When you’re looking for and researching occupational therapy assistant online degrees, there are a lot of questions you will want answered. How much is tuition? Am I eligible for financial assistance? How long is the occupational therapy assistant (OTA) program? When can I start?
You should also find out about program accreditation. But what is accreditation? Why is accreditation important?
First, Let’s Explore What Accreditation Is and a Little Background
Accreditation in its simplest meaning is a process for evaluating higher learning as a way to standardize quality of education across institutions. There are various accrediting bodies (AKA agencies) who develop and maintain these standards and hold academic institutions accountable. There are accrediting bodies at the university level as well as the programmatic level.
For example: St. Catherine University as an institution is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). However, the accrediting body for online occupational therapy assistant programs is a completely different agency.
Technically speaking, accreditation is actually a voluntary action. However, employers pay attention to which institutions and programs are accredited by whom. This can weigh in on job applicant preferences.
Who Determines if an OTA Program is Accredited?
To understand why it is important for an OTA program to be accredited, we need to take a look at the accrediting bodies and understand who they are.
Almost a hundred years ago, in 1917, an organization called the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) was established as a national membership organization for OT and OTA professionals and students. (Today, this widely respected organization has a presence in each of the 50 states, as well as DC, Puerto Rico and around the world. )
Soon after the organization was founded, hospitals and other healthcare facility leaders approached and asked the AOTA to put together a directory of occupational therapists. Before such a list could be created, the AOTA determined that they would need to establish and document training and education standards each professional would need to meet before being included in the directory. 
The document, entitled “Essentials of an Acceptable School of Occupational Therapy”, became officially accepted by the medical community and by the American Medical Association (AMA), who was initially responsible for enforcing said accreditation standards on occupational therapy programs. 
Today, the AOTA has this responsibility and is the authority on accreditation standards. Growing as an organization, the actual accrediting branch of the AOTA is known as the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). It is this stamp of approval you should look for when researching occupational therapy assistant online degrees.
Why is Accreditation Important?
Getting back to why accreditation is important, the AOTA contains yet another branch known as the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) which is responsible for administering the national licensure exam all aspiring OTA’s must pass in order to become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA).
In order to be eligible to sit for the COTA® exam, the student must have graduated from a program that is accredited by the ACOTE.
Accreditation Explained Even Further
When a university launches a new program, that program must be accredited as a separate process from any similar programs it may already have.
For example: St. Catherine has an on-ground occupational therapy assistant program in Minnesota that is fully accredited by the ACOTE. However, when launching the online OTA program in Virginia, the process must be gone through again to show the curriculum meets the quality standards.
There are three main stages for OTA programs to go through in order to achieve full accreditation status, which all starts with a formal request made to the ACOTE for accreditation status:
- Application Review. As this stage, the ACOTE Accreditation Department reviews a ‘Candidacy Application’ submitted on behalf of the OTA program. If all is found to be in order, the program gets to move on to ‘step 2’.
- Initial Review. The ACOTE initial review team takes a more in-depth look at the OTA program. If the program “passes” this stage, the university may begin admitting students. Accreditation status has not yet been obtained, however it is well on its way.
- On-Site Evaluation. As a final component to the ACOTE’s accreditation review, ACOTE representatives must conduct a multi-day, on-site visit and observe the students. If all is found to be compliant, full accreditation status is received.
St. Catherine University’s Online OTA Program’s Accreditation
Currently, St. Kate’s online OTA program in Virginia is in the second stage of accreditation. This means students may begin enrolling in any of the three start dates throughout the year. While the program is not fully accredited today, students will be able to sit for the COTA exam when the OTA program is accredited, regardless of graduation date.
As a part of the accreditation process, St. Kate’s will keep current and interested students up-to-date on the program’s accreditation status. The latest news shows St. Kate’s will receive a decision from the ACOTE prior to the graduation of the first class of students.
If you are interested in going for an occupational therapy assistant online degree, then contact St. Kate’s today for more information on how you can transform your life in just 16 months.