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Explanation of Certification

Pursuant to 23-276.1 - 12 of the Code of Virginia, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) is responsible for developing procedures to which certain private and all out-of-state postsecondary institutions must adhere in order to receive approval to confer degrees, certificates, or diplomas in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  This approval process is called certification. 

The Private and Out-of-State Postsecondary Education (POPE) section of SCHEV is responsible for reviewing applications for initial certification from postsecondary institutions desiring to operate in Virginia, as well as processing annual recertification applications from postsecondary institutions currently certified to operate in Virginia.

The POPE staff is charged with, but not limited to:

The POPE staff attempts to foster and improve the educational programs and services of the certified institutions while protecting the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia from fraudulent or substandard operations.  POPE staff also mediates complaints between students and certified institutions and serves as the repository of academic records in the event a certified school closes or its certification to operate in Virginia is revoked.

Private and out-of-state postsecondary educational institutions that are certified to operate in Virginia must meet certain standards of operations that include faculty preparation, financial stability, maintenance of student records, library and classroom facilities, procedures for student admissions and graduation, organizational and administration standards of operation, and consistency of a school’s state purpose with the proposed offerings.

Certified institutions are required to re-certify that they meet these standards on an annual basis.  To ensure compliance with the standards, POPE staff conducts random programmatic and financial audits of the certified institutions.  Certification is not the same as accreditation; however, an institution must obtain state approval before seeking accreditation.

Certain private institutions are exempt from the requirements of certification or approval by SCHEV.  They include:

SCHEV has limited or no regulatory authority over institutions exempt from certification.  Before enrolling in any institution in the Commonwealth of Virginia, students are encouraged to determine the schools regulatory relationship with SCHEV or other state regulatory agencies.  Certain consumer protection provisions required by certified schools are not present at or required by exempt institutions.

Other state agencies that regulate postsecondary education in Virginia: