The Private Postsecondary Education (PPE) unit of the Academic Affairs division of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) is responsible for the certification of private and out-of-state postsecondary schools operating in Virginia.
What is a postsecondary school?

According to § 23.1-213 of the Code of Virginia, a postsecondary school is any entity offering formal instructional programs with a curriculum designed primarily for students who have completed the requirements for a high school diploma or its equivalent. The postsecondary school designation includes programs of academic, vocational and continuing professional education, but does not extend to avocational and adult basic education programs.

What types of entities must seek certification to operate in Virginia?
  • Any person, firm, association, postsecondary school, trust or other entity intending to offer degrees, diplomas and certificates, enroll students or use the term “college” or “university” must seek certification.
  • Any proprietary or nonprofit postsecondary career entity maintaining a physical presence in Virginia providing education or training for tuition or a fee that (i) augments a person's occupational skills; (ii) provides a certification; or (iii) fulfills a training or education requirement in one's career, trade or occupation must seek certification. 
  • Any entity that offers programs beyond the secondary school level, including programs using alternate modes of delivery, must seek certification to operate in Virginia so long as tuition and fees from such programs constitute any part of its revenue.
  • Any postsecondary school that seeks to conduct distance-learning activities from a Virginia site must seek certification from SCHEV. Physical presence in Virginia is a requirement for certification. SCHEV interprets physical presence to mean the school offers instruction at a site in Virginia or maintains an operational administrative site on a full-time basis in Virginia from which prospective students can obtain admissions and/or academic information.
What types of entities are exempt from SCHEV certification?
  1. Schools whose primary purpose is to provide religious training or theological education.
  2. Any nursing education program regulated by the Virginia Board of Nursing that leads to licensure, but not a degree. Learn more here.
  3. Any program for professional or occupational training offered by a school approved or regulated by another Virginia or federal governmental agency. Learn more here.
  4. Any course or program of study given by a professional body, fraternal organization, civic club or benevolent order principally for continuing or professional education.
  5. Courses or programs offered through approved multistate compacts.
  6. Courses offered by accredited postsecondary schools provided solely on a contractual basis to an existing business.
  7. Any school or course offered by a trade association on subjects related to the trade, business or profession represented by the association.
  8. Tutorial instruction delivered and designed to supplement regular classes for students or to prepare an individual for an examination for professional practice or higher education.
  9. Schools of fine arts or other avocational courses conducted solely to further artistic appreciation, talent or for personal development or information.
  10. Privately held institutions of higher education that were formed, chartered or established in Virginia that have maintained a campus for at least 10 continuous years under the same ownership and maintained full accreditation by an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

To learn more, visit our web page for entities seeking certification exemption.

How does a school obtain certification to operate in Virginia?

A postsecondary school seeking certification to operate in Virginia must attend a New School Orientation session and then submit a complete certification application package and all required fees. SCHEV staff will visit the school site to ensure the school meets certain operational, equipment and facility standards and maintains the necessary equipment to operate a school in accordance with its stated mission. Upon the receipt of a complete certification application package and the completion of a successful site visit, SCHEV staff will recommend to the Council that certification to operate be granted. The school will be notified in writing of the Council’s action, and if approved, a Certificate to Operate detailing start and end dates will be issued. Please note that non-exempt schools will be required to recertify annually.

Will credits earned at a certified PPE school transfer to another institution?

Any student interested in transferring credit hours or coursework should check with the receiving institution to determine to what extent, if any, credit hours or coursework will be accepted. Whether or not credits or coursework transfer is solely up to the discretion of the receiving institution.

Are there advertising standards to which PPE schools must adhere?

All certified schools must include in all publicity, advertisement and promotional materials (i) a clear statement that the Council has certified the school to operate in Virginia, (ii) the school's complete name as indicated on the certificate to operate, and (iii) the address of the campus located in Virginia. No advertisement, announcement or any other material produced by or for the school shall in any way indicate that the school is supervised, recommended, endorsed or accredited by the Commonwealth of Virginia, by SCHEV or by any other state agency in Virginia. Further, no school, agent or admissions personnel may knowingly make any statement or representation that is false, inaccurate or misleading regarding the school.

How do I request information about a PPE school?

Each certified postsecondary school is required to have a current written document available to students and the general public that accurately states the powers, duties and responsibilities of the governing board, the owners of the school and the principal administrators, among others.

Additional information about PPE schools may be available under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located at § 2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, which guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials and public employees. Visit our FOIA page for more information about requesting records from SCHEV.