What does it mean for boarding school to be "accredited?"

Families ask this question all the time. After all, virtually every private/boarding school references its membership in its accrediting body.

But, what does accreditation mean?

Should parents be looking for published data on the matter? Should they ask schools for any particular materials?

To understand school accreditation, we turned to Mr. James Mooney, Deputy Director, Commission on Independent Schools at the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

It turns out that accreditation for boarding school has, not so much to with particular data points or achievement, but most to do with how a school defines itself: what the school says it does and who it serves: then, is the school continually growing and improving in executing its mission and serving its students?

Our interview with Mr. Mooney:

When a school shows that it's accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges what does that mean?

First, accreditation is about schools being faithful to their mission – how well are they walking their talk. This is essential and it is what makes our independent schools special. Second, accreditation assures that schools are conducting their programs appropriately to meet their goals and fulfilling the Standards of Accreditation established by the Commission on Independent Schools. Ultimately, the entire accreditation process focuses on school improvement with the guidelines outlined above.

Our mission lays this out nicely:

CIS (Commission on Independent Schools) engages member schools in a comprehensive peer review accreditation process that provides assurance of quality and serves as a catalyst for innovation, improvement and excellence.

We support the efforts of schools, with their diverse missions, to meet the current and emerging needs of their students and to achieve long term institutional health.

As world leaders in accreditation with our partners at NEASC (founded in 1885), we promote an understanding of the changing educational landscape, and generate relevant discourse and action in the global educational community.

A recent comprehensive survey of our schools, just conducted by an outside marketing firm, found our schools to be overwhelmingly in favor the accreditation process as it related to their respective schools.

It is important to note that the CIS is part of a larger body – the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Additionally, CIS is accredited by NAIS. This means that CIS meets standards for accreditation deemed essential for all successful independent schools across the country. In each case, there are considerable resources available to our schools.

The website (http://cis.neasc.org/) is a useful tool.


New Hampton School, New Hampton, NH


How often is a school reviewed for accreditation?

Schools are reviewed every 10 years. Following the granting of Continued Accreditation, schools complete a 2 year interim report on how they are proceeding with meeting the recommendations and conclusions from the 10 year report. Then after 5 years, there is a second report due updating their standing and progress.

What does the school accreditation process look like?

Simply put, there are three parts to the process:

Self-Study – Each school takes approximately a year and a half to prepare a self-study which reviews all aspects of the school relative to the mission and to the standards. This is an inclusive, thoughtful and transparent process involving all aspects of the school community.

Visiting Team – A team of trained peers selected from NE schools, taken from a pool of over 3000 volunteers, will visit a school at the completion of the Self-Study to sign off in a Visiting Team Report on the quality and thoroughness of the work. This team will then make a recommendation relating to accreditation to the Commission on Independent Schools. This Commission is 24 heads of school who meet three times a year to review the schools going through the process that given year.

Follow-up – The school will then work over the next several years with their own conclusions outlined in the Self-Study, the recommendations of the Visiting Team and the instructions of the CIS final recommendation.


Fryeburg Academy, Fryeburg, ME


Does the accreditation process review student life/the boarding program when reviewing a boarding school?

Absolutely. There is a standard focused on the Experience of the Student, and one on the Residential Program. The center of the process is the students and how they are being served. A visiting team to a boarding school will have a majority of its members being current boarding school educators from peer schools.

What should parents know or understand about accreditation? Is there a useful way a family to understand it?

They should certainly be interested in whether or not a school is accredited. More important though, they should be looking at the school in the same light as a visiting team would – how well is the school walking its talk and how well are they serving their students.