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.