An overview of PMI's degree accreditation programme and other trends in project management degree programmes globally and within the EMEA region


James C. Joiner, PMP, Chairperson, PMI Global Accreditation Center for Project Mangement


Although long viewed as being primarily an “American phenomenon”, a growing interest in both the adoption and administration of higher education accreditation is now underway throughout the global community, as the internationalization of academic degrees becomes a major strategic goal for many nations. In addition, the specialized accreditation of specific programs intended to prepare graduates for proficiency in a particular skill set is becoming a standard requirement for the acceptance of a particular discipline as a recognized profession. Driven by the mandates of the Bologna Declaration of1999, the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, or ENQA, has been formed to provide oversight to the many national and specialized European higher education quality assurance agencies found in that region.

This paper discusses the work of the Project Management Institute (PMI®)Global Accreditation Center for Project Management (GAC), and compares and contrasts its operational standards and guidelines with the recently released Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area published by ENQA. The paper will begin with an overview of the GAC Accreditation Program, including its history and accomplishments to date, and then examine the relevance of recent developments within the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) regarding international accreditation and the administration of external accreditation such as that provided by the GAC within the EHEA region.

History of the PMI Accreditation Program

In the mid 1980's, PMI had implemented a Degree Accreditation Program that addressed the limited number of degree programs that were available at that time. However, due to the low number of candidate programs and various other reasons, this initial accreditation effort was eventually suspended by PMI. Throughout the 1990's, the demand for quality project management education paralleled the rapid growth of the profession, and the academic community responded in kind to meet the demands of the market. In recognition of this ongoing growth of academic programs, a PMI Accreditation Options Feasibility Report was completed in 1998. The findings of this report determined that the majority of project management stakeholders viewed the re-implementation of an updated PMI Accreditation Program as being crucial to both the development and recognition of the project management profession.

Accordingly, and in support of the PMI Ends Policies at the time to “identify, develop, foster, and maintain professional practice, ethical, credentialing, and accreditation standards and principles”, and to ensure that “accredited formal degree programs in project management exist for the project management profession”, PMI formally established the Global Accreditation Center for Project Management, or GAC, as a semi-autonomous voluntary education accreditation center on November 1, 2001. To this effect, the GAC retains full autonomy in all policy and decision-making processes related to the accreditation activities of the Center.

Overview of the PMI Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Functions:

The primary roles and responsibilities of the GAC are to 1) function as the policy-making body in all matters related to GAC Accreditation of project management related educational programs; 2) develop and enhance Standards and Guidelines for evaluating program effectiveness in the field of project management education and to foster excellence in the same; 3) develop and maintain GAC Policies and Procedures, GAC Handbook of Accreditation, On-Site Visit Handbook for Accreditation of Degree Programs in Project Management, and other appropriate documentation for programmatic self-study, and to distribute these upon request; 4) ensure that the Accreditation process recognizes the diversity of project management education programs and provides assurance that such programs meet the learning and performance objectives which have been established by the PMI GAC; 5) provide council and assistance as needed to both established and developing project management education programs; 6) receive, review, and arbitrate written appeals from any applicant program appealing an action of the GAC; and 7) schedule and coordinate the processes of GAC Accreditation of project management related degree programs, including programmatic Self Study reports and Onsite Visit inspections. A complete description of the policies, functions, and processes of the GAC may be found in the GAC Handbook of Accreditation, which is available for download under the Academic Degree Accreditation section of the PMI Webpage at

As noted in the GAC Handbook of Accreditation, the primary purpose of the GAC accreditation process “is collaboration with colleges, universities and other educational institutions to encourage appropriate education and career development within the field of project management”. Reflecting its commitment to the attainment and maintenance of excellence in academic educational programs related to the field of project management, the GAC focuses on the evaluation of both undergraduate and graduate academic degree programs that are intended to prepare graduates for entry and/or advancement into the project management profession.

Candidate programs are evaluated on, among other criteria, Program Mission and Objectives, Assessment of Anticipated Program Outcomes, Faculty, Staff, and Student Support Policies and Services, Student Selection Process, Financial Resources, and Curriculum Learning and Performance Objectives. As noted in the GAC Handbook of Accreditation, the GAC Accreditation process has been designed as a streamlined procedure intended to maximize the efficiency and minimize the cost of Accreditation for applicant programs. The entire process may be completed within 12 months from the date of application, assuming due diligence on the part of the applicant in preparing and submitting a timely Self-Study Report to the Board. In addition, the GAC can waive certain requirements found within the Self-Study Report if such requirements have been met through recent prior accreditations. Finally, as seen by Appendix A “Guidelines for the Onsite Visit Process” of the GAC Handbook of Accreditation, every effort is made by the GAC to minimize the cost of the Onsite Visit, including the use of onsite team members located in geographical proximity of the applicant program.

Development of the GAC Standards of Accreditation:

Development of the GAC Accreditation Standards, Policies and Procedures found within the GAC Handbook of Accreditation was framed around a survey of the best policies of similar specialized accrediting bodies listed as recognized members of both the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA) ( and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) (, the two primary organizations serving the needs of accrediting agencies within the United States. Both agencies seek to encourage quality and integrity in higher education accreditation, and provide quality standards and operational guidelines for their member accrediting agencies. It should be noted that the GAC recently earned membership in ASPA as a specialized accrediting agency.

Since the GAC Standards of Accreditation are outcomes-based and framed around the roles and responsibilities of a practicing project manager, graduates of GAC Accredited programs are adequately prepared for employment as project managers. To this effect, candidate programs are required to demonstrate that graduates are capable of performing the GAC Learning and Performance Objectives, which are based on the Project Management Professional (PMP®) Role Delineation Study. Very briefly, these competencies may be grouped into the following six Performance Domains: I Initiating the Project; II Planning the Project; III Executing the Project; IV Controlling the Project; V Closing the Project; and VI Professional Responsibility. A complete discussion of the required skill sets for each of these Performance Domains may be found under Section C.2.6 of the GAC Handbook of Accreditation.

Scope of GAC Accreditation Program

Reflecting the worldwide distribution of PMI stakeholders, institutions offering candidate academic programs are located worldwide; hence GAC Accreditation must necessarily be global in scope. The growth in project management educational programs has paralleled the rapid growth of the project management profession; for example, membership in the Project Management Institute has grown steadily from 40,000 members in 1999 to over 160,000 in 2005. It is anticipated that demand for GAC accredited academic programs related to this field will remain strong into the foreseeable future, as the discipline of project management continues to play an increasingly important role in the global business arena.

To date, a collective total of 10 degree programs being offered by Western Carolina University (U.S.), the University of Quebec (Canada), and Stevens Institute of Technology (U.S.) have been awarded Accreditation by the GAC. In addition, a total of 10 other institutions are currently in various stages of the GAC Accreditation process, with 5 of these institutions residing outside of North America.

Since the reach of GAC Accreditation is global in nature, acceptance of both the concept of specialized accreditation and the GAC as a recognized accrediting agency must necessarily be international in nature. In many regions of the globe, the importance of quality assurance and standardized accreditation processes to the internationalization of higher education has become a primary priority. One such region where the standardization of quality assurance and accreditation is rapidly evolving is within the 40 nations that comprise the European Higher Education Area, or EHEA.

European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA):

The Bologna Declaration of 1999 mandated, among other objectives, the following goals for the European Higher Education System: 1) the adoption of a system of easily readable and comparable degrees as a means of promoting the international competitiveness of the European Higher Education System; 2) the adoption of an academic degree system essentially based on two main cycles, undergraduate and graduate; 3) the establishment of a universal system of credits, such as those used in the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), as a means of promoting student mobility; and 4) the promotion of European cooperation in quality assurance and accreditation of higher education.

The agency primarily responsible for the oversight of the many national and specialized European higher education quality assurance agencies is the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, or ENQA ( ENQA has published, among other documents, Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ENQA, 2005). According to its Foreword, this document is to be viewed as “a first step in what is likely to be a long and possibly arduous route to the establishment of a widely shared set of underpinning values, expectations and good practice in relation to quality and its assurance, by institutions and agencies across the European Higher Education Area (EHEA)”.

The ENQA Standards and Guidelines are divided into the sub-areas of “Internal Quality Assurance Within Higher Education Institutions” to be used when evaluating the institutions themselves; and “External Quality Assurance of Higher Education/“European Standards for External Quality Assurance Agencies”, to be used by the various ENQA member accrediting agencies. A review of the ENQA External Quality Assurance Standards themselves shows significant consonance with the standards, policies and procedures being followed by the GAC for the accreditation of project management related degree programs. This may be explained, in part by the international milieu in which the ENQA Standards and Guidelines were developed. As the document notes, the ENQA recommended standards and processes were written with an awareness of the “similar experiences and processes” of such organizations as the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE), the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP), and CHEA (ENQA, p. 27). Finally, recognizing “the importance and implications of internationalization for the quality assurance of higher education institutions” (ENQA, p. 28), ENQA notes that “the proposal for a European register does explicitly include agencies from outside Europe operating here as well as European agencies with cross-border operations” (ENQA, p. 29). This register “would meet the interest of higher education institutions and governments in being able to identify professional and credible quality assurance agencies operating in Europe” and would “be open for applications from all agencies providing services within Europe, including those operating from countries outside Europe or those with a transnational or international basis” (ENQA, pgs. 30-31). Inclusion, then of the GAC on such a register would serve to promote the specialized accreditation of project management related degree programs being offered within the EHEA.

Comparison of GAC and ENQA Standards and Guidelines

As noted above, much overlap exists between the operational standards and guidelines followed by the PMI GAC and those recommended by ENQA for EHEA quality assurance and accrediting bodies. For example, the key overlap of those requirements for internal quality assurance within candidate programs/institutions may be seen in the following matrix:

PMI GAC Handbook of Accreditation Standards ENQA European Standards and Guidelines
C.2.1 Program Mission and Objectives 1.1 Policies and Procedures for QA
C.2.2 Assessment of Anticipated Outcomes 1.3 Assessment of Students
C.2.3 Academic Faculty and Staff 1.4 QA of Teaching Staff
C.2.4 Student Support & Services 1.5 Learning Resources & Student Support
C.2.5 Student Selection N/A
C.2.6 Learning & Performance Objectives 1.3 Assessment of Students
C.2.7 Student Performance Criteria 1.3 Assessment of Students
C.2.8 Learning Resources & Technology 1.5 Learning Resources & 1.6 Information Systems

Table 1: Comparison of GAC Accreditation Standards With ENQA European Standards and Guidelines for Internal Quality Assurance Within Higher Education Institutions

A similar overlap may be seen between the operational policies and procedures followed by the GAC and the ENQA recommended policies and procedures for external quality assurance agencies:

PMI GAC Handbook Requirement Sections ENQA European Standards and Guidelines
See Table One Above 2.1 Shall Use Internal QA Procedures
B.2.5 & B.3 GAC Actions & Decisions 2.3 Criteria for Decisions
B.2 Accreditation Process Steps 2.4 Processes Fit for Purpose
B.4 Announcement of GAC Decisions 2.5 Reporting
B.6 Annual Reports 2.6 Followup Procedures & 2.7 Periodic Reviews
ASPA Membership 3.2 Official Status
A.1 Powers & Responsibilities 3.5 Mission Statement & 3.6 Independence
A.2 Composition & Governance & A.3 Code of Good Practice 3.8 Accountability Procedures

Table 2: Comparison of GAC Handbook of Accreditation With ENQA European Standards and Guidelines for External Quality Assurance Within Higher Education Institutions


As seen above, much harmony exists between the standards, policies and procedures being followed by the PMI Global Accreditation Center for Project Management (GAC) and the newly released ENQA Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. It is suggested that the eventual inclusion of the GAC on the proposed European register for accrediting agencies would serve to promote the specialized accreditation of project management related degree programs being offered within the EHEA, and reinforce the harmonization of quality assurance standards for academic project management programs in this region of the world.


Bologna Declaration of 1999: Available for download from the Bologna Process Website at

European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (2005): Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area; available for download from the ENQA Website at

Project Management Institute (2001): GAC Handbook of Accreditation; available for download from the Academic Degree Accreditation section of the PMI Website at



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