HR Leads Business

Oct 27, 2016 | Barry Lawrence, HRCI Staff Writer

Accreditation: The Real Proof Behind a Mark of Excellence

Unless you’re in the middle of comparing schools for academic performance or seeking a top doctor to perform a complicated surgical procedure, you probably don’t give much thought about the term accreditation. But as an HR business professional, you should be just as careful to research the accreditation standards of certification programs and continuous learning opportunities that claim to advance your career.

Most HR practitioners understand the importance of academic accreditation, especially since employers often require evidence that a job applicant has received a degree from an accredited school or program. But oddly, HR and other career professionals usually don’t apply the same standard of accreditation when it comes to evaluating professional development choices. To make matters more complicated, not all accreditations apply the same degree of rigor.

As we enter an age of increased digital transparency, choosing a certification or program represented by the highest standards of accreditation will become even more important. 

What Is Accreditation?

First, let’s explore what accreditation is all about. In the academic world, accreditation bodies emerged to play an important role in our society as watchdogs of a university degree’s rigor, quality and validity. The accreditation provides assurance that the degree does, in fact, represent mastery of knowledge in a subject area, profession or trade.

Accreditation works the same way for professional certifications, such as the credentials offered by HR Certification Institute® (HRCI®) to demonstrate mastery of HR skills, knowledge and competencies.

According to the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE), bona fide accreditation serves three main purposes:

  • Enables credentialing organizations [such as HRCI] to demonstrate to the profession it represents, and to the general public . . . that their program has met the stringent standards set by the credentialing community.
  • Enhances a program's credibility and legitimacy by providing impartial, third-party oversight of a conformity assessment system.
  • Provides organizations with a way to answer the question "who reviewed your certificate or certification program?" ICE notes that this is a question often posed by members of an occupation, employers, and sometimes the courts.

Top Accreditation Bodies

Each certification offered by HRCI is designed to meet the most rigorous standards, including the accreditation standards of the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA), a division of ICE. NCCA accreditation, created in the mid-70s, is one of the most recognized benchmarks for high-quality professional certification programs across many industries and business professions. (To view the HRCI listings of accredited HR certifications in the NCCA directory, type “HRCI” in the “Organization Acronym” field.)

Another leading accreditation standard for certification is ISO 17024. It is one of the more than 21,000 standards developed by the International Organization for Standardization(ISO) to ensure the quality, safety and efficiency of almost every product, service and system imaginable. While NCCA accreditation is well known in the United States, ISO standards are globally recognized since they impact the daily lives of people worldwide.

Recently, ICE partnered with the International Accreditation Service Inc. (IAS) to offer both the NCCA and ISO 17024 accreditations. HRCI is working to earn both accreditations for its newest credentials, the aPHR™, PHRi™ and SPHRi™. The PHR®, PHRca®, SPHR® and GPHR® credentials from HRCI are already accredited by NCCA.

Meeting the most rigorous accreditation standards is difficult, but also highly rewarding for the entire HRCI community. Accreditation directly benefits HRCI credential holders, who can be certain they possess the most trusted and recognized HR credentials in the world.

Breaking Through the Confusion

It’s important to do your homework when considering an HR certification or continuous learning program. In past HRCI blogs, we’ve spoken about the seven questions you must ask when seeking a trusted certification program and the definitions of accreditation versus certification. There is plenty of misinformation out there and little regulation to stop a phony accreditation body or certification organization from taking advantage of an unsuspecting professionals.

To make sure a credential program is backed by a reputable accreditation body, here are some red flags to consider:

  • Is the accreditation body recognized by peers, employers and other professions as a standard of rigor and excellence?
  • Have there been complaints about the accreditation organization?
  • How many organizations have received the accreditation, both in your industry or profession and outside of it? Do you recognize the names of these organizations?
  • Does the organization award accreditation to programs that require very little work?
  • Has the organization been around for a long time?

Whatever certification or continuous learning program you consider, look past the glitzy marketing and advertising claims. It’s vital to know whether the program has received the backing of a reputable, third-party accreditation standards known for its rigor and excellence.