What is the Difference Between an Accredited Program and an Approved Program in Nursing?

Accreditation and approval of nurse education programs are both necessary to uphold high standards in the profession of nursing. Let's look first at the differences between the two processes.

Differences between Nursing Accreditation and Approval

• Accreditation is a national process; approval is a state process. National accreditation agencies evaluate nursing programs in the entire country; state Boards of Nursing (BON) examine nursing programs in their respective states.

• Accreditation of a nursing program is done by a national accrediting organization approved by the U.S. Department of Education for the purpose of maintaining high standards of nursing education and as a service to the public. Approval is the function of a state Board of Nursing (BON) to ensure that the laws of the state are met.

• Accreditation looks at the quality of the program and how the program is carried out to see whether it meets the standards of the profession. Approval is based on the specifications of the state's Nursing Practice Act for the purpose of protecting both students and the public.

• Accreditation is not required for the student to be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX); BON approval is required. Generally, state approved schools are also accredited.

• Licenses are obtained through the state BON. A nurse must be licensed in order to practice in that state. Certification is obtained through a nursing program or through a national professional organization. Certification shows a high level of achievement in a specialty but is not a license to practice.

The Importance of Nursing School Accreditation

Accreditation is a voluntary process. A nursing program applies for accreditation and follows a specified process to earn the accredited designation. It is to the school's advantage to be accredited because this tells the public that the school has a legitimate program that meets the high standards for the nursing profession.

There are three national organizations that are approved by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit nursing programs.

• The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) accredits practical nurse programs, diploma programs, associate programs, and bachelor's, master's and clinical doctorate programs.

• The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredits baccalaureate, graduate and residency programs in nursing.

• The Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA) is a new agency that will begin to accredit all types and levels of programs in 2016. These will include practical, diploma, associate, bachelor's, master's and doctor of nursing practice.

Accreditation of the program and its parent institution are required for a student to receive financial aid and to transfer credits to other educational institutions. Also, graduate programs generally require a degree from an accredited nursing program and institution for admission.

State Boards of Nursing and Education

BONs are agencies in state governments that are responsible for the regulation of nursing practice. Besides approving nursing programs that meet certain educational standards, they issue licenses to nurses who meet established requirements and they manage renewal of these licenses. Through their regulations, they hold nurses accountable for professional conduct and adherence to legal and ethical standards. They also monitor compliance to state laws and take disciplinary actions against those who violate laws or rules.

To address the nursing shortage in certain areas of the country and to facilitate the movement of nurses from state to state, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing {NCSBN) initiated a Nurse Licensure Compact that enables nurses to have one multistate license allowing them to practice in all compact states. Currently, 25 states have joined this Nursing Compact .

How to Find Out if a Nursing Program is Accredited and Approved

You can check the accreditation status of schools at the ACEN site for programs at all levels, and at the CCNE site for baccalaureate, graduate and nursing residency programs .

The state BONs generally post their list of approved nursing schools on a website. You can get contact information and websites for each state from NSBSN .