Programmatic Accreditation FAQ

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Programmatic Accreditation FAQ

ACSM Certification |  Nov. 20, 2020

ACSM Accreditation Certification
Follow-up Questions and Answers on Programmatic Accreditation and the Exercise Profession

Exercise Profession Accreditation
Watch the Virtual Town Hall here


Resources and Faculty Support:

  • What types of other resources are available? Are there accreditation consultants or folks we can 'meet' with in-person to gauge our progress along the way? 

ANSWER: CoAES has established a network of accreditation ambassadors/mentors that come from established accredited programs. If a prospective program is interested in participating in the mentorship program they can contact CoAES who will match them with a mentor that is either geographically close or from a similar institution (in size and mission). Once a program has been matched with a mentor, CoAES will provide supplementary material to aid the program and mentor with the self-study process. CoAES members are also available for consultation with no cost to the institution. 

  • What resources does CoAES provide for recruitment, enrollment, quality assurance and assessment? In addition to quality assurance from the accreditation standpoint – aligning with ACSM eligibility – what will CoAES provide in terms of program visibility? 

ANSWER: Within the self-study materials, CoAES provides templates for some outcomes, including employer satisfaction, graduate satisfaction and retention. For all outcomes chosen from previously accredited programs, thresholds have been established for each in order to meet the accreditation standard. CoAES lists all accredited programs on its website as does CAAHEP. CoAES also provides accredited programs a certificate suitable for framing to display within academic departments. Accredited programs are required to submit annual reports demonstrating progress toward successful outcomes measures. These reports are reviewed by CoAES members who routinely contact academic programs to supplement the review process.  

  • We are a large program that was accredited. We had to voluntarily give it up because we did not have enough faculty resources/time to compile data each year with close to 200 graduates, in addition to M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. What changes are being made to help the larger programs? 

ANSWER: CoAES has now had multiple years of experience working with academic programs, faculty and administrators. Working collaboratively with university departments of institutional effectiveness and alumni associations has been very helpful when collecting outcomes data. If a chosen outcome data collection becomes impossible, programs should work with CoAES to select outcomes that are more appropriate for them. While there have been typical outcomes data that have been collected by institutions, programs are free to collect more suitable outcomes for their programs.

  • Number of Exercise Science programs: Current numbers of programs and the anticipated number of programs in the future? 

ANSWER: When CoAES developed the ambassador/mentor program we collected information on how many Exercise Science or related (Kinesiology etc…) programs there were nationwide. We determined there are approximately 300-500 programs nationwide.  Of those, there are 66 Exercise Science (undergraduate), 14 Exercise Physiology (graduate) and five Personal Fitness Trainer (associates degrees) that are currently accredited through CAAHEP. It is difficult to project how much growth there might be for new programs. CoAES anticipates that all undergraduate programs and graduate programs will apply for accreditation now that ACSM requires a degree from a CAAHEP accredited academic program. International programs (most notably in China and New Zealand) will grow exponentially in the next decade.  

  • Certification exams are very expensive, especially for new college grads. Are there any benefits from accreditation that trickle down to the students to mitigate the costs of the exams and/or study materials?

ANSWER: Some CoAES sponsoring organizations provide substantial student discounts for CAAHEP accredited Exercise Science/Exercise Physiology programs. For example, ACSM currently provides a 40% discount to students who graduate from CAAHEP accredited Exercise Science and Exercise Physiology programs and a 20% discount to ACSM student members. Current CoAES sponsoring organizations include the American Council on Exercise, American Kinesiotherapy Association, American Red Cross, National Academy of Sports Medicine and National Council on Strength & Fitness.

Timeline and Planning 

  • What is an expected timeline for implementation?

    • Overall timeline for program self-study application to submission and approval? 

ANSWER: The timeline depends on the program. CoAES has had programs that go from requesting accreditation to being granted initial accreditation in one year and often in much less time. In the webinar, Dr. Meir Magal pointed out that having a point person (Program Director) that is coordinating collection of all the information is an advantage.

  • For a program with no director (we are housed in the science department) and all faculty teaching a full load, what is a reasonable timeframe from start to submission if we were to do the Exercise Science certification with the S and C add on? 

ANSWER: One of the standards for accreditation requires a program to have a designated program director (typically the point person for CoAES and CAAHEP communication). The program director has the following responsibilities and qualifications: 

  • Responsibilities: Must assure achievement of the program’s goals and outcomes, and is responsible for all aspects of the program, including the organization, administration, continuous review, planning, development and general effectiveness of the program. Must also provide supervision, administration and coordination of the instructional staff in the academic and practical phases of the educational program.

  • Qualifications: Must possess a minimum of an earned master’s degree and work-related experience that exceeds that for which the students in the program are being prepared.

  • For planning purposes, how long do you think it will take a program to get through the accreditation process? That is, once the curriculum is ready to go through the self-study process, how long does it take from self-study to accreditation?  

ANSWER: From the self-study initiation to the initial accreditation depends entirely on how quickly institutional personnel can complete the self-study. Generally, one year is about the average. However, if the institution dedicates a faculty or staff position to the self-study as a responsibility, the self-study can be completed in a few days or weeks. Once potential outcomes are agreed upon by the program faculty and the self-study is submitted, it generally takes two to three  months before a program will receive CAAHEP accreditation. The self-study must first be reviewed by CoAES. If approved and no questions need to be answered, a site visit is scheduled (Note: CoAES will do virtual site visits until further notice). Upon a successful site visit, CoAES meets and then makes a recommendation to CAAHEP. The CAAHEP board then meets and grants initial accreditation. Both the CoAES and CAAHEP boards meet monthly.  

Faculty/program director responsibilities 

  • Will a certain percentage of faculty teaching in an exercise science program need to hold an ACSM-EP? And can you please clarify CoAES and CAAHEP? 

ANSWER: There is no requirement for any of the faculty to hold a certification. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) is the overall accrediting body ( Under CAAHEP are individual Committees on Accreditation (CoA’s) of which the Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences (CoAES) is one. The CoA’s conduct the program review, set standards and track programs through an annual report and evaluation. 

  • Following accreditation, what is the role of the program director from one year to the next?

ANSWER: Each year the program director needs to submit an annual report. The annual report includes the following:

  • Program outcomes such as program retention, number of students that participated in a culminating experience, graduation rate and graduate placement etc. One may track all of the information, from one year to the next, by creating an excel spreadsheet or other tracking mechanisms. At times some of this information can be found at the office of advancement (alumni services) on campus or departments of institutional effectiveness. Further, certification information can be tracked by contacting the certification department of a CoAES sponsoring organization (such as ACSM, ACE, NCSF and NASM). 

  • Reported program advisory committee activities (agenda and minutes).

  • Academic information about the program. Usually, this information is being collected internally by the institutional research office and includes regional accreditation information such as program mission, goals, program learning outcomes, course learning outcomes, etc.

  • Will it cost $2,200 annually for a department that has both an undergraduate and a graduate program? 

ANSWER: CAAHEP charges an institutional annual fee of $600, which covers all accredited programs whether there are one or multiple. Each of the CAAHEP CoAs has its own set of fees. These generally include a fee for applying for accreditation, the on-site review and an annual fee. The CoAES fees for initial accreditation are $750, with an annual fee of $500 thereafter for each program. If the CAAHEP institutional fee is paid for by the college or university, the CoAES annual fee is $500 for the undergraduate program and $500 for the graduate program.  

In light of current budget reductions that programs and institutions are facing, CoAES  approved a temporary decrease in accreditation costs for institutions with an ES and EP program. These institutions will pay an initial accreditation fee of $500 and an annual fee of $500 for both programs. This is a temporary price reduction and will expire in 2022.  

  • My program is around 500 students. Only about 1% of our students choose exercise physiology. Most of our graduates are going AT, P.T., OT. With this small %, how can my program meet outcome requirements? 

ANSWER: In the first class of new undergraduate majors, faculty have often polled students about their future. When asked how many students will pursue Physical Therapy, more than two-thirds of the hands go up. When asked about Occupational Therapy, about half of the remaining hands go up, and a smaller group will seek a graduate degree in Athletic Training or Exercise Physiology. The reality is that only a very small percentage (as small as 1%) will actually qualify for and attend PT, OT or AT graduate programs. Undergraduate programs in Exercise Science should focus on the remaining 90% or more of students who will use the bachelor’s degree as their terminal degree and seek employment in commercial health clubs, corporate wellness programs, community programs or medical fitness centers. Positive placement of graduates (a potential outcome often selected by these programs) includes graduate programs in any related discipline which includes PT, OT, AT and EP (or CEP) programs. 

CoAES Standards and Guidelines

  • Requirements

    • Of the required courses, is there a lab vs. lecture hour requirement for any of them? 

    • What will the 'standards' for hours of experience look like?

    • What is the process to register an exercise science lab as a clinical site so the students can register the required clinical hours per the CEP certification? 

ANSWER 1: When using the course matching form or reviewing the required competencies, CoAES does not specify how many hours need to be lab vs. lecture. As long as the program can meet all of the required competencies, be it skills or knowledge, it is up to the individual program how they distribute their credits.

ANSWER 2: Currently, CoAES does not have any specific standards for required hours in a graduate program, practica or internships. To ensure that students are eligible to take the ACSM Exercise Physiology or ACSM Clinical Exercise Physiology certification, please review the information provided by ACSM. In that document you will see what “counts” as a clinical experience for the ACSM CEP certification.

ANSWER 3: All clinical and internship sites/agencies must complete an affiliation agreement or memorandum of understanding between the site/agency and the institution. ACSM does not “register” labs for a student to be eligible to accumulate clinical hours.

  • Standards updates

    • How frequently do standards change? 

    • Can we expect any changes to the standards/guidelines that are currently posted on the CAAHEP webpage? Or are these the standard/guidelines we should start preparing for? 

ANSWER: ACSM, NASM and NCSF update their JTAs (role delineation studies) every five to seven years to capture substantive changes to the profession. CoAES reviews and updates (if necessary) its standards and guidelines on a similar frequency.

  • Kinesiotherapy Track

  • How will CAAHEP accreditation for Exercise Science differ for Kinesiotherapy?

ANSWER: Kinesiotherapy and Exercise Science are separate professions. While there may be overlap, the education and required competencies are significantly different. Kinesiotherapy graduates focus on “individuals with functional limitations or those requiring extended physical conditioning” while exercise science graduates have a focus on “individuals who are apparently healthy and those with controlled disease.” 

  • Exercise Science and Exercise Physiology Track

    • If your degree has specialization areas (e.g., exercise science or health promotion) will this still be okay if we can show the exercise science track meets the requirements for the exercise physiology certification? I assume there will be separate accreditations for Clinical Ex Phys and Ex Phys and that one program does not have to meet both.

ANSWER 1: If your degree has a specialization that meets the Exercise Science accreditation standards, only that specialization will receive accreditation. Meeting the Exercise Science standards allows your students to be eligible to take the Certified Exercise Physiologist (ACSM-EP) certification. There is no requirement that Exercise Science accredited programs be named Exercise Science or graduate programs be named Exercise Physiology or Clinical Exercise Physiology. No department name change is necessary.

ANSWER 2: An undergraduate program can only meet the standards to be accredited for Exercise Science. This would allow the students to sit for the ACSM EP-C. However, if the program met the ES standards and the student then had 1,200 hours of clinical experience, he/she could take the ACSM CEP. The program could not become accredited under the Exercise Physiology standards because it is for graduate programs. 

  • Strength and Conditioning Track

    • With NSCA developing the CASCE accreditation process - what do you anticipate being the differences in the Strength and Conditioning track with the CoAES accreditation? 

    • Will the S&C add on conflict with the upcoming NSCA accreditation?

    • Can an individual program be accredited by both CAAHEP and by the certifying body for NSCA?

    • … it could make for a difficult decision for programs as NSCA is rolling something similar out, but with a different accrediting body - many programs will likely have to make a decision between certifications, which is not student-centered. 

(i) Are there any plans to actually join forces with NSCA rather than programs/institutions, particularly smaller institutions from having to choose one? (ii) Will this create inequities for smaller institutions who may not be able to serve students and allow them to be accredited because of financials/workloads/etc.? 

ANSWER: The CoAES recommendations for accreditation to CAAHEP are based on a robust process of evaluating a program’s ability to prepare students for the workforce. The Strength & Conditioning add-on simply identifies the program’s curricular alignment with the requirements for success in the field of strength & conditioning as defined by the Job Task Analyses. The overall program evaluation by CoAES will match, and more likely exceed, the requirements of the NSCA's organization-based accreditation, suggesting it would be easy to have both without additional work or requirements if a college or university felt it necessary. There are three NCCA accredited certifications in Strength and Conditioning that meet the recommendations of the NCAA for Strength Coaches - the NSCA-CSCS, NCSF-CSC and the CSCCa-SCCC - which provides multiple pathways for credentialing in the strength and conditioning field. CoAES recognizes the benefit of all three certification programs for students and institutions and, as such, is inclusive of all three qualifications in the add-on curricular requirements. As the NSCA is an independent organization and is not a CoAES sponsoring organization, it is impossible for CoAES to compare the two accreditations at this time. CoAES will recognize the NSCA certification as a potential outcome (“success on a national certification”), but it is unclear if the NSCA will recognize CAAHEP accreditation.  

  • Eligibility requirements for certification programs (e.g., ACSM, NCSF, NSCA)

    • Can you clarify the accreditation for Exercise Science (undergrad) versus Exercise Physiology (grad) in relation to the new requirements for ACSM?

    • So undergraduate programs need the Exercise Science accreditation for their students to be eligible for the ACSM-EP and ACSM-CEP certifications?

ANSWER: To sit for the Certified Exercise Physiologist (ACSM-EP) certification, candidates must graduate from a CAAHEP-accredited Exercise Science (undergraduate) program. To sit for the Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist (ACSM-CEP) certification, candidates must graduate from an accredited Exercise Physiology (graduate) program and meet all course and clinical hour requirements related to exam eligibility (minimum of a bachelor's degree in exercise science or equivalent and 1,200 hours of clinical hands-on experience or a master's degree in clinical exercise physiology and 600 hours of hands-on clinical experience).

  • My university is brick & mortar, but my program is completely online. Given technological advances, will online programs be eligible for accreditation? 

ANSWER: Yes, CAAHEP has accredited online programs and takes into consideration all of the advanced methods of program delivery.

  • I also have some concerns coming from a smaller institution of only four faculty: (i) Most programs (at the undergraduate level) are 'exercise science' and after reviewing the criteria this seems to be more 'exercise physiology'. 

ANSWER: The name of the program or accreditation can be confusing. The main difference is that the Exercise Science accreditation is for undergraduate programs, while the Exercise Physiology accreditation is for graduate programs. It could very well be that your undergraduate program has a clinical direction to it. You would still, however, pursue the Exercise Science accreditation for undergraduate programs and Exercise Physiology for graduate programs (note that the graduate Exercise Physiology accreditation has two tracks, Applied Exercise Physiology and Clinical Exercise Physiology).

Career/Professional Outlook

  • Is EP/CEP licensure in the future? ...assuming that accreditation would be required for licensure

ANSWER: Licensure can be confusing. However, to be clear, a license of any kind (from physicians and nurses to cosmetologists) is a state issue not a federal (national) issue.  The ACSM Certification Board is not currently actively pursuing licensure for the exercise physiologist and clinical exercise physiologist job roles. State legislators consider occupational licensure a complex and burdensome process, which may create barriers of entry into careers, inhibit professional mobility and increase costs to professionals and consumers. By linking workforce development (programmatic accreditation), professional certification (minimum professional KSAs), continuing competence and registration, the ACSM Certification Board strongly believes will align exercise physiologists and clinical exercise physiologists with the professional standards expected of health care occupations (e.g., athletic training, nursing, physical therapy). The ACSM Certification Board is focused on positioning exercise physiologists and clinical exercise physiologists as qualified (based on education, training, experience and certification) health care practitioners to provide critically important services (e.g., exercise testing/prescription, remote monitoring) to improve health outcomes of patients. 

  • First - congratulations! This is a great step forward. If we are trying to "brand" exercise physiologist/clinical exercise physiologist as the name for degreed professionals in our field, I wonder if the CoAES tracks should also be exercise physiology (instead of exercise science) and clinical exercise physiologist. I think all of our titles might confuse people. 

ANSWER: CAAHEP policy requires a separation of program names between undergraduate (Exercise Science) and graduate (Exercise Physiology) academic programs. The graduate program accreditation is Exercise Physiology, but programs can choose between Applied Exercise Physiology and Clinical Exercise Physiology. Undergraduate program accreditation was purposefully built around the broad definition of Exercise Science, and the graduate program Exercise Physiology was built around a more defined Applied Exercise Physiology and Clinical Exercise Physiology. If CoAES sees a demand for the more specific terms of Exercise Physiology and Clinical Exercise Physiology, it will petition CAAHEP for a name change.

  • What will happen to international institutions?

ANSWER: CoAES has internationally accredited programs and will continue to accredit international programs that meet the Exercise Science or Exercise Physiology standards. Please keep in mind that accreditation is not preparing the student for a specific certification but preparing the student to be a successful, entry-level exercise science professional. Academic program accreditation has been successful in China and New Zealand.

For more information view the accompanying Certification blog:

ACSM Certification Exam Study Tips 
Adopting CAAHEP / CoAES Accreditation as a Requirement for ACSM-EP and ACSM-CEP Certifications