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Overview of Process of Initial Accreditation
Dental education programs in the United States are required to be accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). The Commission operates under the jurisdiction of the American Dental Association, and is an accrediting agency recognized by the US Department of Education.  The accreditation process ensures  that educational programs meet specific standards, with a goal of continuous program improvement. Dental educators, private practitioners, members of licensing boards, students and members of the community collaborate in the accreditation process.
New dental schools, such as the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine, go through an Initial Accreditation process prior to the enrollment of any students. The purpose of the Initial Accreditation is to ensure that the educational program meets the intent of the accreditation standards. Once a program is initially accredited, the program is re-accredited at regular intervals, generally every seven years.
For new dental schools, the timeline for Initial Accreditation parallels the timeline of the other activities that must occur as part of the establishment of the school.  For students who are considering ECU School of Dental Medicine, it is important to understand the accreditation process as it relates to the establishment of the School.
The first step is for the institution to conduct a self-study. This process involves addressing each of the CODA standards that have been established as a framework for the development of new schools. Within the self-study, the faculty and administrators review the planned academic policies, curriculum, institutional resources and other key factors. The completed self-study document is sent to CODA for review; CODA meets twice yearly – in January and July.
Subsequently, a team of CODA site visitors, who have expertise in a wide range of areas related to dental education, visits the institution. The team meets with University and School administrators, faculty and staff, and further reviews policies, plans and related documents. The team prepares a report of its findings and submits it to CODA. The institution also has the opportunity to comment and provide additional information.
CODA reviews the report from the site visit team and makes the determination whether the institution meets the standards for Initial Accreditation. Once the program is granted Initial Accreditation, CODA conducts additional site visits during the second year of the program, and prior to the graduation of the first class. Students who enter a program with the status of Initial Accreditation and successfully complete their program are considered to be graduates of an accredited program for purposes of licensure and application to postgraduate training programs.
Further detailed information concerning the accreditation process can be obtained from the ADA at http://www.ada.org/117.aspx.
Parallels Between the Accreditation Process and the Admissions Process
Both processes – program accreditation and student admissions – are essential, critical processes. Each process is complex and time-intensive, and defined by multiple steps. The following timeline summarizes the parallels in timing between the two processes at East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine:
April 2010 - ECU School of Dental Medicine submits its accreditation self-study report to CODA.
June 2010 - Applicants begin applying through the Associated American Dental Schools Applications Service (AADSAS) for admission for fall 2011.
August 2010 - ECU School of Dental Medicine begins interviewing candidates for admission.
Fall 2010 - CODA site visit team visits ECU School of Dental Medicine.
December 1, 2010 - ECU School of Dental Medicine (and other US dental schools) begins making offers of admission to selected candidates.
January 2011 - CODA meets; makes determination regarding Initial Accreditation.
Offers of admission to ECU School of Dental Medicine will be contingent upon the program receiving notification of Initial Accreditation in early 2011.