Degree Authorization

Any private or out-of-state institution wishing to operate as a degree-granting institution in the state must seek authorization. Operation is defined as having a physical presence, which can include anything from a campus to a mailing address or telecommunications number, advertising and recruiting in a manner that specifically targets residents of the state, or offering distance learning degree programs that include required field placements that take place in the state.

The Degree-Granting Institutions Act began in 1979 as the Educational Services Registration Act (ESRA) under the Council for Postsecondary Education. It became the Degree-Granting Institutions Act in 1986.

The list of currently authorized institutions is available here. Note: you will need to click on the tab titled "Authorized Institutions" for the list.

Degree Authorization

The Degree-Granting Institutions Act requires all degree-granting institutions operating in Washington to obtain authorization from the Washington Student Achievement Council unless the Council has determined they are exempt. Washington's public colleges and universities, and certain other private and religious institutions, are exempt institutions. Factors considered in determining authorization include an institution's financial stability, business practices, academic programs, and faculty qualifications. Authorization does not imply an endorsement of the institution or its programs by the Council. It means only that the institution and its programs meet minimum state operating standards.

There are approximately 132 authorized institutions in Washington. Authorization is program and site specific. Each program and teaching site must be reviewed every two years. Any of the following activities could trigger the need for authorization:

  • Offering programs or courses at or from a physical location in the state.
  • Offering associate, bachelor's, and/or graduate degrees in the state.
  • Recruiting or advertising to state residents
  • Maintaining any type of physical presence in the state.

Current Requests for Authorization

Sanford-Brown College

2014 Degree Authorization Quarterly Activities

First Quarter 2014

Second Quarter 2014

Third Quarter 2014

Applying for Institutional Authorization

Degree-granting colleges and universities seeking authorization to operate in Washington should contact us at DegreeAuthorization@wsac.wa.gov. Private vocational and technical schools seeking a license to offer diploma or certificate programs in state should contact Washington's Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board.

Steps in the Authorization Process:

  • Step 1: For new institutions: Develop a detailed proposal; develop an administrative structure and define the degrees and programs your college or university would like to offer in Washington; outline proposed areas and level of study, the mode of delivery (distance education or classroom-based) and a potential location. For existing institutions: Prepare a brief description of the planned activities.
  • Step 2: Contact us to set up a meeting. Please call us at least one year prior to the proposed start of operations. We will discuss the application process, the areas of review, and the details of your proposal during the meeting.
  • Step 3: Complete and submit the application. We will review your application and contact you if we have questions or need further clarification. 

Authorization for Distance Learning

Institutions seeking information on whether their distance learning activities may require authorization can complete the Distance Learning Questionnaire and FAX it to Degree Authorization - 360-704-6203.

Areas of Review

Authorized Institutions

  • Institutional mission/purpose.
  • Institutional policies and procedures (for programs offered, students enrolled).
  • Institutional infrastructure (facilities, student resources, and governing board).
  • Academic programs (curriculum, degree titles, admission and graduation requirements).
  • Faculty and staff qualifications.
  • Student services (advising, job placement, financial aid, and student conduct policies).
  • Financial stability (sufficient to sustain the institution’s purpose and commitment to students).
  • Recruitment materials and publications (accuracy of information, absence of misleading statements).
  • Closure procedures (to protect students if the institution were to close).

Religious Exempt Institutions
Certain institutions may qualify for an exemption from authorization based upon their strictly religious nature.

  • The religious nature of the institution (the institution’s name, mission/purpose, and objectives). 
  • The religious nature of the degree titles, programs, and curriculum.
  • Recruitment materials and publications (accuracy of information and absence of misleading statements).

Foreign Degree-Granting Branch Campuses
Institutions based in other countries may operate branch campuses in Washington State provided they meet the following criteria:

  • Authorization to operate as a degree-granting college or university in its home country. 
  • Programs that are begun and completed in the institution’s home country.

Specifically, students must:

  • Have received academic credit for courses completed at the institution in its home country.
  • Receive academic credit toward their degrees for courses completed at the branch campus in Washington.
  • Return to the institution in its home country to complete their degrees. 

Other Resources

Licensing Entities: The Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board licenses private career schools that offer diplomas and certificate programs of a vocational or technical nature. 

Accreditation: Private organizations—not the state of Washington—accredit institutions and their programs (accredited institutions operating in Washington are also required to be authorized or exempted by the Council).

Accreditation is a means of self-regulation and peer review by the educational community and may cover specific programs or an entire institution. The accreditation process is voluntary and can take up to 10 years. In general, schools must operate for at least two years before they can apply for accreditation. 

The Council has prepared a list of accrediting associations recognized by the agency and the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. Department of Education reviews some accrediting organizations and maintains a list of those it recognizes. To learn more, visit the U.S. Department of Education website.