Accreditation Overview

What is Accreditation?

Accreditation is a status granted to an institution, program, or other entity that meets stated criteria of quality. In the United States, accreditation of professional preparation curricula is conferred by non-governmental bodies, which are often closely associated with professional associations in the field. The Council on Accreditation of Parks, Recreation, Tourism and Related Professions is such a body.

Accreditation is voluntary. Applications for accreditation may be submitted by any institution offering a four-year curriculum in recreation, park resources and leisure services education. Various factors enter into a program's decision to seek this status. Students considering the broad field of parks and recreation should investigate individual academic programs in detail to determine which ones meet their individual needs.

What is the Purpose of Accreditation?

Accreditation has two fundamental purposes:

  • to assure quality
  • to assure improvement

It cannot guarantee the quality of individual graduates or of individual courses, but it gives reasonable assurance of the context and quality of the education offered. A further benefit to the accredited program is broader recognition in the academic community and the professional field. Employers can be assured that graduates of accredited programs are fully qualified for entry level positions. Students from accredited programs are eligible to sit for the Certified Park & Recreation Professional (CPRP) examination, a recognized credential in the field.

What is COAPRT?

The Council on Accreditation of Parks, Recreation, Tourism and Related Professions (COAPRT),  formally established in 1974, accredits baccalaureate programs in parks, recreation, tourism, sport management, event management, therapeutic recreation, and leisure studies offered at regionally accredited institutions within the United States and its territories, and at nationally accredited institutions in Canada, and Mexico. Read or download the COAPRT Bylaws. The Council meets twice annually to review accredited programs, to revise and update the standards for accreditation and the procedures for program review, and to conduct the business of the Council. The 10 members include educators, practitioners and a public representative. View a list of the current Council members. The Council was first recognized by the Council on Postsecondary Accreditation (COPA) in 1986 and is now recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, (CHEA), successor to COPA. As a CHEA-recognized accrediting body, the Council meets specific procedural and organizational criteria necessary for effectively conducting the accrediting process.  

Who Gets Accredited?

Undergraduate baccalaureate programs in parks, recreation, tourism, sport management, event management, therapeutic recreation, and leisure studies are eligible to apply for accreditation. At present, no accrediting program exists for two-year programs or for advanced master's and doctoral programs in the field. 

What are the Standards?

The standards for park, recreation and leisure services curriculum accreditation are descriptive statements of quality concerning both organization and operation of the academic program, and the program content students are required to be taught.In their entirety, the standards cover faculty, philosophy and goals of the academic unit, students, administration, instructional resources, foundation understandings, and professional competencies. The learning outcomes presented in Standard 7.0 series are designed to elicit evidence of student learning in the Program's foundation areas including a) historical, scientific, and philosophical foundations; b) design, implementation and evaluation of park, recreation and human service experiences; and c) operational and strategic management of organizations in parks, recreation, tourism, and related professions.

How Do Programs Get Accredited?

The process of accreditation is rigorous and lengthy. An institution seeking accreditation first submits to the Council a Preliminary Application indicating its intent to pursue accredited status and the support of its administration for doing so. The Formal Application notifies the Council that it is ready to proceed with the process. The program develops an extensive Self-Study, hosts an on-campus team of COAPRT visitors, receives and responds to a written report of the team's findings, and is finally reviewed by the Council, which determines the accreditation status and any follow-up actions the program must take to maintain it. Every five years a similar review process is completed, and annual update reports are submitted during the interim years. Thus accreditation is an ongoing process of self-review and peer review by outside evaluators.

Visitation teams include both educators and practitioners. These individuals qualify by meeting both academic and experiential criteria and completing a training course and periodic refresher courses.

Who Pays for Accreditation?

Each institution pays application and annual maintenance fees plus the full cost of hosting the on-site team and appearing before the Council. 

What is the Difference Between Accreditation and Certification?

The term "accreditation" applies to institutions, programs or other entities, as opposed to "certification," "registration," and "licensure," which apply to individuals.

In the park and recreation field, certification is linked to accreditation: students of accredited park and recreation academic programs are eligible to sit for the Certified Park & Recreation Professional examination prior to graduation, while those from non-accredited programs must be fully employed in the field for a minimum of two years before becoming eligible.

The National Certification Board grants Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) status to qualified applicants. This certification is becoming ever more widely known and valued by employers as a professional credential. Students and potential students should become well informed early about this certification and its implications for their professional future.