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 must be approved by the Commission on Accreditation (COA) to proceed to the next benchmark, and the second portion consists of standards that must be addressed in draft form. Please see the Candidacy Process: 3 Year Benchmark Grid for more information. 

Program development is guided by three visits from the COA commissioners. During the commissioner visits 1 and 2, the commissioner makes a recommendation as to whether to approve the program’s standards in the first portion of the benchmark and provides consultation on the standards in the second portion. During commissioner visit 3, the commissioner makes recommendations as to whether the program is in compliance with the EPAS.

Programs progress through several stages of program development: applying for candidacy status, completing candidacy, and receiving initial accreditation status. There are several products, timetables, forms, and accreditation fees associated with each stage, which can be found here on the CSWE website.

Applying for candidacy status involves completion of the Letter of Institutional Intent and the Candidacy Eligibility Application and payment of the Letter of Intent and Candidacy Eligibility Fee. After the assigned accreditation specialist approves the application materials, the program completes and submits its Benchmark I document. When the specialist approves the Benchmark I document the program is assigned to a COA agenda (February, June, or October) and arrangements are made for commissioner visit I. The program remains on that agenda as it progresses through the remaining steps. Please visit the Candidacy section of CSWE’s website to download candidacy timetables.

Completing candidacy involves the completion of the Benchmark II document and its evaluation during commissioner visit II, as well as the completion of the Initial Accreditation Self-Study document and its evaluation at commissioner visit III. Receipt of initial accreditation involves completion of the Initial Accreditation Self-Study document, assembled to give the appearance of a self-study, which is evaluated during Commissioner visit III.

Master’s of social work programs are typically designed to be completed by full-time students in 2 years. Master’s programs may elect to develop a part-time only program, designed to be completed by part-time students in up to 4 years. In either case, the self-study will be completed in the final year and no later than one year after a program is reviewed by the COA for initial accreditation, at least one class will have graduated, and assessment data collected from program graduates.