Accreditation for an independent, single-site language school: the advantages still outweigh the disadvantages

This week, the deadline passed for the US’s Intensive English Programs to be accredited in order to issue student visas. Nate Freedman, Campus Director at Boston-based Language Skills, gives a first-person account of the accreditation process of an independent, single-site language school. 

James Stakenburg, Head of Teacher Training at Rennert, recently presented his case study of going through the accreditation process (The PIE News, October 25), stating that “the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages”. And as the accreditation deadline draws closer, we are continuing to hear from both members of the accrediting bodies and the schools they accredit on the challenges and benefits of accreditation.

From the perspective of an independent, single-site language school, where administrators and faculty already “wear many hats”, adding the task of accreditation, which requires a comprehensive review of the entire program, poses so many challenges that during the application process the potential benefits of being accredited can seem distant and unattainable. Throughout our journey to accreditation, we asked ourselves many times: will the advantages of accreditation really outweigh the disadvantages?

Well, now that Language Skills has received initial accreditation with CEA, the benefits are becoming clear, and I can begin to reflect on the question of whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Advantages: Our faculty loves the improvements to the program. Clearly written syllabi and curricula with relevant course goals and student learning outcomes make their jobs easier and more enjoyable. Improved faculty orientation and ongoing professional development provides greater job satisfaction. Upon hiring our newest instructors, we heard a lot of, “wow, I am so impressed with how organized you guys are!”

Students also enjoy the increased structure and relevancy of their courses, and it allows us to market the program with greater confidence. No longer do we believe our quality is on-par with international and multi-site programs, but we have evidence to show it.

Disadvantages: Along with being a language school, we can’t forget that we are also a small business! Maintaining a healthy small business requires the careful allocation of resources, and finding the resources to go through and now maintain accreditation was and continues to be our biggest challenge. Mr. Stakenburg admitted that Rennert “took someone off their regular job full-time for three months and most staff had extra work to do as well” to prepare for accreditation. We too had to find creative ways to meet the demands of accreditation with limited resources.

Yet, as I’m sure many of The PIE News readers can attest to, working with limited resources is not something only schools of our size and model face, and that all US language schools facing the December deadline of accreditation will see unique challenges and benefits.

In our case, accreditation has already opened new marketing channels and increased employee and student satisfaction, and we have managed to do it all with our own internal resources. It appears that Mr. Stakenburg’s claim was right: even for independent, single-site language schools like ours, the advantages of accreditation still outweigh the disadvantages.