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 social work degree programs in the United States and its territories. Since its inception in July 1952, CSWE has accredited master’s programs. In 1974, it began accrediting baccalaureate programs. The COA is currently piloting accreditation processes for professional practice doctoral programs and post-degree fellowship programs in social work. CSWE does not accredit Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs, associate degree programs, or minors in social work.
As explained in COA’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with CSWE, CSWE delegates autonomous authority and responsibility for all evaluation and accreditation services to the COA. This authority extends to judgments regarding the accredited status of educational programs and includes the formulation and implementation of standards, criteria, policies, and procedures. The decisions of the COA are based on the Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS).
The COA is composed of a minimum of thirty (30) members, including a chair. In making appointments, the chair considers previous site visit experience, years and nature of experience in faculty and administrative positions at the baccalaureate and graduate levels, as well as the CSWE affirmative action policy and plan. Members are appointed for 3-year terms and may be reappointed to a second 3-year term. The thirty (30) commissioners are expected to hold full-time faculty or administrative appointments in accredited social work programs; or have emeritus status. The COA Executive Committee, at its discretion, may appointment commissioners based upon the needs of the COA. Incumbent commissioners who retire during their COA appointment may serve out the remainder of that 3-year term. Additional commissioners are public members, as required by CHEA standards, that provide practice-centered perspectives and/or multi-disciplinary lenses. Public members do not review program materials, vote to ratify program decisions, nor conduct commissioner visits to programs in candidacy.
After serving two (2) consecutive 3-year terms (6 years of service total), the commissioner must wait a minimum of three (3) years to apply for another full term of service on the COA. On rare occasions, the COA Executive Committee may approve temporary appointees to serve 1-year term appointments to fulfill immediate needs and/or vacancies on the COA. The temporary appointees shall be assessed by the same criteria as full-term commissioners. At the COA Executive Committee’s discretion, the 1-year temporary appointment may be subtracted from the 3-year term should the temporary appointee be eligible to apply for a full term of service following the 1-year temporary appointment. In extenuating circumstances, the COA Executive Committee may consider extending the term of service for current commissioners by 1-year, recruit a previous commissioner, and/or recruit a qualified site visitor to ensure sufficient volunteers to conduct COA’s evaluation and accreditation services.
The COA reviews all programs in a fair and impartial manner. Materials submitted to the COA relative to a program’s review are 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 conduct reaffirmation of accreditation site visits nor consult with social work programs on matters of accreditation during their terms of service to the COA. They only make commissioner visits to programs that have applied for or are in candidacy.
In collaboration with accreditation staff, 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’s Compass monthly newsletter and posted on the CSWE website.