Five Myths to Bust Before Accrediting Your Certification

If you're ready to pursue accreditation for your association's certification program, be sure you know the facts about how you will be evaluated.

When preparing an accreditation application for a professional certification program, too many applicants focus only on ensuring their assessment tool meets the required standards. But a certification with a perfect assessment can still fall short of accreditation if other aspects of its program, including its governance and overall structure, aren't ready for prime time.

Complicating this problem are rampant rumors about accreditation requirements. These "urban legends" lead certifying bodies down the wrong path as they prepare to undertake the complex accreditation process. Know the truth about these five myths before you get started:

1. Myth: All accreditation standards have the same requirements. Reality: Although the major accrediting bodies, such as the National Commission for Certifying Agencies and the American National Standards Institute, are similar in overall focus, their requirements vary. For example, NCCA requires the governing body to have a public member; ANSI requires balanced stakeholder representation but not a public member specifically.

2. Myth: Certification bodies must be separately incorporated to earn accreditation. Reality: Many certifying agencies, even those that were born out of membership associations, are separately incorporated, but it is not the only acceptable structure. Applicants should understand the intent of standards related to this issue: to prevent an organization other than the certifying body from having undue influence. The certifying body must have autonomy in making all key certification decisions. An autonomous board or committee within an organization may meet these standards.

3. Myth: For-profit entities cannot apply for accreditation. Reality: Tax status will not affect the accreditation decision if the standards are met.

4. Myth: Certifying bodies cannot offer educational courses. Reality: It is not acceptable to require or indicate that participation in an educational course sponsored by the organization will lead to certification. The certifying body must demonstrate fair and equitable access to its assessment tool for all eligible individuals; in other words, the sponsoring organization's educational courses cannot be the only pathway to eligibility.

5. Myth:  As long as the standards are followed in practice, applicants do not need to document policies and procedures. Reality: Lack of documentation of key policies and procedures is a major barrier to accreditation. When it comes to governance and structure, accrediting bodies require documented policies for the composition of an applicant's governing body, the nomination and selection process, criteria for governing body members, and definitions of the authority and limitations of the governing body, among others.

Cynthia Allen is a principal partner with SeaCrest Company in Charlotte, North Carolina. Email: [email protected]