Recommendations for Evaluating Accreditation Guideline Outcomes Assessment Methods for Accredited Environmental Health Programs in the United States

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A Brief History of EHAC

The National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC) is an independent organization whose mission is to accredit environmental health programs offered in national and regional institutions of higher education. These programs prepare students for entry into careers in environmental health, environmental protection, and industrial hygiene (EHAC, 2003).

EHAC was established in 1967 as the National Accreditation Council for Environmental Health Curricula. It is an autonomous organization that is related to and works closely with the National Environmental Health Association, from which it evolved. The purpose of the council is to enhance the education and training of students who intend to become environmental health science and protection professionals. The council is composed of highly qualified professionals representing academic, government, and industrial communities. Over its 28-year history, it has consistently worked to upgrade the quality of education and training delivered by the programs it accredits (EHAC, 2003).

EHAC is the only accrediting agency in the United States for environmental health programs. The council has accredited 27 undergraduate and graduate programs in both public and private institutions across the United States. Since 1989, accredited programs have placed over 1,500 well-qualified graduates into the environmental health workforce. Graduates of accredited programs hold positions with federal, state, and local health agencies; the military; the U.S. Public Health Service; various universities; and numerous companies, including many Fortune 500 companies (EHAC, 2003).

Accreditation indicates that an academic program has the curriculum, faculty, facilities, and institutional support necessary to provide quality education in environmental health science and protection. Only students from accredited programs are eligible to participate as sanitarians in the Commission Officer Student Extern Training Program (COSTEP) of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS). Another benefit for students who graduate from an accredited program is that those students have priority in USPHS hiring practices. Many states recognize graduation from an accredited program as meeting a specific standard needed to register environmental health specialists or sanitarians (EHAC, 2003).

Numerous accrediting agencies throughout the United States are "recognized" (see definitions below) either by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) or by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Currently. EHAC is not recognized by either entity. This paper was written to provide guidance to EHAC on outcomes assessment and other areas related to EHAC's consideration of pursuing recognition by either USDE or CHEA. In recent years, EHAC has been working to obtain comprehensive and systematic information about key elements related to environmental health science and protection and the accreditation process.

Definition of Accreditation and Recognition

For the purposes of this article, two important terms are defined: accreditation and recognition.

"Accreditation" is a process of external quality review used by the higher education community to scrutinize colleges, universities, and educational programs for quality assurance and quality improvement. In the United States, accreditation is carried out by private, nonprofit organizations designed specifically for this purpose (CHEA, 2001).

"Recognition" is a process of external quality review of accrediting organizations to affirm their quality and effectiveness. In the United States, recognition is carried out by a federal agency, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE), and by a private organization, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) (CHEA, 2001).

USDE Requirements for Outcomes Assessment

For more information on the USDE procedures and criteria for the recognition of accrediting agencies, visit the agency's Web site at http://www. …