What Is CIDA Accreditation and Why Is It Important?

What Is CIDA Accreditation and Why Is It Important?

As an aspiring interior designer or architect, you plan to commit years to in-depth study and skill development. Now, it’s time to select a college program with a strong reputation. Graduate studies promise to unlock a whole world of exciting professional opportunities, but how do you know if a particular college or program lives up to its lofty claims?

There are no simple answers, but accreditation can provide reassurance as you examine potential architecture programs. Many aspiring architecture students rely on accreditation from a well-regarded resource: the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA).

As a nonprofit accrediting body, CIDA evaluates college-level interior design programs to verify that they meet high academic standards. Keep reading to delve into the accreditation process, along with a thorough examination of CIDA-accredited meaning from both the college and student perspectives.

Understanding Accreditation

Accreditation offers an objective means of determining whether educational programs meet specific quality standards. This third-party evaluation process strives to boost the integrity of higher education while also providing an easy-to-understand solution for conveying program quality.

How Accreditation Works

Many organizations (known as accrediting bodies) offer opportunities to gain accreditation, but the requirements and process depend on industry-specific priorities or expectations. Typically, however, this involves an extensive review that touches on everything from the program’s mission to faculty experience, curricula, and student achievement. Colleges and programs that meet strict standards qualify for accreditation but must continue meeting these standards to maintain their accredited status.

What Is CIDA?

Recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), CIDA represents the industry authority on design education. Its scope of accreditation includes professionally oriented degree programs meant for undergraduate students or those seeking their master’s degree for the first time.

Currently, more than 170 design programs are accredited by CIDA. These programs bring exciting educational opportunities to tens of thousands of students but emphasize training for entry-level designers.

CIDA’s History and Mission

Established in 1970, CIDA was originally known as the Foundation for Interior Design Education Research (FIDER). It was created in response to the 1968 Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC) report A Critical Study of Interior Design Education, which revealed the need for a standardized approach to accreditation.

Since the beginning, CIDA’s primary goal has involved “establishing excellence in the interior design profession.” Today, CIDA’s mission is to “advance the profession of interior design through a collaborative approach to standard setting for accreditation of interior design higher education programs.”

The Accreditation Process by CIDA

CIDA relies on peer review and self-evaluation to inform the accreditation process. An in-depth review to determine compliance with educational standards is also key. The total accreditation cycle spans six years and includes these crucial steps:

  • Request for review
  • Determining program readiness
  • Preparing the program analysis report
  • Site visit, including examinations of student achievement
  • Visiting team report and review
  • Accreditation

Benefits of CIDA Accreditation for Colleges and Universities

Many colleges and universities actively seek CIDA accreditation. In fact, the accreditation process must be initiated by the institution that hopes to become accredited. Although the process is rigorous, numerous advantages make accreditation compelling for design and architecture programs.

Quality Standards

College programs strive to equip design students with high-level skills vital to success in the professional sphere. Accreditation bodies provide valuable guidance, revealing what exactly constitutes a high-quality program and how existing programs can improve. Upon meeting these standards, administrators and faculty members can feel confident that they deliver the high-quality instruction their students deserve.


As degree programs seek the best and brightest students, they need markers of distinction that give them a competitive edge. Many aspiring students center their college selection efforts on accreditation, so a lack of recognition from CIDA could be a real liability.

Curriculum Development and Improvement

The best colleges and universities are not content to stick with the status quo. Rather, these institutions are committed to continuous improvement, seeking new and better ways to guide and support students. As a forward-thinking accrediting body, CIDA provides the resources and insights that colleges need to make progress toward their ambitious educational objectives.

Faculty Qualifications and Program Resources

Faculty qualifications are closely examined during the accreditation process, with the goal of ensuring all faculty members have the knowledge and experience needed to guide their students. Assessments delve into faculty degrees, professional experience, teaching experience, scholarly research, and more. Accreditation verifies that programs are led and supported by passionate and highly competent professionals.

Benefits of CIDA for Students and Professionals

Accreditation brings much-needed confidence to current and aspiring design students. Additionally, it can influence design program graduates. Key benefits include:

Assurance of Quality Education

Every degree program calls for a considerable commitment of time, effort, and, of course, tuition. Students want to feel confident they will receive a high return on investment in the form of elite skill development and a thorough understanding of complex subject matter. Curricula and faculty information can provide helpful insight, but ultimately, accreditation delivers the most trustworthy feedback about program quality.

Advantages in the Job Market

A college degree is increasingly regarded as a necessity within the design and architecture fields — and many employers prefer to hire job candidates trained at the graduate level. Not just any degree will do, however; employers are mindful of which institution has granted that degree. Accredited programs offer reassurance that job candidates are prepared to fulfill critical responsibilities as they enter this rigorous yet rewarding field.

How to Evaluate CIDA-Accredited Programs

CIDA accreditation can provide a helpful start when evaluating various educational programs, but other factors matter. These may include extra accreditations plus feedback from faculty members, current students, and alumni. Also essential is a deep dive into the program’s curriculum. Campus visits can be helpful, as can discussions with admissions counselors and academic advisors.

Comparing CIDA Accreditation With Other Accreditations

CIDA represents one of many accreditation opportunities. It is crucial to understand the full scope of accreditation in the design and architecture fields and to be mindful of these various accreditations when selecting a degree program. Never assume that any given accreditation is sufficient until you’ve examined what exactly it means and what was involved in achieving accredited status. Other names worth examining include the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) and the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ).

CIDA vs. NCIDQ Accreditation

Accreditation-minded college applicants may be quick to ask, “What is CIDA accreditation?” but many are also concerned by NCIDQ and its challenging certification exam.

The question of CIDA versus NCIDQ accreditation does not represent an either-or matter but rather complementary opportunities that both serve to advance the interior design and architecture professions. NCIDQ emphasizes personal certification, as opposed to accreditation for entire degree programs. That said, CIDA-accredited programs can provide powerful preparation for the rigorous NCIDQ exam.

The Future of CIDA Accreditation

CIDA’s Future Vision report offers fascinating insights into the future of the design industry, especially in the context of training and higher education. This report indicates that, while the field is “on the precipice of significant change,” there remains a concerning gap between values (such as inclusivity and equality) and practice.

Educational opportunities promise to bridge that gap — but without accreditation to guide the way, curricula may not provide a sufficient exploration of topics and concerns of great importance today. Specifically, CIDA intends to advocate for “empathy as a primary design tool, central to the human-centered design process.”

Trends and Developments in Accreditation

The accreditation process is evolving in response to new challenges and opportunities in both design and higher education. A current priority highlighted in CIDA’s Future Vision report: leveraging technological advancements to “provide opportunities to experience space throughout the design process and engage end-users in the process.” This growing priority suggests that tech-oriented education will play a greater role in future accreditation standards.

Another key development is the possibility of changing the very definition of interior design. The current definition provided by CIDA is highly technical, but during Future Vision sessions in 2020 and 2021, participants worked together to develop a more aspirational definition: “the specialized discipline for creating spaces and experiences that allow people, the community, and the planet to thrive.”

As the very concept of design shifts, accreditation standards will need to change as well. Because vision planning is such a critical component of CIDA’s process for developing accreditation standards, it is likely that this accrediting body will continue to remain relevant and drive innovation for years to come.

The Evolving Landscape of Interior Design and Architecture Education

With the advent of new tools and technologies, it’s clear that the fields of interior design and architecture are about to undergo substantial changes. Immersive technology, in particular, is expected to have a significant impact, delivering new opportunities for students to explore and experiment without requiring tangible prototypes. Augmented reality could hold major implications for how students visualize and perceive spaces.

Furthermore, with a greater share of designers expected to demonstrate mastery of artificial intelligence applications and other high-tech solutions, tech-oriented education will quickly become a matter of necessity.

The Ongoing Importance of CIDA

Technological expectations may evolve, but accreditation programs like CIDA will ensure that evolving curricula continue to emphasize fundamentals while also incorporating new, tech-based opportunities. In addition, insights from CIDA can play into practical learning experiences such as case studies and research projects. Design programs will look to CIDA for guidance as they implement new instructional strategies and align their approach to evolving industry expectations.

Why CIDA Will Continue to Matter

As CIDA’s Future Vision report reveals, accreditation provides a valuable starting point for industry leaders to “discuss and claim agency for a shared future vision.” From CIDA’s perspective, its role is to “continually elevate interior design through practice and higher education quality standards.” As more is expected from designers and architects, more will also be expected from the colleges that train these professionals — and from the standards that underscore these degree programs.

Is Enrolling in a CIDA-Accredited Design Program Important?

This question can be answered with a definitive yes; CIDA accreditation is incredibly important, and if you have big plans for your design or architecture career, you will want to enroll in a program that has achieved this elevated status.

Is CIDA Accreditation Required to Be an Interior Designer or Architect?

CIDA accreditation is not always an outright requirement for becoming an interior designer or architect, but it can influence the quality of education or even employment prospects. What’s more, many boards of architecture mandate that aspiring professionals hold degrees from colleges accredited by CIDA or similar authorities.

How Marymount University Empowers Students Through CIDA Accreditation

As a CIDA-accredited program, the Master of Arts in Interior Architecture + Design at Marymount University offers a distinguished pathway to success in one of the most compelling yet quickly changing creative fields.

Through CIDA accreditation, we convey our commitment to providing a high-quality education for aspiring designers and architects. Contact us today to learn more about this powerful graduate program or our other design and architecture degrees.