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In social work education, the Commission on Accreditation (COA) of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) to accredit baccalaureate and master’s degree programs in the United States and its territories. Since its inception in July 1952, CSWE has accredited master’s degree programs in social work. In 1974 it began accrediting baccalaureate programs. CSWE does not accredit doctoral programs, associate arts degree programs, or minors in social work.
As explained in its Bylaws (Article IV, Section 7, 1, a) (link works) CSWE delegates autonomous authority and responsibility for all accreditation activities to the COA. This authority extends to judgments regarding the accredited status of educational programs and includes the formulation and implementation of accreditation standards and procedures. The decisions of the COA are based on the Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS), written by the Commission on Educational Policy (link stays the same) and the COA.
The COA is composed of a minimum of 25 members, including a chair, appointed by the chair of CSWE Board of Directors. In making appointments, the chair considers previous site team experience, years and nature of experience in faculty and administrative positions at the baccalaureate and master’s levels, as well as the CSWE affirmative action guidelines. Members are appointed for 3-year terms and may be reappointed to second 3-year terms. Most of the commissioners hold full-time faculty or administrative appointments in accredited programs. The remaining commissioners are public members.
The COA reviews all programs in a fair and impartial manner. Material submitted to the COA relative to a program’s review is available to any commissioner, unless a conflict of interest exists. Members of the COA, site visitors, and former commissioners representing the COA treat accreditation materials as confidential in their discussions and decision-making.
Commissioners may not go on site visits or consult with social work programs on matters of accreditation during their terms on the COA. They make commissioner visits to programs that have applied for or are in candidacy.
The COA chair or the chair’s designee is solely responsible for communicating the COA’s decisions in writing to the program and institutional administrators. The COA may be required to communicate its decision to the regional accrediting agency that accredits the program’s institution. Following the COA’s decisions, the program’s accreditation status is published in CSWE Focus and posted on the CSWE Web site.
CSWE uses the 2008 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) to accredit baccalaureate- and master’s-level social work programs. EPAS supports academic excellence by establishing thresholds for professional competence. It permits programs to use traditional and emerging models of curriculum design by balancing requirements that promote comparability across programs with a level of flexibility that encourages programs to differentiate.
The educational policy and the accreditation standards are conceptually linked. The educational policy section describes each curriculum feature, and the derivative accreditation standards specify the requirements used to develop and maintain an accredited baccalaureate or master’s social work program.
EPAS describes four features of an integrated curriculum design: (1) program mission and goals; (2) explicit curriculum; (3) implicit curriculum; and (4) assessment.
The COA uses the Compliance, Concern, and Noncompliance Statements as a guide to consistent and complete review of a program for candidacy status or reaffirmation of accreditation. Statements of compliance, concern, and noncompliance are provided for each accreditation standard (AS) and related educational policy (EP).
Statements in the compliance column address the minimum requirements for completely and clearly meeting an accreditation standard and related educational policy. Statements in the concern column indicate how the narrative addressing an accreditation standard or related educational policy is unclearly and inadequately addressed. Statements in the noncompliance column note how an accreditation standard or related educational policy statement has not been met and has not been addressed.
The benchmark model is a systematic, incremental approach to developing a social work program and writing a comprehensive self-study. There are three benchmarks; the first portion of each benchmark consists of specific accreditation standards that the program must be in compliance with, and the second portion consists of standards that must be addressed in draft form.
Program development is guided by four visits from the COA commissioners. During each visit the commissioner makes a recommendation about the program’s compliance with standards in the first portion of the benchmark and provides consultation on the standards in the second portion.
Programs progress through several stages of program development: applying for candidacy status, completing candidacy, and receiving initial accreditation status. There are several products, forms, and accreditation fees associated with each stage (a current list of fees is available in the candidacy section of the CSWE Web site).
After its initial receipt, a program’s accreditation is reaffirmed every 8 years. The five steps in reaffirming a program’s accreditation are completing an eligibility application; setting up a site visit; writing and submitting the self-study; the COA letter of instructions to the site visitor(s), conducting a site visit, and responding to its report; and the COA review to determine if the program’s accreditation will be reaffirmed
At each COA meeting, programs are reviewed in one of four work groups, each of which has six to eight commissioners. Each work group is chaired by a commissioner and staffed by an accreditation specialist or associate.
Prior to a COA meeting, the accreditation specialist or associate assigns two commission readers—commissioners from the work group—to read the program’s materials. After reading the program materials, the commission reader makes a recommendation regarding the program’s compliance with EPAS and submits the recommendation to the accreditation specialist or associate.
During the COA meeting, all of the commissioners in the work group review the readers’ recommendations, formulate a work group recommendation for consideration by the full COA, and draft a letter of instructions to the site visitor or a decision letter. The recommendations from each work group are discussed and ratified by the full COA at its final plenary session. The COA letters are signed by the chair of the COA.
Thirty (30) days after the conclusion of the COA meeting, official COA decision letters and letters of instruction to the site visitor(s), along with the COA decision and rationale for the decision, are mailed. Letters of instruction are addressed to the site visitor(s) with a copy to the chief administrator of the program. Decision letters are addressed to the president or chancellor, and a copy is sent to the chief administrator of the program.
The COA has one standing committee, the Executive Committee, which serves in place of the COA between commission meetings. The committee is composed of the COA chair, the work group chairs, and the director (ex officio) of the Office of Social Work Accreditation (OSWA). At COA meetings the Committee’s work includes the following.
The staff of OSWA consists of accreditation specialists and associates, a site visit coordinator, an office manager, and a director. Accreditation specialists and associates provide technical assistance to programs in preparing their eligibility application, benchmark documents, and self-studies. They staff the COA work groups and participate in site team, candidacy, and reaffirmation trainings. The site visit coordinator works with the site visitor(s) and the program to arrange each site visit. The office manager/executive secretary supports OSWA staff in preparation for meetings and trainings, prepares minutes from COA meetings, prepares the COA meeting agenda book, and manages the daily operations of OSWA. The director staffs the executive committee, supervises the accreditation staff, coordinates trainings, and consults with individuals who wish to file complaints.
Jo Ann Regan, MSW, PhD
Monica Wylie, Accreditation Office Manager/
Assistant to the Director, OSWA
Sheila Bell, Site Visit Coordinator
Accreditation Specialists and Associates
Each program is assigned one of the following staff:
Anna R. Holster, MSW, MPhil
Mary Deffley Kurfess, MSSW
Lynne Taylor, MSW, PhD
It is important that the materials you mail to OSWA are delivered to the correct staff member.
Please find the item you are mailing on the list below and make sure the envelope or package is addressed to the attention of the corresponding staff member. Our address is:
Attention of: ____________
Council on Social Work Education
1701 Duke Street, Suite 200
Alexandria, VA 22314
Program or Individual Waiver Request
Notification of Program Changes
Modified Site Visit
Your Accreditation Specialist or Associate:
Anna R. Holster
Site Visit Planning Form
Sheila Bell, Site Visit Coordinator
Jo Ann Regan, OSWA Director
Programs Send the Following Fees
(With a Copy of the Invoice):
To the Attention of:
Finance and Administration
Formal complaints to the COA must pertain to matters related to program compliance with accreditation standards and educational policy. Persons, groups, or organizations related to the program are considered recognized complainants and may file a complaint.
The COA is not authorized to adjudicate, arbitrate, or mediate individual faculty or student grievances against a program. Complainants must use all appropriate institutional and professional channels of appeal before filing a formal complaint with CSWE. The institutions in which programs are housed assume responsibility for implementing and enforcing their own policies in these areas. When alleged violations cannot be resolved within the institution, appellate procedures within state systems of higher education or state judicial courts should be used to assess and enforce institutional compliance with policies.
Before filing a formal complaint, a complainant may seek informal consultation from the director of OSWA. After reviewing the complaint procedures and consulting with the director of OSWA, the complainant decides whether to file a formal complaint.
Formal complaints must be submitted in writing to the director of OSWA with evidence that the complaint meets the following criteria:
On receipt of the formal complaint, the director of OSWA determines whether the criteria for formal complaints have been fully met and whether the complaint falls within the COA’s authority.
If the director determines the complaint meets the criteria for a formal complaint, the complainant and the program concerned are notified within 10 business days. The program has 30 calendar days from receipt of the complaint to respond. When the program response arrives, it is shared with the complainant, who is given 10 business days to respond. The director of OSWA presents the formal complaint, the program’s response, and the complainant’s response to the COA during its next regularly scheduled meeting and recommends a decision.
The COA may decide to take one of the following actions.
If the OSWA director determines that the complaint does not meet the criteria for formal complaints or is not within the COA’s jurisdiction, the complainant is notified and given specific reasons for the refusal within 10 business days. The director of OSWA also informs the COA of the complaint and determination at the next COA meeting. The complainant may appeal the OSWA director's decision at the following COA meeting.
The COA recognizes the need of some programs, under special circumstances, to postpone their reaffirmation review. Examples of these special circumstances include
The COA’s Executive Committee oversees and reviews staff recommendations on waiver and postponement applications. A staff member reviews and considers requests for postponements throughout the year.
A written request, supported by documentation, is sent to the staff member explaining why the program is seeking a postponement of its accreditation review.
The following policies guide the decision making of the staff and Executive Committee.
Prior to deliberating on a request, the program’s accreditation history is reviewed, with special attention to recent COA actions and the program’s response to any concerns. The program is notified in writing of the COA decision. One of four decisions may be reached:
Programs dissatisfied with the decision may appeal, in writing, to the chair of the COA and request a review by the COA as a whole at its next scheduled meeting. The COA decision on the appeal is final, and there is no further appeal.
The director of OSWA may approve an adjustment of a program's review date for one meeting only.
Although ongoing change is necessary to improve the educational quality of a program, initial accreditation or reaffirmation of accreditation covers only the components that existed and were reviewed at the time of the COA review. Changes may take place within the program prior to its next scheduled accreditation review. Some of these changes may affect the program’s compliance with EPAS and need to be reported. Some of these changes do not affect the program’s compliance with EPAS and do not need to be reported.
A waiver request is required before the program makes a change that would place it out of compliance with EPAS. Any program proposing a substantive change that affects its compliance with EPAS must obtain the COA’s approval prior to implementing the change. The program submits a waiver request as described in the next section.
Written notification is required when programs make changes that potentially affect compliance with EPAS, such as adding a dual-degree program; offering an off-campus program; initiating a new part-time program; starting an entire distance education or online program; revising the program’s mission and goals in a way that critically restructures the curriculum; reduction in resources; the closing of a program or off-campus site; faculty workload policy changes; and institutional shifts in admission policies and procedures. Written notification should be addressed to the program’s accreditation specialist and include a detailed description of the change and a standard-by-standard discussion of how compliance with EPAS is affected. The program’s accreditation specialist or associate reviews the notification and may, if necessary, seek clarifying information.
Written notification is not required when programs make changes that do not affect their compliance with EPAS, such as revision of the program’s mission and goals or curriculum (syllabi, electives, course sequencing, prerequisites, definition of generalist practice, liberal arts requirements, field courses, concentrations, assessment plan, addition of off-campus courses); changes in qualified faculty or the composition of faculty, students, or both; and changes in the program’s policies and procedures relative to admission, assessment, transfer, advisement, grievance, or termination.
Change in qualified program director does not affect the program’s compliance with EPAS, but still needs to be reported to CSWE so that communication about accreditation and other vital information can be delivered to the correct person. The program should notify its accreditation specialist or associate of such changes by sending a letter on institutional letterhead along with a copy of the new program director's most recent CV.
It is the program’s responsibility to notify the COA of changes to ensure compliance with EPAS. Failure to report such changes places the program’s accredited status in jeopardy. If a program questions whether notification of a program change is required by the COA, it should discuss the change with the accreditation specialist or associate assigned to the program.
Application letters must be in narrative form and provide full documentation of the program’s justification for its waiver request on behalf of the program or on behalf of an individual faculty member. Applications must specify the accreditation standard(s) for which a waiver is sought.
Applications for waivers must be submitted by the chief administrator of a social work education program that is fully accredited. Applications must be submitted prior to the implementation of the proposed waiver. If the waiver is being requested on behalf of the chief administrator, the request must come from the administrator to whom the chief administrator answers.
A waiver may be granted to an individual or to an institution. In either case, the institution has identified an individual to administer its accredited social work program who does not have the credentials specified in Accreditation Standards B3.4.4(a) or M3.4.4(a).
This waiver is granted to an individual appointed as chief administrator of an accredited social work program whose credentials are considered the equivalent of those required in the standard. Because the waiver is granted on the basis of equivalency, it remains in effect if the individual becomes the chief administrator of another accredited social work program.
To request an individual waiver the institution is asked to provide a curriculum vitae and information regarding the equivalent leadership qualities of the individual as demonstrated through
This waiver is granted to the institution for a particular individual whose credentials are not considered equivalent to the requirements specified in the standards, but whom the institution believes best meets its current administrative needs. Because the institutional waiver is granted to the institution to meet institutional needs, the waiver expires when the individual for whom it was granted leaves the position.
To request an institutional waiver the institution is asked to provide information regarding its rationale for selecting this individual as chief administrator of the social work program.
The COA has established guidelines to assist programs in preparing waiver applications for accreditation standards regarding faculty or field program director credentials. The guidelines apply only to accredited programs. When a waiver is approved for an individual faculty member, approval continues to be in effect if the faculty member moves to another accredited social work program.
The program’s chief administrator seeks a waiver for a faculty member by presenting information that demonstrates the individual’s competence to teach in the specified area of social work practice or to coordinate field education. The application must include a curriculum vitae of the faculty member, specify the social work practice area for which the waiver is sought, and provide information on the individual’s credentials in the following areas:
The minimum requirement of 2 years post-baccalaureate or postmaster’s social work practice experience is calculated in relation to the total number of hours of full-time and equivalent professional practice experience. Social work practice experience is defined as providing social work services to individuals, families, groups, organizations, or communities.
Please provide information on the following items:
The following COA decisions are adverse actions and are eligible for appeal.
If a program receives an adverse decision, the COA provides two appeals procedures: reconsideration and panel review. Reconsideration must be completed before moving to the panel review.
Programs may challenge an adverse decision if, in the opinion of the program, the COA’s decision is arbitrary, capricious, or violates procedures. The program’s written request to the director of OSWA must be made within 30 days following its receipt of notice of the adverse action (all adverse decision letters are certified).
A request for reconsideration must relate to the conditions that existed in the program at the time of the COA’s adverse action and state specific reasons why the reconsideration should be granted.
When reconsideration is requested, the director of OSWA sets the date and time for the hearing and appoints a reconsideration committee of three commissioners. The program may send, at its own expense, the program’s chief administrator, program faculty members, and representatives from the institution. Legal counsel, students, or other interested parties are not permitted to attend.
The reconsideration committee reviews the documentation on which the COA based its decision and any written or verbal clarifying information the program provides. No new documentation is considered. The reconsideration committee makes one of three decisions:
The COA’s decision is reported in writing to the institution’s chief executive officer and the chief administrator of the social work program. If the program accepts the decision of the committee, it is expected to follow the instructions contained in the letter informing the program of the adverse decision. If the program does not accept the decision of the reconsideration committee, it may request a panel review. An accredited program retains its accredited status until all appeals have been exhausted.
The final appeal for the program is a panel review, which is an independent consideration of the COA’s decision. The program’s written request for a panel review must be made within 30 days of receipt of the COA’s certified letter upholding an adverse decision. If the program fails to respond within 30 days, it waives the right to further review. The program requests a panel review if, after the reconsideration findings are presented, it believes the COA’s action was arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise not in accordance with the COA accreditation standards or procedures; or the COA action was not supported by substantial evidence in the record.
The panel will review evidence in the record, including documentation and witness statements directly related to the COA’s adverse action and the reconsideration hearing. The record includes the program’s self-study or candidacy documentation, any additional material submitted to the site team or commissioner, the report of the commissioner or site team chair, the program’s response to the commissioner or site team report, the COA decision letter detailing the adverse decision; and materials from the reconsideration hearing.
Within 30 calendar days of receipt of the panel review request, the chair of the CSWE Board of Directors appoints a chair and two or more review panel members from the list of active certified site visitors. Members of the review panel may not include current members of the COA or former commissioners serving at the time of the COA’s adverse action. The chair of the review panel specifies the time and place of the review. All costs related to the panel review are paid by the program. These include any legal expenses of the COA, travel and accommodations for the review panel and participants in the proceedings, reproduction of materials presented at the hearing, and other related expenses.
The COA submits the record to the review panel and the program’s written request, including additional evidence challenging the COA’s procedures or its facts. The chair of the review panel presides at the review hearing and rules on procedure, conducting the hearing in a manner that allows the program a fair opportunity to present its case and explain its position without resort to formal rules of evidence. The program may be represented by counsel during the hearing, and counsel may question any witnesses who speak at the hearing. Review panel members may question any witnesses or parties to the appeal.
After considering the record, the review panel may make either of the following determinations:
The chair of the review panel reports the panel’s action in writing to the institution’s chief executive officer, the chief administrator of the social work program, the chair of COA, the president of CSWE, and the director of OSWA.
The COA is required by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) to release the COA decisions and programs’ accreditation status to the public. The COA will use the text of its decision letters for research and evaluation purposes in aggregate. The COA’s policy is not to release the full text of letters. If an institution or program releases parts of the site visit report or the COA letter that distorts the decision, the COA reserves the right to release the full text of such reports or letters to correct the perceived distortion.
To maintain candidacy or accredited status, programs are expected to be members of CSWE in good standing. Good standing means that programs have paid all current membership dues and candidacy and reaffirmation accreditation fees. Programs that fail to maintain good standing are subject to having their accreditation status suspended. Direct any questions regarding program membership to the Member Services Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703.519.2067. Direct any questions regarding accreditation fees to email@example.com.
If a program wishes to withdraw from accredited status, the program’s chief administrator sends a formal letter to its accreditation specialist or associate notifying the COA of its intention to close the program. The program is expected to make arrangements for the graduation or transfer of its students and should work closely with its accreditation specialist during this planning process, at the conclusion of which the date of the program’s accreditation will be decided. A program is expected to remain in full compliance with all standards during the withdrawal process.
A collaborative program is a baccalaureate or master’s social work education program operated by two or more colleges or universities. The collaborative design recognizes the collective experience of two academic units and creates a distinctive organizational structure. Some collaborative programs have one chief administrator who is accountable to a bi-institutional board that functions as a dean or academic vice president would in a traditional program, such as making budgetary or personnel decisions regarding the hiring of the program director. Others have one chief administrator who is accountable to appropriate academic administrators at each campus. Another model may designate two persons, one from each institution, to serve alternating terms as chief administrator. The collaborative program may be located on one campus, both campuses, or separate from both institutions.
Typically, collaborative programs are formed to pool resources (faculty, library, information technology, expenses for operating costs), enhance opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, and to increase student and faculty campus-based resources (bookstores, cafeterias, and fitness centers). Collaborative programs are generally found to enhance programs by enabling them to serve a broader pool of students. Collaborative programs offer new opportunities while also creating new demands for increased coordination and teamwork among faculty and administrators.
Accreditation is awarded to the collaborative program as a whole, not to the member institutions. If one or more of the member institutions of a collaborative program wish to separate or withdraw accredited status, the chief administrator of the collaborative program notifies the program’s accreditation specialist or associate (with a copy to the president of each member institution) of its intention in writing. This action results in the dissolution of the collaborative program and ends its accreditation status. The collaborative program’s chief administrator is expected to make arrangements for the graduation or transfer of its students and should work closely with its accreditation specialist or associate during this planning process, at its conclusion the date the program’s accreditation will be decided. A program is expected to remain in full compliance with all standards during the withdrawal process.
If either member institution wants to have its own accredited program, the chief administrator of the collaborative program should consult with its accreditation specialist or associate regarding the - process.
If a program fails to submit accreditation materials by the due date, the COA may initiate withdrawal of accreditation.
When there is a possibility that a program may be out of compliance with one or more educational policy and accreditation standard, the matter is referred to the Executive Committee for substantiation and possible action (e.g., order a modified site visit, place on conditional accredited status, or initiate withdrawal of accredited status).
CSWE does not recommend the use of external paid consultants. External consultants hired by programs to assist in their reaffirmation of accreditation or progression through candidacy status are not employees or agents of CSWE. CSWE is in no way responsible for the services provided by such consultants, and in no way does CSWE guarantee, recommend, or endorse the services of any consultant.
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