USDE approval could mark ACOE’s 71 years of continuous federal recognition

October 19, 2023
In addition to the noteworthy U.S. Department of Education recognition, a private, nonprofit accrediting body also has affirmed ACOE’s commitment to quality optometric education for decades. What opportunities does this open for optometric education programs?
Accreditation Council on Optometric Education

Approaching seven decades of continuous federal recognition underscores the commitment of the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) to the optometric profession, not only maintaining high standards of quality in optometric education but also opening critical opportunities for academic programs.

In connection with its statutory duty to determine programmatic eligibility for federal aid funds, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) conducts a program of evaluation, review and recognition of accrediting bodies to ensure that their actions are valid and reliable indicators of the quality of the educational programs offered by the accredited institutions and/or programs. Educational programs that are accredited by USDE-recognized accrediting agencies are eligible for federal funds, provided certain requirements are met.

In August, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), the body that provides recommendations to the USDE regarding accrediting agencies that monitor academic quality of postsecondary institutions, unanimously voted the ACOE’s USDE recognition be renewed another five years. Notably, the ACOE was among only two of nine accrediting agencies reviewed by NACIQI to have no areas requiring follow-up after the USDE issued updated recognition criteria in 2020.

The NACIQI recommendation now goes before the Senior Department Official for final determination. If approved, it would mark the ACOE’s continuous record of USDE recognition since federal recognition of accrediting bodies began in 1952.

"This year, the ACOE was itself re-accredited by the USDE and Council on Higher Education Accreditation through a very detailed and extensive process similar to the accreditation process we use in accreditation of professional optometric degree programs, residency programs and technician programs," says G. Timothy Petito, O.D., ACOE chair. "Being recognized in this way from these two separate agencies provides assurance to the public and the optometric communities of interest that ACOE accredited educational programs are appropriate, transparent, fair and contemporary."

The only accrediting body for professional optometric degree programs, optometric residency programs, and optometric technician programs, the ACOE is an independent authority on education standards among accredited programs in the U.S. and Canada.

Such is the case, the ACOE’s accreditation enables higher education programs to establish eligibility for federal program funds under the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Research Enhancement Award Program (REAP) for health professional schools and graduate schools and the Title VII Public Health Service Act, and for optometry residency programs to participate in the Department of Veteran Affairs, Veterans Health Administration education and training program.

“The ACOE works hard to ensure its Standards, polices and procedures meet the rigor of the USDE’s requirements,” says Stephanie Puljak, ACOE director. “The council encourages programs to take full advantage of their accreditation status by participating in federally funded programs such as the NIH REAP program.”

While the ACOE was reviewed for USDE reaffirmation of recognition in 2018, the USDE issued updated recognition criteria that took effect in 2020. The ACOE was held to these new criteria during its current reaffirmation process, and subsequently, needed to demonstrate compliance with all applicable USDE regulations.

ACOE’s CHEA recognition

In addition to the USDE recognition, the ACOE also is recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a private, nonprofit organization that coordinates accreditation activity nationwide, for professional optometric degree programs (doctoral level) in the U.S. and Canada.

Recently receiving CHEA’s reaffirmation in May 2022, the ACOE has continuously met the agency’s standards for recognition since CHEA’s founding in 1996. This recognition was granted through 2029 and the ACOE will be required to submit an interim report in December 2025.

Learn more about the ACOE’s recent actions and decisions.

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