Frequently Asked Questions: Accreditation Process

Eligibility Process

To be eligible for NASPAA accreditation, your program must be a master’s degree in public affairs/policy/administration (or similar title denoting a professional master’s degree preparing students for professional careers in public service). Your program must be a member in good standing of NASPAA and your home institution should be regionally or nationally accredited or be recognized by the equivalent quality assurance body in your country.  Usually programs should be in operation for at least a four year period before seeking NASPAA accreditation in order to provide the sufficient data required to complete a review.  Programs that have not been in operation for at least four years must provide a rationale as to the sufficiency of program data to support an evaluation. NASPAA accreditation is awarded at the master’s program level only, not at the school or institutional level. Programs should also have a core faculty of at least 5 full-time faculty members, or their equivalent.

To be eligible for NASPAA accreditation, your program must be a member in good standing of NASPAA. Details about NASPAA membership, including the membership application and dues structure, may be found here.

For NASPAA member programs, NASPAA has an Eligibility process that programs must go through prior to submitting their Self Study for an accreditation review.  The eligibility application itself serves as the notice of intent to pursue NASPAA accreditation.  The application must be submitted in its entirety, along with the eligibility fee.  The application will not be considered without these items.  Eligibility applications are accepted twice annually, August 15 and April 15.  If the program receives a recommendation to proceed to accreditation review, the earliest it could submit a self-study would be the next upcoming August 15 deadline (April applicants must wait until the August deadline in the subsequent calendar year). Non-US applicants should submit applications by the earliest possible deadline before their desired self study year to allow for additional administrative review time.

The Eligibility Application, like the subsequent Self-Study Report, is completed using the NASPAA Data Center, NASPAA’s online database. Instructions can be found here.

If you are a program representative at a NASPAA member school, please contact drudy@naspaa.org or gregory@naspaa.org to gain access.

Public service values are important and enduring beliefs, ideals, and principles shared by members of a community about what is good and desirable, and what is not. They include pursuing the public interest with accountability and transparency; serving professionally with competence, efficiency, and objectivity; acting ethically so as to uphold the public trust; and demonstrating respect, equity, and fairness in dealings with citizens and fellow public servants. NASPAA expects an accreditable program to define the boundaries of the public service values it emphasizes, be they procedural or substantive, as the basis for distinguishing itself from other professional degrees.

  • The normal expectation for students studying for professional degrees in public affairs, administration, and policy is equivalent to 36 to 48 semester credit hours of study…Programs departing from campus-centered education by offering distance learning, international exchanges, or innovative delivery systems must demonstrate that the intentions of this precondition are being achieved and that such programs are under the supervision of fully qualified faculty. This determination may include, but is not limited to, evidence of faculty of record, and communications between faculty and students.
  • For programs based outside of the United States, the equivalency of the 36-48 credit hours is expected, given the context of higher education in that country.

Yes, programs who have had their eligibility reviewed by COPRA, and who are proceeding to self-study, are welcome to request a mentor from NASPAA. The mentor program is a resource for first time accreditation applicants that seek advice on the process and philosophy of NASPAA accreditation. Mentors will engage with first-time applicants to the NASPAA accreditation process that seek advice and counsel. Engagement with the mentor is at the discretion of the program applicant and COPRA shall be held harmless from any advice or conversations that ensue.

Yes, in special circumstances COPRA may choose to waive the eligibility application. Examples include a university with currently accredited programs seeking accreditation for an additional, closely related degree program.

No! The application is for first-time applicants only.

The Eligibility Application, as well as all required artifacts throughout the accreditation review, should be completed in English. 

Accreditation Process

For programs that have gone through the Eligibility process and have decided to move forward with applying for accreditation self study reports are due for submission to NASPAA on August 15, immediately following the self-study year.  Programs may request a late submission (September 1) but will be required to pay a late submission fee (See Schedule of Fees).

The Self-Study Report is completed using the NASPAA Data Center, NASPAA’s online database. Instructions can be found here. The Self-Study Instructions serve as the  template for the Self-Study Report, including qualitative questions and data requirements, as well as rationale, bases of judgment and examples for each Standard. The Self-Study Instructions can be found here.

If you are a program representative at a NASPAA member school, please contact drudy@naspaa.org or gregory@naspaa.org to gain access. You may also request access online at naspaa.civicore.com.

Your accreditation cohort is the year preceding your accreditation expiration date. The  cohort year is reflected on the Roster of Accredited Programs. Your self-study year, the year for which you will collect data, is the year directly preceding your cohort year. For instance, if your accreditation is through August 31, 2018, your accreditation cohort is 2017-18, your self-study year is AY 2016-2017, and your Self-Study is due August 15, 2017 (immediately after your self-study year).

Your self-study year is the academic year (typically Fall-Spring-Summer or Summer-Fall-Spring) directly preceding the due date of your Self-Study Report. The self-study year is the academic year immediately preceding your cohort year, which is reflected on the Roster of Accredited Programs. (For initial applicants, your cohort year begins with your August 15 submission). For instance, if your accreditation is through August 31, 2018, your accreditation cohort is 2017-18 (with your Self-Study due August 15, 2017), and your self-study year is AY 2016-2017.

These years represent data collection years in the Self-Study Instructions and NASPAA data collection forms (mirrored in the annual maintenance report). SSY-1 is the year before your Self-Study Year (used for employment rates). SSY-5 is five years prior to your self-study year (used for graduation rates).

Member programs have the option of applying for eligibility each year on either April or August 15. The Self-Study Report is due August 15 of each year. Programs seeking initial accreditation may not both apply for eligibility and submit the Self-Study Report in the same calendar year. Site Visits take place during the spring of each cohort year, and COPRA decision letters are available by the end of July.

The Fees page details the exact requirements. Generally, before program-specific add-ons, initial accreditation costs $5,620 and septennial reaccreditation costs $4,587. Accredited programs also pay a $393 annual accreditation fee. Programs are also expected to reimburse the cost of their site visit. Accreditation fees are in addition to NASPAA membership dues.

Programs that have submitted a Self-Study Report to COPRA for initial review at the August 15 deadline typically host their Site Visit in the Spring of that academic year. Site visits take place between the end of January and end of March depending upon when the program, its administrators, and the Site Visit team can schedule a visit. COPRA provides program-specific recommendations, using the Interim Report, about whether a program should proceed to site visit. Initial applicants with concerns in their interim reports often opt to delay the site visit for one year to better prepare.

While this can vary based on your location and travel costs particular to your region, a typical site visit (in the United States) costs between $2000 and $3000. Programs are encouraged to minimize costs by securing hotel rooms at university-based hotels. Please contact NASPAA staff for more information on hosting a site visit outside of the United States.

Your COPRA liaison is your primary reviewer, and a resource throughout the accreditation cycle, available to answer any questions about your application and the process after the Self-Study Report. Your interim report, COPRA’s initial response to your Self-Study Report, will indicate who is serving as your COPRA liaison.

  • COPRA formally communicates with each program in the cohort through its fall Interim Report and July Decision letter. When programs receive notice of their COPRA liaison, they are encouraged to begin a dialogue with the COPRA member, and sustain it throughout the cycle.
  • NASPAA Staff communicate with programs consistently before the cohort year begins, and throughout the accreditation cycle, and are available to answer questions at any time. Specifically during the (re)accreditation review, staff notify cohort programs of formal COPRA communications, upcoming deadlines and response opportunities, and work directly with programs to coordinate site visits.

This depends on your accreditation decision. For a program who has not delayed and is reaccredited, the standard period is 7 years. One-year reaccreditations and voluntary delays change this period, as noted in the final decision letter.

Decision letters will be posted to The Data Center by the end of July. Hard copies are also mailed to the program and the university provost at this time. Accreditation actions are made public September 1 of each year, coinciding with the release of the Roster of Accredited Programs.

As of September 2017, 197 programs are accredited, in 6 countries.

Programs are welcome to request a one-year delay. The Commission votes on all requests. While a program is granted a delay, it remains in the same cohort,  and the maximum period of reaccreditation is for 6 years, instead of 7. Typical reasons for delay are periods of major restructuring, turnover in leadership, and natural disasters.

  • Accreditation is essentially a strategic planning process. The mission and goals of a program, as articulated in Standard 1, guide how it approaches each of the six other standards. By engaging in strategic planning, programs can articulate how they approach governance, diversity, hiring, recruiting, student support, resources, communications, and most importantly student outcomes assessment and program evaluation, in the support of their mission.
  • More specifically, programs need to ensure that they are prepared to articulate conformance with each of the standards, and that they have been engaging in ongoing assessment. Programs should be able to provide an implemented logic model, assessment plan, and diversity plan.

The NASPAA website includes the Resources section, intended to link programs with all necessary resources. Accreditation is guided by several official documents: NASPAA Standards, Self-Study Instructions, Policies and Procedures, and the Site Visit Manual. COPRA also publishes annual policy statements, which document the evolution of COPRA interpretations.

To be eligible for NASPAA accreditation, your program must be a master’s degree in public affairs/policy/administration (or similar title denoting a professional master’s degree preparing students for professional careers in public service). Your program must be a member in good standing of NASPAA and your home institution should be regionally or nationally accredited or be recognized by the equivalent quality assurance body in your country.  Usually programs should be in operation for at least a four year period before seeking NASPAA accreditation in order to provide the sufficient data required to complete a review.  Programs that have not been in operation for at least four years must provide a rationale as to the sufficiency of program data to support an evaluation. NASPAA accreditation is awarded at the master’s program level only, not at the school or institutional level. Programs should also have a core faculty of at least 5 full-time faculty members, or their equivalent. 

For NASPAA member programs, NASPAA has an Eligibility process that programs must go through prior to submitting their Self Study for an accreditation review.  The eligibility application itself serves as the notice of intent to pursue NASPAA accreditation.  The application must be submitted in its entirety, along with a letter of intent signed by the chief academic officer of the institution, and the eligibility fee.  The application will not be considered without these items.  Eligibility applications will be accepted twice annually, August 15 and April 15.  If the program receives a recommendation to proceed to accreditation review, the earliest it could submit a self-study would be the next upcoming August 15 deadline. Non-US applicants should submit applications by the earliest possible deadline before their desired self study year to allow for additional administrative review time.

Eligibility determinations by COPRA are advisory to the program seeking accreditation.  The Eligibility process is intended to provide direction, directly from COPRA to programs interested in accreditation, on ways they may improve their prospects of receiving accreditation. The applicant program is given initial feedback on its application from the Commission and may decide to proceed to the self-study process, if the program chooses.

No, the self-study report, and all accompanying appendices, should be completed in English, to ensure the full Commission on Peer Review and Accreditation can review the materials. If your program has questions about supplementary materials it wishes to include in the program's language of instruction, please contact NASPAA staff.

Hosting Site Visits: For Programs

Site visits occur between late January and late March of each year. If COPRA recommends your program proceed to a site visit, it will take place in the Spring of your cohort year. After NASPAA has matched a team, you will coordinate directly with the team to identify dates.

The typical site visit lasts 2.5 days. If your institution is hosting a site visit for multiple programs or satellite campuses, the visit may be extended. If the program is hosting a follow-up visit, most likely after a one-year reaccreditation, COPRA may recommend the visit is take place over only one day.

Each team consists of two academics, including the chair. The third team member is a practitioner. Academics are expected to be at least associate-level professors, and practitioners are expected to hold graduate degrees as well as have 7+ years of public service work experience (typically explicitly hiring our graduates).

Site visitors are matched with programs based on several factors, including professional background and experience, geography, and knowledge directly relatable to the program and/or COPRA’s concerns with the program. Efforts are taken to ensure no conflicts of interest exist between the team and program.

NASPAA staff work to avoid any conflicts of interest and match your program with a team appropriate to your context. There is a limited pool of volunteers, but COPRA and NASPAA staff coordinate with the programs to ensure a productive site visit. Ultimately, the site visit helps COPRA clarify and confirm evidence presented in the Self-Study Report, and COPRA has final approval on site visit teams.

The on-the-ground site visit schedule is determined by the program and the site visit chair. Typically, the site visit chair provides the program with a list of meetings and expectations, which the program proposes as a working schedule. The site visit chair has final approval of the schedule. The schedule is intended to (at least) reflect the priorities of COPRA, per the interim report. A sample site visit schedule is available in the Site Visit Manual.

Site Visit Teams want to meet with everyone that has a stake in the program: faculty, students, alumni, and even university administration. The provost, in particular, can provide the site visit team with a window into the institutional context within which the program operates. The team can also offer insight to the provost on the strengths of the program.

The best way to prepare for your site visit is to consult with your site visit chair. The chair is responsible for helping translate the interim report and COPRA’s questions into a workable schedule. The chair has final approval of the schedule. Your chair should be able to help you grasp who the team will want to meet with, as well as what it will want to review (this is also available in the Site Visit Manual). In general, the team will want to meet with faculty, students, alumni, related student support staff, and university administration. The team will also want to review all documentation related to your program evaluation and student assessment processes, often including faculty meeting minutes, sample capstones/portfolios/assignments, admissions files, etc. Your COPRA liaison is also a good resource, helping to articulate the evidence COPRA wants the site visit team to document.

Follow-up site visits for one-year reaccredited programs focus primarily on those items listed in the most recent Interim Report. Typically, thought not always, the visit itself is abbreviated – 1.5 days and only 2 site visitors – and usually includes a representative from the original site visit team, to provide continuity. Preparation and logistics follow the same pattern as the original site visit, emphasizing those meetings and documents needed to address the remaining questions articulated in the second Interim Report. 

Yes! COPRA is interested in making the process as effective and efficient as possible. If you have multiple programs in the same accreditation cohort, typically within the same governance unit, a site visit team will be matched to review all programs in one visit. Depending on the scale, your team and visit length may be adjusted to ensure a thorough review.

The site visit report is the team’s communication with COPRA. Upon completing the site visit, the site visit team has 30 days to draft a report addressing the concerns of COPRA, as well as providing evidence from the visit. Programs then have the opportunity to review the draft for errors of fact, before it is locked by the team for COPRA review. All reports are submitted in English.

A program’s initial response opportunity is to address the points in the interim report, prior to the site visit. Upon completing the site visit, the site visit team has 30 days to draft a report addressing the concerns of COPRA, as well as providing evidence from the visit. Programs have the opportunity to review the draft for errors of fact, before it is locked by the team for COPRA review. The program then has the opportunity to respond directly to COPRA, ahead of its summer decision meeting, using the final response to respond to items in the site visit report, elaborate on changes the program has made or plans to make, or provide final supplementary information requested by the Commission.

While this can vary based on your location and travel costs particular to your region, a typical site visit hosted in the United States costs between $2000 and $3000. Programs are encouraged to minimize costs by securing hotel rooms at university-based hotels. Please contact NASPAA staff for information about hosting a site visit outside of the United States.

Site Visitors are responsible for arranging the logistics of the visit with the program. After the visit, site visitors send all receipts and the expense voucher directly to NASPAA. NASPAA then invoices the program in the aggregate. At no time should money exchange hands between the program and the team. Site visitors should be reasonably sensitive to costs.

Yes! We encourage programs to arrange the hotel for the teams, and when they are able, programs can directly pay for lodging costs. Further, the program will likely pay directly for meals any on-campus meals during the visit (site visit teams often have at least one “working lunch”). Some programs have university requirements for travel arrangements, and are able to book flights through a travel agent. At no time should money exchange hands between the program and the team. If you have questions about specific expenses, please email gregory@naspaa.org.

Minimally. Site Visitors may submit for reimbursement for one glass of table wine or its equivalent with dinner.

Site Visitors will not be reimbursed for alcoholic beverages other than table wine or its equivalent. NASPAA will also not reimburse for expenses such as childcare or pet-boarding while you participate in the visit. If your university policies restrict or cap expenses, please be sure to notify your site visit team.

No, site visitors are completely volunteer-based. NASPAA is lucky to have so many willing, expert volunteers!

Most site visits occur in English, sometimes with the help of a translator. In some cases, the Commission will recommend the site visit take place in the program's language of instruction, but this depends on the volunteer capacity of available site visitors and the Commission's judgment.