What is Certification?

Certification by SCHEV is mandatory for non-exempt institutions to operate in the Commonwealth of Virginia, according to the Code of Virginia (§ 23.1-217). This means that, with few exceptions, most postsecondary schools must obtain certification to operate before advertising, enrolling students or engaging in any activities related to postsecondary education in Virginia.

Certified schools in Virginia are required to adhere to a range of policies designed to protect Certification Stamp students and their investments in higher education. Virginia regulations specify requirements for administration and faculty qualifications, financial stability, maintenance of student records, library and classroom facilities, and procedures for student admissions and graduation. Regulations also require that schools disclose and adhere to their transfer, refund and grievance policies, as well as provide accurate information about tuition, fees and financial aid.

When a school is granted certification to operate in Virginia, it indicates to students and the public at large that SCHEV has determined that the institution is in compliance with Virginia laws and regulations and meets minimum standards of quality.

The Private Postsecondary Education (PPE) unit of SCHEV ensures that certified schools maintain these standards by conducting site visits, checking compliance through school audits and investigating student complaints. Certification is valid for one year, and schools must seek recertification annually.

How is this Different from Accreditation?

Accreditation is a voluntary, non-governmental evaluation of educational institutions or programs. Regional, national and programmatic accreditation agencies develop procedures for evaluating institutions or programs to determine whether they are operating at basic levels of quality. Accredited postsecondary schools are required to prepare and execute in-depth self-evaluation studies that measure each school’s performance against the standards established by the accrediting agency. Accrediting agencies closely monitor each accredited institution or program to verify that they continue to meet the standards set by the agency. 

In order to seek and maintain eligibility for certification, SCHEV requires all out-of-state institutions and in-state, degree-granting institutions to be accredited by an accrediting body that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (U.S. ED). The U.S. ED has a list of regional, national and programmatic accrediting agencies that they recognize as reliable authorities concerning the quality of education or training offered by the institutions of higher education or higher education programs they accredit. In order for a school to participate in the federal Title IV student financial aid program, it must be accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Learn more at https://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation.html.