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Overview of the Agency Accreditation Process

The Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA) standards for national accreditation provide an authoritative assessment tool for park and recreation agencies. Through compliance with the standards of excellence, CAPRA accreditation assures policy makers, department staff, the general public and tax payers that an accredited park and recreation agency has been independently evaluated against established benchmarks as delivering a high level of quality.

Every park and recreation agency, whatever its focus or field of operation, is rightfully concerned with the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations. With the importance of park and recreation programs and services to the quality of life, each agency has an essential role in the lives of the people it serves. CAPRA accreditation is a quality assurance and quality improvement process demonstrating an agency’s commitment to its employees, volunteers, patrons and community.

Accreditation Process

Accreditation is based on an agency’s compliance with the 144 standards for national accreditation. To achieve accreditation, an agency must comply with all 36 Fundamental Standards, which are indicated by the icon in this publication, and at least 85 percent of the remaining 108 standards (92).

CAPRA accreditation is a five-year cycle that includes three phases: development of the agency self-assessment report, the on-site visitation, and the Commission’s review and decision. The on-site visitation follows the agency’s development of its self-assessment report. If accreditation is granted by the Commission at its meeting following the on-site visit, the agency will develop a new self-assessment report and be revisited every five years. Within each of the four years between on-site visits, the agency will submit an annual report that addresses its continued compliance with the accreditation standards. The complementary publication, CAPRA Accreditation Handbook, sets forth in detail the accreditation process and procedures.

The steps involved in the accreditation process are as follows: 

1. Preliminary Application  

 When your agency is ready, submit the preliminary application and $100 application fee. This will indicate your intent to go forward with the accreditation process.

2. Self-Assessment  

The agency undertakes a self-assessment study. This is the key phase because it engages the entire agency (employees, volunteers, citizen boards, and committees) in assessing the agency's effectiveness and efficiency. The agency has 24 months from the date of the preliminary application to submit their completed self-assessment workbook. In January of the year in which the accreditation review takes place, the agency will be invoiced for the review fee based on a sliding fee scale shown below.

Annual Operating Budget     Review Fee 
Less than $500,000 $165
$500,000 - $1 million $275
$1 million - $2.5 million $550
$2.5 million - $5 million $1,100
$5 million - $10 million $1,650
$10 million - $15 million $2,200
$15 million - $25 million $2,750
More than $25 million $3,300

3. Visitation/On-site Evaluation  

A peer review is performed by a Commission-approved visitation team to validate the degree to which the agency meets each applicable standard. The team prepares a report based on the findings of their on-site review. The agency is responsible for paying travel and related expenses for the team members.

4. Accreditation 

Based upon the total review process, the Commission makes the decision to 1) accredit, 2) accredit with conditions, 3) defer decision, or 4) deny accreditation. Once accreditation is granted, an agency must repeat a similar process every five years in order to maintain its accreditation.

5. Annual Report 

Once accredited, agencies are required to submit annual reports.  The annual report identifies any significant changes within the agency relating to the accreditation standards.  The agency is responsible for submitting the annual report along with an annual fee based on a sliding scale fee (shown below) at the beginning of each calendar year.  A notice will be sent out to the agency contacts in January with a link to the online Annual Report form and an invoice will be sent to the agency for the fee.

Annual Operating Budget    Annual Fee 
Less than $500,000 $60
$500,000 - $1 million $120
$1 million - $2.5 million $180
$2.5 million - $5 million $240
$5 million - $10 million $300
$10 million - $15 million $360
$15 million - $25 million $480
More than $25 million $600

Understanding Standards

A standard is a statement of desirable practice as set forth by experienced professionals. In evaluating an agency for accreditation, the standards are a measure of effectiveness using the cause and effect (“if...then”) approach. If one acts in a certain way, then it is expected that there will be a certain outcome. In practice, if an agency complies with a given standard, then it is expected that the agency’s operations related to that standard will be positively affected. Viewed holistically, if an agency complies with the vast majority of the standards (i.e., all fundamental standards and at least 85 percent of the remaining), then it is understood that the agency is performing a quality operation. Standards enable evaluation by comparing what is found within an agency operation to what is accepted by professionals as desirable practices.

These standards are not a quantitative measure of the local availability of funds, lands, personnel, etc. and should be distinguished from other types of standards which address specific elements, such as open space standards, which are population-based, and playground equipment standards, which are product-based. These qualitative standards for accreditation are comprehensive, dealing with all aspects of agency operations.

The standards provide an effective and credible means of evaluating a park and recreation agency’s overall system. The standards apply to all park and recreation systems, inasmuch as they are considered to be the elements for effective and efficient operations. Most agencies administer both park and recreation functions; however, some agencies only administer recreation programs and services, not park systems, and others only administer park systems, not recreation programs and services. Additionally, the jurisdictional structure of agencies differs throughout the country, with many agencies operating under municipal authority, while others operate under county, park district, or other structures. Further, the standards apply to agencies of all sizes in terms of personnel, budget, and population served. It is recognized that each community is unique and may meet the standards in differing ways.

History of CAPRA Standards for National Accreditation

A forerunner of the CAPRA standards was a document titled, Evaluation and Self-Study of Public Recreation and Park Agencies, first issued in 1965. The standards in the document were initially determined by leading professionals in the Great Lakes District of the then National Recreation Association. Eight years later, in 1972, a statewide study in Pennsylvania encompassing thirty municipal park and recreation departments resulted in the document being updated and revised; and, after twenty years, it was replaced by the CAPRA standards.

The CAPRA standards were developed by a special committee initiated in 1989 by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (AAPRA) and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). The standards and accreditation process were field tested at park and recreation agencies of varying characteristics. In 1993, the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies was established to implement and administer the accreditation program. Since then, the CAPRA standards have been reviewed and revised several times, notably in 1996, 2001, and 2009.

In 1998 work was begun to adapt the accreditation program to military recreation. An Army version of the standards, developed by the Army, was approved in 1999 and a representative of military services was added to the Commission board. In 2007, the Department of Defense proposed a revised set of military standards that applies to all military services; and was approved by the Commission in 2008 for use by all military services. The military accreditation standards are available as a separate document.

About the Commission

The Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies is a 13-member board composed of representatives from:
• American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (4 representatives)
• National Recreation and Park Association (4 representatives)
• International City/Council Management Association (1 representative)
• Council of State Executive Directors (1 representative)
• American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation (1 representative)
• National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials (1 representative)
• Armed Forces Recreation Society (1 representative)

 View the list of current Commissioners. The Commission is administratively sponsored by the National Recreation and Park Association, but acts with independence and under its own authority in determining accreditation standards and conferring accreditation of applicant agencies.




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