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 uses the following steps in the accreditation process:
Development and publication of standards
The ACOE develops educational standards that are the requirements for programs to be accredited. Prior to adopting standards, the Council seeks input from the higher education community, the profession of optometry and the public at large to ensure that standards reflect requirements that are essential to operating an optometric program. The standards of accreditation for each of the three types of programs accredited by the ACOE are published in its Accreditation Manuals. Click on these links to find the manuals for the professional optometric degree (OD) programs, optometric residency programs, or optometric technician programs.
The professional optometric degree, optometric residency or optometric technician program examines itself in light of how well it achieves its own mission, goals and objectives for the purpose of self-improvement and planning. The self-study also documents how the program meets the standards of the ACOE. The self-study is submitted to the ACOE with a letter of application for accreditation from the chief executive officer of the institution offering the program.
Invitation for comments about accredited programs
ACOE's accreditation process includes the consideration of third-party comments. The calendar of site visits contains the accreditation status and the month and year of all site visits currently scheduled for the next year. For those programs that are seeking initial accreditation, the notation of "Initial" is listed. Third party comments must address substantive matters relating to the quality of the program and the ACOE standards and should be addressed to the administrative director of the Council at ACOE, 243 N. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63141. Comments must be received 30 days prior to the program's scheduled site visit date. (In cases where the exact date is not yet determined, the month and year of the visit is listed, and the comments must be received by not later than the first day of the month preceding the site visit. All third party comments must be signed.) Comments will be forwarded to the evaluation team and to the appropriate program director for response during the evaluation visit process.
The ACOE sends a team of evaluators with expertise in optometric education and practice to visit the program to assess its compliance with the ACOE's standards. The team validates the self-study by interviewing students, faculty and administrators, reviewing records and files, 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 that includes the team's findings relating the program's compliance with the ACOE standards. The report is forwarded to the program to review its factual accuracy before the finalized report is presented to the ACOE.
Determination of accreditation or pre-accreditation status
At regularly scheduled meetings, the ACOE reviews accreditation reports to determine if the programs meet the standards of accreditation and to award an appropriate accreditation category. The category 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 category 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 pre-accreditation 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 pre-accreditation classification granted to a professional optometric degree program that has clearly demonstrated it is developing in accordance with Council standards. The program has approval to begin student recruitment, selection and admissions, and to begin offering the program. The Council shall review the preliminary approval classification annually during the first three academic years of the program through written reports and/or site visits as deemed necessary by the Council. A request for accreditation status shall be made not less than 12 months prior to graduation of the program's first class. As required by the USDE, the Council will not grant pre-accreditation status to a program for longer than five years.
The Candidacy Pending designation is a pre-accreditation classification and is awarded to optometric residency programs at Veterans Affairs facilities that are in their planning stages, prior to receipt of Veterans Affairs funds. The award of the designation is based on review of the submitted self-study report, and signifies that the educational setting, governing body and organizational pattern appear appropriate for the development of a residency program that will meet the accreditation standards of the Council. The Council will schedule an on-site evaluation of the program as soon as a resident is placed.
Publishing accreditation status
The Council publishes directories of accredited programs, which are updated regularly.