Accreditation Standards and Procedures

Accreditation is a voluntary, nongovernmental process involving a rigorous external review of a program conducted by peers to ensure that the program meets a standard of excellence that provides a high quality of education for students graduating from the program.

General Standards for Eligibility

To be eligible for CAPPA accreditation, your program must offer a master's degree in public policy/administration (or a similar professional master's degree preparing students for professional careers in public service). Your program must be a member in good standing of CAPPA, and the quality assurance body in your province should recognize your home university.

Programs should be in operation for at least a four-year period before seeking CAPPA accreditation in order to provide the data required to complete a review. Programs that have not been in operation for at least four years must provide a rationale as to the adequacy of program data to support an evaluation.

CAPPA accreditation is awarded at the master's program level only, not at the school or institutional level. Programs seeking accreditation should have as their goal the preparation of students for careers as analysts, managers and leaders in a profession focused on the public sector. Excluded would be programs focused on educating students for other professions such as social work, education and nursing.

Online programs are eligible for accreditation if they can demonstrate an adequate amount of interaction between students and faculty, and some socialization into the norms and aspirations of professional public servants. In such programs, faculty members must be able to adequately assess students' interpersonal and communications skills and ensure that they enter the profession prepared and able to operate at a high level of skill.

Mission-Based Standards

CAPPA accreditation is a combination of universal and mission-based standards. All programs, therefore, need a mission statement that is continuously reviewed to ensure alignment between goals and outcomes. Faculty and students should be engaged in this process, as well as alumni, employers and other members of your community. You should be able to demonstrate consultation and engagement to the CAPPA Accreditation Board.

The mission statement should reflect a commitment to professional education, high ethical standards, and the ongoing evaluation and continuous improvement of the program. Mission statements should be framed in a manner that assists programs to identify priorities and assign resources to meet goals.

To ensure that the program's missions can be accomplished:

  1. The program will have dedicated academic and professional leadership with sufficient resources, access and authority to realize the mission of the program.
  2. Members of the faculty will be academically and/or professionally qualified to help in the pursuit of the mission. There will also be efforts to ensure a diverse faculty that engages in research and scholarship. Programs should also have a core faculty of at least five full-time faculty members, or their equivalent.
  3. Student recruitment will be transparent and will provide evidence of support for students, in terms of advising, career counseling, internships and so on. Programs will also show clear efforts to recruit a diverse student population.
  4. The program will provide sufficient information, specifically about its mission, practices, accomplishments, and learning outcomes, to inform decisions by students, faculty, and other stakeholders.
  5. The curriculum of the program will demonstrate consistency and coherence in meeting its mission. The curriculum should be matched to the overall mission, should reflect a commitment to public service values, and should be designed to allow students to engage with real world problems.

Universal Standards: Student Competencies

Regardless of the specific mission of each accredited program, CAPPA expects that students will graduate with a set of skills and values that are suitable for success within a changing public sector environment.

Specifically, each program that is accredited by CAPPA must be able to demonstrate that graduates have obtained and can demonstrate certain standard competencies, which provide a basis for professional conduct in public policy and administration. All accredited programs will be able to demonstrate that they are producing graduates with the following competencies:

  1. The ability to analyze and think critically about public sector problems;
  2. The ability to lead and manage within public organizations;
  3. Knowledge and understanding of the tools and techniques required to engage stakeholders in policy and governance processes;
  4. An appreciation of the purpose of public service and associated standards of ethical behaviour;
  5. A capacity to communicate and interact both professionally and productively with a diverse and changing citizenry.

It is incumbent on each program to demonstrate how these competencies are acquired and how knowledge of competency acquisition is obtained.

The Benefits of Accreditation

CAPPA accreditation demonstrates a strong commitment to the delivery of quality public policy and administration education. Accreditation will produce insights into your program and help programs deliver the best education experience to students. Being CAPPA accredited means you have a peer-reviewed assessment of your program's quality, are promoting "best practices" in education, and that you directly involve faculty and students in a process of continuous quality improvement. In addition, and to facilitate credit transfer among accredited programs, you are focused on learning outcomes and not just inputs.

An accredited program provides an education in public administration education that prepares students for a career in public management. For students, accreditation means association with a program that has undergone a rigorous peer review process and has been judged by its peers to be of high quality. Programs seeking accreditation must comply with CAPPA standards. The accreditation process is designed to foster continuous assessment and improvement even after accreditation has been achieved.

Graduating from an accredited program means that prospective employers are assured that the student's degree meets a standard of quality and that the student has been adequately prepared for the profession. This is particularly useful if the prospective employer is not familiar with the institution from which the student received the degree. Additionally, in some cases the employer may require that the degree come from an accredited program to be eligible for tuition reimbursements.


In order to be eligible for CAPPA accreditation, you must be a member of CAPPA. Once you are a member and meet the other criteria listed above, you are then eligible to pursue accreditation.

The accreditation process is overseen by a five-person Accreditation Board, whose members are chosen by the board of directors of CAPPA. The Accreditation Board operates at arm's-length from CAPPA. It establishes rules for the process, chooses three-person panels (including at least one academic and one practitioner) for each program under consideration for accreditation, adjudicates any potential conflicts of interest, makes decisions on the recommendations of the review panels, and reports annually to the CAPPA board.

The accreditation framework and process is subject to regular review by CAPPA and can be adapted as CAPPA learns from the process and as educational and professional needs change. The standards described above are intended to guide both programs and assessors but not to mandate the choice of curriculum,  except to the extent that it should align with your mission and achieve the required student competencies.

Member schools or programs that are too small or do not wish to be accredited by CAPPA are permitted to post on the CAPPA website the results of quality assessment processes they have recently undergone, as well as provide brief statements of their reasons for not going through CAPPA's process.

Appendix: Setting the Stage for Accreditation

Pre-Accreditation Phase

  1. Programs are responsible for the costs of accreditation including the site visit.  However, it is important that this process be as economical as possible. E-mail, conference calls, and video-conferencing will be used in preference to face-to-face meetings.
  2. You must begin by building support among your faculty and among the administration of your university for the accreditation process.  As with any accreditation process, faculty will need to be involved at an early stage. Ideally, there will be a champion who can explain the advantages and necessity of accreditation to make it a success.
  3. We would suggest that you attend CAPPA's annual spring meeting as accreditation issues are to become an annual feature and you can gain insights, develop strategies and begin to develop support from this community.
  4. Think about the self-study and the sort of data that might be helpful. Do you have a mission statement and does it inform your curriculum? Do you have ways of collecting data on student learning outcomes?  Getting ahead on these issues will ensure that your progress through the self-study phase is much easier. For your guidance, a CAPPA Self Study Template has been developed.

First Phase

The first phase is to alert the Chair of the Accreditation Board of your interest in being accredited. The Chair in discussion with his or her Accreditation board will determine the eligibility of a particular program for CAPPA accreditation and will indicate what might be done to ensure that you are eligible.

Second Phase

Once you have alerted the Chair, you will be instructed to begin your self-study. The Chair of the Accreditation Board will provide you with a template and will guide you through this phase. If you need assistance, the Accreditation Board will assign a mentor to help guide you through this process.

Final Phase

After you have submitted the self-study the Chair of the Accreditation Board and the Program Director of the applicant program will arrange for a site visit. Once the visit is complete the site visit team will submit a report to the Chair of the Accreditation Board who will prepare a final decision in conjunction with the members of the Accreditation Board. The Chair will provide two letters: one a decision on accreditation; the other a set of recommendations to the program director intended to strengthen the program in the future.