A fancy crest, grandiose name, and spiffy website do not make an accreditor credible, but they can be used to fool you. So how exactly are you supposed to know that an accrediting institution is legitimate and not some kind of accreditation mill?
You can check government lists of registered accreditors, but they do not cover all organizations that claim to accredit non-degree granting programs, such as TEFL. The big international professional associations stay neutral or mute on the quality of TEFL accreditors.
Sometimes you need to decide for yourself if an organization is worthy of your trust. To help you make that decision, this article will provide questions for you to ask as you scrutinize an accreditor’s website, as well as search tips and links to resources for verifying an organization’s claims. Many of these questions and tools transfer equally well to assessing a TEFL course provider, too.
Qualities to look for in an accreditor
Legitimate organizations share facts you can verify. Their policies are thorough, their standards are detailed. They tell you where their office is, who works there, how to contact them, and who they’ve accredited. The more verifiable information they share, the more you can trust them.
Can you identify the agency’s leaders, standards, policies, funding? Where is it based? What laws govern it?
To be held accountable, organizations need to share a record of the work they’ve done. They must be available to answer questions about their work.
How does the accreditor demonstrate its work? Can you find a list a programs or institutions that the accreditor has validated? Can you identify an authoritative body which recognizes the accreditor and/or reviews its performance?
Accreditation is a service to a profession– to its students, trainers, practitioners, and employers. Legitimate accreditors are involved in the community their work is intended to serve.
Can you verify that the accreditor belongs to professional organizations and participates in professional activities? Is it accepted by the teaching community? By quality assurance professionals?
Specific facts to look for when assessing credibility
In what country is the accreditor based?
What is their address and telephone number?
How can you contact them?
Is their address a physical location, or a post office box or “virtual office”?
Does the website show images of buildings? If so, whose are they?
Location is essential in order to know what laws govern the organization and where it files taxes. Search with quotes to see if any other businesses share the same address or phone number. Using a reverse image search tool, look up images of buildings to see if the building belongs anywhere else. For example, I found an image of the Wharton School in Pennsylvania being used without explanation on a website of a school supposedly located in Paris.
Where to check:
2. Quality Standards
Does this accreditor accredit qualifications, courses, or institutions?
Are the accreditation standards clear and specific, or generic and vacuous?
Are the published standards unique or copied from another website?
How long does the accreditation process take?
What methods do they use to evaluate a course or school?
How often does the accrediting agency visit an organization in person?
After reading their documentation, you should get a sense of whether the process is thorough and careful or a quick rubber stamp after money is exchanged.
Where to check:
- Accreditor’s website: A “Standards” or “Accreditation Process” section.
- Other sources: Using quotes, search for snippets of text from policy pages in Google or use a plagiarized text detector.
3. Directors and Staff
What is the name of the president or CEO?
Who is on the board of directors?
Who is responsible for moderating courses?
Are the accreditors paid staff or volunteers?
What are their credentials?
Are they affiliated with other organizations in the field?
The organization should make you feel confident that the personnel are well trained to perform accreditation. If the accreditation personnel have other links to the profession, it should be easier to trust their judgment.
Where to check:
- Accreditor’s website: A “Team” page or organizational chart.
- Other sources: LinkedIn profiles; national business or charity registers; professional organizations’ membership lists.
How is this organization funded?
How many different schools have they accredited?
Who owns the institutions they have accredited?
Do the accredited institutions belong to a single parent company?
Is there a relationship between the accreditor, its employees or board members, and the accredited companies?
Do the accreditor and the accredited school websites looks similar?
Are any of the websites hosted on the same server?
Finding connections is one of the funnest parts of doing research into TEFL accreditation. There are a lot of intriguing facts to find! Don’t skip this step.
Where to check:
- Accreditor’s website: “Team”, “Members” or “Accredited schools” page.
- Other sources: Use ICANN WHOIS to see who registered the web domain; use a reverse IP lookup tool to find other websites hosted on the server; try to find the names of the company’s directors or owners in a National business register.
5. Clients or Members
Do the schools accredited by this organization look legitimate and professional?
Do the accredited schools provide verifiable information, such as:
- names of owners and employees
- verifiable educational credentials of staff
- physical address, photos of their location
- contact information
- business registration number
- detailed course outline and syllabus
- course price lists and start dates
- membership in professional or business organizations
Where to check:
- Federal or State/Provincial business registry
- Local Municipal Chamber of Commerce
- Better Business Bureau
Does a government body regulate this agency?
Does the organization provide a business or charity registration number?
Does this accreditor belong to a national quality assurance network?
Do reputable agencies or professionals reference this agency?
An accreditor shouldn’t fail just because it is not regulated by a government body– the law may not require this. However, if they cannot demonstrate where their authority does come from, there is a problem.
Where to check:
- Accreditor’s website: Footer, About page, or History page.
- Other sources: National business or charity register; national, state, or provincial department of education website; national quality assurance website; professional associations.
- Domain Name Registry: https://whois.icann.org/en – Find out who registered a domain name.
- Reverse IP Lookup: https://viewdns.info/reverseip – Find other websites hosted on the same server.
- Reverse Image Search: https://images.google.com – Put the accreditor’s logo into an image search tool to find where else the image is used and any connections which may not be listed on the organization’s website. Search images of people used on the website, especially those next to testimonials or staff profiles, to see if they are stock images used elsewhere on the web. Search images of buildings to see if they belong anywhere else.
- Plagiarized text detector: http://www.copyscape.com – Enter the URL of a page, such the organizations’s description, a policy page, or an “accreditation process” page, to see if the text is unique to the agency or duplicated elsewhere on the web.
- Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine: https://web.archive.org – Compare earlier versions of a website with what is published today. Look for changes in location, employees, clients, policies, etc.
- Higher Education Quality Assurance Organizations- See if the accreditor is a member of the quality assurance professional community:
- Business and Charity Registration- Verify that the organization is a legally registered business or charity:
- Canada – Federal Corporation Search
- Canada – Charity Listings
- UK – Companies House
- UK – Registered charities in England and Wales
- US – Tax Exempt Organization Search
- US – Each state’s Secretary of State website should have a search tool or registry for businesses and corporations. See Wikipedia’s List of State Company Registries
- Other countries – The UK government has a good list of overseas registries
I hope these tips help get you started in making a decision about whether an accreditor is worthy of your trust. I will update this page periodically as I find new tools and sources!