The glossary below provides definitions for terms related to NASAD and the accreditation process. Click on the term to see the definition.


Accreditation is a process by which an institution or disciplinary unit within an institution periodically evaluates its work and seeks an independent judgment by peers that it achieves substantially its own educational objectives and meets the established standards of the body from which it seeks accreditation. Typically, the accreditation process includes 1) a self-evaluative description (self-study) of the institution or unit, 2) an on-site review by a team of evaluators, and 3) judgment by an accreditation decision-making body, normally called a Commission. Accreditation reviews focus on educational quality, institutional integrity, and educational improvements.

Accrediting Body, Agency, or Association

An Accrediting Body, Agency, or Association is a non-governmental entity that sets standards for accreditation, administers the process of accreditation, and provides assistance as it is able to institutions, programs, students, parents, and the general public.

Application for Accreditation

An Application for Accreditation is the formal request for accreditation submitted by an institution to an accrediting body confirming that the institution is committed to the voluntary process of self-evaluation and peer review, ready to begin the process, and cognizant of the standards and guidelines that will be applied by the accrediting body. The NASAD review process is initiated by submission of the Notice of Intention to Apply Form. The Application for Membership Form is submitted with the Self-Study and authorizes NASAD to proceed with the comprehensive review process.

Application for Membership Form

Three copies of the Application for Membership Form are to be submitted to the National Office at least four weeks prior to the on-site visit along with the catalogs, supportive materials, and copies of the Self-Study document. This form must be signed by the chief executive officer in the case of initial applications and by the art/design executive for all institutions previously granted accreditation. The Application for Membership Form authorizes NASAD to proceed with the comprehensive review process.

Associate Membership

Associate Membership may be granted to baccalaureate and/or graduate degree-granting institutions, community colleges, and non-degree-granting institutions applying for the first time that meet all curricular standards and all other applicable standards of the Association, and which are developing in areas related to purposes or operations. Accreditation with Associate Membership is valid for up to five years. At the end of this period, such institutions will be required to satisfy all criteria for Membership in the Association. Further information.

Basic Criteria for Membership

To confirm eligibility for institutional membership, institutions must first demonstrate compliance with a series of 10-15 short threshold statements designed to show institutional and/or program viability. These Basic Criteria for Membership cover such areas as basic curricular elements; length of time an institution or program has been operating; presence of qualified faculty and adequate facilities; publication of accurate admissions, program, and cost information; and compliance with state and local codes and other accrediting agencies. The Basic Criteria for Membership for non-degree granting institutions and degree-granting institutions can be found in the NASAD Handbook, Standards for Accreditation I.A. and I.B., respectively. Further information.


Certification is a process by which a non-governmental organization grants recognition to a person who has met certain predetermined qualifications specified by that organization and who voluntarily seeks such recognition. NASAD does not certify individuals or units.

Concurrent Visit

A concurrent visit occurs when an accrediting association conducts a regular evaluation process at the same time as another accrediting association, but in no way coordinates specific aspects of this process with the other association. Although impressions may be shared with the other association, evaluators devote their full time to the accreditation procedures of their association. Their formal reporting responsibilities are solely to the association for which they are working. Further information.

Directory List

The Association publishes a searchable, online Directory List that provides the names of all accredited member institutions, their addresses, telephone numbers, art and design executives, and degree programs. The Directory is the official accreditation listing for NASAD member institutions. The Association also makes mailing labels available for purchase through its website. Further information.

Educational Quality

Educational Quality has no single definition. Institutions in the United States demonstrate educational quality in unique and original fashions according to their various missions and goals. An institution or unit with accreditable educational quality is one that has appropriate purposes, a sound strategy for achieving its purposes, the ability to assemble and apply resources adequate to the strategy, a record of achieving its purposes, and sufficient evidence that it can continue doing so. All of these issues are reviewed against standards and guidelines that establish a threshold of quality for accreditation status.

Final Approval for Listing

Final Approval for Listing is the procedure for official NASAD Commission review of transcript evidence that validates the granting of Plan Approval. At least three transcripts are required for every program at the non-degree-granting, associate, and baccalaureate level, and at least two transcripts are required for every program at the graduate level. Curricular programs that have successfully completed the Final Approval for Listing process are listed in regular type in the NASAD Directory List. Further information.


The NASAD Handbook, published annually in electronic form, includes NASAD standards for non-degree-granting, community college, baccalaureate, and graduate programs in art and design, as well as the Association’s constitution, bylaws, code of ethics, and rules of practice and procedure. When applicable, new or amended standards that have been ratified by the NASAD Membership and/or the Board of Directors are available as addenda to the Handbook. Further information.


Institution of Postsecondary Education

An Institution of Postsecondary Education is an entity whose main objective is the offering of educational degrees and/or programs to individuals who have completed secondary school or its equivalent. Such an institution 1) is chartered or licensed within a state, 2) has stated educational objectives appropriate to the postsecondary level, 3) is under the legal control of some type of board, and 4) has a faculty with appropriate qualifications for offering postsecondary instruction.

Institutional Accreditation

Institutional Accreditation is a status accorded an institution of postsecondary education that embraces the whole institution as it defines itself and therefore includes all areas and activities except discipline specific curricular content. Normally, institutional accreditation testifies to 1) the appropriateness of the objectives of the institution; 2) the advocacy of its organization, program, and resources, both material and human, when viewed against its objectives and generally accepted accrediting standards; and 3) evidence of the accomplishment of institutional objectives in reasonable measure. Moreover, the criteria of eligibility provide that degree programs, however specialized, must rest upon a base of liberal or general studies required of all or most students. However, accreditation of the institution as a whole is not, and should not be interpreted as being equivalent to specialized accreditation of a part or program of the institution and should not be represented as such. The Commissions of the six regional accrediting associations accredit a variety of institutions within their geographic regions. Also, several national accrediting bodies provide institutional accreditation for special-purpose institutions throughout the United States. And, finally, specialized accrediting bodies, when they accredit single-purpose institutions, provide institutional as well as programmatic accreditation. Further information.

Institutional Autonomy

Institutional Autonomy is the principle whereby standards are applied with profound respect for the rights and responsibilities of institutions and programs to identify, designate, and control 1) their missions, goals, and objectives; 2) artistic, educational, and philosophical principles and methodologies used to pursue functions implicit in their various missions, goals, and objectives; 3) specific repertories, texts, and other teaching materials utilized for study and presentation; 4) agendas and areas of study pursued through scholarship, research, criticism, and policy development; 5) specific personnel choices, staffing configurations, and other operational decisions; and 6) content and methodologies of tests, evaluations, and assessments.

Institutional Integrity

Institutional Integrity is the outwardly displayed ability of an entity to set and adhere to a code of values marked by traits such as reasonable conduct, enactment and consistent use of fair and orderly procedures, honesty in all proceedings, respect for human beings, and means of ensuring that it is providing the educational services it says it is providing to the public.

Joint Visit

A Joint Visit occurs when an accrediting association conducts a regular evaluation process at the same time as another association, but cooperates with that association in the appointment of a single evaluation team, the scheduling of a single visitation and, under certain conditions, the writing of a coordinated evaluation report to the institution. Reporting responsibilities of team members may be shared between the two associations. Joint evaluations do not lead to joint accreditation. Separate accreditation action is taken by each association; given the difference among associations, dissimilar results could issue from a joint evaluation. Further information.


Licensure is a process by which an agency of government grants permission to 1) persons meeting predetermined qualifications to engage in a given occupation and/or to use a particular title, and 2) institutions to perform specified functions. NASAD does not license individuals or institutions.


Membership may be granted to baccalaureate and/or graduate degree-granting institutions, community colleges, and postsecondary non-degree-granting institutions meeting all of the standards of the Association. Institutions approved for Membership are granted five-year periods of accreditation. At the end of five years, such institutions are expected to apply for renewal of Membership. Institutions approved for renewal of Membership are granted ten-year periods of accreditation. Further information.

Art/Design Unit

An art/design unit is a college, school, division, department, or program within a postsecondary institution or a freestanding, independent, school of art and/or design.

On-Site Evaluation

On-site evaluation consists of an on-site visit to an institution or disciplinary unit by a team of trained evaluators. The on-site review follows the completion of the self-study and the submission of the self-study report to the accrediting body and evaluators. The visit enables the evaluation team to determine the accuracy and completeness of the self-study and to provide additional information and/or confirmation of existing information to the Commission on Accreditation. Further information.

Plan Approval

Plan Approval is the procedure for official NASAD Commission review of a new curriculum that is under development at a member or applicant institution. NASAD rules require that Plan Approval be sought before students are admitted into the program. The status of curricular programs that have successfully completed the Plan Approval process are listed in italics in the NASAD Directory List. Further information.

Public Interest/Public Members

There is a great deal of public interest in the proper operation of institutions of postsecondary education largely because institutional activities result in the education and training of individuals who will take responsible positions in society. Since accrediting bodies provide judgments about institutional educational quality and institutional integrity, there is public interest in the activities of accrediting bodies as well as institutions. To ensure the inclusion of the public’s interest, representatives of the public are members of accrediting Commissions and the Board of Directors. Further information.

Self-Regulation/Peer Review

Self-Regulation/Peer Review is based on the recognition that most human activities work best when participation and consensus are foundational principles of decision-making. Accreditation is a voluntary, non-governmental activity, and an advocate for institutional autonomy that plays a major role in preserving the self-regulatory quality of American postsecondary education. Other dimensions of self-regulation in postsecondary education include the maintaining of guidelines for, and institutional commitment to, good practice and ethical behavior.


A Self-Study is a process that normally produces comprehensive written analysis of the educational resources and effectiveness of an art/design institution or unit in relation to its educational objectives. Further information.

Specialized Accreditation

Specialized accreditation is a status granted by a Commission to a unit, or in the case of a single-purpose entity, an institution which has 1) successfully completed the evaluative process including the preparation of a self-study and an on-site review by a team of evaluators 2) been reviewed by a Commission, and 3) demonstrated compliance with appropriate standards and guidelines. The focus of specialized accreditation is on the effectiveness with which the unit meets its objectives in relation to the standards and guidelines of the Association. Specialized accreditation of a single-purpose institution in some cases may be considered institutional accreditation.

Third-Party Comment

Third-Party Comment is information provided by one or more individuals who are not speaking or writing officially on behalf of or otherwise officially representing an institution, or who are acting in any capacity on behalf of NASAD with regard to that same institution. The third-party comment process is open only for designated periods during the course of comprehensive NASAD accreditation reviews. Further information.