Accreditation Bodies and Diversity Standards

Shelby Siegel, Mariam Abushanab and Bertha G. Holliday compare and contrast the values and standards regarding ethnic minority representation and diversity of several accreditation agencies associated with professional psychology and counseling training programs.

Shelby Siegel
OEMA Intern – The George Washington University

Mariam Abushanab
OEMA Intern – George Mason University

Bertha G. Holliday, PhD
Senior Director, OEMA

Mariam AbushanabAccreditation bodies, which are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, are responsible for ensuring that institutions adhere to standards that guarantee the best educational experiences for students, faculty and administration. This typically occurs through self-review and peer-review of quality assurance standards. Diversity/multiculturalism is a standard that is increasingly used in the accreditation process.

This article discusses varying views on standards for assessing the quality of ethnic minority representation and diversity in graduate training and education of several accreditation agencies associated with professional psychology and counseling training programs. Specifically, the article focuses on the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), and the American Psychological Association (APA). Please note that in psychology, only professional programs are accredited; scientific psychology programs are subject only to the institutional accreditation standards of regional accrediting bodies (e.g. North Central Association Commission on Accreditation).


CACREP accredits graduate counseling programs in addiction; career; clinical mental health; marriage, couple & family; school; student affairs & college counseling; and counselor education and supervision. CACREP's current standards for accreditation include great attention to issues of diversity and multiculturalism. The glossary of the CACREP standards document defines diversity as "distinctiveness and uniqueness among and between human beings" (p. 59). Examples of CACREP standards related to diversity include:

  • “The counselor education academic unit has made systematic efforts to attract, enroll, and retain a diverse group of students and to create and support an inclusive learning community." (Sect. I, Std. J)

  • “The academic unit has made systematic efforts to recruit, employ, and retain a diverse faculty." (Sect. I, Std. U)

  • Social and Cultural Diversity is identified as 1 of 8 common core curricular areas and defined as "studies that provide an understanding of the cultural context of relationships, issues, and trends in a multicultural society…" (Sect. II, Std. G2.)

  • Statements of specific diversity knowledge/skill acquisition expectations for students such as:

(a) "Demonstrates the ability to modify counseling systems, theories, techniques, and interventions to make them culturally appropriate for diverse populations of addiction clients. (Sect. III: Addiction Counseling subsection, Std.F3.)

(b) "… understands the effects of racism, discrimination, sexism, power, privilege, and oppression on one's own life and career and those of the client." (Sect. III, Clinical Mental Health Counseling Subsection, Std. E.2.)

(c) "Demonstrates an ability to help staff members, professionals, and community members understand the unique needs/characteristics of multicultural and diverse populations with regard to career exploration, employment expectations, and economic/social issues. (Sect. III: Career Counseling subsection, Std. F2)

(d) "Demonstrates appropriate use of culturally responsive individual, couple, family, group, and systems modalities for initiating, maintaining, and terminating counseling (Section III: Mental Health Counseling subsection, Std. D5)

(e) "Designs and implements prevention and intervention plans related to the effects of (a) atypical growth and development, (b) health and wellness, (c) language, (d) ability level, (e) multicultural issues, and (f) factors of resiliency on student learning and development. (Sect. III, School Counseling subsection, Std. D3)

(f) At the doctoral level, "…learning experiences…are required in…pedagogy relevant to multicultural issues and competencies, including social change theory and advocacy action planning". (Doctoral Standards, Sect. II, Std, C4)


NASP is a member organization of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), which formerly accredited professional education programs, but since 1988, focuses exclusively on the accreditation of their parent academic units (i.e., usually schools/colleges of education), and authorizes the "review" of professional programs by its member professional associations, Thus NASP's program standards are part of NCATE's standards, and the conduct of a NASP review is part of the NCATE accreditation process. Indeed, findings of professional program reviews constitute the primary data for 1 (Candidate Knowledge, Skills, and Professional Dispositions).of NCATE's 6 standards. Consequently, NASP standards are now used as the basis for 'approving' graduate school psychology programs, regardless of whether they are in a NCATE accredited academic unit.

Examples of NASP training standards related to diversity include:

  • A commitment to understanding and responding to human diversity is articulated in the program's philosophy/mission, goals, and objectives and practiced throughout all aspects of the program, including admissions, faculty, coursework, practica, and internship experiences. Human diversity is recognized as a strength that is valued and respected. (Std. 1.2)

  • "School psychologists, in collaboration with others, develop appropriate cognitive and academic goals for students with different abilities, disabilities, strengths, and needs; implement interventions to achieve those goals; and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions." (Std. 2.3)

  • Student Diversity in Development and Learning is identified as 1 of 11 domains of learning and practice that "should be fully integrated into graduate level curricula, practica and internship,” and is described as: "School psychologists have knowledge of individual differences, abilities, and disabilities and of the potential influence of various biological, social, cultural… factors in development and learning. School psychologists demonstrate the sensitivity and skills needed to work with individuals of diverse characteristics and to implement strategies selected and/or adapted based on individual characteristics, strengths, and needs." (Std. 2.5)

  • "School psychologists recognize in themselves and others the subtle racial, class, gender, cultural and other biases they may bring to their work and the way these biases influence decision-making, instruction, behavior and long-term outcomes for students" (Std. 2.5 Expanded description)

  • "School psychologists have knowledge of human development and psychopathology and of associated biological, cultural, and social influences on human behavior. (Std 2.7)

  • "The program applies specific published criteria for the assessment and admission of candidates to the program at each level and for candidate retention and progression in the program. The criteria address the academic and professional competencies, as well as the professional work characteristics needed … (including respect for human diversity, communication skills, effective interpersonal relations, ethical responsibility, adaptability, and initiative/dependability) ( Std. 4.2)


APA's accreditation standards and process are based on several 'principles' such as:

(a) Graduate education and training should be broad and professional in its orientation rather than narrow and technical;

(b) Science and practice should equally contribute to excellence in training;

(c) a program should have broad latitude in defining its philosophy or model of training and its training principles, goals, objectives, and desired outcomes.

In addition, the APA accreditation process places emphasis on products or outcomes of training efforts and expects programs to document their achievements relative to accreditation domains.

APA accreditation involves 8 domains of which one (Domain D) focuses exclusively on Cultural and Individual Differences and Diversity: 

Standards related to this domain call for:

  • "The program has made systematic, coherent, and long-term efforts to attract and retain students and faculty from differing ethnic, racial, and personal backgrounds into the program." (Domain D1)

  • "The program has and implements a thoughtful and coherent plan to provide students with relevant knowledge and experiences about the role of cultural and individual diversity in psychological phenomena as they relate to the science and practice of professional psychology." (Domain D2)

In addition, issues of diversity have been incorporated into three other domains as indicated below:

  • "The program engages in actions that indicate respect for and understanding of cultural and individual diversity… [as} reflected in the program's policies for the recruitment, retention, and development of faculty and students, and in its curriculum and field placements. The program has nondiscriminatory policies and operating conditions…" (Domain A-5)

  • "A curriculum plan… [that includes] Issues of cultural and individual diversity that are relevant to [history, science, methods of psychology, foundations of psychological practice, and diagnosis, and problem identification]" (Domain B 3(d))

  • "The program shows respect for cultural and individual diversity among their students by treating them in accord with the principles contained in Domain A, Section 5 of this document.(Domain E3)

Similarities and Differences Among Diversity Accreditation Standards

All of the above organizations have stated their commitment to diversity and used their influence to infuse their constituent institutions/programs with this same commitment. Each set of standards has at its heart a desire to make the learning process and environment both welcoming and relevant to the reality of diversity in the world inside and outside of the classroom. All of the organizations also seem to agree on the need for systematic and systemic change in the academic institutions to accomplish this. 

However, there are some differences in the exact tactics. For instance, the CACREP and APA standards directly address faculty diversity, while NASP does not. All of the standards to some extent address issues of curriculum related to diversity, but in somewhat different ways. APA speaks of this issue in very broad, almost aspirational terms, consistent with its approach that programs should define desired student outcomes. In stark contrast, CACREP, while not specifying specific courses or content to be included in the diversity curriculum, very explicitly identifies diversity skills and competencies that program students should acquire and be able to demonstrate. NASP, to a less exacting extent, also identifies expected student diversity knowledge and capabilities. Thus CACREP and NASP standards are far more competency based than are APA’s.

The diversity standards also differ in their general stance and underlying values. Those of APA standards seem to be primarily rooted in a valuing of non-discrimination, equal access to resources and knowledge, and deference to program self-definition and autonomy. CACREP and NASP adopt more affirmative and assertive stances reflecting a valuing of both individual differences within social-cultural contexts, and social advocacy/ justice.

At least two other issues that are beyond the scope of this article shape differences among accrediting bodies’ impact on diversity in psychology: The designated process for review of standards, and the prescribed use and consequences of findings of partial or absence of compliance with diversity standards.

Unquestionably, diversity accreditation standards are a major tool for enhancing ethnic minority recruitment, retention and training in graduate professional areas of psychology. 

The discussed standards can be found online at the links provided below. 

CACREP Standards (PDF, 159KB)

NASP Standards (PDF, 126KB)

APA Standards (PDF, 460KB) 

Mariam Abushanab is a senior at George Mason University, where she majors in psychology. At GMU, Mariam is active in the GMU chapters of the Psi Chi and Lambda Sigma national honor societies, the Turkish and Muslim student associations, the Women's Coalition, the College Democrats Organization, and Students for a Democratic Society. Her previous internship experience includes positions with Sisli Etfal Hospital in Istanbul, the British Parliament in London, and George Washington University's Parent-Child Health Project. Mariam is fluent in Turkish, proficient in Arabic, and enjoys horseback riding.