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.
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 professional optometric degree (OD) programs, optometric residency programs, or optometric technician programs are published on the Accreditation Resources section.
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:
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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 a 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 preaccreditation 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 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. If the program is found to meet the Council’s Standards, then the Council will grant an appropriate accreditation status. As required by the USDE, the Council will not grant preaccreditation status to a program for longer than five years. When the Council awards Preliminary Approval to a program or at any time during the Council's monitoring of a program holding Preliminary Approval status, the ACOE may issue recommendations or specify conditions for monitoring, which must be attained in order to maintain the preaccreditation status.
Publishing accreditation status
The Council publishes directories of accredited programs, which are updated regularly.
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