The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is a private, non-profit, voluntary organization founded in 1895 in Atlanta, Georgia, for the purpose of setting standards and improving education in the colleges and schools of the South. Five other private regional accrediting associations have been established to do similar work in other regions of the United States. All of these regional accrediting associations have commissions which develop standards for and accredit postsecondary degree-granting institutions. The Association's Commission on Colleges (COC) accredits institutions awarding associate, baccalaureate, masters, specialists, or doctoral degrees in the eleven U.S. southern states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) and in Latin America.
The accrediting activities are carried out by volunteers from the accredited institutions and programs. Periodically an institution or program is reevaluated (reaffirmed in accreditation) after an accrediting team visit by peers (those from other institutions or programs). Institutions accredited by the Commission On Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools go through reaffirmation every ten years. The accrediting decisions are made by the representatives chosen from the membership, along with representatives of the public. The Commission on Colleges is composed of 77 representatives. Accrediting decisions are not made by the staff of an accrediting association.
There are, for historical reasons, eight institutional accrediting commissions of higher education within the six regional accrediting associations: the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Middle States Association. of Colleges and Schools, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (two commissions), the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (two commissions). The directors of these higher education commissions meet together to cooperate on common concerns. Although there are some differences in standards and procedures from region to region, the eight regional commissions operate similarly. The regional accrediting associations have traditionally accredited a wide diversity of degree-granting institutions, including two-year colleges, four-year colleges, and graduate institutions.