

As always, feel free to contact your staff at the ACEN office for more information or to ask any questions you might have. We’re always glad to help, and are looking forward to working with you and your colleagues on your journey to Candidacy and ACEN accreditation.